To really appreciate the achievement that is SMiLE, you have to know the sad, strange tale of its 37-year gestation. Now, with Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE: The DVD (due in stores May 24), you can get the songs and the story behind Wilson’s 2004 album. One disc features the moving documentary Beautiful Dreamer, while a second DVD captures a live SMiLE performance last fall in L.A. Recently we caught up with Wilson at Austin’s Four Seasons Hotel — and then his SMiLE collaborator, Van Dyke Parks, who helped fill in some of the gaps.
Brian Wilson says…
EW What was it like the first time you performed SMiLE, in London back in February 2004?
BW I was so nervous before I went on. I could almost throw up.
EW And how did it go?
BW Great! I got a standing ovation.
EW If you could go back and talk to yourself while you were making SMiLE the first time, what would you say?
BW That I shouldn’t have thrown it away!
EW Do you feel in touch with the person who you were then?
BW No. I took a lot of drugs, so I can’t remember the person I was then.
EW Does the success of SMiLE mean you’ll write more material in that style?
BW No. I’ve done that. I just wrote some new songs that have nothing to do with SMiLE.
EW What do you listen to when you’re home?
BW I listen to SMiLE.
EW And what do you think while you’re listening to it?
BW I think, How could I have done that? And, I did it.
And Van Dyke Parks says…
EW So Brian says he doesn’t remember anything about the original SMiLE.
VDP He’s lying like a rug. But I was there, and I can remember a lot of wonderful things. He was really well-spoken, humorous, made no distinction between the sacred and the profane. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry [at his music], and I still don’t. Which is, I think, the object of his artistry.
EW He won’t admit to the sad part.
VDP I’m sure that he’s tired of being viewed as a victim. But he is a victim. And justice has been delayed.
EW How would his life have been different if he had finished it and put it out in 1967?
VDP I think we’d have a lot more music from Brian Wilson. I can remember after the defeat of SMiLE he couldn’t get laid in a women’s penitentiary with a fistful of pardons! Nobody would record him, this giant. It makes me sad.
EW Have you discussed any of that stuff?
VDP I don’t think I’ve discussed anything with him. He’s hyperalert and interesting and a confirming companion in his work and his general outlook. I think he’s shown incredible strength. [Suddenly looks around the grounds of the Four Seasons.] He’s staying at a better hotel than I am. I would like to have a conversation about that!
EW What do you think he’d say?
VDP He’d probably say, ”Take my room.”