I'm preparing to attend a press junket for Love & Mercy, the astonishing new Brian Wilson biopic starring John Cusack and Paul Dano, and my yorkshire terrier is keeping me waiting. He's sitting in front of our neighborhood Trader Joe's, staring inside and waiting for my ex-girlfriend - who's been gone for two years - to come out. He remembers when the three of us walked together, and how he and I would wait while she'd run in for dinner items. He doesn't understand why the relationship ended. He doesn't realize humans can grow apart. All he knows is that his mom is gone, and that she used to emerge from Trader Joe's. So he sits there waiting, and making me late for an interview session at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons, where John Cusack and Brian Wilson will field questions about Love & Mercy. I tug his leash, and off we go.
I drive over Laurel Canyon, thinking about Love & Mercy, which tells the fascinating tale of Beach Boys co-founder/musical mastermind Brian Wilson's rocky rise, hard fall and ultimate salvation, alternating between the young Wilson (Dano) during the artistically explosive Pet Sounds era and an older Wilson (Cusack) in a bizarre, you're-not-gonna-believe-this-really-happened later period of isolation, abuse and emotional torture. Cusack and Dano turn in Oscar-worthy performances alongside Paul Giamatti and Elizabeth Banks, who play the bad guy and the good girl.
I pull into the Four Seasons, listening to Pet Sounds, Wilson's hugely influential 1966 masterpiece, widely considered one of the best rock albums ever recorded. As "God Only Knows" plays, I sing the lyrics "God only knows what I'd be without you," inadvertently making eye contact with a stocky valet parking attendant. It's an awkward moment. As I get out of my car, he gives me an odd look, but still calls me "sir" as I scurry into the hotel.
I arrive late. The complimentary lunch spread is being removed. I grab what I can - an albacore tuna wrap and the last of the spaghetti squash - and rush into the press junket, passing Brian Wilson in the lobby. A few publicists surround him as he prepares to be interviewed. Brian Wilson is one of rock and roll's most impressive icons, but he doesn't appear comfortable with whirlwind publicity situations. And, frankly, who can blame him?
As I settle in for the interview session, Brian Wilson takes a seat next to John Cusack. It's a beautiful thing to witness: two brilliant American artists sitting side-by-side, ready for the questions to roll.
How did John Cusack prepare to portray Brian Wilson?
"The period that I played in Brian's life was much less public than the period Paul (Dano) played," explains Cusack. "Brian had sort of removed himself from public life, so there wasn't as much information about him in that era. There were a lot of legends and a lot of superstitions about him. More lore than fact. Brian was nice enough to talk to me and let me ask questions. I met with Brian and I saw how he intuits. That was very helpful. I also dug into Smile and Pet Sounds because my opinion is that you can hear everything about Brian in his music if you just listen carefully."
Does John Cusack have a favorite Brian Wilson song?
"I was obsessed with The Smile Sessions record when I was making the film, to try to feel what he must have been feeling," says Cusack. "When he played Smile in the Royal Albert Hall, it was so beautiful to see Paul McCartney weeping in the front row."
"Right, right, I remember that," Wilson lovably chimes in.
"I listened to everything," Cusack continues. "If you make Amadeus, you've got a really good soundtrack because it's going to be Mozart. If you're making Love & Mercy, you have the Mozart of rock and roll."
How does Brian Wilson feel about John Cusack and Paul Dano's performances?
"John and Paul are absolute geniuses, and I've been called a genius myself," Wilson says with a grin.
As everyone chuckles over this playful remark, I take a moment to appreciate how amazingly cool it is to be in the same room as Brian Wilson and John Cusack.
Why did John Cusack want to do Love & Mercy?
"I've known about Brian's musical legacy and what he's meant to music and American culture," Cusack begins. "It was a great gift for me to try to channel the spirit of someone who has so much heart and vulnerability, but is such a survivor, who has changed music and culture in such radical ways that are primarily about opening up your heart. Brian is a pure artist. Any of us who are in the business want to keep the flame of that pure artist alive. Not all of us are at Brian's level. Not many people on Earth are, but to be able to make a film about a full creative spirit like this is why I want to keep making films."
Did Brian Wilson bring a horse into the studio during the recording of Pet Sounds?
"No," says Wilson. "We actually didn't get to that point. The horse was just a thought. Somebody said, 'let's get a horse in here.' They said I said that. I didn't say that."
Now I'm back home, taking my dog for another walk. As he sits and gazes into Trader Joe's, a couple in their early twenties kneels down to pet him. As we talk, I mention the Love & Mercy press junket. They say they've heard of the Beach Boys, but not Brian Wilson. As I explain how the Pet Sounds album offers a departure from the Beach Boys' signature fun-in-the-sun formula, they smile politely and ask if I've interviewed Drake?
As they walk away, I hope Love & Mercy introduces the soul-baring genius of Brian Wilson to the millennial generation. I also find myself wondering how I can arrange an interview with Drake?