I saw “Love & Mercy” and it made me cry, so you’re getting a blog post.

I saw the movie that should get John Cusack a best actor nomination, but it won’t.

“Love & Mercy” is the best movie I’m going to see this year.  For those who don’t know about it, the movie is a biopic of Brian Wilson (from the Beach Boys), specifically centering around the making of the “Pet Sounds” record and also around Wilson’s (for want of a better word) years in captivity with a misdiagnosis of schizophrenia and a psychopath milking every penny he could out of him.  Wilson was kept in near catatonia for quite some time–drugged and made to dance.  Of that portion of the movie, the real-life Brian Wilson says, “Whatever the film shows, it was much worse in real life” (Rolling Stone, July 2015). It’s a startling, heart-wrenching, really beautiful, and ultimately even a little uplifting movie.

Immediately, you notice that they knocked the look of the picture out of the park.  It took me a minute to realize I wasn’t watching stock footage.  Paul Dano (who plays the younger Wilson–“Best Supporting” in my book, though it’s hard to give either guy top-billing) looks the part and then some.  He did a great job capturing the mania of the young man that turned into the trapped victim portrayed by John Cusack (of course, playing the older Wilson).  The two sides of the man were both perfectly cast.  Elizabeth Banks played Melinda Ledbetter (Wilson’s now-wife). I’ve never seen a picture of Ledbetter, but I can’t imagine that they could’ve found anyone more perfect for the part.  Banks is incredible any time I see her in anything. I forget how big a fan I am until I see her again.  And I would be remiss not to mention Paul Giamatti, who played “Dr.” Eugene Landy.  Giamatti is also always flawless in everything he does (most of you will know I’ve been a fan since “American Splendor”) and this was no exception.  He makes a great villain.

You don’t really need to know that much about the Beach Boys, by the way.  That’s barely the story.  It probably helps a LITTLE…but here’s the thing.  I’m not a huge Beach Boys fan.  I like them, but I’ve never been rabid…partially because when I first became aware of the Beach Boys, it was via Full House.  The shitty, Mike Love-run Beach Boys with John Stamos legit playing in the band.  The 60-year-old boy-band version of the Beach Boys.  Sure, “In My Room” and “God Only Knows” were both great songs…but if all you know of the Beach Boys is the Olsen-Twin approved version, it’s a tough sell…  So it took me a while to catch up to them.  But what eventually got me on board was hearing the story of Brian Wilson.

In the 90s, we all just thought he was nuts.  Landy was a spin-master and kept the public thinking Wilson was a tragic figure whose brain had split over time and therefore we should pity him.  The truth was a much darker web of quite literal captivity (Landy did not allow Wilson access to even his own daughters), and once Wilson was freed–surprise–he got a lot better.  Music started coming out again…and in 2004, I became familiar with “Brian Wilson Presents Smile.”  He’d finished his magnum-opus that should have come out decades earlier.  It was weird–even dangerous if you could put yourself in the headspace that it was supposed to be a BEACH BOYS record…  And I liked it.  It wasn’t saccharine, but did have “Good Vibrations” on it.  I got it.  You could hear the joy, but you could also hear the pain and mania right behind it.  Mike Love is a jackass for not letting this happen at the time…and actually he’s kind of just a jackass in general…

…but wasn’t I saying you didn’t need to be familiar with the music?  I think I stand by it.  It’s not really about that, even though it kind of is…  It’s a love story.  It’s a mental health story.  It’s a drama.  It’s just got a kickass soundtrack as the backdrop.  And it’s beautiful.  I’ve been open in recent years about my ongoing issues with depression.  There’s a scene in there that I don’t think they MEANT to speak to me, but it was a perfect summary…  Wilson wants to escape the life he’s in and get better–he knows he’s trapped and he needs to get out.  He expresses the same to Ledbetter, who is trying to literally lead him out of the house and into a new, free life, and even as he’s almost out the door, he expresses that he doesn’t know how to leave, turns around and retreats back to Landy’s control.

Teary eyed and hugging myself…  Let’s move on…

I’ve remained at least glancingly familiar with Wilson’s post-Smile work.  “That Lucky Old Sun” is great.  I largely gave the Disney and Gershwin projects he did a pass.  But the new record (“No Pier Pressure”) is phenomenal.  Wilson remains one of the handful of voices who can write something lyrically devastating, but make you snap your fingers along to it.  I don’t know how he does that.  Seriously…how in the fuck does he do that?

I’m forgetting things about the movie that should be mentioned.  That Cusack was able to rattle off a story about Wilson being abused by his father like he was giving a weather report.  That Dano was able to pull off looking stunned to be told “Phil Spector’s got nothing on you, kid” when Dano’s so young that he might’ve had to Google the NAME “Phil Spector” before filming the scene…  How incredible and strong Banks’ scene was where Giamatti’s character is banging on her office door, calling her a slut, and telling her to come out because he knows she’s in there…and she just opens the door and stares him down without a word.  …And the twitch.  Cusack did his studying.  He nailed the facial tick that Wilson himself might not even know is there.  The first time Cusack did it, I actually flinched.  “Oh shit…he did the twitch…”

Easily in the top five biopics I’ve ever seen.  Probably in the top five music movies. A very moving experience that won’t get the accolades it deserves from the mainstream.  (Sort of the garage band of biopics…)

If you’re a musician–especially a screwed up one (isn’t that all of them?)–you’ll find plenty to dig into in the movie.  If you’re NOT a musician, but you know a musician, you should still see it.  Because you’ll see it and want to call one of your screwed up musician friends and say, “…is that what it’s like in your head, too?”  (Yes.)  And if you’re a fan of love stories that actually end in something other than heartbreak, it works on that level too.  I read a review comparing it to “A Beautiful Mind.”  That’s probably fair.  But “A Beautiful Mind” won’t make you want to immediately rush out and buy “Pet Sounds.”  So this is better.

“Boy, I tell ya, they only come out at night. Or in this case, the daytime.” -Chief Wiggum

Simpsons quote in the title…random post follows.  You know that by now, probably…

  1. “Outdoor Summer Concerts” did pretty well as a download.  The follow-up video was also pretty well received. Thanks to everybody that listened to it.  And also to those who saw this said, “Oh, shit, I meant to listen to that…” and are listening to it now.  It’s a kind of special one for me, and I’m glad it was flatteringly well-received by at least most people.
  2. So gay people can get married in America now!  Congratulations to all of my friends that this directly impacts.  And if it doesn’t impact you, but you’re voicing a negative opinion about it anyway, I’ll see you at church on Sunday, I guess…
  3. I hurt my back again on Thursday.  Although it’s Saturday now and it feels okay.  So I guess it’s at least becoming a streamlined process.
  4. Had a gig with the Michael Feldman Group last night.  It was fun.  A lot of friends and family came out and we had a decent flow of people in and out all night.  A couple consummated something or other in the men’s room while we were playing, too.  Good for them.  Glad they’re happy and gross.
  5. Had another gig with Feldman today.  It was a little more low-key. It was a birthday party with about 15 people, most of whom weren’t really listening.  And it rained on us pretty hard at one point.  We had a little bit of cover under an awning, but we still had to stop for a while.  I was kind of ready to go at that point.  (As you might have guessed by the aforementioned single, I don’t like outside gigs.)  But the rain backed off and Mike convinced me to keep going.  Went okay…but that might’ve been the worst I’ve ever played “Tore Down” in my life to end the set…
  6. Watching High Fidelity (again) right now. I’m at the part where Dick tells Anna that he thinks Green Day was influenced by The Clash and the Stiff Little Fingers.  Remember when Green Day was sort of a punk band?  What the hell happened there?  (…and the Rob plays The Beta Band–a grossly overlooked act.)
  7. Haven’t been sleeping well lately.  Like last night…post-gig, I’m usually up for a while until the adrenaline wears off…so I wasn’t surprised to be still awake at 4.  But what DID surprise me was that I woke up at 8 and I’ve been up ever since.  That has been happening pretty regularly.  A few hours of sleep, followed by wide-awake and yet still exhausted…  Can’t wait for that to go away.
  8. I’m going to go get a donut as soon as the movie is over.

That’s it.

Current Listening (weird list):

  • Boston’s Greatest Hits
  • Against Me! – New Wave
  • Radiohead – In Rainbows

“Springfield, Illinois I left you standing by the state house stairs. A little bit annoyed, but completely unaware.” – Slobberbone, “Springfield, IL”

So I went to Springfield, IL last weekend.  The SOHO Music Festival was going on and my friend Amanda (of whom I’ve written a number of times) invited me to come up to check it out.  It was a lot of fun.  I said several times throughout the weekend that Springfield reminds me of what it was like to live in St. Louis in the 90s, when it was clean and fun.  And when it had a local music scene that was more than just cover bands.  And when you didn’t have to be scared of the cops.  And when there was economic growth.  And a shopping district.  And nice places to live.  And you could walk places.  And…

…sorry.

It was a good weekend.  Got there on Friday night and met up with Amanda and her friend Amy, who was around for most of the weekend as well.  First time meeting Amy, so I was a little quiet, as is my way…but she seems nice and very fun.  (I’m always afraid that the shyness reads as not being invested…but I very much enjoyed Amy’s company…I just clam up around people I don’t know well.)  Also got to (albeit briefly) say hello to Amanda’s son Tobias, who she was pregnant with when I first met her.  He’ll be 17 soon.  Wow.  He had a friend in town as well–I think his name was Will?  Didn’t see too much of him, so I might be getting his name wrong, because I’m a jerk.

Friday night at the festival was fun.  The first band I saw was a Queen cover band with a black guy as the lead-singer, that called themselves Black Queen.  That was a lot of fun.  Saw a country act that played Jason Isbell’s “Super 8” as soon as we walked over (so they immediately had my attention).  There was an Irish band, too, that I enjoyed for several reasons, not least of which was the bagpiper in a Thin Lizzy t-shirt.

The best band I saw all weekend was The Station (also on Friday), which I kind of knew would be the case, going in.  Amanda and I had seen them in St. Louis on Halloween (I think I wrote about that previously) and I really liked them there, but after the set they did on Friday, I adore them…  They did a nice healthy dose of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” at the end of the set.  They’re a mostly original band, so I didn’t see it coming at all…but they hit at least “Empty Spaces,” “Young Lust,” “Run Like Hell,” and touches of “Brick in the Wall.”  It was mesmerizing.

Friday night, Amanda and I went to a place called La Bamba’s, which boasts “burritos as big as your head.”  It was great…and indeed as big as my head.  And I think I’m still full.  And this is going to sound sappy…but that was actually kind of my favorite part of the weekend, because we were just hanging out and chatting.  I dig the music-festival thing, but Amanda’s long-since been one of my favorite people, and it’s always good for my soul to talk with her about absolutely nothing at all.  I know how it probably sounds for a guy to write something like that…but that’s not even what I’m getting at…  You find a handful of kindred-spirits in your life if you’re lucky, and Amanda’s one of mine, is all…

Saturday was fun too.  Lots of walking around the city and seeing stuff.  More good food…  More music.  Heard a pretty solid blues band.  There was a band that closed out the festival called “Chicago Loud 9” (or C-Loud-9, if you will) that normally wouldn’t be my cup of tea, but was really, really good.  Kind of a rapping meets soul meets funk meets rock meets whatever-the-hell…  Lots of fun.

And Sunday was nice…  Good brunch around 10:00 or so…  Might’ve been the best biscuits and gravy I’ve ever had.  And there was an acoustic duo playing that I could’ve listened to all day…they did a cover of Jason Isbell’s “Cover Me Up” that was really good.  (Although that song in general makes me think a little too heavy…but that’s Jason’s fault, not theirs!)  Left for home in the early afternoon to give Amanda some time to do all the stuff she didn’t get to do with the rest of her weekend.  (Like, y’know…shop for food and get some sleep…)  Got home and went to my dad’s place for dinner, but was still stuffed from that fucking burrito and everything I’d poured on top of it.  🙂

…oh, and I met Amanda’s dog, Thom Yorkie.  (10 points for the name.  *Points not redeemable for anything…)  He’s very small and didn’t know what to do with me.  Kind of had the “you’re not a threat…but why are you here?” vibe when I got too close.  But that’s fine.  I’ll win him over next time.  Cute little fuzzball.

I think there’s stuff I’m forgetting…of course there is…  It was a good weekend.

And then on Monday, I got to sit for four hours with another of my kindred spirits, Bruce, and talk about…everything, I guess.  We covered being sober, what we’ve been up to, the Beatles, etc…  I could use more stuff like that.  I’m short-changing Bruce in writing so little about Monday…but to go from a great weekend to a great Monday night did my heart a lot of good.

And now it’s the following Thursday–nearly Friday…in fact PROBABLY Friday, by the time I re-read and actually publish this…and I’m exhausted.  This weekend, I plan on sleeping.  🙂

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And on a different note…it would be remiss not to say Rest in Peace to both Christopher Lee and The American Dream Dusty Rhodes, both of whom passed away today.  They both meant a lot to me in very different ways.  Saddened by those losses.

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Current Listening: Neil Young – Harvest, Jason Isbell – Southeastern