Carl Wilson performing at a Beach Boys show in 1982. All three Wilsons in attendance with Mike and Al. Linda Ronstadt opened the show. Photo by Bradley Mason Hamlin.
He had the disposition and voice of an angel, and God only knows what we all would have been without him.
--PAUL SHAFFER (Musical Director, the CBS Orchestra)
CARL WILSON Spirit of the Beach Boys
(December 21, 1946 – February 6, 1998)
I gotta say, I didn’t realize how difficult it would be, finally sitting in front of the machine and typing out a long overdue article on Carl Wilson. I’ve written many obits and tributes for various pop culture sites and the words have always flowed naturally, but when approaching Carl Wilson I immediately felt the gut-ache of thinking of family, of family passing, of family loss. Sure, I’ve spoken before about feeling a similar way when a TV personality I grew up watching (and loved) passes on, but the Beach Boys meant a whole lot more. I did see surrogate parents in watching certain TV shows I admired, and I won’t undermine the importance of that now, but the Beach Boys gave me something more, something that touched at the core of my spirit.
When I had problems getting along with my family and friends, when I couldn’t get the right girl to understand my method of madness, or when I couldn’t afford skate supplies to fix my board (I made my ride in woodshop) and sidewalk surf away … I put on those big 70’s headphones and listened to the Beach Boys. Even though I lived in Southern California—the Beach Boys fulfilled a vital part of the California fantasy for me. More than a part of the California landscape, when you listen to the Beach Boys you encounter the heart of what California should be, and I felt deeply inspired by that essence.
In particular, when I considered the Wilsons I felt inspired by Brian to express my creative side without restriction, to let my imagination flow. While Dennis made me feel directly from the heart and soul, to really look inward and find the strength to serve up my insides on a plate when necessary, but from Carl I felt and considered the spirit, the good side of spirit, which to me is different from “soul.” The soul of a thing represents the feeling of the thing, but the spirit of a thing—is truly the thing itself. Spirit is the true core of any given thing, and when you consider your spirit you consider who and what you actually are or will be. The spirit of the Beach Boys spoke to me of the good and not the bad. The vibrations were in fact positive in a very important way. Those "good" vibrations have reverberated all over the world into a real tangible gift to humanity, and Carl Wilson was integral to that gift.
Carl Wilson was and is the spirit of the Beach Boys.
Carl was the great rock & roll riffs ala Chuck Berry and Dick Dale. In fact, Carl introduced me to Dick Dale through his version of “Miserlou” on the Surfin’ USA album. I loved it so much I just had to look up the guy who arranged the tune, and a long love for Dick Dale followed. The Boys also did "Let's Go Trippin'" live. Remember the Beach Boys Concert album? Great Carl riffs on that one.
Carl was also the voice most often called angelic in the Beach Boys sound. Too true. It’s almost impossible not to conjure purity when listening to “Long Promised Road” or “God Only Knows” and so many others.
And Carl was the most spiritually balanced Beach Boy. He was as much rock & roll as he was harmony. Yet, he was outspoken when the situation demanded action. Carl was the Beach Boy who became a “conscientious objector” to the war in Vietnam. But perhaps most importantly Carl Wilson always held the reputation of being a super nice and gentle man.
Out of all the times I saw the Beach Boys over the years from 1977 to 1992 Carl was absent only once, and his presence was very missed. Missing him from that one show is highly representative of how we all feel now in the years since his passing. He was the quietest Beach Boy who often made the biggest impression when he wasn’t around.
You miss him.
And I’ll tell you another important thing I learned about Carl Wilson. He wasn’t perfect. He was an actual human being with human problems. The Beach Boys had their fair share of family conflicts and crises—just like mine and most likely your own. But it’s what you do in life, combined with how you treat others in life, that really counts. Carl did great things and he treated people with great respect. To me, that’s about as good as it gets.
Well, I never met Carl Wilson in person, but I’m very thankful that he was able to sing to me all those years, and that he will be able to sing to me for the rest of my life. For that, I can only say, thank you.
Now before I get all weepy and sentimental on ya, have a listen to Carl singing “Heaven” (a 1986 performance dedicated to his brother, Dennis) and when you’re done with that I want you to check out the link to the Carl Wilson Foundation. The CWF is the most positive and active way you can honor the memory of Carl Wilson.