These days Rock commentators toss around the word “genius” pretty indiscriminately. Way back in Rock & Roll’s earliest days, no one would dare call some greasy haired goof with a guitar a genius unless he or she wanted to get laughed off the playground. That began to change in 1966 when Beatles publicist Derek Taylor started freelancing for The Beach Boys, mounting the now legendary “Brian Wilson is a Genius” promo campaign. Surprisingly, the first time “genius” was applied to a Rock & Roller, it was actually apt. Yet even with some of Rock’s most brilliantly constructed and recorded music on his resume, there are still those who contend the whole “genius” thing was nothing more than a great big advertising sham, that Brian was little more than a purveyor of dopey tunes about surfing and cars sung in piercing falsetto, that the “genius” label mostly derived from music no one ever got to hear (of course, that final argument has now been neutralized by last year’s release of The SMiLE Sessions).
In his installment of Equinox Press’s Icon series, writer Kirk Curnutt addresses even the stupidest charges against Brian’s genius to explain it in accessible yet musically knowledgeable terms. Curnutt delves into every aspect of the man’s music—not only his recording, singing, and composition techniques, but less analyzed matters too, such as his lyrics, keyboard skills, and bass playing. For those of us who are already converts, the music speaks clearly enough for itself. So the book often shines a greater light on the ignorance of music critics than as-yet-undiscovered nooks of Brian Wilson’s genius. While the complaint about him receiving too much praise for unreleased work may have once held water, charges that the relative brevity of his songs and albums, his complete lack of cynicism, and The Beach Boys’ perceived “whiteness” are somehow musical flaws are so ludicrous they hardly deserve to be acknowledged at all. Yet Curnutt does acknowledge them, always with seriousness, respect, and intelligence, as if he’s the world’s greatest parent patiently telling a tantrum-throwing tot why he can't have cookies for dinner. Even if this book doesn’t change any of the naysayers’ minds, it articulates why we fans are so devoted very well, and that can’t be a bad thing.
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