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DVD Review: Carl Wilson – Here and Now

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If you want a filmmaker presenting an insider’s view into the life and legacy of a Beach Boy, no one has better credentials than Billy Hinsche. While never an official Beach Boy himself, Hinsche was part of their touring outfit as keyboardist, guitarist, and backing vocalist from the 1970s through the 1990s. Billy became part of the extended Wilson family when his sister Annie married Carl Wilson in February 1966. Now, he’s not only Uncle Billy to new generations of Wilsons, but he is also Al Jardine’s current music director. He’s also a board member of the charitable Carl Wilson Foundation, an organization that receives a portion of the sales of Hinsche’s new documentary.

Here and Now is but the latest of Hinsche’s Beach Boys biographical projects, and it’s as exhaustive an exploration of Carl Wilson as any fan can ask. The two discs total three hours, with just over 90 minutes per disc.

Disc one is a multi-dimensional look back at Wilson’s life built primarily on interviews with those who knew him and worked with him. The first segment is on Wilson as a family man as remembered by brother Brian, nieces, nephews, wives and mothers including Jonah Wilson, Justyn Wilson, Annie Wilson Karges, Marilyn Wilson Rutherford, and Carole Wilson Bloom. Carl’s musicianship is discussed by Gerry Beckley (America), Phil “Fang” Volk (Paul Revere & The Raiders), Nick Fortuna (The Buckinghams), and especially Walt Parazaider (Chicago). These musical peers discuss Wilson’s creative legacy in four sections. The first notes his role as the perfectionist musical director for the group on the road. Then, his often overlooked role as an influential guitar player is analyzed before he receives tributes for his “angelic” voice in songs like “God Only Knows” and “Good Vibrations.” Finally, he’s given credit for his often under-appreciated work as a producer in the studio.

Disc two opens with deeper looks into Wilson off stage as a man of humor and integrity. By all accounts, he was more than the glue for the Beach Boys and the Wilson family; he also helped set the standards for musical professionalism and open-hearted treatment of all players and crew. This cannot be described as a “warts and all” biography as no one has a single unkind word to say. Carl Wilson comes off as a spiritual, level-headed figure able to facilitate order in what could have been rock and roll chaos. While he was the youngest Wilson brother, much fell on his shoulders as both Brian and Dennis were prey to their individual ills. In the end, it seems clear the Beach Boys sound would have been very different without him. Their place on the stage likely would have been much shorter. More importantly, those who knew him and loved him would have missed his gentle presence with so much meaning to so many.

Some viewers might have preferred an edited edition of this documentary as it gets repetitive. Voice after voice underline many of the same key points. It’s interesting, other than Brian, that no other Beach Boy speaks about their late colleague. We do get to see rare archival footage, notably of Audrey Wilson, mother of the boys, showing off her pride in her sons.

Most musical samples are frustratingly brief and truncated, likely as the rights to use longer extracts would have been cost prohibitive. The only full-length songs come at the end with Michael Angeloff’s “Here and Now Is Forever” and “Life’s So Strange.” Both feature Carl’s last studio background vocal performances. In the main, this set talks about the music—you gotta hear it elsewhere.

Still, to use one of Wilson’s oft repeated phrases, “It is what it is.” Serious Beach Boys fans will really treasure this intimate, very personal overview of a life with deep impact on a select few, and more of an impact on the rest of us then we really knew. Among musicians, Carl Wilson’s talents are widely appreciated; it’s the general public who may not be aware that he was more than the voice “in the middle.”Odds are, after viewing this tribute, you’ll want to re-visit your own Beach Boys library to hear the songs with new appreciation. Or for those without any of Carl Wilson’s solo albums, now might be the time to hear melodies you missed when the songs were young. The Beach Boys were much, much more than one brother’s vision.

Note: This item is available exclusively at the official site.

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