“Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road” hits theaters and On Demand platforms Nov. 19, celebrating the life and work of the iconic titular Beach Boy. More a conversation between friends than a formal interview, Wilson and Rolling Stone editor Jason Fine drive the streets of Wilson’s old neighborhood, chatting less about life and more about music – which, in their case, is undoubtedly intertwined.
There are artists who know it’s part of their job to discuss their work at length, to sit on panels and Q&As and attend press junkets and speak extensively about what they’ve made. Wilson isn’t one of them – he says from the start that being on camera makes him nervous.
Even in television clips of interviews with Wilson, the style of media coverage has changed. The questions were more about success than the art, and in present day he struggles to put words to the process. Speaking about it is hard, maybe because it speaks for itself.
Fine puts him at ease, though, and director Brent Wilson (no relation) welcomes viewers along for the ride through the singer-songwriter’s life and work.
The most compelling aspect of “Long Promised Road” is hearing what other talented musicians, producers and writers have to say about the complexity of Wilson’s work at such a young age. Bruce Springsteen, Elton John and Nick Jonas all praise not only his melodic genius, but the trail he blazed for younger musicians who wanted to do something different. It is a joy to hear their stories.
Watching Wilson in the studio is especially fun – a glimpse of how his work is put together and comes to life before it reaches listeners. (“Long Promised Road” also features a new song, “Right Where I Belong,” written and performed by Wilson and Jim James.)
This documentary does for Wilson what “I’ll Be Me” did for Glen Campbell in 2014 – it allows us to celebrate the work and artistry and success of a man, rather than his personal life. Though the film doesn’t shy away from his personal struggles with mental illness and abuse from his father, it doesn’t make them the center either.
To have this kind of tactful tribute and examination while an artist is still here – still touring – is rare, and should happen more often. As Wilson said about his later years: “It became more about the music again.” And “Long Promised Road” is as much about the music as the man, making it a must-watch for music fans of any age.
Wilson’s story about completing the album “Smile” 30 years after he started it is especially inspiring. A musical reminder that it’s never too late, and we shouldn’t be afraid.
“When I hear his music, it makes me smile,” John says in the film. “It makes me realize that there’s a lot of songs still left in me.”
It will do the same for you. Or at the very least, when the movie is over, you’ll stream the Beach Boys, or get out your dad’s old records which are tattered at the edges and skip in places from being played so many times.