For some people, music is just a hobby, something to listen to in the car, pleasant sounds to diminish the boredom of cleaning one’s room, but not something that changes one’s life.
Music has always been more to me. When I was a kid, Paul Simon’s Graceland was my favorite album. At age four, I would sing and dance to songs like ‘You Can Call Me Al.’ Through the great oldies stations in California, I became familiar with groups like The Beach Boys, The Everly Brothers, and Buddy Holly.
I remember when I was eleven and I was at a friend’s birthday party, I made the mistake of saying that I liked the Beatles. I got picked on for liking a group that was old, lame and not “cool.” I went home after that party and found my mother’s copy of “White Album” and played it. I realized that music was something special that I wanted in my life forever. I didn’t realize that one day I would hear a record that would change my life forever.
The name of that album was SMiLE.
It was mid-August of 2004 when I learned that Brian Wilson had finally completed SMiLE. I couldn’t believe it. By that point, I had become a huge Beach Boys fan and Pet Sounds had a big impact on my life. After Pet Sounds, Brian Wilson started work on a new album that his brother, Dennis, said would “make Pet Sounds stink.”
Unfortunately, Wilson was using more and more drugs. The album deteriorated and it was eventually abandoned. The only clues the public ever got were the few songs that had been individually released over the course of six albums. The completed album was coming out in a month. It was to be the longest month of my life. Finally, September 28th arrived. I rushed to the record store, found the album and just held it. I had no idea that this little disc could completely change me.
I rushed home and immediately went to my stereo. I popped it in and pressed “play.” It started with a wordless invocation exemplifying the beautiful soaring harmonies that only Brian Wilson could think up. The song that really touched me was ‘Surf’s Up.’ The line, “A broken man too tough to cry” described my feelings at the time beautifully.
Listening to SMiLE, I could hear the joy and fear in every song. The album changed my life. It represented redemption. It was Wilson’s most adventurous project that was aborted due to fear. It had now been resurrected.
As somebody who often doubts himself because of past run-ins with the law and failed attempts at school, SMiLE serves as an example to me that anything is possible. Brian Wilson finished an album after thirty seven years of panic attacks from the mere mention of it. Not a day has gone by since that I didn’t think about a song, harmony, string arrangement, or just a little guitar lick from SMiLE.
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