Interviewing Brian Wilson
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I've just gotten back from interviewing Brian Wilson for my documentary project called Beatles Stories. What a nice, nice guy. He's tall.
I always prepare for my interviews, having all the questions typed out in advance because you know something on the video camera won't work or the sound will have static or something.
When I entered Wilson's house, he was on the steps of a long stairway. He was dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and came down to shake my hand and say, "Hello." I told him that I had written with one of his daughters, Wendy, when she was in Wilson Phillips.
For the interview, we went into his piano room. This room contains his Grammy Awards, a ton of gold records, a small keyboard set-up over a chair and a piano. It is very informal and non-ostentatious, just like a room in a typical American home.
Before the interview started, Wilson told me that he had a singing lesson later that afternoon with the famous singing coach, Seth Riggs. I thought, "Wow, Brian Wilson, one of the voices of the 1960s, takes singing lessons. Amazing."
The first question that I asked him was about the day he met Paul McCartney. He remembered that it was at Abbey Road studios in England in 1967. He said that it was during the Sgt. Pepper sessions and that McCartney wanted to play him a new song that he had just written. McCartney then sat down at the piano and played Wilson She's Leaving Home. Now, every time that I hear that song, I'll be reminded that one of the first people to hear it, in its starkest form, was one of the other superior melodists of his time, Brian Wilson.
I asked Wilson whether he knew that Sir George Martin, The Beatles producer, didn't do the gorgeous string arrangement for that song. (He had for all of the other Beatles songs.) He couldn't believe it. I told him that McCartney, so excited to score his new creation with strings, asked Martin to do it, but Martin had another session booked, so, McCartney asked Mike Leander to do it instead. McCartney knew that you had to attack creativity when you were in the midst of it. You shouldn't be patient when you want to record. You must get your enthusiasm for your new song out at that particular moment. That's what gives a song its feel, the excitement of the writer creating it for the first time.
Wilson answered a number of other questions and, then, the interview was over. His publicist, Jean, shot a picture of he and I and then Brian said, "Take another." Like I said, a very nice guy.
I had read that he had played baseball in high school, so I gave him a copy of my third book, Something to Write Home About and signed it: "To Brian Wilson, Thank you for the immeasurable joy you've brought the world." A fun experience to have in the middle of an L.A. afternoon.
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