Two words. 'Brian’ and 'Wilson’. It seems that we can’t move a square inch [that’s right, I’m not a Europhile] these days without encountering the great man. Don’t get me wrong, I love Brian from the bottom of my heart, but there is a sense of ubiquitousness currently hovering around him that has become alarming, and now calls the shots instead of his artistic output.
It was during a hasty retreat from this omnipresent blur that I discovered there is more than one genius in the Beach Boys, embodied by an unlikely hero called Dennis Wilson. A brother to Brian and Carl, and cousin to everybody’s favourite Machiavellian panto villain, Mike Love, it is only recently that people are accepting this great man for his celestial creations, as opposed to his California good time looks and extra curricular activities that make Jim Morrison look like Brian Ormond.
In 1977 The Beach Boys had morphed into an obscene travelling jukebox, still playing huge venues, but very much 'Butlins’ in spirit, a pitiful, grotesque shadow of their 1964 to 1973 brilliance. Although Brian’s beautiful (and unfairly criticised) Love You album had given them some degree of artistic breathing space, the band’s fortune and general reputation was far from sun kissed. During this time Dennis Wilson’s one and only solo album Pacific Ocean Blue emerged.
It is impossible to describe the otherworldly lure of this gem. From the gospel strains of opening track River Song; the mean, gritty, sand in your teeth rocker Friday Night; and Farewell My Friend, an eerie electronic requiem for Carl’s late father in law and Dennis’s own paternal rock of tranquillity, in the wake of the less than harmonious relationship with his obnoxious and frequently violent father, the notorious Cyclops, Murry Wilson.
Dennis explores a myriad of human emotions on this eclectic album, as only a tortured genius could do. Rainbows, a refreshing folk influenced work out a lá Led Zeppelin III, utilises a piticatzo style mandolin intro before justifying its general air of positivity with upbeat lyrics from old buddy, Steve Kalinich, the muse who inspired Wilson’s phenomenal two-minute creative overture, Little Bird, on The Beach Boys’ shamefully overlooked 1968 opus, Friends (Also highly recommended).
An underlying theme on Pacific Ocean Blue is the ominous signs of a marriage in shreds. Wilson certainly doesn’t engage in any sense of ambiguity on Moonshine; a song which chronicles his crumbling relationship with kindred spirit Karen Lamm, who somewhat ironically contributes the 'In sickness and in health’ ethics of the album’s masterpiece You and I.
On Moonshine, “The end of a beautiful play…..”, reverberates with humming emotional intensity, the slow and precise drumming, echoing an overcast thunderous August dusk, in an echo chamber style which would be violated some 10 years later by Z list American and British cock-rock-no-brainers.
The aforementioned You and I acts as a respite to some of the more bleak moments, the smooth, calm waters, gently rippling in Stevie Wonder vibes of positivity, thankfully more akin to Smile Please and Superwoman than the repulsive I J*** C***** T* S** I L*** Y**.
One of the world’s first 'Eco-Boogie’ songs manifests itself in the title track. Images of dolphins helplessly dragged along in trawler’s nets sit surprisingly easy against a backdrop of Allman Brothers inspired riffing, with Wilson’s precise and measured production/arrangement/lead vocal, ensuring that the message doesn’t get submerged in the overall jam. The 'weakest’ piece on offer here is What’s Wrong; a dainty li’l novelty if ever there was one. For some reason I think of Chas n’ Dave on an artistic piss up with Joe Cocker every time I hear it. Perhaps it’s all just part of Wilson’s greater plan, after all a filler on Pacific Ocean Blue is still aeons ahead of the soul draining silage that cousin Mike (Love) was enforcing upon The Beach Boys like a spoiled child calling the shots with all the toys at someone else’s birthday party.
Think of Kona Coast, Winds Of Change, ,I>Sumahama etc. and let the humiliation gnaw away at your aural sanctity. What’s Wrong indeed…
And then from out of nowhere, the sadly prophetic End Of The Show sends us home with the sounds of an actual concert audience ringing in our ears, expressing the kind of adulation for Dennis Wilson that so many of his closest allies just couldn’t put into words, even when Dennis did bother to listen…
Allow yourself to float on the wave of moody synthesisers, and surreal, unnerving electric pianos. See the wild weather beaten man; bearded with eyes closed in a state of mind halfway between agony and ecstasy, being resurrected one more time by the love of those who understand that men like Dennis Wilson are not constructed in the laboratories of radio stations like FM104, Red fm, or Q102. AMEN TO THAT.
All we can do 28 years on is cherish Pacific Ocean Blue for the sunken treasure chest it is. There is no “Who knows what might have been…?”
Dennis Wilson was a dead man a long time before the ocean reclaimed him on the 28th of December 1983; drunkenly scavenging for memories of more emotionally prosperous times that he had jettisoned from his now repossessed yacht (perhaps the final blow?) in bourbon and cocaine fuelled tantrums. Maybe while at the bottom of the ocean, he discovered the mythical 'sunken treasure chest’ we all crave for, and simply couldn’t decline the invitation, when realising the kind of drudgery he would go back to, if he resurfaced?
That’s not to suggest Dennis Wilson’s death was a suicide, far from it. Many people have testified that Wilson was addicted to living, even though it brought him beauty and torment in equal measure. When he dived into the icy, murky waters of Marina Del Rey, he was clad in cut off Levis and a pair of goggles, hardly the behaviour of a man hell-bent on ending it all. As Jon Stebbins has suggested, “Dennis just saw a doorway, an escape”.
I just hope the folks on the other side appreciate the quality of the man they now share their living space with. J’ai Guru Dev.