Listen To This Eddie is a weekly column that examines the important people and events in the classic rock canon and how they continue to impact the world of popular music.
A couple of years ago, I was wandering around the backstage area of the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago when something caught my eye and stopped me dead in my tracks. Just behind the Red Stage, set inside of a chain link fence, was a black, overstuffed leather recliner. It was a curious and out-of-place item to see at a music festival, for sure. No one was sitting in it at the time, but propped on the cushion was a white sign that read, “Reserved For Brian Wilson.” The erstwhile leader of The Beach Boys was set to perform his earth-shattering album Pet Sounds in full in just a few hours, and I suppose the chair travels with him from gig to gig and town to town, offering a small bit of comfort, both physical and psychological, before he has to face down the masses.
I was immensely excited to see Wilson live that day — I don’t need to run down his ridiculously long list of creative accomplishments, but who wouldn’t be stoked to hear “Good Vibrations,” “God Only Knows,” “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and “Caroline, No” — live, but if I’m being totally honest, the performance that July evening was merely fine. Brian, dressed in all black, sat behind a piano and gave the people the music that they came to see. Even if he wasn’t personally able to reach all the iconic high notes with his voice that defines so much of those incredible songs, the collection of backup singers arranged behind him more than filled in on his behalf.
Chicago’s own John Cusack, who played the middle-aged version singer in the stellar biopic Love & Mercy, even showed up midway through the set to add some harmonies to the song “Sloop John B.” Wilson didn’t seem perturbed to be onstage, but he didn’t seem overly enthused either and throughout his set, I couldn’t stop thinking about that damn chair. I guess I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. It seemed to so exquisitely capture the duality of Brian Wilson in these opening years of the 21st Century.