I’m shocked. As a sort of die-hard Beach Boys/Brian Wilson fan I thought I had a pretty good grasp on the group’s major television appearances here and there. Not every single cameo, of course, but the fact that versions of the Beach Boys occasionally appeared on various notable popular music shows and sit-coms throughout the years. Just little ironic cameos, or tour-promotional musical performances. SNL-type stuff. Par for the course for any popular music act, really.
I recall seeing the old-man Beach Boys show up at the end of an episode of Full House—I think they were friends with Uncle Jesse or something. It was a big deal, because they had dragged recluse/genius Brian Wilson out of hiding for this particular cameo. They even gave him a line: in response to some charming silly thing the little Olson girl said, Brian kinda steps out from behind Mike Love and says, awkwardly, “A request!” And then they break out into Little Deuce Coup right there in the Full House living room. Quite surreal.
Simply to see Brian Wilson standing up there with the rest of the “boys” was a major treat for any Beach Boys fan, especially one who followed the ups and downs of Brian Wilson’s storied career. He had been a creative talent briefly on par with all five of the Beatles (for this particular comparison you have to include producer George Martin as an actual Beatle, because in his prime Brian did the writing, the singing, and the freaking producing). With “Pet Sounds” he had picked a fight with the Beatles and actually won. That’s right. For a brief time this one man was better than the Beatles. And really, having warmed up and honed his craft with all those surfin’ songs—and having made a major artistic statement with “Pet Sounds”—he was just getting started.
But it wasn’t meant to be. The brightest candle burns out twice as fast, and all that nonsense. The self-imposed pressure of jousting with the Beatles, along with the emotional fallout of unchecked drug use, proved too much for him. Following a nervous breakdown, he retreated to the solitude of his bedroom. As far as the world was concerned, he was completely out of the picture. He’d become some kind of wizardly Obi Wan Kenobi character, self-exiled. A true Brian Wilson fan like myself knows that Brian continued to make great music even from his bedroom, but it was usually edgy, experimental stuff about vegetables and women going bald and random stuff like that. Most of the time it was either buried, or poorly handled by the record company. Nobody knew what to make of it.
This version of Brian soon became fodder for jokes. At one point in the 70’s some cast members of Saturday Night Live thought it was be funny to drag an overweight Brian out of his bed, shove a surfboard in his arms, and take him surfing. Brian never surfed, and even if he had, this clearly wasn’t an ideal time to catch a wave. Still, the skit was almost as funny as it was sad. Almost. But yeah, this famous SNL sketch was one of those occasional Brian Wilson sightings I’ve mentioned earlier. Any Beach Boys fan would have seen it on Youtube a dozen times by now.
There were some other television interviews during Brian’s twenty year reclusion. A lot of these would also feature Brian’s now infamous, opportunistic psychologist Eugene Landy, who’d do much of the talking. In these grainy, static 80’s videos Brian would usually either be fat or bearded or both. Over time, I’ve watched them all. I find the Brian Wilson story incredibly interesting—and quite inspirational, considering the continuing success of his late career comeback.
So yeah, I’ve seen all the major Brian Wilson/Beach Boys cameos and television appearances and acceptance speeches at award shows and all that. Seen it all.
Or so I thought.
Yesterday I stumbled upon a freakishly bizarre video of early 80’s Brian Wilson—still deep in his Eugene Landy-policed reculsion—appearing as an actor on a sitcom. For one episode of “The New Leave it to Beaver”—which I never knew existed in the first place—Brian played a musically inclined school teacher. Frankly, I don’t know what’s crazier, the fact that he did this at all, or the fact that I didn’t know about it until yesterday.
My guess is that he did this with the idea that it would help refresh his image in the public consciousness. He probably needed it. At around that same time Brian had engaged in his first real attempt at a comeback; he released his first solo album that same year. Casual fans of the Beach Boys probably didn’t even know who Brian Wilson was—they probably still don’t—and so the record company may have pushed for Brian to brush off the cobwebs and put himself out there.
The other possibility is that this was an instance of Eugene Landy’s controversial, unorthodox therapy. “Do the show, Brian,” I can imagine him saying. “It’ll do wonders for you!” Either way, this late-80’s comeback would prove to be another false case of “Brian’s Back!”; he’d remained in relative exile for another ten years (his real comeback begins with 1997’s solo effort “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times.”).
Yet surprisingly, Brian seems pretty upbeat and sprightly in this video. Considering where he was coming from, he certainly seems poised for some kind of more permanent return to the spotlight. Towards the end of the video he breaks out into full 80’s corn and the fictional classroom breaks out into a random singalong to video-gamey synth music. Brian does a hysterically spazzy pantomime of playing along on a piano keyboard hidden in his desk drawer. The whole thing is pretty wild. This video is a major gem for Brian Wilson fans, no doubt about it.
The discovery of this video’s existence only reinforces the idea that reclusive Brian Wilson wasn’t nearly as reclusive as popular culture seems to think. He was writing music. He was producing classic albums in his living room. He was showing up for awkward interviews here and there. And, yes, he was acting in ill-advised reboots of classic 60’s sitcoms.
Only makes me wonder what other Brian Wilson gems are out there waiting to be discovered via simple YouTube search.
Read my famous piece where I try so hard to write a normal post, only to have it commandeered by my random love of the Beach Boys: I Will Now Achieve Blog Apotheosis.