I came of age listening to Bowie, the Velvet Underground, T. Rex, Iggy and The Stooges and The New York Dolls. Easy to predict that I would go on to loiter about in art school with my ears finely tuned to what was then referred to as underground music, so predictably enough, very little that was “commercial” seemed to register on my radar. It all sounded like “the shrieking of nothing” as Bowie so aptly and tauntingly sang in “Ashes to Ashes.” The Beatles, as you can imagine, were everywhere else but on my turntable–and, sadly, so was one of my now favorites: Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. It took a lot longer to find him amongst what I had so erroneously dismissed as commercial, though beautifully harmonious, beach drivel. “Fun, Fun, Fun” and “Barbara Ann”, I thought, were annoying or–get this!–dismissible. They are commercial, but they clearly were not what they seemed.
On a ski trip to New York’s Bear Mountain, with all the conjurable images of pristine snow blanketing the world as we ascended, my friend John was playing a Beach Boys compilation when “The Warmth Of The Sun” finally hit me. I told him–not in so many words–to pull the car over! It was momentous! I wanted to slap myself for having been so obtuse as I was reduced to tears for never had I heard such achingly beautiful longing in modern music before. Did it take having to hear the greatness of Brian Wilson literally and geographically out of context? Yes, at least that’s what needed to happen for me. I had to hear it in winter, going up a mountain surrounded by snow with no beach in sight, to shake off all my ill informed and vastly erroneous prejudiced.
Needless to say, from that moment on, I had to rewind back in time to listen to the Beach Boys with a new awareness. I proceeded to go on and become a voice in the wilderness, touting the genius of Brian Wilson as greater than the Beatles’. My argument persists beyond this facile conclusion: is it fair to pit three geniuses against one? Beyond that, stands the fact that Brian’s music is simply symphonic. Furthering this uncontestable side of the argument, is the heartbreaking realization that Brian Wilson had to go against his own band, who weighted him down like dead albatrosses when it came to backing him into the unmapped urgency of his artistic expression, while equally running up against the suffocating confines of an ominously and commercially driven stage father. Reminds me of a modern day Mozart tragedy waiting to happen. And it did. As we all might well know, Brian Wilson’s brilliant foray of coercing music into yet unexplored places, came to a screeching halt following a series of nervous breakdowns. That’s where all the longing in and out of music for this genius began and never ends. As an aside–don’t get me started with telling you how I feel about the Beach Boys going on about business as usual without Brian, as this little ditty will then devolve into pulp fiction–falling ever so short of invoking haplessly competent goons .
Today, nearly fifty years later, the story brings us to another musician. His name is Noah Lennox whose solo side project apart from Animal Collective, is called Panda Bear. Aside from finding his music fiercely innovative and capable to transform the universe within and around me–not an easy feat–I also find him reminiscent of the great Brian Wilson. Often, we are left to wonder what music might have sounded like if Brian Wilson was not forced to exit it so long ago. Upon hearing Noah Lennox, aka Panda Bear, the thought invites further pondering. What may be the similarity between such greatness? Speculatively, it could be just the angelic voice. Yet upon closer listen, a certain strange element becomes not only more discernible but, thankfully, almost inescapable. That’s when you may realize the same achingly beautiful longing that is not only a trademark, but a bridge between time connecting both artists.