This past weekend, I drove my nineteen year old son, Mario, and his friend from Durham, NC to Glenside, PA. to see Brian Wilson in concert at the Keswick Theater.  My son has had a passion for the Beach Boys and Brian Wilson for years, the kind of passion I felt at his age for an opera singer named Mario Del Monaco, after whom my son is named, incidentally.

Wilson’s new album is Lucky Old Sun, and while I didn’t attend the concert, I have heard the album.  How could I not?  Mario plays it constantly.  And in my own geezer fashion, I was drawn to it because Lucky Old Sun was one of my favorite Frankie Laine recordings way back when.

While I don’t have the emotional and musical connections to Wilson and the Beach Boys that my son and other fans have, even I can hear that this album is special, extraordinary – maybe not Smile, but damned good.

Which is what brought me to the minor incident that inspired this little post.

I showed up at the Keswick Theater about a half hour before the concert ended and decided to wait for Mario and his friend at a small micro-brewery pub across the street.  As I walked past the theater I heard some very loud guy, age maybe forty-five or fifty, shout to someone, “They’ll do four encores after they finish that piece of s**t new album.”

Well, Lucky Old Sun might not be Smile, but a piece of that stuff, it isn’t.

As it turned out, the guy took a seat next to me at the bar.  He had walked out after forty minutes of the concert and was now hanging around for his wife, who had decided to stay.  He loudly criticized the concert, the album,  Wilson, his age, his performance and the songs to everyone within earshot, in particular to the bartender.

The bartender wondered out of curiosity if I also had walked out.  I explained to her that I was waiting to pick up my son, adding that we had driven up from North Carolina to see Wilson.

“What a wasted trip,” the guy suddenly said to me.  I replied that only my son could decide that for himself, but I doubted that he would be disappointed.  The guy continued knocking Wilson and the album and asked  “why would anybody want to go that far to see a sixty-five year old guy sing lousy songs with no voice left?”

Being someone who lets no rhetorical question go unanswered, I told the man about Beniamino Gigli, the great lyric tenor who inherited the mantle of the legendary Enrico Caruso at New York’s Metropolitan Opera and in opera houses throughout Europe.

Blessed with a gorgeous lyric tenor, Gigli enchanted millions of people with his supple, beautiful voice.  As a young boy in the fifties growing enamoured with opera, I listened to his recordings constantly, wondering what it must have been like to have heard him in person, much in the same way I wondered what it would’ve been like to have seen the likes of Babe Ruth or Rogers Hornsby or Jim Thorpe.

Then, in 1955, Gigli arrived in Philadelphia on his farewell concert tour.  I went to it, along with, it seemed, every Italian in Philly.  We listened, we applauded, we cheered.  Many wept.  I couldn’t take my eyes off this sixty-seven year old man offering for the last time what remained of his gift, which was a vocal shadow of its former greatness.

But … it was still Beniamino Gigli.  In person!  It was Ruth, Gehrig, Grange, Dempsey, all those greats we read about but never saw.  And here we were, in the presence of one of them, in the presence of a legend.  We were listening to a man who walked the stage with the greatest singers of his or any time.   And that was enough.

I told the man that my son was also in the presence of a legend, someone whose tortured genius produced some of the greatest popular music ever heard and that no matter how tarnished Wilson’s voice may or may be that night on the Keswick stage, it was still … Brian Wilson.  And for my son, I believed that would be enough.

After the concert, Mario told me it was more than enough.  Way more.  He saw the legend and the legend delivered.

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