For Brian Wilson and Al Jardine, Life's a (Busy) Beach
Beach Men: David Marks, Brian Wilson, and Al Jardine
He may be 71 years old, but Head Beach Boy Brian Wilson might be busier today than at any point in his career. Having already completed the band's 50th anniversary reunion tour and new studio record last year, he's now on the road with two of the Boys (Al Jardine and David Marks) and guitar virtuoso Jeff Beck for a fall co-headlining tour.
Then, he's working with journalist Jason Fine on a new autobiography (1991's Wouldn't It Be Nice is often dismissed as a whitewash under the influence of then-controversial therapist/manager, Eugene Landy). And filming on a biopic, Love & Mercy -- featuring Paul Dano as the young Brian and John Cusack as the mature one -- just wrapped.
Oh, and he's in the studio working on three new records: a traditional pop effort, a mostly instrumental disc with Beck, and a concept album with a "suite" of songs.
"This is a time of creativity for me!" Wilson enthuses. "We're doing an album now of mellow and beautiful music."
And the movie?
"We've seen some of the film. So far, so good. The guy who plays me, John Cusack, he's really good. And he sings well."
Finally, the Beach Boys have also just released a massive, career-spanning box set. Made in California's six discs combine the big hits, deep cuts, live recordings, demos, alternate takes, and nearly 60 unreleased tracks.
Among the ephemera is Brian Wilson's 1959 high school essay "My Philosophy," reproduced in its original handwritten form. All five surviving original/classic lineup Beach Boys had a hand in its compilation.
"I just wanted to keep the stuff on there that people should hear and not the trials and errors, which weren't so flattering," Jardine offers. "But what's on there is amazing. It's seven hours of music! And lesser-known songs I'm glad to see on there like 'Kiss Me Baby,' 'Our Car Club,' and 'Custom Machine.'"
Jardine is also excited about getting a rare lead vocal on two songs for Wilson's upcoming pop album, "Right Time" and "Run James Run" -- the latter of which he calls a "2013 Beach Boys car song."
In fact, it's Jardine who often had the most interesting perspective in a five-man band which, for much of its glory years, consisted of three brothers (Brian, Carl, and Dennis Wilson) and their cousin (Mike Love). The outsider's view let him see his bandmates in a different sort of light.
"I didn't have a lot of brothers and cousins [in my own family], so it was quite a big leap for me," he says. "And watching these guys fuss and fight over the years could be pretty traumatic."
"At the same time, you can see how people can still work with each other after they fight, and that's important. To get beyond that and create great music. I like to think that I was the glue at some point who kept things together."
Jardine also credits the late Carl Wilson -- who he credits as being the band's "moral center" -- with keeping the various egos and personalities and frailties of his bandmates on an even keel.
"He had a great sense of fairness and the right and wrong beyond all the emotional stuff," he says. "He became a great leader for the band in the later years, even as a stage manager. He was a very astute guy."
Carl Wilson even had a catchphrase that would signal the end of any intense discussion or confrontation, no matter how heated it got.
"Carl's last line was always 'It is what it is,'" Jardine laughs. "When you heard that, you knew it was the end of the conversation!"
Interview continues on the next page.
Scary Hairies in the '70s: (top) Mike Love, Brian Wilson, Dennis Wilson. (bottom) Al Jardine, Carl Wilson
Speaking of ends, Houston holds a certain distinction as an "end" in Beach Boys lore. That's because it was on December 1964 plane ride to the city during a tour that Brian Wilson suffered a nervous breakdown before takeoff. His well-documented fragile mental state had caught up with him.
Wilson exited the plane before takeoff, and did not return to regular live performances with the group for more than a decade, preferring to write songs and record with the band instead. Jardine remembers the incident to this day.
"We were sitting on the plane, and he looked lost and didn't seem well," he says. "And if you or I had the pressure on his shoulders that he had at the time... it was quite a conflict. Fortunately, Glen Campbell came out and rescued us for the balance of the tour."
In some ways, the genesis of the Beach Boys as a serious group started on the June day in 1960 at Hawthorne High School when Jardine met fellow football player Brian Wilson.
More than 50 years later, the pair still have something of a mutual admiration society, when we asked each of them to say something about the other people might find surprising.
"Brian has an amazing memory. A great musical memory, but a great memory period. You can ask him 'how many accordions did we have on "Wouldn't it Be Nice?" And he'll say 'well, we had three. 'And then he'll name the guys who played them!" Jardine says.
"He hears stuff that...I think it may be incidental, but he hears something within something. He opens my eyes all the time. I think he's probably psychic!"
As for Jardine, Wilson - has he always is in conversation - is very, very succinct.
"Al has a great voice. He's a great singer. He's one of my favorite singers," Brian offers. "He knocks 'em dead!"
Brian Wilson and Jeff Beck, featuring Al Jardine and David Marks, perform at 8 p.m. tonight at Bayou Music Center, 520 Texas at Bayou Place. Tickets are available.
ROCKS OFF'S GREATEST HITS