Smiles Away

Westword asked me to match wits with a living legend -- who also happens to be my hero. Here's the result.

I realize it now: I am one nervous interviewing dude. That's the reason I'm a songwriter and a record producer, not a journalist. Not only do I detest deadlines -- I've never handed in a project on time --but I'm really more interested in made-up stories than real ones. Also, I don't look good in one of those Jimmy Olsen-esque hats that say "Scoop" on the front.

But my poor interviewing skills didn't reveal themselves until today, when, in the back room of my house and witnessed by my three cats, I interviewed Beach Boy Brian Wilson.

The Beach Boys' "Heroes and Villains" was the first song my band, the Apples in Stereo, ever learned how to play. "Heroes" was originally intended to be the centerpiece of Smile, the ambitious followup to Pet Sounds that Brian Wilson began in 1966 -- but abandoned a year later after 85 exhausting and frustrating studio sessions. Although some of the songs, including "Heroes," wound up on 1967's Smiley Smile, it took Wilson almost forty years to complete and release Smile in the sprawling, ambitious form he first envisioned.

Smile was a massive part of my early musical identity. To me, the unfinished album took on mythological proportions. The bits and pieces of it that leaked out on bootlegs and boxed sets over the years filled the air of my old basement apartment in Denver. My world was immersed in these mystical sounds. No album ever seemed so magnificently hopeless.

But now there is hope: SMiLE is proof that, given talent and perseverance, rock and roll can be high art -- as valid as jazz or classical music, even painting, poetry or film. One of pop culture's most discouraging tragedies has become the preface to one of its greatest masterpieces.

Anyway, back to my story. Today, I interviewed my greatest hero in the whole world, and I freaked him out. Brian Wilson doesn't know anything about me or my band. He doesn't know that I'm famously just as spacey as he is. He doesn't know that, like him, I'm good at singing pop songs and making records for stoned college kids to listen to through headphones. All Brian Wilson knows about me is that I am one nervous interviewing dude. Brian Wilson might tell you that, despite my ambitions, I should not be a journalist. Brian Wilson might even have my "Scoop" hat revoked.

See, I have a lot of nervous energy. I talk too much. I talk too fast. I've really tried to cut down on my sugar intake, but sugar just makes me feel so happy, you know? Still, I think I did a pretty good job of containing my excitement when I answered the phone and it was Beach Boy Brian Wilson. But as things went along, the pace of our conversation picked up speed like the brakes had been cut. He fed off my nervousness, and I fed off him feeding off me.

Today I irritated Brian Wilson. I flustered Brian Wilson. I out-spaced-out Brian Wilson. Magazines of the world, is there anybody else you want me to interview? Let me at 'em.

Robert Schneider: I wanted to start by telling you that I love your music, and I love you more than anybody else I don't know in the whole world. I'm not a journalist. I was asked to do this interview because I'm a songwriter and a record producer like you. But besides the fact that you're my musical hero, I just want to tell you that I think you're a sweet, gentle person. Brian Wilson: Thank you.

And I think it's because you're such a neat person that you've had such a beautiful artistic vision.

Thank you very much. Now let's get on with the interview.

Okay, sir, let's go! Are you relieved to have finishedSMiLE?

Oh, very relieved. It's been 38 years of tension.

Was it hard to remember all the melodies to the song, and also the background vocal parts which you didn't originally record?No, it wasn't hard at all.

They're fantastic, Brian. It's such an amazing record. It's the most psychedelic, beautiful, wonderful, fun record I've ever heard. I think that it makes all other rock records look like amateur garage bands.Right! [Laughs.] Another question now!

Okay. How have Mike [Love] and Al [Jardine] reacted to you finishingSMiLE?

Mike and Al and Dennis [Wilson] hated the Smiletapes.

How about now? Are Mike and Al happy that you finished?I don't talk to Mike anymore. I don't know what he thinks.

Okay, great. How many originalSmile sections were left out? Or did you use everything?

We used almost everything.

Wow. Okay, I'm going to tell you something that I really love about music: how a single chord progression can have a million different melodies over it and a simple progression can have almost an infinite number of melodies. But it's a matter of taste to choose the best melodies, to allow them to move and be heard and not overburden the song with too many parts.

Absolutely. I agree with you 100 percent. So what's the question?

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