A Word in Your Ear

Carl Wilson -- 1946-1998 RIP -- A rememberance

By Robert Wynne

Sun, 08 Feb 1998

I woke up this morning, and there was saddening news in my mailbox. Carl Wilson was no longer with us. He was 51 years old.

As a member of the prolific 60's pop group The Beach Boys, Wilson's music was part of my youth. Growing up in Eastern North Carolina, beach music -- east coast style -- was everywhere. But the surf sound of California also found its way into the mix, and the Beach Boys, with their promises of salt air, fast cars, and pretty girls, were undeniably the epitome of this culture. But as I grew older, I set them aside, a frivolity from childhood.

Years later, associations I made caused me to revisit their music; age and experience allowed me to better appreciate the power of simple harmony, the elegance of a clean musical line, and the joy and enthusiasm for life that embodied their music. The genius of their music is here, in its very simplicity. In a day where music is too often filled with distorted notes and angst-ridden lyrics, the music of the Beach Boys was a breath of fresh air, even after 20, 25, or 30 years. And they never stopped playing.

In the center of all this was Carl. Often overshadowed by his brothers Brian, the virtuoso composer often credited with the groups success, and Dennis, whose extravagant lifestyle grabbed the headlines, and who also died tragically young, Carl was the quiet focus of the band, the driving force that made it possible for their music to continue to grow and thrive years after their initial success. Without his immense presence and golden voice, would there still be a Beach Boys to tour, year after year?

Without him, can there still be? God only knows what we'll do without him.

I had the great fortune to meet Carl Wilson a half dozen times or so over the last few years. He was always the least accessible of the band members....quiet, reserved, aloof. He certainly had no reason to hobnob with me, a friend of a friend of a friend. And yet, he always had the time for a kind word, "Good to see you again, how have you been." I will always remember him, not only for his charisma and heartfelt performances, but for the kind, gentle, quiet man he was offstage, when the curtain was drawn and the last encore's echoes had faded into the night.

Last year, Carl Wilson was diagnosed with cancer. He underwent treatment, and then rejoined the band for their summer tour, devoting the last months of his life to the things he loved most: his family, his music, his fans.

It has been said that no man ever dies -- ever truly dies -- until all the lives he has touched and all the memories he has created die with him. If that is so, then Carl Wilson will live forever. And he will be missed.


"Suppose I were a fool. And suppose I were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself." --Mark Twain

Robert Wynne ("Doc") is a gentleman rogue and a scholar of truth. He has been, at alternate times, a writer, an editor, a salesman, a teacher, a freelance computer consultant and a charming vagrant. You can reach him via e-mail at doc@america.net.

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