What we were hoping for was fun, fun, fun. What we got were weird vibrations. What we longed for was a surfin’ safari. How we felt was, Help me, Rhonda.
Where we were was Tower Books in Manhattan, where Beach Boys founder Brian Wilson sat in front of a giant surfer banner, signing copies of his new autobiography, Wouldn’t It Be Nice: My Own Story. He sat hunched over a bare table. He sat facing a poster for Final Exit, a book about suicide. He sat very, very quietly, looking at nothing much at all, occasionally drumming on the table. The sound system played the Beach Boys. Somewhere, a camera clicked.
Brian! Can we get a shot of you over here, man?
What we knew not to expect was social ease: Wilson, who’s 49, has had a tough life, a troubled life, a life badly scarred by drugs and alcohol and mental illness. Usually he’s accompanied everywhere by his around-the-clock personal therapist and business partner, Dr. Eugene Landy. What nobody knew to expect was that Wilson would be out on his own this night, just himself. And his personal assistant. And his book agent and his book editor and his book publicist. What none of them expected was that hundreds of Brian Wilson fans in bell-bottoms and Army jackets would buy every copy of the book in stock. And wait for hours in a queue that snaked through the store and out the door and onto a Greenwich Village sidewalk known for turning California Girls into God Only Knows. Somewhere a videocam whirred.
Brian! Hey, man, you’re the greatest, can I get a shot of the two of us together?
His personal assistant provided flavored seltzer. His book publicist provided six pens. His fans made their way to their idol and paused — here it is! — for that magical California moment, when Brian Wilson would emerge from his personal surf and connect — really connect!
Brian Wilson drummed on the table. Somewhere, a flashbulb went off.
Blond young women brought him single roses. Skinny long-haired men gave him tapes. People gave him letters and inspirational tracts and candy.
Brian! How about a shot of you with my cat?
Brian Wilson looked up. ”How many more to go?” he asked.
”Only 80, Brian!” Only 60! Only 23! Brian Wilson tightened his lips in concentration: ”To Gina. Brian Wilson.”
Then he looked at nothing at all.
Hey, your music is great! My mom used to take me to hear you when I was a little kid! Wow! Keep up those good vibrations, okay? Stay good, peace, okay, Brian?
Brian Wilson blinked. He drummed on the table.
”I like the Rolling Stones. They’re, like, my favorite group,” he said. Somewhere, a cash register rang.