backstage at the Brian Wilson concert

Went to a concert Sunday night at the Hollywood Bowl with a friend who actually gave me homework to prepare for it (a screenplay, which I didn’t get the chance to read, and some articles and video clips). Afterwards we went backstage.

The concert was a tribute to Brian Wilson. I have never paid much attention to the Beach Boys, being more of a British Invasion kind of woman, from the Stones to Bowie to Blur. But said friend is passionately involved with a biopic about Wilson’s life, centering around his bizarre relationship with his ‘psychologist’ who moved into his house, did a record with him, and got involved — and takes a cut — on his business deals. His involvement with Wilson — “You have to give me total control” he told the people who hired him — was supposed to last a year and a half. Nine years later, he’s still deeply involved with Wilson’s life, family, and finances. “The movie is Walk The Line meets A Beautiful Mind,” said my friend. A director with the first name Brett is attached to direct and Nic Cage will play the psychologist.

This was my third time to the Bowl and my first time experiencing the VIP valet — I didn’t even know the place had a valet — which drops you off right in front of the gate and spares you the sheer nightmare of parking-lot navigation. Box seats, fireworks, Brian Wilson singing with the LA Philharmonic, gorgeous night complete with almost-full moon. During intermission I fell into a group conversation with a founder of CAA — Creative Artists Agency — who started off discussing Wilson’s psychologist — “He was the psychologist to the stars, lots of famous people used him, he wasn’t perceived as a quack or anything.” This segued into the spiritual fads of the late ’70s and early ’80s, such as EST. “Everybody was trying to get off drugs back then,” the founder pointed out. “Everybody was looking for a way to do that, to fill the void.” A couple of people in the group — also involved with the agency — reflected on the wild and crazy times when a meeting with a well-known producer (there’s at least one bestselling biography out on him) would start off with a friendly invitation “to do morning rails”. Another big fish would keep on his desk, on offer to visitors instead of breath mints or candy, a bowl of cocaine and some straws. “People did lines just to keep up the pace,” said the founder. “You fell behind, you were toast.” I found that a fascinating connection — the spiritual craze and the drug craze — and it was a relationship between the two movements that had never occurred to me before. Still, it made sense, and I said something about the twelve steps, how the program revolves around surrendering to a Higher Power. The founder nodded: “Yes, like AA, the whole thing was kind of like that.”

Meanwhile my friend and I had been having a little ongoing dialogue, in person and through texting, about the nature of creativity and how it relates to mental illness. Wilson was schizophrenic at one point — some of his flat affect my friend attributed to the damage of drugs seemed, to me, to be a sign of schizophrenia. I had been reading about studies that show how an unusually high percentage of “exceptionally creative people”* (in the sciences as well as the arts) have a family history containing at least one relative with schizophrenia, when compared to more “normally creative” people. Basically the idea is that some brains can’t properly filter outside stimuli: the world rushes in and jumbles around in the brain, creating a habitual mental pattern of free-associating, linking together things and ideas, finding unusual relationships between them. In a “healthy” brain, the jumble synthesizes out into original (and coherent) ideas; in an “unhealthy” brain, the process breaks down and never leads anywhere, except deeper inside the person’s own private landscape.

Backstage — which turned out to be a small separate building that housed restrooms and a lounge — my friend, and other people associated with the movie, chatted with people in Wilson’s camp. Wilson himself made a brief appearance: sat at a table, signed things, said, “So where’s the movie? Where’s the movie?” His wife mentioned that he had taken a similar attitude toward the adoption of their three children, exclaiming one month into the adoption process: “So where are the kids? Where are the kids?”

The movie’s director, Brett, showed up. Because this is such a small world, I had met Brett in St Bart’s through my producer friend Octavian, and Brett has been out at least once with my ex-husband (if the ‘ex’ part isn’t official yet, it might as well be). I wasn’t completely sure the dude would remember me, but he seemed to, his gaze going to me when he entered the room and his face reflecting total surprise: “What are you doing here?” I never got a chance to answer, since Brett is one of those people always surrounded by other people. So “nice to see you — you look gorgeous” was the extent of our communication.

* “Exceptionally creative” was defined in professional terms. As a published novelist, I fit the category. My family history does indeed contain a relative with schizophrenia, as well as mood disorders (very common with writers particularly) and I was recently diagosed with the “inattentive” subtype of ADD (since kids with this type can hyper-focus at times, and tend to be dreamy, distant, quiet, and relatively well-behaved, they often escape diagnosis despite obvious and severe organizational problems). Although the book I was reading didn’t mention ADD, it also concerns the brain’s inability to filter through outside stimuli in so-called normal terms.


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