Will Courtney: “The Pain (Song For Dennis Wilson)”

For all the California sunniness of the Beach Boys, there’s an undertow of darkness pulling the band. Brian Wilson’s mental health issues are a notable example, but maybe the most tragic character in the story is Dennis Wilson. His drumming was gradually replaced by session players over the course of the ’60s. He befriended Charles Manson before breaking off the relationship just before the infamous Manson Family murders. Wilson suffered from alcohol and drug abuse and ended up drowning in 1983.

But Wilson’s legacy also includes some incredible music. Even if he was marginalized as a drummer, he started writing and producing more Beach Boys material during the band’s cloudier, early ’70s period, resulting in beautifully rich songs like “Forever.” Wilson’s magnum opus was Pacific Ocean Blue, his 1977 solo debut. The moody cover shot gives you a clue to its sonic space: symphonic yet ragged, rain mixed with the sunshine.

Austin’s Will Courtney–formerly of Brothers & Sisters–wrote “The Pain” as an ode to Dennis Wilson, but it’s unromanticized and universal. Courtney taps into Wilson’s Kurt Cobain-meets-Phil Spector sound, offering a crescendo that hits like waves on a lonely beach.

“The Pain (Song For Dennis Wilson)” appears on Planning Escapes, out July 15 via Wren & Shark. See Will Courtney at the Wren & Shark launch party on June 24 at the North Door.

–Art Levy

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