The album “Brian Wilson” by the Beach Man Brian Wilson.
First you start with the album, then you add your friend in Manhattan Beach; then you throw in your birthday wish: a sunset drive in your friend's apple red Porsche along the coast highway from Santa Monica through Malibu with the album on the tape deck for its personal premiere. It's July, so the top on the apple red Porsche is home in the garage.
Tim and I are ready, so is Southern California: calm and clear, and Saturday lull between beach time and evening out time. Light traffic as we cruise, and I do mean cruise down off the Palisade above the Santa Monica pier onto the coast highway.
Ready? Set? No, not quite yet. First a drink or two to make it, us mellow — no cliché intended.
One of those bars above the waves where Malibu begins on piles pounded into the edge of the ocean. The view to Hawaii is turning sunset reds and pinks — Georgia O'Keefe stuff. Fabulous, but we've got business to attend to. What a birthday! Tim pays the ten pound tab.
Dreams do come true. Me, a New York boy: Malibu, sunset, convertible, Brian Wilson all grown up, saved from itself, now all by himself. We love him. We want the best for him. Tim gets in the right-hand lane and pushes in the tape. Side one.
“Love and mercy for you and your friends tonight.” It's him; for sound, the feel-flow, the groove, the ballad, the innocence. The song “Love and Mercy” doesn't surprise, it pleases, the way love and mercy would. Brian is alive and well. So are we.
“Walkin' the Line” takes us up towards Pepperdine University, all quiet and adobe-like on its high hill. Who could study there? Who would want to? Only one voice can belong to this song; a pulse-beat of a song, a song of hope and discipline, self-type. A bit less than the lead-in of “Love and Mercy” but who's complaining?
Now the Pacific is wide and wondrous, Aegean-like as the sun fires the horizon. Our pop-culture Homer takes us into “Melt Away.” I, we do. A ballad worthy of the scene and vice versa. He has returned, lifted his game. We're in his studio, the living, breathing outdoor version. We feel sorry for the cars alongside us.
Our friend, our boyhood chum has come back to us, an adult. Youth and maturity meld together. A traffic light? Here? Okay. “Maybe let your hair grow long” sort of talks to you, her. Let it grow. Once upon a time, girl. Once before the 80s. Go on, relax, be yourself. Tim and I are enraptured. How can Tim keep the car on the road?
What a road. Where are we? Somewhere in a paradise as the stars begin to show in a purple sky above a purple ocean.
What's he got now? A children's nursery rhyme? Yes. “Little children” struts and parades like a kindergarten at recess. Joyous, frivolous, childish, deliver us from any evilness.
We're out where the homes are handsome and high on private hills. A moon appears as “One For the Boys” begins at the end of some signature “pet sounds.” Those “Boys” are, always will be — you know which ones. This is an a capella kiss goodbye. You've heard the wind and the waves in the dark? — this sea chant is those sounds made harmony, a hymn to Wilson's sound.
Tim and I are shut up. What we wish for from a silly and cowardly Paul McCartney is found.
“There's So Many” completes side one. Another ballad in that voice that is now all his boyhood ballads in one. The wait, the count of years for his return, and for this evening have been worth more than just saying worth it, so I won't, I can't.
Me and Tim are close friends. This evening binds us tighter together, friends.
Side two under an ocean of stars as we head north along the mock Greek coast.
It can't get much better. It does. “Night Time” leaps from the tape. A rolling rocker. Perhaps his best ever. We yell for it, out of the convertible. We know we're in on something — each other and Brian. Sure, by now you have to know him by Brian.
If “Night Time” was his best, perhaps, then “Let It Shine” is his best. Everything you'd want from him, everything you know of him is here, pure, perfect, polished. This piece of earth is shining. Time to turn back.
Black dark now. “Meet Me in My Dreams Tonight” is most fitting, most reminiscent of the Ronnetts and all that big sound. I've met you in my dream tonight, Brian.
Off the road there is a sandlot baseball field perched above the Pacific, all alone, all empty. We take a break to wonder at it.
What ballfield? Something is coming, some “pet sounds,” and then, then a grand finale, a brand-new sound, a brand-new American folk tale — “Rio Grande.” Banjos and railroads and rivers and rainstorms and campfires and a story and the culmination of one masterpiece; make that two masterpieces — the night, and Brian Wilson.
We stop for dinner above the waves. We have to.