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My Brian Wilson Story

By Jessie Krause

With the new movie about Brian Wilson, “Love & Mercy”, just out, I thought it a good time to share my “Brian Wilson Story”. Everything in this story is true.

It was the summer of 2001, and I was about to have my first solo art show in New York City. I had only one painting left to do for the space, and no idea what it would be. The muse had left me. Maybe it was the relentless July heat of the city. I spent most of those dog days inside, in front of the TV. A documentary about the life of Brian Wilson came on, and I watched it. I had always enjoyed the Beach Boys songs, but my tastes had changed after high school, and those vinyl records were probably sold or given away after one of my many New York City apartment moves.  Watching the documentary, I became enthralled.  Brain damaged from drugs and an abused childhood, his was a story of an odd, lonely, brilliant genius.

Something stirred in me, and the muse awoke. I immediately bought his signature recording with The Beach Boys, “Pet Sounds.” Listening to the CD, I began flipping through my sketch books, and found a drawing of a favorite coffee house on Block Island. A man is alone at a small table, reading the paper. He is half-hidden by four empty, mismatched chairs.  A chessboard and a steaming cup of coffee are just out of his reach.  A poster of a surfer floats above the open door, which frames the man.

For the next two weeks, I worked on the painting based on my sketch. And something interesting happened. I could not work on the painting without “Pet Sounds” plugged into my ears. Every brushstroke was to the sound of Wilson’s music. His story filled my thoughts. How difficult it is to be different, to imagine and believe in things that no one can understand, and then the joy that transcends it all when creating – in other words – to be an Artist. I felt a strong kinship with this person, almost protective, as if the painting was a talisman for him and for me. As I was finishing up the painting, I wondered if there was any way he could see it to understand what he co-created with me. Was there anyone I knew who might know him? What if I sent a photo of it to the record company with a sincere letter? Nothing seemed to make sense, so I did the one thing one does in an impossible situation. I prayed. “God, if there is any way you can let Brian Wilson know that he helped me paint this painting, and that he is helping me in spirit, please do!”

And then I let it go, and didn’t think about it again.

A few weeks later, my show opened. Family and friends, new and old, from near and far, came. It was thrilling. I sold many paintings that night, but not the Brian Wilson painting, which I had titled, “Juice and Java”, the name of the coffee house. At the opening I talked about the Wilson-influenced painting, and people listened, bemused. I was slightly disappointed that the painting didn’t sell that night, but I had a gut feeling that the right person would come along for it.

The next day, I headed out of the subway at 66th and Broadway to the gallery space, which was a block away. Tower Records was right there, and there was a huge crowd in front, and a long line going down the block and out of sight. A sign in the window said “Brian Wilson Tonight 6-7 pm”. My heart stopped. It was 5:45. I looked down the line disappearing around the block. That was at least a 3 hour line. My adrenaline kicked in. I had a print of the painting in my bag. On the hood of a parked car, I wrote a note that effectively said: “Dear Brian Wilson, This painting was painted to your record “Pet Sounds”. Your creativity helped my creativity. Thank you so much for your inspiration! PS. the original is around the corner…” and I wrote the gallery’s address. My plan was to run back to the gallery, give the print to one of the young interns working there, and pay him $20 to somehow get it into the hands of Brian Wilson. I was much too nervous to be anywhere near there. So I turned and ran from Tower Records, annoyed that a van had suddenly pulled up in front of me, blocking my path. The door to the van opened. You can guess who stepped out. “Brian Wilson!” I said, not two feet from him. “Yes, that’s me!” he said with a smile. My words tumbled out. “I am an artist. I did this painting to “Pet Sounds”. I just want to thank you for your inspiration and music!” and I handed him the print.  He took it, looked at it. “Nice! Thank you!” he said, and then handed it to his wife, Melinda, who was beside him.  “How nice! Thank you!” she said, and then she put it in her bag. They were then swept away by the people who do such things with rock stars.

High as a kite, I go flying to the gallery. Out of breath, I am explaining what just happened to anyone who would listen, when in walks Melinda Wilson. Cool and collected, she says, “I might as well look at art, rather than sit in a record store watching Brian sign autographs.”

She bought the painting. The check had both her and Brian’s name on it. Yes, I did deposit it, but not until after making a copy. I needed proof that it wasn’t a dream. How did this happen?

God only knows.