Behind Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys is an extraordinary history, composed of mosaic fragments of modern mythical archetypes rearranged to create an original yet deeply familiar image. First of all, the Ludwig van Beethoven syndrome comes to mind as a source.
There are obvious similarities between Beethoven and Brian Wilson: the brilliance, intensity and success of their compositions, plus the technical virtuosity of first-rate performers. The major and most tragic event of Beethoven’s mature career was his deafness; the realization that all sounds of the world were becoming gradually cut off from his existence. Thus he could only continue to compose (such masterful works as the Ninth Symphony) from sounds that existed within his own head. Brian Wilson’s case is a poetic inversion of Beethoven’s. Beethoven lost his hearing tragically toward the end of his life, when he had already a developed talent; Brian Wilson has been almost completely deaf in one ear since birth. Strictly speaking then, there could be no "tragedy"; it was hearing he never had.
Brian Wilson’s story is almost certain to come out happier. Several doctors had assured him that the nerve endings in his ear were dead, and that his hearing could not possibly improve. That is one reason why, of all top groups of the sixties, only the Beach Boys have never really had a stereo-conceived album; Brian produced them all with the use of only one ear. But with the insights and advances of modern medicine, a hopeful diagnosis could finally be made. Last year, just after finishing up the recording sessions for Wild Honey, a successful operation was performed. Although Brian is still recuperating, a joyful "Beethoven’s Alternative," appears imminent – as though history were finally squaring things with civilization. All those unrealized sounds and unimaginable stereo combinations are now within the realm of possibility. Who knows what it will sound like on records, or what this may mean for the Beach Boys’ sound wherever they play?
A study of group’s progression since their inception gives us some idea of what might come next. Pet Sounds marks the end of the Beach Boys’ first phase, beginning in late 1961 when Brian produced the group’s first single, "Surfin’." In a way, all of their music – from that first release right up to the Pet Sounds album – fits together with firm stylistic consistency.
The music, the group’s image, even the Beach Boys’ individual and collective life-styles all emerged to form a coherent "Beach Boy Idea." The Beach Boys are up front: direct, honest, wholesome and healthy. They symbolize a golden California; a red, white and blue America – but without the quasi-fascist, professional-flagwaver overtones we have come to associate with this image.