Wednesday, April 8, 2015

No Pier Pressure - review by Peter Reum

It is 2015, and we are living in a time when cynicism and acerbic wit are valued and sincerity is boring and is discounted. There is fear which is palpable in the headlines, and heroes are hard to find. It is a time when people crave truth, and are offered political spin. Relationships are centered in a debate over who can marry instead of asking what marriage can be. As much as the 20th Century was defined by the shadow of nuclear destruction, the 21st Century is being defined by life being taken easily for a cause, almost any cause, however stupid or ill-defined.

Those of us who have lived life long enough to predate Brian Wilson/Beach Boys music remember the time of pop music being different than rhythm and blues. Then came Elvis, Chuck, Buddy, Little Richard, Fats,  and the slide into Frankie Avalon and Fabian. After that, along came Brian Wilson. His compositions reflected Sixties and then Seventies life in a manner that perhaps could only be rivaled by a few other composers.

Brian grew older, and his outlook changed correspondingly. Themes of his writing turned to grief, loss, and years passed, which, upon reflection, caused Brian to wish he could relive those parts of his life over again. There is something about getting older that makes wine age for the better. In a season of renewal, pouring new wine into old skins is deemed to be wasteful. We Boomers have old skins, but somehow Brian has managed to find his way through the last phase of adulthood while living in previous phases at the same time. He has kids who are children of this new century, and his role as a father is important to him. At the same time, his grandchildren from his children of the last century also have him to love and for him to love in return.

Brian's No Pier Pressure album is about his life...feelings that men who have lived most of their life have. Brian was born during World War 2, the war that spawned Existentialism. The theme of Existentialism is about each person being independently responsible for his or her actions as a living conscious human being. The feelings of angst, dread, fear, absurdity, and authenticity all flow from the struggle to bring meaning to our lives. As we age, our perspective toward the future generates anxiety, and our proclivity to look backward in reflection is increased. The challenge to live in the present is harder but more satisfying when it is accomplished. For Brian, this latest album seems to be an opportunity to explore these feelings and express them musically.

In listening to Brian through the years, I have learned to hear the tones of the music first, then to hear the lyrics second. Brian has found a degree of balance in his life, judging by the tone of the music on this album, and clarity of the feelings and their expression in this collection of songs is impressive. The lyrical tone of the album is reflective of the balance he has been able to achieve as a husband, father, grandfather, uncle, and cousin. Brian's Life Suite is embedded in the songs on No Pier Pressure, although they may not be the specific songs he originally envisioned for that suite.

In a recent Billboard interview in the April 11, 2015 issue, Brian touches upon the effect that the adoration from his fans has had upon him. He reflects and states that his harmonies are a way of making a spiritual connection with his fans.  The effect of his music has been to heal the deep hurts and anguish his fans have experienced. That the relationship is reciprocal is intuitively correct, but he comes right out and states that fact in this interview. The balance that is heard in the music and lyrics on No Pier Pressure is also touched upon in the Billboard interview. He mentions that his life has come into a degree of perspective, with loss being countered by gain. When he is asked about his fears, he reflects that although he loves his new biographical motion picture, he feels it dwells "too long in the darkness."

Brian sees No Pier Pressure to be an album about "love and understanding." He indicates that it begins and end with a prayer, naming the two tunes as "This Beautiful Day" and "The Last Song." The album appears to be a Brian Wilson day set to song, based upon the Billboard interview. This impression is born out during the program of songs on No Pier Pressure. In reflecting upon my own recent transition into senior citizenship, and the various routines, emotions, and thoughts that pass through my conscious mind, I found that the songs on No Pier Pressure are not unlike the routines, thoughts, and emotions that pop into my mind.  There is a tendency to look backward, and to feel again the triumphs and failures of years gone by, all the while struggling to live in the present and not fearing the future.

In his invocation for No Pier Pressure, This Beautiful Day, Brian speaks of holding on to "this beautiful day." In "The Last Song," he mentions "there is never enough time for the ones you love." Little children grow and become adults, spouses fall away or die, and we are left alone to reflect and savor this life, this day. The present is all we ever have, yet we think we will live forever when we are young. In 12 step programs, there is an old saying ..."the past is history and tomorrow is a mystery, live for today." This is the very feeling that No Pier Pressure offers, and it is a wise outlook. Another 12 step program adage suggests that we begin and end each day by "Thanking our Higher Power for the gift of life this day." It is no coincidence that Brian ends the interview in Billboard by answering a question about what he would write on a card as John Cusack, playing him does in Love and Mercy, by saying "Thank you, God, for another day."

The songs between the invocation and benediction on No Pier Pressure offer a mix of emotions, mostly based upon different phases of relationships. The playfulness of love is expressed in On the Island and Saturday Night. The beauty of love and trust in a relationship is explored in Our Special Love,  One Kind of Love, and Whatever Happened. Feelings of abandonment, loneliness, and reunification are touched upon in Tell Me Why and Half Moon Bay. The uncertainty of change and escaping life's trials flows through The Right Time, Runaway Dancer, and Sail Away. Guess You Had to Be There chronicles the feeling of how fame is at first wished for, and then rued when the reality of being famous hits hard.

In the end, No Pier Pressure is an album about coming to terms with it is, not how we want it to be. It is the work of a man who has sailed through life's trials, emerging stronger because of the struggles, savoring each day as a gift, a new day to be lived fully despite the painful memories, loss, changes, and storms. Sail on, sailor.