To really appreciate the achievement that is SMiLE, you have to know the sad, strange tale of its 37-year gestation. Now, with Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE: The DVD (due in stores May 24), you can get the songs and the story behind Wilson’s 2004 album. One disc features the moving documentary Beautiful Dreamer, while a second DVD captures a live SMiLE performance last fall in L.A. Recently we caught up with Wilson at Austin’s Four Seasons Hotel — and then his SMiLE collaborator, Van Dyke Parks, who helped fill in some of the gaps.
Brian Wilson says. . .
EW What was it like the first time you performed SMiLE, in London back in February 2004?
BW I was so nervous before I went on. I could almost throw up.
EW And how did it go?
BW Great! I got a standing ovation.
EW If you could go back and talk to yourself while you were making SMiLE the first time, what would you say?
BW That I shouldn’t have thrown it away!
EW Do you feel in touch with the person who you were then?
BW No. I took a lot of drugs, so I can’t remember the person I was then.
EW Does the success of SMiLE mean you’ll write more material in that style?
BW No. I’ve done that. I just wrote some new songs that have nothing to do with SMiLE.
EW What do you listen to when you’re home?
BW I listen to SMiLE.
EW And what do you think while you’re listening to it?
BW I think, How could I have done that? And, I did it.
And Van Dyke Parks says. . .
EW So Brian says he doesn’t remember anything about the original SMiLE.
VDP He’s lying like a rug. But I was there, and I can remember a lot of wonderful things. He was really well-spoken, humorous, made no distinction between the sacred and the profane. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry [at his music], and I still don’t. Which is, I think, the object of his artistry.
EW He won’t admit to the sad part.
VDP I’m sure that he’s tired of being viewed as a victim. But he is a victim. And justice has been delayed.
EW How would his life have been different if he had finished it and put it out in 1967?
VDP I think we’d have a lot more music from Brian Wilson. I can remember after the defeat of SMiLE he couldn’t get laid in a women’s penitentiary with a fistful of pardons! Nobody would record him, this giant. It makes me sad.
EW Have you discussed any of that stuff?
VDP I don’t think I’ve discussed anything with him. He’s hyperalert and interesting and a confirming companion in his work and his general outlook. I think he’s shown incredible strength. [Suddenly looks around the grounds of the Four Seasons.] He’s staying at a better hotel than I am. I would like to have a conversation about that!
EW What do you think he’d say?
VDP He’d probably say, ”Take my room.”