Love and Mercy

My very first rock concert was The Beach Boys at SPAC (Saratoga Performing Arts Center) when I was in my early teens (this was around 1972, for those of you who are trying to do the math.)  I attended a program for inner city kids at Vincent House (one of the local community centers), where I met Maureen, a college student from LeMoyne who volunteered there.  She invited a friend and I to travel home with her to Albany for the night.  It was exciting to travel overnight with someone not in my family but the thing I remember most about the trip was the slightly nauseous feeling I had that night after leaving the concert.  Now I know it was from all the pot smoking.

The next time I paid any attention to the Beach Boys, other than singing to their songs on top 40 radio,  was when they guest starred on Full House in the 80’s.  Who didn’t love the TGIF lineup?  I really doesn’t matter how implausible the plot was, it was just good fun to see the guys joke with the Tanner clan (and watching them ‘act’ was pretty funny.)  Here are the Tanners singing with the Beach Boys at a concert:

Out of the many hits the Beach Boys have had over the years, I think my favorite (and also Paul McCartney’s!) is “God Only Knows”.   This BBC video made the rounds on the internet last year and is the one I love the most because it is a showcase of just how universal Brian’s songwriting really is.  It is full of unparalleled talent, including Brian himself.


As many of you know, Cape Cod is one of my happy places.  Sitting next to the ocean in my camp chair, sun or clouds, with a book and a beer is as near to heaven as it gets.  My friend Judy and I often include a movie, when the sun is hiding and the beach is too windy.  We often settle on a movie with a literary bent, but this year there wasn’t a clear choice that we could agreed on, so she went with my recommendation that we see Love and Mercy.

I wanted to see Love and Mercy because I really like John Cusack’s work.  What I wasn’t prepared for was being introduced to the musical genius that is Brian Wilson.  The movie itself is really well done, with Paul Dano as 60’s and 70’s Brian and John Cusack as 80’s Brian.  Both men embodied Brian and his mannerisms superbly.


I am amazed that so much beauty could come out of such a tortured soul.  Brian had dealt with hardship at an early age as the result of an abusive father, who wanted to live through his boys and have them find the fame and fortune he was not able to attain.  He was very controlling and harsh in his position as manager, producer, and father.  Brian’s troubles continued later in life even after he got out from under his father’s thumb.   in response to the myriad of mental health issues Brian suffered from,  he was put under the care of Dr. Eugene Landy in the late 70’s.  He was misdiagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and then overmedicated by Landy, which led to Landy being fired. Brian’s manager hired him back in 1982 and although Landy helped Brian lose weight and appear healthier, as time went on, Brian fell deeper and deeper into the pharmaceutical and emotional abuse Landy heaped on him in an effort to make money off him.  He was eventually controlled by Landy in every aspect of his life; a prisoner in his own home and his own mind before rescue came in the form of Melinda, a woman who stuck by him and eventually married him.

There really is no way that I could recount the captivating story of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys in this short post, so I encourage you to see Love and Mercy.  You can also search youtube, where there are several documentaries as well as videos of their studio sessions and the stories of the making the albums Pet Sounds and Smile.  I will bet that the next time you hear a Beach Boys tune, you will have a different and deeper experience because of Love and Mercy. I know I have.

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