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2004: Big Smiles for Brian Wilson

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2004 has been Brian Wilson’s best overall year since about 1966 it seems: at the age of 62 he finally got around to finishing his magnum opus Smile, which has been nominated for three Grammys (pop vocal album, rock instrumental performance, best engineered) and been received live and on record with almost universal rapture; he has a relatively “normal” family life and with his wife Melinda’s help seems to be healthy and in control of his own affairs; and, behind the impetus of Smile, he is receiving broad recognition of one of America’s great popular composers and arrangers of the 20th century.

Brian will be honored as the MusiCares 2005 Person of the Year at a special tribute dinner, concert and silent auction held Friday, Feb. 11, 2005, in Los Angeles as part of Grammy week.

“We take great pride and joy in saluting Brian Wilson during MusiCares’ milestone 15th anniversary of providing a safety net for musicians everywhere,” said Neil Portnow, President of the MusiCares Foundation and the Recording Academy. “He embodies the positive spirit that comes from dedication, perseverance and creative brilliance; his contributions to the evolution of music are both legendary and profound. Brian and his music have the power to reach listeners across generations and deliver a musical experience that is timeless and unforgettable — and that’s exactly how this year’s Person of the Year event will be on February 11.”

Wilson’s philanthropic efforts include his ongoing support (through concerts and private donations) of the Carl Wilson Foundation for cancer research (from which his younger brother ided in 1998), as well as performances at the Adopt-A-Minefield benefit (appearing with Paul McCartney) and Neil Young’s Bridge School concert (raises funds to help individuals with severe speech and physical impairments through the use of augmentative and alternative means of communication and assistive technology).

Proceeds from the annual Person of the Year tribute provide essential support for MusiCares’ Financial Assistance Program, which ensures that music people have a place to turn in times of financial, medical and personal need.


And what would such glad tidings be without a contest? Like Christmas without presents, I would aver. And you can check out his “Heroes and Villains” single below as well.

Now, my own thoughts on Smile. I am thrilled about the idea of Smile: that after 37 years, the death of his two younger brothers and his own severe personal problems, Wilson was able to clear out enough emotional and artistic space to finish something as personal and monumental as Smile is a cause for celebration from all unabashed Wilsonians such as myself.

But I am less enthralled than most with Smile as an entity than with it as a symbol, for in conjuntion with the aggressively oblique Van Dyke Parks, I sense Brian relinquishing any lingering personal relationship with rock ‘n’ roll and finding himself adrift in the great sea of American popular music as a result. While I entirely agree that Wilson’s gifts as a melodist and arranger, especially vocal arranger, place him among the top of American musical pantheon, he is there because of the sparks that fly from his strange melding of rock ‘n’ roll rhythms and energy, perpetually youthful innocence, with his sophisticated melodies and harmonies.

The two songs on Smile that do remain tethered to rock ‘n’ roll — “Good Vibrations” and “Heroes and Villains” — I think, he has done better elsewhere with the Beach Boys.

But I am still elated for Brian that he has this weight off of his chest and that the world is giving him the respect that has been his due for 40 years.

More Smile news, interviews, and a long look at the Beach Boys here, and Blogcritics reviews of Smile live and on CD here, here, here, and here.

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