The music of the Beach Boys has been a summertime staple for so many decades that the July 3 Fair St. Louis appearance by the long-running nostalgia act can almost be taken for granted. But a look around at other events this week quickly reveals that the musical legacy of Brian Wilson and his former companions has undergone a radical paradigm shift since 1988, when the Boys scored a surprising hit with the infectious/insipid "Kokomo" and Wilson's underrated first solo album went straight to the cutout bins. Although the current Wilson-free incarnation of the Beach Boys (with veterans Mike Love and Bruce "I Write the Songs" Johnston) holds up the franchise, their now-familiar selection of familiar tunes and harmonies for fading boomers is overshadowed by the July 1 appearance at Riverport of their creator and former leader, Brian Wilson, on his first extensive tour since 1965, when a panic attack took him off the road and into the confines of the recording studio and the bedroom. The 59-year-old Wilson has been through every level of psychological hell imaginable, from child abuse to drug-induced paranoia, and there's still a nervous twitch in his eyes, the look of a man who's seen too much and maybe felt things a little too hard. But, as Wilson's fans know, it's that emotional anguish, and not the fun-in-the-sun ethic offered by his former partners' Fair St. Louis show, that marks the true genius of such great records as "God Only Knows" and "Sail on Sailor." When Wilson asks, "Wouldn't it be nice to live together in the kind of world where we belong?" you have to ask yourself just where that world might be, and when he announces, "I just wasn't made for these times," the isolation and loneliness that were once clouded over by the perfect harmonies of his bandmates are laid bare.
For those who share the composer's agoraphobia or simply can't face the summer heat, Wilson's legacy will be explored at length in the July 4 broadcast of An All-Star Tribute to Brian Wilson on TNT. Tune in a few minutes late to skip Ricky Martin's misguided renditions of "California Girls" and "Help Me Rhonda," and you're in for a fairly good evening of Wilson's music as performed by the likes of Billy Joel, Elton John, Paul Simon and the Go-Go's -- all in a suitably respectful context, with an appropriate emphasis on Wilson's masterpiece, Pet Sounds. Whether heard in their original form or through interpretation, Wilson's ballads of hopeless, desperate romantic longing are the soundtrack to an emotional world that's as valid today as it was in 1966.