Brian Wilson and the Unbearable Heaviness of Fandom

What a waste it is to lose one's mind...Although a considerable amount of Brian Wilson buzz has been generated by the completion and release of Smile, a work that would probably be more long-lived as myth than it will be as a completed project, what has not received much attention, for good reason, is a recording he put out a few months ago, Gettin’ In Over My Head.

Let me confess that I am a Brian Wilson “fan.” I think that what Mike Love has done to the Beach Boys is a sacrilegious travesty and I am certain that there is a circle in hell that is waiting for him, where he’ll have to listen to “Kokomo” for all eternity; the rest of us have had to suffer what seems like eternity just hearing the damn thing by accident, say in the back of a cab.

Being a Wilson fan, I bought the disc without having heard any of it. That’s what fans do. This despite the fact that I found his previous two solo releases—Brian Wilson (’88) and Imagination (’98)—to be, well, moderately painful. Think, if you will, of dental work when the amount of Novocain proves to be insufficient, a determination that’s made only after the fact. I gave the first one a pass figuring that the man had gone through some seriously troubling times and that, consequently, the fact that he was composing again was sufficient unto itself. As for Imagination, well, I don’t really have much in the way of an explanation for that one. Maybe I figured that his daughters’ performances in Wilson Phillips reminded him of things like, well, the importance of staying on key. Maybe after 10 years I’d let the self-titled album’s memory become covered with thicker dust than the record sleeve.

Third time’s a charm, right?

Nothing could be further from the truth. Gettin’ In Over My Head is one of the most execrable things ever recorded. Clapton, McCartney, and Elton John make the whole endeavor even more ridiculous, or, perhaps, the two sirs and the commoner-cum-God probably figured that it would be a nice, charitable gesture to help out a man who is responsible—directly or indirectly—for some of the best music recorded in the ’60s. Another way to look at it is that they will have temporary residences in circles adjacent to that of Mr. Love.

Only because I am a para-professional in this arena did I drag myself bare-chested across the broken parking lot strewn with shreds of glass that is Gettin’ In Over My Head.

Remember what you did with all of those free AOL discs that used to proliferate like head lice in an elementary school? That treatment would be too good for Gettin’ In Over My Head.

Why do we do that to ourselves? Why do we become fans of musicians and continue to listen to them despite the fact that they let us down on more than one occasion? Habit? Consider: Let’s say that instead of Pet Sounds the first Wilson-related recording that I ever heard was Gettin’ In Over My Head. What is the likelihood that I would have ever become a fan? But it didn’t work out that way. And so over time I became more enmeshed in the music. I made economic, emotional and intellectual commitments to it. And because of that, I was loathe to change.

Consider the musicians that you are a fan of. How many times have you gone to a concert and, even though it was subpar, you gave them the benefit of the doubt? You remember the other times you’ve seen them and know that like all of us, they have a bad night every now and then. So even though the amount of time, effort, energy, and cash that you had to put into the undertaking was nontrivial, you still think it’s OK. We create allegiances to performers. We fall prey to what, in other aspects of life, would be considered to be “habit.” Like smoking or drinking, it is a habit that we voluntarily take up and are loathe to put down.

Sometimes, though, something happens. Say the worse hangover you’ve ever had multiplied by a factor of x. It may be enough to put you off of Molsons and Marlboros for quite a while. I’m at that point with Brian Wilson. And I am beginning to reconsider just what it is that I’ll endure for those other performers of which I am a fan.

2 thoughts on “Brian Wilson and the Unbearable Heaviness of Fandom”

  1. You’re absolutely right about this.

    The way I justify it to myself is that I’ll lay my $20 to Brian for his new crap disc because what I’m really doing is paying hommage to the music he’s produced before, which I value much more, but didn’t have to spend any extra money on.

    Brian deserves my buying the latest disc because I still owe him for the pleasure of Love You, which I listen to all the time.

    Imagine if music (or albums) cost was equal to their artist merit? Then, Pet Sounds would cost thousands of dollars, and Gettin’ In over My Head might be 24 cents.

    I got a lot more from Brian then he ever got from me, so I’ll keep buying all the crap he wants to put out.

    (Note: this is only in this particular instance – I’m not saying any artist deserves the same treatment – definitely not Elton John anyway).

  2. Jason:

    Interesting notion of how monetary value and the value we receive ought to be in some sort of relationship that’s not just predicated on price. Yes, many of us owe Wilson a lot. But there are limits to the investments we can afford to make–emotionally, intellectually, and financially–even to those to whom we owe a lot.

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