Monday, 2 May 2016


By Sean Ono Lennon

I’m embarrassed to say that—perhaps due to a lack of sophistication on my part, or the misheard echoes of a supposed rivalry between my father’s group and the Beach Boys—I was late to understand the music of Brian Wilson. It wasn’t until after puberty, after discovering Hendrix, after listening to Miles Davis, and after my own feeble attempts at songwriting that my ears opened up and I suddenly found my universe transformed by Pet Sounds.

I was 21 years old and had just about finished recording my first album, Into the Sun, at Sear Sound in New York. At the time, my only professional gig had been playing bass in Cibo Matto, and I was playing some of my tracks for their manager, and I remember him saying, “This kind of sounds like a Brian Wilson record.” Slightly offended, I replied cynically: “surf music?” After some quiet gasping, I believe it was the engineer Tom Schick who told me to be quiet. And suddenly I found myself listening to “God Only Knows.”

Brian once described how drinking water after his first hash joint felt like his “first glass of water,” and I felt the same way when listening to “God Only Knows” at that moment. This was the first time I’d ever heard a song. It was the beginning of my true musical education. No longer would I be self-taught; from now on I would be attending a graduate course at the Brian Wilson School of Music.

I ravenously consumed each song on the album, overcome by a sort of madness. I couldn’t stop listening to “God Only Knows” until I knew every single note of every instrument and vocal. I’d never played a major 6 or a minor major 7; I’d heard those colors before, but Pet Sounds made me see them and desire them, and to this day I hunger for them; for the intricacies of counterpoint, of suspending chords by avoiding the root note on the bass, and for the interlocking molecular geometry of well-composed harmonies. Brian Wilson is my Bach.

I could’ve learned these things from the Beatles perhaps, but that music was so primordial and fundamental to me—it had always been there, like the sun or the moon. Of course, after I returned to Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s armed with the X-ray goggles I’d been given while making my way through Pet Sounds, I suddenly heard that music for the first time as well. I can’t imagine a greater gift. Nothing has ever made me feel more connected to the universe and ultimately to the work of my father. For this, I have Mr. Wilson to thank.

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