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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2001/08/20

Dennis Wilson and Carl Wilson

Last month, I had the pleasure to go and see Paul Simon and Brian Wilson perform at the Jones Beach Theater. Actually, my wife was more interested in Paul Simon, while I was more enthusiastic about seeing Brian Wilson. After the concert, we agreed that both performers were great. Each of us gained a significant amount of respect for these two men and their music.
Brians well-documented problems with drugs, alcohol and depression are well known. To be able to perform and interact with the audience as he did that night was truly a remarkable circumstance given the fact that nobody expected him to even be alive, much less performing in 2001. At one point, he dedicated a song to his late brother, Dennis. This of course got me to thinking about both of his deceased brothers, Carl and Dennis.

Brian, Carl and Dennis were the Beach Boys. Everyone else in the group from the early 60s through the 90s were bit players in the Wilson family melodrama. To me, following the Beach Boys was like watching a weekly series on television. Brian was the star. He was the brooding, tortured genius whose musical skills were far above any mortal. Dennis was the rugged, handsome and mischievous brother, whose talents were always overshadowed by foolish behavior. You knew that under it all he was a very talented but troubled person. He was the guy you wanted to invite to your house for a party, but if he showed up, you knew something would break and your parents would tell you not to hang out with him. Carl was the good guy. A bit overweight, but you could tell that he was really a nice, gentle and sweet human being who incidentally could play guitar and sing in the most beautiful manner. Every other non-Wilson brother Beach Boy was there to augment the family stories. The bottom line was that the Beach Boys were the foremost American group during the days of the British music invasion. I vividly remember how Sergeant Pepper was matched against Pet Sounds with both albums receiving the deserved accolades from fans and press throughout the world.

When Brian dedicated a song to his brother, it got me thinking about the solo albums I have by Carl and Dennis and decided to review them for you. As you know, this column is meant to bring to your attention diamonds in the rough, albums that somehow were overlooked and give you a perspective on that music.

Carl Wilson (12/21/46 2/6/98) released an album in 1981 entitled Carl Wilson on Caribou Records (NJ 2 37010) produced by James William Guercio, who incidentally is one of my favorite producers. Heres the guy who sang lead on Good Vibrations, God Only Knows and Surfin USA and for some unknown reason, he goes away from that type of vocal on five of the eight songs on this album. Side 1 is a complete waste of time. Dont even bother listening. It is mostly upbeat and bland. Even if the songs were good, Carls voice was not meant to sing in that manner. Side 2 on the other hand has three incredibly good songs showcasing Carls amazing harmonic skills. Hurry Love, Heaven, and Seems So Long Ago are classic Carl songs that sound great twenty years later. I would buy the album for these three songs alone.

Dennis Wilson (12/4/44 -12/28/83) released an album on Caribou/CBS (PZ 34354) in 1977 entitled Pacific Ocean Blue produced by Dennis and Gregg Jakobson. This is a unique album that cries out for your attention. Whereas Carls work allows you to daydream and wander, this offering by Dennis smacks you in the head and demands that you listen to it. Ironically, Dennis was the lead singer on the Beach Boys hit; Do You Wanna Dance. Dont expect that type of music on this album. He is clearly concerned with the environment when he speaks of the slaughter of the sea otter in the song, Pacific Ocean Blue. His lyrics are at times, haunting, almost as though he knows he has unfinished business that will never be fulfilled. His voice on some of the songs is coarse and raw, whereas on other songs you get a different and pleasant tonality. This album is a picture of a complex, troubled and talented person. I would strongly recommend this album. It has been reissued on CD.

Carl died of cancer in 1998. The Carl Wilson Foundation was established to help fight cancer. The foundation is sponsoring the 4th Annual Carl Wilson Walk Against Cancer on October 14 in California. For more information, you can go to carlwilsonfoundation.org.

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