When Don was first met Brian Wilson in 1989, he realized the Beach Boys visionary was a rather different man from the withdrawn rock & roll casualty of popular myth. "I thought he was this surfer who freaked out," the hit-record producer says. "When I got to know him, I found a profound character."
Was has directed a documentary film about the troubled Beach Boy's life and music, I Just Wasn't Made for These Times. The affectionate and informative tribute premiered at this year's Sundance Film Festival, in Utah. In his directorial debut, Was sets the focus squarely on Wilson's composing and producing gifts.
"People who make records know what he did," Was points out. "But nonmusicians hear this phrase 'Brian Wilson's a genius' and have nothing to hang it on. He was on a par with the Beatles as far as music for music's sake."
I Just Wasn't Made for These Times follows a traditional documentary format: Testimony is heard from the Wilson family, Brian's musical peers (David Crosby, Danny Hutton and Van Dyke Parks, among others) and notable fans like John Cale, Tom Petty, Lindsey Buckingham and Thurston Moore. Understandably, Wilson himself recalls feeling dread about the film. "I was paranoid," he says. "I felt paranoid about it. I was very paranoid, as a matter of fact. [But] after I saw it, I said, "Wow, Don knew he was on to something good.'"
There are glimpses of Wilson's troubled family history but no mention of the controversial therapist Dr. Eugene Landy (who stopped treating Brian Wilson in 1991). "I'm a musician," Was says, explaining the omission. "That's all I feel competent about editorializing on."
Was staged live studio performances with an all-star session band specifically for the film. Wilson delivers wizened, revelatory versions of such songs as "Caroline No" and "Warmth of the Sun," while the touching finale brings out his daughters, Carnie and Wendy, for "Do It Again."
"It kind of beat the hell out of the Beach Boys' versions," Wilson says. Perhaps, but the best scenes just may be the moments of him alone at the piano or the scenes where Brian and brother Carl harmonize on "In My Room" in the living room of their mother, Audree.
The music from the film will be released on Was' MCA-distributed Karambolage label. In the meantime, Brian Wilson has been working on a record with Van Dyke Parks, and now that Mike Love's lawsuit against Wilson has been settled, he's back with his old band mates. So far the reconstituted Beach Boys have written and recorded a title song for an impending TV spinoff tentatively titled Baywatch Nights.
According to Don Was, "People like Brian Wilson make you listen to what they do and say, 'How in the world did they think of this?' Geniuses are just guys who look at things with 70 degrees of difference from everybody else, and they're articulate enough to tell you what they're seeing."