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"In a Van Down by the River"

Monday, 6 August 2012

The Privateers - Andrew Bird (mp3)
Voices Inside My Head - The Police (mp3)

More often than not, it’s foolish to let a musical artist’s eccentricities interfere with your appreciation for the music. Because, let’s be honest, on the Bell Curve of human behavior, artists (and aspiring ones) are on that far end of the Freakin’ Weirdo spectrum. Some of them make Cousin Eddie’s Christmas Vacation comments about rubber sheets and gerbils sound like something from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.

Seriously, name me a platinum-selling artist who has managed to shuffle off this mortal coil without enough moral blemishes to his or her name to look like chicken pox, and I’ll accuse you of not looking closely enough.*

Elton John, David Bowie, Queen... this is practically a murderer’s row of unpublished Letters to Penthouse (or whatever the gay equivalent might be... back when people wrote letters and got their porn from magazines). The Beatles and the Stones were probably peripherally responsible for the eventual power of Mexican cartels. Springsteen, Dylan and countless others have managed to keep their public fiascos more cliched than their song lyrics, but the wackiness is still there.

And Michael Jackson? ‘Nuff said.

So why is it that I just can’t get past how weird The Beach Boys are? And really, when we say “The Beach Boys,” what we all know I mean is Brian Wilson.

So he’s weird. So what?

If someone told me that Brian Wilson was the leader of that cult who dressed in Converse sneakers and attempted to hitchhike on a spaceship passing by Earth at Warp Five, I wouldn’t bat an eye. He’s not even on the Island of Misfit Musicians; rather, he is the god whom the island’s residents worship.

Yet in my eMusic “Saved for Later” account, the two most-frequently worshipped Brian Wilson creations -- Pet Sounds and SMILE -- have lingered longer than Bret Michaels at a reality TV show interview. They’ve been there for at least 18 months now, yet I never can convince myself they’re worth the purchase.

On one level, I know they’re worth it. C’mon, they’re classics! But...

But... I just can’t get past wacky, crazy, batshit nuts entity that is Brian Wilson. And then I think about The Beach Boys’ performance at the 2102 Grammys, where the dude looked like a late-stage Alzheimer’s grandparent**, and I just can’t bring myself to buy his albums.

When I watch Chris Farley -- and maybe this is why I don’t watch much comedy anymore -- funny as he is, I can’t help but be a little haunted by his reality. The unfunniness of it. The sadness. So yes, I laugh at his “in a van down by the river” skit, but I also wish Farley hadn’t been such a train wreck. And if the cost of his mental health was not being a superstar, I’d wish he hadn’t been a superstar.

That’s where I am with Brian Wilson. His problems seem to go deeper than cliched Rock Problems. They’re not moral or sexual problems; they’re serious, deep mental ones. And somehow that’s more difficult for me to ignore.

One day, I hope I can get over it. Because I’m sure I’ll enjoy the hell out of those two albums.

* -- Of course this could be said of most everyone on our planet, but still, for artists, it goes to 11.

** -- Not mocking Alzheimer’s. This isn’t intended to be a humorous insult. Rather, at moments it really seemed to me like Brian Wilson had no clue who he was, why he was on that stage, or that he was once the leader of a highly successful pop band.

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