Good vibrations...

Back when I was a fat kid in the Connecticut suburbs of New York City, I fell in love with Brian Wilson's masterpiece, "Good Vibrations." It was rock'n'roll church for me and whenever I felt down or confused by life - or the circumstances of life - I couldn't help but feel better and smile whenever I played that song. Maybe you know it...

This version comes from the completion of a project Brian Wilson began 40 years ago. Can you dig that? Forty freakin' years ago - 40 years of wandering in the desert, 40 years of being afraid and among the walking wounded, 40 years of fasting and prayer and fear and loathing, being tossed about by the flood like Noah - only to arrive in the promised land and... experience in the flesh the blessing of resurrection.

I just finished watching the documentary re: the making of Wilson's magnum opus, Smile, which he described as a teenage symphony to God - his take on the best of our American values from Plymouth Rock to Hawaii - music we might actually be able to pray to. And he is right: it is all of that and more.

I won't bore those of you who don't know his story (it is worth learning) but I will say that Wilson is the word of redemption made flesh by the beauty of music and the power of love.

+ I wept when he was finally able to beat back his demons and sing the songs that have been in his heart for all this time. Watch him come to life through the music and the love.

+ I laughed out loud hearing the pure power of pop when he played "Heroes and Villains" again - a song rendered strangely appropriate all these years later as the Obama team exposes the ugly practice of torture and degradation. NOTE the opening strains of Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" that frames this song.

Back when Pet Sounds came out - and I got it as part of the 12-4-1 deal with the Capitol Records club - I listened to his music over and over. "Caroline No" was sooooo sweet and sad - it gave expression to all my unfocused laments. "Don't Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)" was over the top romanticism pure and simple. And the two instrumentals - "Pet Sounds" and "Let's Go Away for Awhile" - were some of my first meditative experiences with music. They set me free from the fear, the alcohol and all the other bullshit... gave me hope that there was a better way of living because I COULD FEEL IT in these songs.

But then Brian - like the 60s -fell apart. Imploded. Self-destructed. And all the innocent beauty of those dreams got locked inside - ridiculed by some and degraded by others - until the time was right for a more mature expression. Brian Wilson gave voice to his hopes and dreams and prayers again - and we are all the better because of it. Such is one of the on-going charisms of rock music: it can connect us to God's playful, hopeful and prophetic spirit better than many other forms of prayer.

I am not suggesting, like old Country Joe MacDonald, that we should "bring back the 60's man!" - not at all - they were ungrounded and self-indulgent in all the worst ways. Just read Joan Didion's The White Album for a taste of the excess and paranoia. But as Harvey Cox noted in his Feast of Fools, more than ever our world needs a sense of play and hope - committed love and deep prayer - that can critique the greed and offer a gentle and joy filled alternative to the ugliness and mean-spirited heart of the status quo.

Brother Brian Wilson is part of that healing. So is Brother Lou Reed, Brother Curt Cobian, Sister Aretha Franklyn, Sister Sheryl Crow, Sister Joan Osborne and Brother Jackson Browne. Soul preacher, Bruce Springsteen, once said that Jackson Browne wrote about the underbelly of the beautiful American dream that Brian Wilson shared with the world. I would add that at his best Jackson is like Lou Reed and Brian Wilson mixed in a blender of sound.

How does the psalmist put it? "How good and pleasant it is when sisters and brothers dwell together in unity!" Thanks be to God for all these good brothers, sisters and rock and roll preachers... dig this one:

(special thanks to the pix of Gordon Atkinson's outdoor 'way of the cross' for the guitar pix.)


SGF said…
Loved what you wrote and smiled at your reaction to that documentary. Tears and all that inspiration are all one can do in response to such a dark night that lasted 40 Years! He truly was on a night sea journey.....but in the end he was liberated! We can all find liberation if we feel those vibrations and all we have to do is listen!

Popular Posts