Nashville Film Festival Review: “Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road”

"Throughout the film, there is just one connection after another I found between the hero for many and the hero for me." | Steven McCash shares a deeply personal review of Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road.

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Often, documentaries are a viewer’s introduction to a subject they knew little or nothing about. I walked into the screening of Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road at the 2021 Nashville Film Festival knowing very little about the brainchild behind the legendary Beach Boys. I was someone that leaned more to the heavier rock bands of the 1960s like The Doors, Rolling Stones, and The Kinks rather than the surf music provided by artists like Jan & Dean, The Ventures, and the Beach Boys.

My initial introduction to some of the issues Wilson has suffered through in his life came in the form of the 1992 Barenaked Ladies named after the singer. Once the movie was over and the lights came back on, the song made so much more sense to me. What I was not at all expecting to experience during the showing was the very personal walk down memory lane I felt.

I was transfixed on Wilson’s facial expressions and body language throughout the film. There was something extremely familiar in it. Once it dawned on me who it was, I saw in the singer, I checked out of the movie and just sat there reminiscing on times gone by. The memories were so fresh and real in my mind that I often caught myself tearing up during the movie.

My favorite picture of my father, Richard McCash, from my wedding in 2015

Thursday, January 11, 2018, the world lost my hero. That man was one Richard Dale McCash better known to me as simply dad. My father was a son, a brother, a soldier, a husband, and a best friend. My dad had many ailments that added up to be the cause of his death, but the growing case of dementia he suffered from was the final boss in the video game of life that he just could not defeat. In the years leading up to his passing, he would often tell me some of the amazing stories from his long life.

His mind was very sharp and I was very impressed by the level of detail he still held onto from life events that happened well over 50 years ago. In the documentary, Brian Wilson would tell these elaborate stories from the early days of the band, but would just seem to stare off in the distance like he did not know anyone was there with him. My dad was just like that, he would regurgitate a story that he had told a thousand times but with no emotion at all in his face. His eyes, like Brian’s, would stare off into space with nowhere for his gaze to land.

The film briefly touches on Wilson’s often-abusive father and, like Brian, my dad’s dad was physically abusive to him as well. Throughout the film, there is just one connection after another I found between the hero for many and the hero for me. My father battled with alcohol up to the time I was born and even though Wilson’s addictions ran much deeper, they both struggled mightily to get past them. The stories of Brian’s battles with depression are well-documented and my father had his as well. Not long after my mother passed away, my father was in a dark haze and while he was out driving one day, he came across a car dealership that had a new car in a burnt orange color which happened to be my mother’s favorite. Of course, he bought the car hoping it would make him happy but alas it did not.

The new car provided a quick shot of Dopamine for him, but it quickly wore off, leaving him off worse than he was before. A few years later, my father told of a moment during which he was driving the car down an old Mississippi highway, where in the distance was an 18-wheeler carrying a long trailer. He began to have thoughts of ending it all right there in a desperate way to be reconnected with my mother. He began to speed up and as he did, he cried out to her saying he was coming to get her. He sped up some more. He cried for her and begged Jesus to help him. He is now closing in on the massive truck like a lion is on its prey. In the blink of an eye, just mere moments before taking his life and possibly one of an innocent truck driver, he slammed on his brakes and let out a roaring scream that quickly turned into loud sobbing. He found himself on the side of a dark desolate highway in the middle of nowhere with a desire to continue living. My reaction to that story still haunts me to this day. I have always felt like suicide was the cheap way out of problems and extremely selfish. I admonished my father for his behavior and chastised him for not thinking how it would affect me. I know now that I was the selfish one.

Brian seemed to have a childlike sense to him in the movie. He flashed his boyish grin many times in the film when reminiscing about growing up with his brother and talking about his admiration for his mother. My father was adopted at a young age but always referred to his adoptive parents as his real parents. It’s said that men often look for a mate that reminds them of their mother as they are a boy’s first love. My dad definitely followed in that trend when he married my mom. She was stern but honest and always let you know how much she loved you. My father would often tell me how much she and my grandmother were so much alike.

The film finds Wilson and journalist and personal friend Jason Fine driving around different locations throughout Southern California that are important in the history of the singer and the band. It is during these drives that Fine doesn’t play journalist with a notepad full of questions but rather as friend that is wanting to get to know a pal better. The scenes in the car are the ones where I left myself and drifted off the most. I would replay all of the hysterical conversations I had with my dad in a car and begin to wish I could load the tank up with gas just one more time so I could ask my dad so many questions. He was my best friend and there’s still so much more I want to know about him.

Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road does not necessarily unveil any new information that the typical fan of his and the Beach Boys doesn’t already know, but as someone who is 46 years old and is just now listening to Pet Sounds for the first time, I took a lot away from the film. I am more inclined now to deep dive into the discography of the Beach Boys now that I have learned how beautiful and deep Brian Wilson’s songwriting is. My father, who is from Southern California and was in the surf scene before joining the military, introduced me to the Beach Boys and Brian Wilson as a small child not knowing that one day it would be Brian’s story that would take me down memory lane thinking of all of the crazy stories he told me, leaving me wanting more. God Only Knows why that was and one day, I’ll ask him.

Steven McCash is the Lead Music Writer and Utility Man for SoBros Network. Steven is the host of the ‘Drinking With…’ podcast, and the pioneer of New Music Friday, highlighting each week’s new releases in the world of music in addition to the occasional live show review. He also pitches in as a Nashville lifestyle writer and football analyst (hence the ‘Utility Man’ title). Follow on Twitter: @MC_Cash75

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