I’ve just seen the new Brian Wilson biopic Love and Mercy and it was a triumph in every sense of the word. A triumph of filmmaking, of acting performance, of written drama. Most importantly, a triumph of the spirit and music of Brian Wilson. Being a songwriter is hard. Most days it feels like the entire world is actively trying to stop you from making great music with endless distractions, petty arguments, and shortsightedness. Everyone wants you to be practical and reasonable. But art isn’t practical and it isn’t reasonable. This is why so many creatives struggle to get along with those around them. Their values and perspectives of life are fundamentally different. Brian Wilson faced all of these usual creative problems – and then he faced things unimaginably more difficult.
Throughout his life, Brian was tortured by anxiety and schizophrenia. He was beaten and exploited by his father. He battled drug addiction and spent 3 years in bed. He fought endlessly with his bandmates on musical direction. His record company tried to kill his creativity, demanding formulaic hits. Worst of all, he suffered decades of manipulative abuse from his therapist Dr. Eugene Landy.
Out of this hell came the most beautiful pop music ever written. That Brian Wilson crafted these songs in the midst of his pain brings me to tears. I could barely keep it together as I watched him direct the band on ‘Good Vibrations’. That song is a miracle and I thank god I lived to hear it.
The emergence of Pet Sounds from the tragedy of Brian’s life parallel many human events where beauty is born from horror. The Christmas Truce soccer match played during WWI comes to mind. In any dark period, love and joy find ways to express themselves. They often come in the gift of art.
The Beach Boys’ music has always been about effortless joy. Their songs are waves of happiness that overcome you, obliterating thought and returning you to childhood. They are antidotes to the illnesses we will suffer in our lives. You see a playful joy in Wilson’s spirit. John Cusack and Paul Dano both understood that Brian has always been a young boy with a sense of adventure, and they bring it to screen with his many quirks and charms.
I want everyone to see this film, because it’s about so much more than music. If people understood it, I think most would focus their energy on pursuits that spoke to their heart.
The only thing I ever wanted to do in life was make beautiful things that people can enjoy. This film gives me the courage to keep doing that.
To the human being reading this, please go watch Love and Mercy. Please keep creating. Please keep pushing yourself beyond your boundaries. Please keep that childlike wonder. Please ignore your critics. Please believe in the ideas you dream up at 4am when you’re high on the night.
We may never create works as great as Pet Sounds, but our creative pursuit is equally as magical. And the understanding that some of us will indeed create works just as great is worth the struggle. It is worth our lives.