God Only Knows

Here is a thoughful and fair question raised by my Shelton College Review colleague, Joseph E. Bird, about Brian Wilson:


Now I really want to see this movie.[Love and Mercy] But first, a question for you. I’ve now read about Brian Wilson and all of the music critics who have analyzed his composition (God Only Knows) in terms that are so far over my head, I simply can’t comprehend. Chord changes, progressions, and the like. Seemingly very complex stuff. So here’s my question. Do you think Brian Wilson was thinking of all of this music stuff when he wrote the song, or do you think he was listenting to his inner voice and playing (writing) what he heard in his head? Was he calculating to be a genius, or was his genius in the music there for others to discover and declare? Do you know what I’m trying to ask?


The movie suggests that Brian was somewhat competitive and calculating. He heard the Beatles’ Rubber Soul album and was inspired and then said something like this to his brothers and band-mates: “We can’t let them get ahead of us.”   So, yeah, he wanted to be great, to be the best, to be admired. That was a part of it.


But I think that almost anyone would say that Brian had an incredible gift. I read on the side of the box of some Sleepytime Tea years ago a quote from Mozart. He said that he heard his melodies when he was out walking after dinner. They did not come at his bidding and “whither they come from I do not know.”   Neil Young speaks of his songs as something that came to him on a particular day. He says that he does not own them and that he could not reproduce them now.


There is some irony in the fact that Brian could probably have never done what he did – couldn’t have communicated what he heard – without the early influence of his father, who was himself a musician and probably taught Brian the fundamentals of harmony. He probably could never have done what he did without the institutions of Capitol Records and the studio where he recorded in Los Angeles. Without these and other institutions, all at the right place and right time, Brian Wilson might have been just one more


Heart pregnant with celestial fire

That might have waked to ecstasy the lyre


Or “gem of purest ray serene” hidden in some “dark, unfathomed caves of ocean;” a flower “born to blush unseen and waste its sweetness in the desert air.”


But he had those things – the studio, the musician father, the brothers with angelic voices, Capitol Records – and he took what he heard and polished it and worked it until it shone.



It’s still shining, for all to see.





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2 Responses to God Only Knows

  1. Can a mad scientist musician take his knowledge of music and set out to create God Only Knows in his laboratory (a la Poe – see Home Economics post: https://labeak52blog.wordpress.com/2015/06/30/morning-poem-june-30-2015/) or does the music come upon him on a walk after dinner. Maybe both. But the real genius of Wilson was to allow his creativity to flow freely and unfettered. Or, in his calculating way, demand that creativity from himself. Einstein engaged in thought experiments. Maybe Wilson engaged in musical experiments.

  2. labeak52 says:

    There’s a world where I can go and tell my secrets to
    In my room, in my room
    In this world I lock out all my worries and my fears
    In my room, in my room

    Do my dreaming and my scheming
    Lie awake and pray
    Do my crying and my sighing
    Laugh at yesterday

    Now it’s dark and I’m alone
    But I won’t be afraid
    In my room, in my room
    In my room, in my room
    In my room, in my room

    Brian Wilson

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