The holy light in Brian Wilson’s “You Still Believe in Me”

bboys

Not sure I’m crazy about the video visualization of the music, but it’s interesting and any time you have an excuse to listen to the vocals-only mix of the Beach Boys’ “You Still Believe in Me” my philosophy of life is: take it.

How to describe how this sounds? Otherworldly. Holy. To put it lightly.

Real and awesome:The night the Grateful Dead jammed with the Beach Boys

Bill Graham watches the Beach Boys, Fillmore East final concert,
Jerry Garcia and Carl Wilson; Pigpen and Mike Love; Al Jardine and Bob Weir; Bruce Johnston and Phil Lesh. It’s hard to imagine all those guys sharing the same stage, let alone harmonizing on Merle Haggard, Chuck Berry and more, but it really happened on April 27, 1971, right there at the Fillmore East. Here’s the bands’ crowning achievement that night: a delightfully ironic cover of Haggard’s “Okie From Muskogee.”

The Beach Boys’ new album: Neither as good nor as bad as they say

So the dogs have laid down with the cats, the sun rises in the west and Brian Wilson has rejoined the Beach Boys to make a new album. Then it gets interesting.

The new album, “That’s Why God Made the Radio,” turns out to be not horrible. To be, in fact, pretty good,  and in places, a lot better than that.

That’s what it is. What it isn’t, I’m sorry to say, is a return to the Brian Wilson-led band’s classic form, where BW reiigned as writer, arranger, producer, vocal arranger, lead performer, mixer and more. Consider the vast teams of songwriters hovering over the tunes with B. Wilson’s signature at the top of the credits. And how did they get those weathered voices to sound so perfectly boyish? I’m not exactly sure, but here’s a video of the late Mister Rogers apparently singing (and occasionally harmonizing with himself two times over) in a song constructed from a lot of unrelated clips of him talking.

What can’t audio technology do these days? Nearly as much as musically elite Brian Wilson aficionados can do when they need to make a record sound just like Brian had actually produced it. Or so I hear.

So why do I keep listening to it? And why do so many of the songs — Four of them. Okay, five of them. Okay, possibly six) sound so moving to me?

Because some of these songs are really good. And even the ones that top out, writing-wise, as only sort of not as awful as they could have been, come with twists — a perfect melodic hook, an irresistible tangle of hamony, however it’s created, that grab on and won’t let go. (follow the jump!)

And then you’ve got four, arguably five, songs that really do seem drawn from the most hidden recesses of Brian Wilson’s spirit. The dark, tender places where the unsinkable young man wanders, wounded and sad, but still drawn to the lights in the distance.

Buy this album. Ignore the songs about doin’ it just like yesterday; skip past the ones where sun rhymes with fun; where baby is implored to come back; where new generations are being made to feel the, ahem, good vibrations. Listen for the place where melancholy blossoms into harmony. Where the wordless sighs on the “Our Prayer”-like intro piece, “Think About the Days,” shine down like sun through the bowers, only to reveal the great distance between a young man’s dreams and the older man’s reality. The more you know about the ugliness looming just beneath the Beach Boys’ relentlessly sunny exterior the more heart-rending it becomes.

How does such an emotionally dysfunctional, at times murderously bitter and litigious crowd even begin to make it through half a century of very public horrors without people getting hip to them? Get into the swing of the title track, wait for the chorus to hit and…oh, yes. That stunning colliision of spiraling melody, unlikely modulations and harmonies so elegant that the light behind the dial does take on a divine sort of glow. And then the lyrics’ worshipful take on pop music and the medium that made it a world-changing force: “It’s paradise when I/Lift up my antennae/Receiving your signal like prayer…” Nothing cynical or phony about that. Especially when you remember the weird beauty of Brian’s “Mt. Vernon and Fairway” suite in 1973, and all those chants about the magic transister radio. Then you’ve got that waltzing rhythm, and the Four Freshman-style vocals. . .if we’re not listening to primo Brian Wilson right here, then we’ve got one of the best simulations. Or perhaps best expansions upon his original germ-of-an-idea. (I’m not crazy about that bullshit key change that comes at 2:20 (right at the “whole new generation” part, of course), nor the anti-climactic synth drum thud that coulda been a real climax if they’d rolled out the timpani or even a fucking Sparklett’s jug (calling Hal Blaine, stat!)

Wait, am I beginning to contradict what I said earlier? Er, well…fuck it. Because now “Isn’t It Time” is playing, and that simple, upbeat melody (written by Brian? Mike? Co-producer Joe Thomas or the mysterious J Peterik and/or L Mills?) has moved into my head, where it will remain forever. See what I mean? You want to hate this song, from its millionth-rewrite-of-“Do It Again” lyrics to the really amateurish attempt at auto-tuning that is only too screamingly obvious, even to my not-all-that-sensitive-to-these-things ears. Is it that hard to get it right, mysterious digi-manipulators? I don’t think it is. But if there’s another hallmark to the Beach Boys (from 1976 onward, anyway) it’s the shamless cuttting of corners. And yes, Brian can be a lazy, naughty boy, too.

“Spring Vacation” is one of those less-said-the-better deals, while “The Private Life of Bill and Sue,” a not-quite-where-it-needs-to-be satire of reality shows boasts an opening couplet that I’d bet anything popped straight out of Brian Wilson’s prankish-but-guileless mind: “The private life of Bill and Sue/Can you dig what I’m telling you?” And the thing is, you can dig it. Or at least I can, because that’s exactly how he talks in real life. I can’t vouch for the rest of the song, especially its Jimmy Buffet-like Caribbean overtrones, up to and including steel drums. Steel drums. And then another Brian-like lyric pops up: (“Sometimes life can be strange/Maybe we’re just looking for a change”) and then I’m tickled again and feeling that much more pissed off about the fruity rum-and-umbrella concoction this beautifully quirky song fell into. Yuck.

So some songs suck. No surprise.

What is surprising, however, is the last four songs of the album. All Brian Wilson songs, with only Joe Thomas as co-writer (except for one, which also features Jon Bon Jovi, of all New Jerseyans), these tunes probably date back a ways — maybe all the way to the Thomas co-produced “Imagination” sessions in 1997 and 1998. The final three are intended as a mini-suite, with little interstitial musical threads to tie them together. But really, the mood begins with “Strange World,” a sweet, very Brian set of observations on life that begin with a sad glance at the homeless gathered on Santa Monica pier (“The uninvited who lost their way. . .“), then drifts through the county fair, a lazy bike ride (Ching-ching! goes the bell, a nod to “You Still Believe in Me”) and simply in being with someone you love. The simple moments where the meaning resides, where the strange world noted in the title begins to makesome sense. “It’s a strange world, there’s nothing to it,” Brian sings. “A strange world, I’m getting through it.

See where this is headed? Days spin from one to the next, the years melt away, and suddenly you’re 70, and the sun is fast fading into the horizon. Brian’s next song, the gorgeously arranged “There and Back Again,” (great harmonies, those moody guitar runs, a nice four-beat pause, etc) digs deeper, so what starts as a plea to resume an old love affair (“Why don’t we feel the way we used to anymore?…”) follows Brian to the core of his existence (“Back where you belong, our favorite song/Won’t you listen?”) before acknowledging, finally, that time takes things you can never get back. “Through the common sense of it all/We had a lot to live, we gave it all.”

“There and…” takes one last spin through past — via an upbeat  Bachrach-like coda of harmony and whistles, then a lucious tide of voices descend to the opening note of “Pacific Coast Highway,” in which Brian, drivin
g alone down the California shore, owns up to who he really is: An aging loner who knows his best days are gone. “Sunlight’s fading and there’s not much left to say,” he admits, and yet what could be the darkest kind of realization instead ends up feeling bittersweet. The “strange world” ends up being pretty logical, once you set yourself in the context of nature’s irrefutable patterns. “Driving down Pacific Coast out on Highway One, the setting sun/Goodbye.”

Then comes the final word: “Summer’s Gone,” A gentle meditation on life, aging and acceptance. Compare it to “Caroline, No,” if you focus on the harpsichord, flutes, percussion and sad lilt in the music. If this is to be the Beach Boys’ last song, it would be the perfect final word. For no matter how spare the lyrics might be, it’s the feeling in Brian’s voice, and the elegant backing voices (however they’re constructed) that tell you everything you need to know. “Old friends have gone,” he sings. “The nights grow cold/It’s time to go.” The signs are everywhere: in the end of the day, in the blanket of rain covering the beach, in the waves that seem less like a call to adventure than pages turning, the final chapter leafing steadily to the end.

Summer’s gone/It’s finally sinking in.”

Fifty years later, it feels just about right. Forget about the terrors and the horrors and think only about the music. No deaths, no lawsuits, no fighting, no impossibly awful records. Just the sound of those voices, the darkness just behind but the light bursting through. They’ve created a lot of it over the decades, most of the best of it straight from the heart and soul of Brian Wilson. He paid a steep price for the priviege, but somehow came out as the last man standing; the beacon that had sent them on their way, and reappears at the end of the line to guide the band — his band — back home.

We laugh, we cry/We live then die/And dream about our yesterdays.”

He’s got that dreamy tone in his voice again, his cousin steps up with his reassuring baritone,  the music fades and all that remains is the rain on the beach. The forces of nature, the voice of God. On the radio, and everywhere else, too.

The Beach Boys’ "Smile" Sessions Part III: Aboard a Tidal Wave

BUT HOPE LIVES ON, if only because by the ’90s Wilson’s life seemed to become less awful. Years of terrible consumption, followed by nearly a decade of abuse at the hands of a live-in psychologist who bullied Wilson with bodyguards and a dizzying array of psychotropic drugs, had given way to something closer to stability.

Certainly there had been irreversible tragedy along the way. Wilson’s brother Dennis, the only Beach Boy who really surfed, had fallen into a consumptive alcoholism that led to his drowning death in 1983. Baby brother Carl, the band’s onstage leader for more than 30 years, died of cancer in 1998.

But even in the shadow of those tragedies and his own continuing psychological problems, Wilson launched a solo career. He sang the vocals for Van Dyke Parks’ album “Orange Crate Art,” which reached back toward “Smile’s” old ideas about American history and California.


Did this mean “Smile” was around the corner? Each time Wilson reappeared, the murmur would start again.

The only problem was that Brian Wilson wanted nothing to do with “Smile.”

You learn this the hard way that day in 1998, when you finally raise the “Smile” question, smiling conspiratorially to let Wilson know that you get it, that part of you lives on the same horizon where “Smile” exists. What he says nearly capsizes you.

“That was just a bunch of fragments that didn’t even add up to songs,” he says dismissively. “I hated it. It was just, you know, inappropriate music.”

You are so flabbergasted that even Wilson seems to feel sorry for you. “You know what album I do love?” he continues, more cheerfully. ” ’15 Big Ones.’ That’s when it all happened for me. That’s where my heart lies.”

Which is extremely weird because that record is a notorious array of half-baked ’50s covers and generally substandard originals that represents one of the band’s lower creative points.

Is Wilson being perverse, ironic or just crazy?

Or maybe he’s just tired of being reminded of the moment when he gave up on his ambitions. Maybe he’s still torn by the currents of love and hate surrounding his (now dead) father, and rent by the resentment and guilt that go along with having a needy family that rarely hesitated to tell him exactly how he let them down.
If so, Wilson wasn’t the only “Smile” architect who radiated a certain emotional ambivalence through the years.

Van Dyke Parks, the Los Angeles songwriter/musician Wilson had tapped to co-write “Smile” in 1966, felt exactly the same way.


“That was just a few months of work I did as a contract employee many, many years ago,” he says when you first meet him in 1998. “Life goes on. I had other opportunities and I took them. Really, I think it means a lot more to other people than it does to me.”

This is understandable. For while Parks is extremely genial, a true gentleman of the Southern fashion with elaborate manners and a mischievous twinkle in his eye, he’s also a hardworking musician, producer and arranger who might not appreciate how his decades of work could still reside in the shadow of something he never quite finished in 1967.

And maybe something else is going on, too. Maybe Parks resents how some of the songs he co-wrote with Wilson eventu
ally appeared without his name on them. Maybe he feels guilty about abandoning his “Smile” partner just as the going was getting tough. Or then again, maybe he believes that Wilson’s surrender, followed by decades of near-complete withdrawal, amount to an even greater betrayal?


You’d guess that all these impulses have long since blended together into something so hard to talk about that Parks just doesn’t even try anymore. But then again, you wonder aloud during a long dinner conversation this spring, how can he say “Smile” means nothing to him when he keeps lithographs from the original “Smile” booklet framed right above the keyboard where he works every single day?


For a moment Parks is silent. He starts to open his mouth, but his wife, Sally, interrupts him.

“He’s got you there, Van.”

7. 

REMEMBER THE ANGELS BRIAN WILSON said he could see when he was writing “Smile”? Well, eventually the angels came back.


This time they were entirely terrestrial, of course, in the form of those people who had been so awestruck by “Smile,” or what they’d heard about it, that they had been compelled to track Wilson down and ended up becoming a part of his life.

First there was David Leaf, the New York fan who had written about Wilson, then became one of his most reliable friends and advisers. Darian Sahanaja’s “Smile”-inspired band actually did become the core of Wilson’s 10-piece band and, starting in 1999, helped the no-longer-quite-so-reclusive musician present his best, most complex songs to audiences around the world.

Slowly, the “Smile” stars began to align. In 2000, Wilson and band started playing the entire “Pet Sounds” album in concert. Wilson still balked at playing anything from “Smile,” but as he held forth at the piano at a Christmas party, Leaf’s wife, Eva, convinced him to run through a verse or two of “Heroes and Villains.” Wilson relented, finally, and was so pleased by the response that he agreed to play the entire song at a tribute concert held the next March in Radio City Music Hall in New York. Later that summer Wilson’s band worked a few other “Smile” songs into their playlist.

“It was like little baby steps the whole way,” Sahanaja says. “Then we were looking for something that could follow the ‘Pet Sounds’ show, and one day we just looked at each other and said, ‘How about ‘Smile’?”

At first Wilson didn’t even want to try. But with the urging of his wife, Melinda, he allowed Sahanaja to come to his house with the original studio tracks from 1966-67 loaded on his laptop. Once Wilson got over his initial anxiety about playing the music onstage, the work started to flow. Wilson, who hadn’t heard most of the “Smile” music for more than 30 years, even started to enjoy himself.

One morning, as they played the original instrumental track for “Do You Like Worms,” whose words and melody had never been known, Sahanaja finally got to pose the question every “Smile” freak had wanted to ask for more than 35 years.

“I said, ‘Brian, was there anything else that was supposed to happen here?’ “

After thinking for a moment, Wilson started humming a melody. Then, consulting a photocopy of some original lyrics handwritten by Parks in 1966, Wilson started to sing. When he couldn’t read Parks’ writing of one word, he picked up the phone and dialed his old collaborator. They hadn’t spoken in years, but Wilson got right to the point.

“Hi Van Dyke, it’s Brian. Do you know that song ‘Do You Like Worms’?”p>


Here things could have gotten unhappy. Parks, after all, had been as surprised as anyone to hear that Wilson was planning to dust off their old collaboration. “I didn’t want to hear about its re-emergence from the press,” he says. “But of course I did.” When Wilson’s wife called one day to invite him to the “Smile” premiere in London, Parks refused. This clearly wasn’t his project anymore, he said.

Still, Parks told Wilson to fax the “Worms” lyric sheet over, and called back a few minutes later to decipher his original handwritten word as “Indians.” The next morning Sahanaja drove up to Wilson’s house and found the musician standing on the doorstep, rocking back and forth on his heels.

“Van Dyke’s gonna be here in 15 minutes,” he said.

Then Parks was a part of “Smile” again, recalling the lyrics that hadn’t been written down, composing new ones to fit holes he hadn’t quite filled in 1967 and adding his part to the new melodies Wilson was composing.

Gradually the old and the new folded together so effortlessly even Sahanaja couldn’t tell where one began and the other left off.

8. 

A FEW DAYS AFTER the “Smile” premiere in February you manage to download an MP3 of one of the London “Smile” shows. You listen eagerly, but also apprehensively. Will it work? Will the filled-in pieces increase its magic, or compromise it? You have good reason to fear the latter, if only because Wilson’s career has for decades been dominated by wasted potential, blown opportunities and abject failure.

You press play, and what happens is this: It works.

All those disparate chunks of music from the bootlegs — the stray chants and odd little musical digressions, the seemingly random quotes from rock, jazz and folk standards — have been woven into a coherent three-movement cantata.

It’s a daring piece of music, and of musical storytelling. From Plymouth Rock to prairie, to the driving thunder of the railway to the clamor of the boomtowns to the splendor of the golden coast to the exotic islands beyond the horizon. It is hopeful and sad, lush and thundering, funny and tragic. It is plaintive melodies of Stephen Foster mixed with the urban symphonics of George Gershwin with a touch of Charles Ives’ antic musicianship tossed in to weird things up.

Which means that as unlikely as this sounds, “Smile” is everything it was ever been rumored to be.

“Smile” exists. And a tiny piece of American tragedy has vanished.


Surf’s up! Aboard a tidal wave/Come about hard and join the young and often spring you gave/I heard the word, wonderful thing/A children’s song. . .

9. 

LET’S SAY YOUR LIFE IS GOING OK. You’re older now, settled in to your place in the world along with all the usual emotional baggage. There is always something to worry about, something to regret, something to mourn. Then when you least expect it, something magical happens. A call from out of the blue. A perfectly sunny afternoon. The sound of your children playing in the back yard.

One day in May you’re sitting with Brian Wilson in a hillside deli in Beverly Hills. He seems as tentative in the world as ever, but when “Smile” comes up, he puts down his barbecue beef sandwich and speaks excitedly.

“I was worried it wouldn’t go over,” he says, recalling the first night he played “Smile” to a living audience. “But I got a 10-minute standing ovation. Ten minutes! I mean, I got bored after a while. I said, ‘OK, that’s enough!’ but they wouldn’t shut up. It’s almost scary.”

What was scary?


“That I couldn’t believe they could like it so much.”

But wasn’t that also exciting?

“Being afraid is like bordering on excitement,” he says, pausing to think for a moment. “It’s good scary.”

But “Smile” used to summon the bad kind of scary, right?

“Yeah, I had a negative attitude about it.”

What changed, exactly?

“I don’t know. I just got hungry to get better.”

Finally, it’s time to ask the big question. The sum-it-all-up, now-your-masterpiece-is-painted question that only a 61-year-old veteran of seven kinds of personal hell can truly answer.

So you ask: After all these years of heartbreak and broken promises, what would you change if you could go back and do it again?

Wilson looks down at the table. He gazes out through the window. Finally, he looks back into your eyes and lays it all on the line.

“You know the end of ‘California Girls’ when it goes, ‘Girls, girls, girls, yeah I dig the girls’?” He sings this last part. You nod. “I wish I had made that louder. Like when David Lee Roth did it, and he goes, “Ah dig GUUUURLS!” (He’s singing again, loudly.) Man, we shoulda done it like that.”

He gets up to pay the check.

A woman sitting alone in a booth nearby leans over.

“That man’s a genius. I hope you know who you’re talking to.”

Actually, I don’t think I do. But that’s exactly how both of us want it.

The Beach Boys’ ‘Smile’ Sessions – Part II

You discover ‘Smile’ in 1976, in the middle of a Rolling Stone profile pegged to a Beach Boys revival that includes the first of Wilson’s many comebacks. He is 34 then, and yet still adolescent in his shyness, his deceptive wit, the contrasting currents of brilliance and self-doubt. . . . . .follow the jump to read more, friends and neighbors….

On a larger scale, Wilson’s is a cautionary tale about the fragile nature of genius and the limitless power of cynicism. Wilson was a modern Icarus, done in by his own beautiful ambitions. It is a story tailor-made for your average self-pitying adolescent (ahem), or anyone who might look at the cruel world around himself and conclude, as Wilson had done so plaintively on “Pet Sounds,” I guess I just wasn’t made for these times.

And while the facts seemed to defy even the limits of fiction, say, it certainly invited more than its share of journalism, even as the album was still being created. For while Wilson sat at his piano communing with his angels, another flock of more earthly conspirators were working to prime the market for his group’s next album. Led by Derek Taylor — once The Beatles’ publicist — the wave of publicity started rolling in the summer of 1966.

“This is Brian Wilson, he is a Beach Boy,” one typical piece began. “But some say he is more. Some say he is a Beach Boy and a genius.”
Writers with access to Wilson’s studio emerged with vivid descriptions of the revolutionary happenings within. Then in May of 1967 Wilson performed a solo rendition of “Surf’s Up” for famed conductor/composer Leonard Bernstein’s music special, coming away from the show with high praise from the maestro himself, who described the song as “poetic, beautiful in its obscurity” and termed Wilson “one of today’s most important musicians.”

“Smile’s” demise did nothing to end the wave of stories. Paul Williams, one of the first serious rock critics, produced a multipart interview with Wilson intimate David Anderle in 1968, and each time a new “Smile” track turned up on a Beach Boys album in the late ’60s and early ’70s, the “Smile”-is-finally-coming rumor mill would crank up anew.

But no “Smile” emerged, and Brian Wilson sank even deeper into the psychological purgatory he would be stuck in for so much of his adult life. The other Beach Boys pressed on through the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, their success founded almost entirely on the strength of Wilson’s indelible ’60s songs.

Occasional surges in popularity would inspire a new fusillade of media attention, and each time there would be at least one lengthy recounting of the “Smile” saga. And each time it passed you could sense another few thousand converts getting sucked into the gravitational pull of the “Smile” legend.

Eventually, “Smile’s” nonexistence would seem to be the point — not just of the album, but of the people who had tried and failed to bring it into the world. For years, decades even, they would be subsumed by the shadow of what never was and what so many people had expected it to be.

Then, nearly four decades later, a shaft of light fell across “Smile’s” shadow. And something inside gleamed back.


5.

It is the spring of 1998, and you are driving up the rural Illinois road that leads to Brian Wilson’s house.

What is the famously troubled visionary behind the Beach Boys, the very inventor of the California sound, doing in a subdivision of McMansions an hour outside Chicago?

Excellent question, and only one of the many questions you are planning to ask this man whose brilli
ant work and calamitous life have inspired so many currents of awe, joy, sorrow and pity in the past 35 years.

You are a journalist now, in the employ of a magazine that expects you to return to the office with a vividly reported, economically written story about a once-troubled celebrity making a comeback.

But what you really want to talk about is “Smile,” the legendary psychedelic musical masterwork Wilson began, but could not finish, in 1966 and 1967. Just as word began to spread that Wilson had discovered a new kind of rock ‘n’ roll radical enough to transform all of popular culture, he was overtaken by the internal demons that would haunt him for decades.



“Smile” was never released. But the few tracks that did surface spurred a legend that has only grown with the years, gradually transforming the lost record into a kind of modern folk legend, a cautionary tale of ambition and failure, genius and corruption. It is a metaphor for every American utopia gone bust, and it must be discussed.

But you have been told that Wilson will not answer “Smile” questions. Push him too far and the notoriously sensitive musician will freeze up, or even leave the room. At which point the interview, your story and perhaps your career will come to a quick and catastrophic end.
You have much to lose. But you have also anticipated this moment for years. And now that it has arrived, you cannot resist the temptation to try. You must ask about “Smile.”

Now you are in Brian Wilson’s basement recording studio. He is standing in the control room, a tall, burly man in his mid-50s, with slicked-back hair and watery blue eyes that reflect all the sorrows in his life. He greets you shyly and says he’s having a tough day. “I’m a bit low because of Frank,” he says, referring to Sinatra, who had died the day before. “I didn’t know him, but I really loved his singing a lot.”


He stares silently for a moment, then shakes his head. “I guess I’ll be OK,” he says quietly, as if convincing himself of something. Then he says it again, slightly louder. “Yeah, I’m OK!”

You sit down, turn on your tape recorder and get started.


AND YOU’RE NOT THE FIRST to feel this call to action. Not even close.


In the mid- ’70s, a New York-based fan named David Leaf picked up and moved to Los Angeles, where he started a Beach Boys fan magazine, met Brian Wilson and wrote a book called “The Beach Boys and the California Myth” that contained a vivid, emotional recounting of the “Smile” story. A few years later another L.A. fan, Domenic Priore, working with a few other Brian Wilson fanatics, compiled a slew of period magazine articles, official documents and self-penned essays into a book called “Look! Listen! Vibrate! Smile!”
Meanwhile, in L.A. in the early ’80s, a young musician named Darian Sahanaja silk-screened a homemade “Smile” T-shirt that would lead a mutual friend to introduce him to Probyn Gregory, another “Smile” buff with whom he would eventually perform in the Wondermints, a band whose sound absorbed Wilson’s “Smile”-era productions. And when a “Smile” bootleg reached the ears of superstar record producer Don Was in 1989, he swooned immediately.

“Like a musical burning bush, these tapes awakened me to a higher consciousness of record making,” Was declared. “I was amazed that one single human being could dream up this unprecedented and radically advanced approach to rock ‘n’ roll.”

So amazed, in fact, that Was temporarily abandoned music to make a filmed tribute to Wilson, the award-winning documentary “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times.”

More bootlegs emerged, and in 1993 a Beach Boys box set included about 30 minutes of “Smile” material — finished versions of “Wonderful” and “Wind Chimes” and the strange, loping backing track for “Do You Like Worms.”

Other musicians adapted Wilson’s “Smile”-era techniques into their own work. R.E.M., Fleetwood Mac and Wilco recorded homages. Younger bands such as the High Llamas and the Wondermints recorded entire albums that could be outtakes from “Smile.” One night in the mid-’90s the Wondermints performed at a Wilson tribute show in L.A., and their rendition of “Surf’s Up” impressed the man of the hour so much he turned to a friend and observed, “If I’d had those guys in ’66 I could have taken “Smile” on the road.”

At the time it seemed like a joke.