The other night, I went to hear Brian Wilson perform his new work, That Lucky Old Sun, at the Warner Theatre in Washington, D.C. We hope to webcast a recording of part of that show soon.
I was in my seat for no more than five minutes when a Brian Wilson fan spotted my "all access" stage pass. A man named John held in his hands a book on surfing — one he obviously treasured, wrapped in protective plastic. He showed it to me the way a proud parent would show baby pictures; the book was filled with autographs from famous surf-rock stars, including guitar king Dick Dale.
On a page filled with autographs, I saw a blank white area, and that's when John said something like, "I need to have Brian sign his autograph right here. I have a pen, and if you could just please go backstage and have him write 'To John' and then sign his name, it would mean so much to me."
I hesitated. I have a lot of respect for performers and their need for personal space, but I also remembered so many years ago, standing in the lobby of a Holiday Inn to get Ray Davies to sign my album.
After much gentle but passionate and persistent cajoling, I said sure. I took his book, walked backstage, saw Brian Wilson and asked him to sign it, "To John, from Brian Wilson."
Less than two minutes later, I walked back to John, gave him a big thumbs-up and handed him his book. It was such a sweet moment, because it clearly meant so much to him.
As I stood around during intermission, I heard snippets of random conversations that went something like, "They love Brian so much, they named their son after him." Earlier in the evening, I saw someone with a surfboard trying to get a picture with Wilson.
Brian Wilson is a man with a hard past: an abusive father, bouts of deep depression and voices in his head. He's the sole survivor of a family of brothers (Carl and Dennis) who made up the core of The Beach Boys.
But what Brian Wilson can hold on to are his songs: They are, in a way, his children. And those children are very much alive and well because of an incredible bunch of dedicated fans and a marvelous band of musicians. They all derive so much strength and joy from Wilson's songs — music as simple and innocent as "Surfer Girl" and as complicated and emotionally wrought as "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times."
It's easy to laugh off fandom of any kind. But having seen it up close, it's a powerful glue that bonds people together. It's powerful enough to make a dream or two come true.