Chris Willman
December 27, 2004 AT 05:00 AM EST

About a year ago, EW was researching an article on famously ”lost” work and rang up Brian Wilson to get his thoughts about SMiLE, the most legendary unreleased album of all time. The former Beach Boy nearly completed it in 1967 before setting it aside amid much psychological and hallucinogenic turmoil. The conversation quickly took a serendipitous turn: To our shock, Wilson had finished his onetime ”teenage symphony to God” and was two weeks into unpublicized rehearsals to turn it into a European tour. Reconstructing SMiLE for the stage was ”hell for me,” the notoriously anxiety-prone singer admitted then, ”but I’m doin’ okay.” He did more than okay: SMiLE was so rapturously received at the Royal Festival Hall in London that Wilson remade it as a studio album, the hosannas for which were followed by a triumphal American tour. You can’t really apply the ”late bloomer” tag to a teen prodigy like Wilson, now 62, but SMiLE‘s magnificence became a testament to the glory of delayed gratification.

Cut to Election Night 2004, as the SMiLE tour comes to a close. L.A.’s tony Disney Hall is filled with textbook Hollywood liberals, but no one is checking their PDAs for updates on Ohio and Florida. ”There’s something spiritual going on here tonight,” co-writer Van Dyke Parks tells us at intermission, by which we think he means our ability to forget that there’s an election or even a world outside for two hours. Or perhaps he’s just referring to Wilson, who is playfully acting out lyrics, hitting all the notes he wrote 37 years ago, and, best of all, is utterly present. Late bloomer, maybe, after all.

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