DVD Review: “That Lucky Old Sun”

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That Lucky Old Sun DVDRolling Stone writer David Wild makes a very good point in the feature-length documentary Going Home that is central to the That Lucky Old Sun DVD (January 27, Capitol/EMI). To paraphrase, he says that a lot of people who love Brian Wilson’s music love Brian the person as well, because Brian has been so open about his vulnerability and fragility. He then suggests that, in light of the powerful work that Wilson has been creating in recent years, it may be missing the point to focus on his frailties, and perhaps we should consider his extraordinary strengths. I guess that’s why Rolling Stone writers get the big money.

Questions have been raised about how hands-on Brian really is in the creation of his new music. Going Home spends a lot of time making sure we know just how involved he really is in the process. Cynics will say that the film is edited to provide an idealized portrait of the artist at work. Maybe Brian Wilson’s music is not for cynics. I know that I’m convinced that Brian’s powers as a composer, producer, and arranger remain largely intact.

For me, the best parts of the documentary are when we see Brian at work in the studio. This is a rare look at a master in his element. There is no question that he knows exactly what he wants, and how to get it. I also enjoyed the footage of old California from Brian’s early days, providing a sense of place for the emergence of his music. Going Home, directed by George Dougherty, is a fascinating look at the creation of That Lucky Old Sun and the California myth that inspired it. The fact is, as is pointed out here, that the myth was largely created by Brian Wilson’s music in the first place.

The recording of the That Lucky Old Sun album returned Brian Wilson to the Capitol Records tower in Los Angeles, where he had started his career in earnest some 46 years earlier. Through interviews with the aforementioned David Wild, as well as personalities as diverse as Billy Bob Thornton, Mickey Dolenz, graphic designer Mark London, Pet Sounds lyricist Tony Asher, and nearly every member of Brian’s band, we learn how the album, which grew out of a commission from Royal Festival Hall in London, came about, and watch as it’s created in the studio.

Two quotes from Brian himself stand out. When asked what music means to him, Brian replies that it’s “the biggest source of mental and emotional healing I have in my life.” Later, someone asks him where he gets the ideas for his vocal arrangements. “In my head,” is his response. Indeed.

The other centerpiece of this dvd is a live in-the-studio performance of “That Lucky Old Sun.” It’s an intimate setting for an expansive opus. If you’ve seen Brian Wilson and his band live, you already know that it is one of the best live performances that you are likely to witness these days. The studio setting makes it feels a bit sterile at times, but the band lives up to their reputation for brilliance.

The bonus features on this disc are well worth watching. There is a song by song analysis of That Lucky Old Sun by its co-writers, Brian Wilson and Scott Bennett. Better yet, there is more footage captured in the studio during the recording process. Add a joyful performance in the back of a taxi from the “Black Cab Sessions,” and a live performance of Beach Boys classics from a session for Yahoo! Music, and you have the complete package.

If you’ve read my writing on Popdose, you already know that I am a Brian Wilson fan. Don’t look for objectivity from me on this score. If you have any interest in Brian, or in the creative process in general, you’ll need this in your collection.