Have you heard the news? Brian Wilson will be finishing some unfinished Gershwin songs. Read the horrifying details here in this hype-filled ad for a--I mean, essay about a probable CD in the works: Brian Wilson to finish some George Gershwin songs.
Is Wilson's talent comparable to Gershwin's? No, not remotely. Wilson made some fabulous Top 40 singles that I love (and will always love) but every time he's tried to move "beyond" the pop song format, the results have been mediocre to unfortunate. Gershwin himself had enough trouble "extending" anything musically--Rhapsody in Blue, which was too quickly over with for Gershwin to ruin it with faux development and lame segues, is the single long work by George that works, and you can't convince me that having Ferde Grofe on hand for compositional advice didn't have something to do with that. Gershwin's subsequent approach to "serious" composition involved writing a mess of stuff and then having someone help him shape it into some kind of musical order. If it wasn't for Gershwin's extraordinary melodic gift, none of his larger pieces would have lasted.
Wilson's concept of composition is more all-over-the-place than Frank Zappa's, and just as pointless. Worse, unlike Gershwin and Bacharach, Wilson can't generate interesting melodic themes on short notice. Fast is not close to the speed at which he works.
But none of this is about music--it's about money. There are Gershwin fragments sitting out there not making anybody any dough, and we can't have that, and so it's time to fire up the hype machine and 1) draw cliched comparisons between Gershwin and Wilson, though stopping short of declaring them the same person, 2) prattle on about "American" music in the manner of Etude magazine, circa 1939, 3) treat Brian and George like the inventors of songwriting, vice practitioners of something zillions of others have done and continue to do (and, often, better), and 4) tie the whole "discussion" of art and music and America into $$ via CD releases. Hammer home the point that art equals $$. We once had a public that understood that art goes beyond product, but in our mass-mediated age, we only know product. There's no art beyond the jewel case.
Also, last time I checked, Wilson wasn't very coherent. He burned himself out with drugs, and--to put it as charitably as possible--a complete recovery has yet to happen. Why on earth is anyone handing him Gershwin songs to finish? A guy who needed six months to put together the banal Good Vibrations, an exercise in section-pasting that makes Stairway to Heaven sound like Bach? A guy who (apparently) had to have Gershwin's fragments recorded for him? For God's sake, even amateur musicians singing in churches or glee clubs are expected to look at a piece of music and know what's on it, and maybe even sight-sing their parts on the spot. Instrumentalists, including pianists, have to sight-read at a fairly advanced level if they hope to work. But Wilson had to have this stuff played for him, apparently. Good Lord.
Anyway, give 'em money. It's your job to do so, and it's what they want.