By Tom Ehrich
They say the population of Memphis, TN, is divided between those who have been to Graceland and those who wouldn't dream of visiting Elvis Presley's onetime home.
In a similar way, rock music in my world was beach music vs. British, then beach music vs. Motown. I chose Beatles and Motown and therefore had no clue about the travails of Brian Wilson, composer and lead singer for the Beach Boys. Thanks to his mental issues, as well as an entourage and psychologist who kept him drugged and afraid, Wilson had a tough time.
On Monday my wife and I saw the new bio flick "Love & Mercy" at a charming community cinema on the main drag of Rosendale, NY. It shows Wilson falling apart during his Beach Boys heyday (Paul Dano as Wilson) and trying to escape his demons as an adult (John Cusack as Wilson).
Brilliant acting by these two, as well as by Paul Giamatti (playing the abusive therapist) and Elizabeth Banks (who leads Wilson to freedom.)
The film is a caution to the "rock stars" of life, who hit it big while young and then have trouble transitioning into adulthood. Predators surround them, feeding them adulation and drugs. The stars become increasingly disconnected from reality, both their own reality and those of people outside their glitzy orbit.
This happens to rockers like Wilson and Kurt Cobain, athletes and movie stars, artists like Scott Fitzgerald and the wunderkind shooting stars of technology and finance. As Jesus showed, saying No to fame and fortune is difficult, and managing success requires escaping from the crowd.
In a deft touch at the end of "Love & Mercy," after the actors have done their happy ending, an inset shows the real Brian Wilson, now 73, performing at a recent concert, his face a study in determination and insecurity. Message: this was a real person. He suffered and, with help, eventually prevailed.
That's the word we all need to hear, whether or not we were child prodigies or have ever been successful. We are real people, not stats or stick-figures, and we suffer. Some people try to exploit our suffering, for their political, financial or ego benefit. A few step in to help. Those helpers make all the difference. I believe they come as God-presence.