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Shored Up

Brian Wilson returns from hell to inhabit a self he hasn't seen since the '60s

Foster witnessed the concert, which he says Wilson played and performed in, from backstage and says it seemed like "just a regular Beach Boys concert." It was hard to hear the band over all the screaming teenagers, anyway. Yet Beach Boy Jardine is of the minority that says Wilson did not perform. "He just stayed in his room and went home."

In any case, Wilson returned to L.A. the next day. He was sobbing when his mother picked him up at the airport; he spent that day with her pouring out his soul. He'd sent word that he didn't want to see his father. The Beach Boys were left to finish their Southwest tour without him.

After Wilson had pulled himself off the road permanently, ace session guitarist Glen Campbell -- yes, theGlen Campbell -- replaced him for a couple of months. Then Bruce Johnston became the sixth Beach Boy. Wilson performed only on television and for special concert appearances. "He just knew he could not go on the road," said Marilyn Wilson on A&E's Biography. "That was just not his thing. And the truth is, he was right."

Wilson stayed at home and made records for the Beach Boys while the band toured. Concert attendance was unaffected by Wilson's absence. "Beach Boy fans were pretty loyal, and they were hearing Brian and seeing Brian on the records," says former Beach Boys promoter Fred Vail. "The fact that Brian wasn't doing every concert date was not always that major of a deal."

The follow-up to Pet Sounds was the single "Good Vibrations," a sonic masterpiece. By this time, Wilson had become the premier producer in rock and roll. He was also the genre's most adventurous composer.

But all was not well. In the 17 months after the fateful flight to Houston, Wilson suffered two more breakdowns. Already experimenting with marijuana, he began to indulge in LSD in early 1965, and over the next 18 years, his use of various recreational drugs escalated to dangerous proportions. The effects were tragic. "Brian was so sensitive," Carl Wilson told the Beach Boys fanzine Add Some Music in 1981. "He was such a … delicate balance. He was just the wrong person to go popping LSD."

By mid-1967, drug use and personal problems caught up with Wilson. After aborting the legendary Smile album in 1967, Wilson became reclusive. His behavior, which had always been a bit eccentric, became increasingly bizarre. Stories of Wilson's unusual antics from the late '60s through the early '80s are legendary. Eventually his marriage dissolved, his voice deteriorated, and on more than one occasion, his life appeared to be in jeopardy. Yet he emerged from his room every now and then and released a brilliant song, such as "'Til I Die." "We didn't know what was wrong with Brian," says Love. "He had a mental illness. Back then, he didn't know, nor did we, what the situation was, and we didn't know how to act or react to it."

That was then. Today, Wilson can be seen as a survivor. He has endured drug addiction, mental illness, the mind control and bullying of a Svengali psychologist and lawsuits from fellow Beach Boys. His brothers Dennis and Carl are dead. Against all expectations, Brian is the last Wilson standing.

Family can be one explanation why. He has established a relationship with his daughters, Carnie and Wendy, who hardly knew him for more than 20 years. Wilson also remarried in 1995 and has adopted two daughters. Reports from those close to him say he has never been happier.

Music has also played a large part in Wilson's recovery. In 1998 he released his second solo album, Imagination, which like his first, 1988's Brian Wilson, showed flashes of brilliance but still couldn't be considered his top-shelf stuff. Last month Wilson released Brian Wilson: Live at the Roxy Theatre, a double CD available only at concerts and via his Web site, www.brianwilson.com. A reunion with the Beach Boys is not in the works. "It is easier to write for my own self than for the guys," he says. "Those days are over. The '60s are over, you know. I did it pretty good then, but I'm doing it just a little differently now."

Last year Wilson embarked on his first full-fledged solo tour, which garnered almost uniformly positive reviews. Now, there is cautious optimism surrounding Wilson. No, his voice isn't the same, not that many care. Wilson is 58, not 23, and after everything he has survived, fans and the media appear willing to give him a break. "Just to get Brian to do anything nowadays is a real treat," says Vail. "It's such a far cry from what the situation was ten or 15 years ago."

On Wilson's current tour, things look like they've come full circle. He presents something of a career retrospective. The two-and-a-half-hour concert includes a number of his best Beach Boy songs, some solo material and, in selected cities but not Houston, a 30-minute symphonic overture arranged by famed Wilson collaborator Van Dyke Parks. The highlight is when Wilson performs the entire Pet Sounds album, including tunes such as "Here Today," "That's Not Me" and "I Know There's an Answer," which have never before been performed live by Wilson or the Beach Boys. On a stage that includes the L.A. retro outfit the Wondermints, Wilson, hitting notes he hasn't touched in years, is giving fans something they've waited 34 years to hear.

Brian Wilson with The Pet Sounds Symphonic Tour performs Tuesday, July 25, at the Aerial Theater. For ticket information, call (713)629-3700.

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