Love and Mercy
From: Jack Rieley
To: Beach Boys list (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Oct 7 1996 - 6:17pm
My first question would be: how about telling us what really went
on with that wonderful "Tree" song! I know some people on the list
have mentioned they don't like it, but some others, like me have
said they love the song and couldn't imagine anyone else singing
it and giving it the same feeling that you did. Any recollections
other than the "Brian was crying afterward -- and I don't know if
he really was moved by it or just giving me the business"
(paraphrased), would really be welcome.
Brian Wilson and I had been talking a lot about the sorry state of
the planet back then. He was filled with questions and we went on for
hours about it. Forests were dying, the air had turned brown, the
earth's future was beginning to appear hazardous to health. When
Brian first played the chords and sang the tentative melody for me,
he asked what the song should be about and I suggested a single tree
as metaphor for the earth; that single tree as metaphor for more than
ecology. I fell in love with the chords at once and loved the
swelling tension of that droned bass line; the song seemed to lend
itself to the lyrical concept. He went nuts for the lyrics when I
showed them to him. Loved 'em, memorized the first verse and was
singing around the house. Carl and I were positive that Brian had to
sing A Day In The Life Of A Tree.
We recorded the instrumental track in a few days. On the day we were
to record the lead vocal, I was with the engineer in the control room
(this was in Belair, at the Bellagio house) and Brian was in the
studio. He did a few warm-up takes and then, dramatically animated as
was in wont, tore the headphones from his ears and exclaimed that he
needed me to help him. I went out into the studio and he pleaded that
he just wasn't getting the feeling that I intended with the lyric.
"Show me what I'm supposed to do," he insisted, handing me the
headphones as he ran to the control booth.
I did about 5 takes of the song, all except for the false-setto bit
near the end. Each time I screwed up one part or another, and after
each take Brian used the talkback to inform me something like, "I see
what you mean. But how about the blah-blah part. Do another take so
I'll know just how to do the song." And dumb me: I did another take.
It was after one of those that Brian burst from the control booth to
the studio, laughing loudly, a proclamatory laugh. He rushed me like
a bear, raised both arms into the air as would a victorious high
school athletics coach and exclaimed that I had just done the final
I protested. It was turing into another BW cop-out, I suspected. But
by then Carl was there too. He said Brian had told him a couple of
days previous that I had to sing Tree. It had all been cooked in
To my astonishment, the false-setto bit turned out easy. After Van
Dyke's bit, the added voice at the end is Linda Jardine.
Reports of Brian crying, with joy or otherwise, upon hearing my vocal
No one could have been a better friend than Dennis Wilson.
I met him in New Mexico just weeks after being signed up with the
Beach Boys. He was on location for Two Lane Blacktop, the minor opus
he did together with James Taylor. Dennis scared the sh*t out of me
upon our first meeting, greeting me with a mistrusting stare,
scowling and shouting-spitting the words, "So you're the asshole
who's supposed to save us, heh? Well guess what, ass hole: I'm
quitting the Beach Boys." Speechless, I wanted to crawl back to the
rental car and drive off. After staring me down for another long
moment Dennis' face changed abruptly to a caring, bashful smile. He
put his arms around me. "Carl says you're the best thing that has
happened to him!" I was confused, maybe even trembling slightly.
It was the odd beginning of a deep friendship.
Collaborating with Dennis meant brooding with him, being harsh with
his self-indulgence, providing encouragement to his brilliance. When
he sat down and played the piano and sang, I could not help but feel
He loved his brothers very deeply. He was in awe of Brian; always
concerned about Carl. "Gotta watch out for the quiet one," he warned
frequently with a wink.
I firmly believe Murry convinced Dennis during early childhood that
he was a dumb f***. And I am certain that Dennis worked most of his
life to live up to his father's definition.
Once, in Milwaukee when he met my father, he embraced him and said he
was "humbled" to "be in your presence."
I must once share with you the bizarre tale of a night in London,
long after I had left the group, when Dennis broke down my hotel door
because he was afraid I was dying. He was trying to save me.
Remind me as well to take time, sometime, to relate the story of
On a visit to L.A., a year or two after the Holland album, I stayed
at Dennis' house in Malibu for a few nights. He was still with
Barbara then. I was to fly to Milwaukee in order to visit my dad
before returning to Europe. About 4 a.m. on the last night of my stay
with them, Dennis came into the guest bedroom and awoke me with a
gentleness that grips me still. He looked grim, sad beyond words.
"Your brother is on the phone," he said softly, caressing me as a
parent caresses a child. My brother had phoned to say our father had
When we played a free gig at the California state prison for women, I
nearly flipped to see how many of the inmates knew Dennis personally.
Of course the Manson girls were there, hooting and cheering every
His solo album may be a bit over the top, but it is filled with so
much intensity, so much raw emotion, so much musical mastery and
beauty that now, just thinking about it, I get goose pimples