I recently had the opportunity to talk to not one, but two Beach Boys in my capacity as a music writer for The Houston Press. Well, technically Brian Wilson and Al Jardine are ex-Beach Boys, as Mike Love owns the rights to the band’s name. According to some, Love pulled the plug on the hoped-for continuance of the group’s 50th anniversary tour last year that found all five surviving original/classic lineup members on stage.
Ostensibly, the pair were to talk up the current fall tour that finds Wilson and band (which includes Jardine and original Beach Boy David Marks) in an unlikely pairing with guitar hero Jeff Beck. Though, as Houston Press music editor Chris Gray pointed out in his review, the result has been a bit of a musical mess.
The chance to speak with Wilson, one of rock and pop’s true geniuses, was of course, thrilling. But as any writer who has spoken with him over the past couple of decades can tell you, it is also a bit frustrating.
The years of fragile mental health, drugs, and controversial recovery methods, have clearly taken a toll. In concert, he sits motionless with a vacant stare. And while unfailingly polite in interviews, he often gives two-or-three sentence answers, often cloaked in superlatives (“He’s a great singer! One of my favorites!”) And when he’s done, he’s done. Next question.
I found that out the hard way a few years back when I first spoke to Wilson for his Pet Sounds tour when we burned through 10 of my carefully thought out queries in two minutes, leaving me desperate. This time, it took seven minutes to go through about 16 questions. I’m learning.
Ironically, Brian Wilson seems busier these days than ever before. After wrapping up the Beach Boys 70+ date reunion tour and new studio CD last year and his current jaunt, he’s in the studio working on three different records, speaking with a journalist for his second autobiography, and keeping an eye on the feature film of his life, Love & Mercy, which just wrapped filming (with Paul Dano as the young Brian and John Cusack as the older one).
In this excerpt from my interview, Jardine discusses his unique perspective as the only non-family member of the classic five-man Beach Boys lineup that included three brothers (Brian, Carl, and Dennis Wilson) and their cousin (Mike Love).
“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!”