Brian Wilson, a man whose music reminds us of summers, surfing and youth, turns 70 today.
But long before he celebrated this milestone birthday, Wilson pondered what it would be like to be older in When I Grow Up (to be a Man), a song he co-authored in 1964 with fellow Beach Boy Mike Love.
Since summer starts today and the Beach Boys are back together, celebrating their 50th anniversary with a tour and a new album, I thought it would be fun to speculate how Brian Wilson might answer each of the questions he posed in When I Grow Up (to be a Man).
So here goes:
Q: Will I dig the same things that turn me on as a kid?
A: I’d have to say yes. At 70, after battling personal demons and legal issues that kept the band apart, Wilson is back doing what made the Beach Boys successful five decades ago. The set lists during the band’s 50th anniversary tour include many of the group’s earliest surf rock classics.
Q: Will I look back and say that I wish I hadn’t done what I did?
A: Wilson’s well-chronicled struggles with mental illness, substance abuse and other issues took their toll, so I suspect he would have some regrets. When asked in 2008 what was his greatest regret, he answered: “The drugs I took which kind of messed up my mind. The LSD, the marijuana, the cocaine.” Wilson offered a similar comment during an interview with Charlie Rose earlier this year.
Q: Will I joke around and still dig those sounds?
A: Yes, he would. (See answer to first question.)
Q: Will I look for the same things in a woman that I dig in a girl?
A: Probably not. Wilson was 20 when he met his first wife – a then 14-year old singer named Marilyn Rovell. Three years later, they were married. By contrast, his second wife, Melinda Ledbetter, was a car saleswoman. Ironically, Rovell also ended up in sales as a real estate agent in California.
Q: Will I settle down fast or will I first wanna travel the world?
A: It does not appear that Brian Wilson has ever settled down. His career as a Beach Boy, as a solo artist, as a producer and as a rock music icon has taken him all over the world. In fact, the Beach Boys’ 50th anniversary tour includes shows in China, Japan, Australia and several European countries.
Q: Will my kids be proud or think their old man is really a square?
A: The first part of this question is a tough one. It would be difficult not to take some pride in being the child of a man who has accomplished so much professionally. But Wilson’s relationship with Carnie and Wendy, the two daughters from his first marriage, was strained at best. In 1994, People magazine reported that when Carnie and Wendy (then 26 and 24, respectively) had barely talked with their father during their lives.
Part two of this question is much easier. The Beach Boys and their music have remained popular through several generations, so whatever Carnie and Wendy may think of their dad, “square” probably would not be among their descriptions.
Wilson and his second wife have adopted five children, so the jury’s still out on how they will view their father, although it appears he still values his solitude. In 2008, the Associated Press reported that he frequently left his house to escape the noise and commotion. “The kids make me feel a little jumpy,” he told the AP. “Sometimes I want to get out of the house to get away from my kids, but I love my kids a lot. I love my kids. … Quiet time comes around 10 at night when I go to sleep. It’s peace of mind. Things run smoothly at night. During the day, things are more rough.”
Q: When they’re out having fun yeah, will I still wanna have my share?
A: Yes to this one. At 70, he’s still writing, recording and performing.
Q: Will I love my wife for the rest of my life?
A: The answer again is yes – and perhaps it’s yes for his first wife too. Their divorce was amicable, and Rovell speaks fondly of Wilson and their time together on her real estate web page. Wilson and his second wife Melinda have been married since 1995, so he is well on his way to loving her the rest of his life. Melinda often is credited with getting Wilson to return to public life.
That’s it for all of the questions posed in the song, but the lyrics also contain a countdown of sorts with a chorus of numbers reflecting the growing age of the singer. They start at 14 and end at 32 – less than half of Brian Wilson’s current age.
So have a very happy birthday, Brian, as you become a septuagenarian. Hang ten!
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