Sunday, April 13, 2008

Getcha Back

The 1970s were the crazy years for Brian Wilson. He had begun to retreat in 1967, after the collapse of Smile, and by 1975, Wilson's wife had hired psychiatric charlatan Eugene Landy to look after Brian.

But somehow, in the fall of 1976, he was able to pull himself together to appear, as a solo act, on NBC's Saturday Night (as it was called at the time). On the previous week's show, it was announced that the next week's host would be Jodie Foster (who was all of fourteen! But I gotta tell you, I just watched Panic Room a few weeks ago, and Jodie looked almost exactly the same there as she does here), with musical guest Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, but come the following week, it was just Brian with an anonymous backing band. I don't know what happened there.

It's made all the odder by the fact that Brian performed "Back Home" from the Beach Boys' new album, 15 Big Ones, (he introduces it as being "from our new album") and "Love Is a Woman," which would surface on the Beach Boys' 1977 album, The Beach Boys Love You. They brought him back at the end of the show to do a completely solo "Good Vibrations," accompanied only by himself at the piano.

More to the point, though, Brian appears to be totally nuts. His hand twitches as he sits at the piano getting ready to play; he sings (badly) out of the side of his mouth; he looks completely uncomfortable. After he finishes "Love Is a Woman," he gets up from the piano bench and walks away with the camera still on him. He has a big bristly beard and though he's a ways from his later peak of 300 pounds, he's well over 200.

But the coolest thing about the whole appearance is that he appeared in a sketch! There was this little skit with Laraine Newman as the woman with a metal-detecting wand at an airport gate, and Dan Aykroyd is a metal fetishist with his raincoat pockets full of wrenches and files and a hacksaw, and a metal collar around his neck. Brian Wilson is some kind of security guard, standing in the background, saying nothing and doing nothing (except some twitching) until the very end, when a Jack Haley lookalike passes through the metal detector, and Brian says to Laraine, "The Tin Woodsman, that was the Tin Woodsman? I should have asked him for his autograph!"

Good for you, Brian. Don't let a little thing like insanity get you down.

I should warn you, I have obtained a copy of the DVD of Saturday Night Live [sic]: The Complete Second Season, from 1976 and 1977, which is of enormous cultural and personal significance. That is where I derived this item as well as that previous, incredibly trivial one on Karen Black. I could fill this blog with items from this DVD set for the next three weeks, and I just may do it. Caveat lector.


Joe said...

Lorne Michaels was tight with the Beach Boys and Brian. In 1976, Michaels directed a prime time NBC special on the Beach Boys. That's when Annie Leibovitz shot the photo of him in a bathrobe on the beach holding a surf board for the November '76 "Healing of Brother Brian" Rolling Stone cover story. (He's not healed at all. He spends part of the story trying to cage coke off the writer.) That photo was shot while Brian was filming a skit with Dan Akroyd and John Belushi in which Akroyd and Belushi play the surf police and arrest Brian for failure to surf. They take him to the Beach and make him surf.

Incidentally, this roman-a-clef about Brian, called Whale Music, is fantastic:

T. Nawrocki said...

I was looking for that Rolling Stone cover to put with this item, but I couldn't find it. If it was November 1976, it was exactly contemporaneous with his appearance on Saturday night, which happened on November 23, 1976.

Joe said...

Amazingly, the NBC special was called "The Beach Boys: It's O.K." It aired in August, 1976. "It's O.K." is apparently the title of a song from "15 Big Ones."

Mark said...

It's a bit unfair to dismiss Wilson as being "insane," and a bit unkind to make fun of the man at a vulnerable point in his life. Insane? I've seen plenty of people look just as uncomfortable speaking in front of a group. Landy never should have put him on television, but that's not Wilson's fault. I guess 30 years later, even journalists have not come very far in understanding mental illness.

T. Nawrocki said...

It was not my intention to disparage Brian Wilson, for whom I have tremendous respect and affection. It's been a while since I read "Wouldn't It Be Nice," but as I recall, Brian himself admits he had serious mental problems during this time. I don't think it does anyone any good to pretend they weren't there. And I'm certainly not insinuating that they were in any way Brian's fault or that he should be blamed for them.

My own opinion is that if the worst thing Landy did was put Brian on TV, he'd have been a lot better off.