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Generations Of Genius: Similarities Can Be Found Between Brian Wilson And Eminem



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Generations Of Genius: Similarities Can Be Found Between Brian Wilson And Eminem

By John Voket

The opportunity to see two so-called “musical geniuses” plying their trade in just over a week’s span was too tempting for a responsible entertainment reporter and music lover to refuse. And while some purists on either side of the fence may see it as a sacrilege to have the other mentioned in the same sentence, never mind the same article, comparisons between Beach Boys co-founder Brian Wilson and rapper Eminem are not hard to make.

It’s almost scary that Eminem (nee Marshall Mathers) abruptly walked off the stage following the last American “Anger Management Tour” set and into rehab for an alleged dependency on sleep medication, according to a release from his label Interscope Records. That turn of events begs an even greater comparison to the former Beach Boy who is currently wrapping up a wildly successful world tour showcasing, in part, the legendary Smile.

Even those with a passing familiarity with Wilson and the Beach Boys are likely familiar with Wilson’s departure from the stage in 1964, and his subsequent, lengthy and well-publicized period of substance abuse and mental health mayhem.

The two, in their own respective times, were also hailed as musical geniuses who brought new and groundbreaking talents to the fore. Wilson has been admired and revered far and wide by musicians from The Beatles to Barenaked Ladies, while Eminem may stand head and tattooed shoulders above an entire generation of rappers and hip-hoppers who have flirted with, but will likely never touch, the level of notoriety Oscar and Grammy-winning Mathers has seen in his relatively short life on the shelf.

One would hope that in the coming weeks or months, as Mr Mathers returns to the public eye following his treatment, that he does so with the success Brian Wilson has been able to sustain since his tentative return to the concert stage in 1998 – and that he doesn’t wait nearly as long to do so. And if he does, that Mathers provides fans with access to his talents including a broader and more comprehensive showcasing of his brilliantly scripted catalog of verse and rhythm.


          Slim Pickins

        At The Garden

Eminem’s live set at the recent Madison Square Garden “Anger Management” stop was well-received by the thousands of rabid fans who were already pumped from almost three hours of opening material from co-headliners Lil’ John and our Farmington neighbor Curtis Jackson, a/k/a 50 Cent, and members of his G-Unit entourage. But the show failed miserably in showcasing a fraction of the genius revealed in even Eminem’s most mainstream material.

Mathers’ performance was overshadowed by full-length or nearly full versions of several numbers on his latest and not-so-critically-well-received Encore. This not be so strange, however, because the set was being filmed for a Showtime cable broadcast scheduled for the fall. This factor, combined with the need to focus several solo spots on individual members of his D-12 entourage, left precious little time remaining to delve into his more popular and earlier career-catapulting material.

In several instances Em was relegated to simply chanting a phrase or hook from one of his many other “greatest hits” before he moved on to current material or one of several stage antics that were neither funny nor complimentary to the show (such as  apologizing for derogatory comments he made about Michael Jackson before appearing two stories above the stage on a makeshift balcony tossing baby dolls off into the crowd).

Hearing some of the griping from neighboring concertgoers as the show wore on, wondering like me when Eminem would deliver some full on vintage, validated my concerns that perhaps the excesses, or excess handling by tour management, had taken its toll.

Don’t get me wrong, there were a few moments of brilliance that emerged through the bass-heavy thump of the mix, but all too few for someone who made the pilgrimage to MSG and waited until after 11 pm for the show to begin!

As I headed home from the show 90 minutes later, I was forced to get my “genius rapper and lyricist” fix via my own car stereo and a two-year-old copy of Eminem’s Greatest Hits CD.

   Every Reason to Smile

On the other hand, Brian Wilson’s set at the Chevrolet (former Oakdale) Theatre was as much of a comprehensive sampling of his respective genius as any die-hard fan could want. It’s interesting that over the course of the mid-set top to end rendition of Wilson’s Smile, that more than a few casual fans were seen exiting the venue shaking their heads in confusion or disappointment.

While these few dozen folks not only denied themselves possibly one of the most incredible if not unique concert experiences of a lifetime, they also missed out on an extended encore which returned to Wilson’s Southern California roots with more than a half-dozen short and sweet classics.

Wilson opened the show with “Do It Again,” and proceeded through more than a dozen hits including “In My Room,” “Please Let Me Wander,” “Breakaway,” “Help Me Rhonda” and “California Girls.” Highlights of that early set also included a moving “Add Some Music (to Your Day)” and a suite of numbers from Pet Sounds.

Wilson’s band, which on occasion offered up to eight- or nine-part harmony, did much to compensate for early recording sessions where overdub upon overdub was required to achieve that wall of sound chorus effect that became as much a Beach Boys/Brian Wilson trademark as the songs’ contents which focused heavily on on cars, girls, surfing and fun, fun, fun.

The second set added a half-dozen more musicians to the already overcrowded stage. But were a necessity to the aforementioned top-to-toe performance of his 1966-67 masterpiece Smile, Wilson’s self-proclaimed “teenage symphony to God.”

A small Swedish symphonic contingent added the depth required to meticulously reconstruct the complicated and quick moving 45-minute live arrangement of Smile that brought many of Wilson’s more ardent fans to their feet on several occasions. From the haunting introductory a capella “Our Prayer” through “Heroes and Villains,” a trip to the “Barnyard,” a snack of tasty “Vega-Tables,” to the first draft (and universally unfamiliar) version of “Good Vibrations,” the combination of his musicians’ collective talents melded perfectly with Wilson’s sometimes sad yet  still sustaining vocals.

Watching him closely for extended periods through binoculars, I noted only a few moments where the sun came out from behind a concentrated and somewhat cloudy expression, to reveal a sudden smile of his own, typically in recognition of a particularly moving passage of backing music or harmony.

I clamored for tickets to both of these shows fully expecting to witness the contemporary genius of Eminem showcased, and fully expecting to witness the classic brilliance of Brian Wilson. But I found myself retreating from the former in utter disappointment, only to embrace, and have my expectations exceeded beyond my wildest hopes just a few days later by an artist who should by any stretch be well into his retirement by now.

Maybe that speaks to the integrity of so many things that came from earlier generations, where the quality and workmanship remains enduring today and into the future. Whether or not the future, and musical history itself, will treat Eminem with the same respect and reverence as Brian Wilson remains to be seen. But I for one wouldn’t risk as much as 50 cents taking that bet.

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