Brian Wilson

David Fufkin

, the enigmatic leader of The Beach Boys, one of the great pop composers of this century.

Brian Wilson

Brian Wilson

City: Atlanta, Georgia
Venue: Chastain Park Amphitheatre
Date: 2000-07-30

As I entered the confines of this open-air amphitheatre, I was struck by what an appropriate venue this was to experience Brian Wilson, the enigmatic leader of The Beach Boys, one of the great pop composers of this century. The rusty bandshell and the fissures in the concrete gave the venue a Coliseum feel. On this night, unlike the gladiators whose fight ended in death, I saw Mr. Wilson very much alive in the face of near death from mental illness and drug use of years past. His mere walking onto the stage was a triumph that, to me, can only be analogized to the gladiator's slaying of the lion: many expected him to die long ago, except he has survived, and it is an amazing feat. It is a miracle he is on the road and performing after all the abuse suffered at the hands of his father, the pressure of actually trying to compete with The Beatles, the pain of the rejection of his crowning work, Pet Sounds, the addiction to deal with all of it, the death of his brothers, Dennis and Carl, the abuse at the hands of his former psychologist, and the death of his mom in the last year or so. No artist before or after has put his heart and soul on the line like Mr. Wilson. This performance was a shining example on a stormy, rainy night. From the humorous opening song that poked fun at his legendary eccentricities, Mr. Wilson displayed warmth and a glimmer of the wry wit and phosphorescent brilliance of the young man who composed the opus, Pet Sounds, at 23. Appropriately, he performed "'Til I Die" off of the recently reissued Surf's Up CD and "In My Room" back to back. Both of these songs capture the essence of the isolation and passion that lies at the heart of his genius. Of course, he performed many of the hits, such as "I Get Around," "Help Me Rhonda," "California Girls," "Surfer Girl," "Barbara Ann" and "Fun, Fun, Fun," each time introducing the song in a humble way by describing these monster hits in such terms as mere "...nice songs." The apex of the performance was, of course, the letter perfect rendition of Pet Sounds by Mr. Wilson with full orchestra. The attention to detail for an undertaking as huge as performing the incredibly complex Pet Sounds could only be accomplished by artists as profoundly influenced by Mr. Wilson as The Wondermints and Jeffrey Foskett. Certainly, the "moment" of the show had to be the sight of Mr. Wilson closing his eyes, slowly conducting the orchestra through a particularly moving section of "Let's Go Away For Awhile." He performed three encores, and, for the first time that I have witnessed, showed comfort with being at the center of attention. That he was willing to be there to let us applaud him was a real gift to the attendees on this night. Brian, through his music, has always allowed us to feel his joy and pain, almost as if we were experiencing it ourselves. As he expressed his wishes to the crowd, as they filed out, to experience love and mercy in their lives, I couldn't help but feel comfort that, for the first time, Mr. Wilson seems to have found love and mercy for himself. Like the gladiator who slays the lion against insurmountable odds, Mr. Wilson appears to have slain the ghosts of the past that almost killed him. This was a great show by one of the most important artists of the century. If he comes to your city, ask yourself this question: if Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr toured, would you go? This is no less an event.

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.