Smile

Submitted by on 23 March, 2004 - 12:00

by Brian Wilson

"If there is one person I have to select as as a living genius of pop music, I would choose Brian Wilson." George Martin, Beatles producer
"I lost my way, heh, heh, heh." Brian Wilson

With sell-out concerts at the Royal Festival Hall and major coverage in the serious press, Brian Wilson, aged 61, is back. He is back playing music he wrote when he was just 24.

Last year we were re-introduced to Pet Sounds, consistently voted best album of all time by music journalists. This year Wilson has compiled the most famous unfinished album in rock history, Smile, abandoned 37 years ago.

Pet Sounds was years ahead of its contemporaries, as many of them acknowledge. Smile may simply be "timeless". This work is written by a musical intelligence and sensibility that has mastered every aspect of the making of a record: the song writing, the arranging, the recording and the producing. More than this, Brian Wilson has a revolutionary project.

Imagine you could take the essentials of every type of music - jazz, R&B, classical, folk, children's songs, and fuse them into something completely new. This was the extraordinary ambition Wilson set himself as the young man who began Smile. He was spurred on by competition with Lennon and McCartney and himself.

But Wilson suffered several breakdowns in the middle of the work and was severely affected by his abuse of cocaine and LSD. He went to bed for two years and then basically ticked over for the next 30 years.

Why should socialists be particularly interested in his chapter of pop history - apart from this being some of the most beautiful music in pop? The 60s were a revolutionary period, particularly culturally. Artists like Wilson were taking music in new directions. They give us a glimpse of what a popular culture might be like when it is attached to the energy and stimulus of broader social and cultural change.

Brian Wilson influenced every major musical artist of his generation but, as with so many artists working in many other media, the tide of social change ebbed leaving many broken, abandoned, frustrated projects of music and literature. A famous Wilson song goes: "I guess I just wasn't made for these times." He speaks for a generation of outsiders and innovators whom the markets of capitalism could only briefly sustain.

Perhaps one of the jobs of socialists should be to make "times" fit for their imagination.

Score: 8/10
Reviewer: Paul Cooper

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