It began in the twilight of my childhood. Around 1967, when I was nine or so, I was rummaging through my cousin's LPs, a poorly kept collection of around 25 albums, some in sleeves, some loose, some packaged two to a sleeve, and so on. I pulled out a badly worn cover for an album called The Beach Boys Concert. It housed two scratched LPs, one of the same name and one called All Summer Long. They may have been the first LPs I ever handled or, at least, paid attention to --- heavy in my hands, a slightly musty smell lingering with vinyl, a multi-color Capital Records label imprint. I put The Beach Boys Concert on the turntable. Fred Vail (who I later met) emceed: "Now, from Hawthorne, California, to entertain you tonight, with a gala concert, and a recording session, the FABULOUS Beach Boys!"
And it was fabulous. I was entranced by the energy of the first tune, "Fun, Fun, Fun," the screams of the crowd that moved in waves through the songs, and the speed of delivery, as if someone cranked the RPMs up a notch. (Actually, I wasn't wrong about that, as early manager Murray Wilson's favorite trick was to have the original recordings "brightened" by having them sped up.) It was the first rock songs I ever paid attention to. But then, sustained attention isn't in the nature of most nine-year olds, and so my cousin came home and I went on with life. But I didn't forget the sparkling vocals and crackling energy of those songs.
Spin forward five years and I'm 14, introspective (that is, a teenager), sitting in my bedroom covered with posters, a black light in the corner, listening to a song that seems made for me, Beach Boys leader Brian Wilson singing "There's a world where I can go and tell my secrets to/ In my room/ In this room I lock out all my worries and my fears/ In my room." I didn't know then, but "In My Room" was sadly true, as Brian Wilson was worried and afraid in ways I couldn't imagine then. I began buying up their records, beginning with Sunflower, an effervescent Seventies record, Surf's Up, which was (for the Beach Boys) oddly melancholy, and then worked my way back through their catalog through the early hot rod and surfing song albums. The albums were issued on CD for the first time, and I bought them again. Still later they were issued with bonus tracks and detailed liner notes. I bought them again. I believe I bought the seminal Pet Sounds album four or five times and chased bootleg recordings and trivia about the famous "lost" Smile sessions (released, finally, last year) for nearly 40 years. I don't regret it.
And then spin way forward, through college, marriage, and career, and into middle-age, and in 2002 I had a record label called Silent Planet Records. One day, either my General Manager, Tony Shore, or I said "why don't we. . .," and we did. We did a tribute to Brian Wilson called Making God Smile. It's the best thing we ever did on that label. It was my way of saying thank you for some music that has enriched my life.
Around that time, I googled Brian Wilson and ended up on the website of an evangelist from my hometown, Greensboro, North Carolina, who had an apologetics ministry. In Alex McFarland's website was a reference to Jeffrey Foskett, a member of Brian Wilson's band. That was unusual. I emailed McFarland to ask for the email address of Foskett, thinking I'd drop him a note to see if he had any ideas of good bands to sign to our label. When I emailed him, he responded and said that he might know of some bands, but that he may be interested as well. His album, Stars in the Sand, was released in 2004 on The Pop Collective, an imprint of Silent Planet Records, and we became friends. As a result, I have met Brian Wilson several times, in Minneapolis, Los Angeles, and Washington. To him I'm just a fan, a friend of Jeffrey's. He doesn't know me, nor need he. But when I see him on the stage or in person, I am glad to have met him, as it keeps me from idolizing him. I am reminded that he is a frail human being with a special gift for harmony.
I pray for him too. I pray that there are people in his life who tell him the truth about God and about himself, who aren't fans but friends who speak the truth in love. The same kind of friends I have.
At this point, you may be thinking that this is just the nostalgic ramblings of a middle-aged man. It's not. There's nothing I want to go back to, no golden age, and I suspect Brian Wilson would also not want to turn back the clock to the many miseries he has endured in his life. What we think may have been golden for him was not golden at all. Others may have heard enough about this enigmatic artist. Yet I can't stop.
I remember that boy of nine, those pure vocals pouring out of my cousin's stereo, the teenage angst comforted by the words of "In My Room," and I wonder at the strange Providence that ever so slightly bent our paths toward one another. I don't believe in a universe of chance encounters, in any stray molecules, and yet it'd be presumptuous to say I know what it all means; but for belief in a sovereign God, it would be even comical to suggest it has meaning.
Sometimes, the poets say, words are set down that the writers don't grasp the meaning or meanings of until later, if at all. Brian Wilson said "Come On a Safari with me." I just took him up on it, that's all. He had no idea that he wasn't just talking about hot rods and surfing and girls. He was talking about my life, and yours.