Monday, 16 May 2011
Brian Wilson in GQ
By Andy Morris
Interviewing a former Beach Boy in an airless function room of a Mayfair hotel is an unsettling experience - the 68-year-old composer of "pocket symphonies" speaks in short, childlike sentences in delicate Californian tones. In a way, it's troubling to see him so fragile; in another, given that he's survived much-documented mental illness and drug excesses, it's an honour and a privilege to see him at all. In town to play Jools Holland and promote his "Brian Wilson Re-imagines Gershwin" tour, here Wilson talks about meeting his hero Paul McCartney, the return of the Hawaiian shirt and throwing a punch at Elvis.
GQ.com: What do you still get out of touring?
Brian Wilson: The satisfaction of knowing that people like what we do on stage. If they like us, that makes us want to play better. If they're a stupid audience that doesn't know what's going on, we just grind it out and keep playing.
Having worshipped the Beatles and tried to emulate Rubber Soul with Pet Sounds, what was it like when you finally met Paul McCartney?
I met him in a recording studio in Los Angeles. He was with Derek Taylor, the Beatles' publicist. He came by and he played his song "She's Leaving Home" on a piano for me and my wife. My wife started crying and he told me, "We haven't [even] recorded this yet." So we got to hear it before [Sgt Pepper]? Oh my God yes.
The critics originally dismissed Pet Sounds. Do you still care what they think?
Yeah, I care but I don't take it very seriously. After That Lucky Old Sun and Smile, Pet Sounds is just another piece of confetti, you know?
What did working with lyricist Van Dyke Parks give you?
Lyrics that have poetical images that you can conjure up.
You met your wife when she sold you a car. Has she given you any tips on buying one?
She just bought me one for Christmas! She bought a black Mercedes-Benz. Great car! We own four: I have a Mercedes, she has a Mercedes, we have a big van and we have a Cadillac Escalade.
When you were 16, you used to capture sounds on a Wollensak tape recorder. What were they?
The wind. Rain drops. Coyote howls. A whole library of sound effects.
The Hawaiian shirt is back in fashion for spring/summer 2011. What are your thoughts?
I bought my first [real] one in 1985 in Honolulu. I went to the stores and they had all kinds of floral shirts. I bought twelve of them. Why are they so good? Because they're colourful and bring Hawaii to America. To wear a floral shirt is an experience.
You wrote "The Warmth of the Sun" following the death of JFK. Does modern politics ever inspire you?
Politics goes in one ear and out the other. I don't even know the president's name for sure. [laughs] That's how stupid I am.
Is there anyone left you'd like to work with?
Elton John, Eric Clapton and Paul have worked with me. I'm not really sure who I want to work with. I really don't know.
You once said you'd like to play for the Yankees. Do you think baseball's loss is music's gain?
I would have been a professional player, but I got sidetracked by the music business. [laughs] Sure, I would have been a good player, yeah.
You told GQ that Madonna was the sexiest woman in pop. Do you think that Lady Gaga is now the sexiest?
Yes I do! Do I like her music? I'm not a fan, but I've seen her.
What's the best advice you've ever been given?
My dad told me, "When you're going to write a song, follow through with it until it's done. Don't go halfway and then piss out on it." This is what I tell people when I'm asked what advice would I give young aspiring songwriters. Finish your project and don't throw it away.
What do you watch on TV?
There's a TV station called Sixties Revolution, that plays back-to-back Sixties music 24 hours a day. I just absolutely love that channel, I really do.
What's the most important item on your rider?
Chocolate-chip cookies and water.
Are you still as driven as you used to be?
Not quite, but I'm still ambitious.
You have twelve dogs in your house. How should GQ readers choose a good pet?
Get a little dog because they're cuter. I love my black poodle Lulu. We got her from the pet shop from down the street.
Who is the toughest guy you know?
My buddy Jeff [points to Jeffrey Foskett, Wilson's Musical Director]. He's tough inside, a go-getter.
What should everyone bring to a festival?
A hankerchief - because you cry!
What should every man know about women?
Don't get married until you're certain that you're marrying the right girl. How did I know my wife was the one? I'd seen her for a couple of months. I liked her. She was a very creative person and she had a very good grip on politics and business.
What skill should every man possess?
To play the piano.
When was the last time you threw a punch?
1976. At Elvis! He knew karate, right, so as soon as I raised my hand he [chopped] it out of my way. It was in a recording studio in Los Angeles. He had a really long burgundy cape on and kept calling everyone "Duke".
You've been teetotal for years but what do you remember being a good hangover cure?
What in the world is a hangover cure? [Jeff explains] Just [more] beer.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Not to take too many of those drugs. Those mind-bending drugs are just so difficult to come off...