Editors Note: In the first part of this story, Stacey Anderson convinced her father to donate to Brian Wilson’s Hurricane Relief Challenge and talk to his favorite musician. In part two, after weeks of hopefulness and an angry confrontation, the Beach Boy finally called him …
The conversation took place while I was at school, reading Melinda Wilson’s angry e-mail and subsequently breaking down. Dad was at the local library doing the usual research for his classroom activities when Brian Wilson called the house line. In the resulting voice message, he promised to try again shortly. My mother came home from her own teaching job, heard the recording, and called my dad’s cell with a red alert. He raced home, breaking all rules of traffic and physics, and dashed through the front door just as the phone rang.
“Hi, is this Dale Anderson? I’m Brian Wilson.”
In a reasonable world, confetti would have dropped from the ceiling and the marching band would have struck up a jaunty tune, but the only sound in the house was Dad’s quiet gasp. He greeted Brian Wilson, who calmly explained that he’d tried to call before. Then Brian Wilson started into a well-worn monologue about the fundraising challenge, and the grand total (over $210,000). He offered to answer one question, if Dad had one – and the waning enthusiasm of his tone suggested that this hard-won chat was rapidly concluding.
He obviously didn’t know my father. Dad explained, sans any immediate relevance, that he was a public school educator who used music to teach English to disadvantaged immigrants, many of whom had suffered through disasters similar to Hurricane Katrina. He described how, years ago, he wrote a rock ‘n’ roll school theme song to raise student morale, one he still sings to kids today – and which clinched his troubled relationship with his independent record label and his airplay on those 300-plus radio stations.
I wish I’d heard that speech; even by his own standards, it took some extra nerve to plow on as Brian Wilson listened mutely. Then my father surprised all of us, especially himself; he asked bluntly, “Brian, can I send you a copy of my school song? I think you’ll like it, and I know you’ve done some children’s songs in the past years.”
Silence greeted that – not surprisingly, as Dad had seemingly crossed several lines of decorum in one fell swoop. It was beyond a long shot. He crossed his fingers and waited for the storm. Instead –
“Yeah, OK. Wait a sec.” Brian Wilson lowered the phone and yelled to his wife, “Hey, Dale’s got a CD with some children’s songs.”
My father later recalled that the most striking aspect of Brian Wilson was his childlike enthusiasm, one comparable to his own elementary pupils. As his wife responded inaudibly in the background, Brian Wilson eagerly repeated, “Can I listen to it? Can I, can I?”
Then Melinda Wilson, the head of operations, took the phone. She greeted Dad and explained that their lawyer had advised the couple against accepting CDs, as it could usher in a world of copyright infringement lawsuits. My father acknowledged her concerns but reassured her that he was primarily an elementary teacher, just one who’d received an unusual radio opportunity. He explained his profession again, speaking at length of his student’s disadvantages; one was caught in gunfire from rebel forces, another lost everything in a flood. And if his connection to Brian had been music, his link to Melinda was compassion; she responded with horror to his stories, and urged him on with questions about the survivors.
The conversation, initially expected to last a few seconds, now clocked over 20 minutes. Melinda left the line, whispered to Brian, and returned. “Dale, I told you our policy about not accepting any music for Brian to listen to,” she said. “But in your case, I’m going to make an exception. Go ahead and mail it ” Brian wants to hear it.”
At this point in my father’s recap, I was still storming home through shadowy parking lots, but I collapsed to the pavement in a fresh flood of tears. When did life become so cinematic? I’d been skeptical about these events, but they’d delivered the only kind of ending my dad deserved. Our lives ” his and mine ” seemed instantly different, if only in our perception of what was capable now, and perhaps what was waiting for him.
Melinda provided a mailing address, which my mom copied down as Dad quietly hyperventilated. “Brian would like to say something to you,” she added, handing the phone back to her husband.
“Dale, please tell Stacey not to be upset, ok?” The youthful glee crept back in his voice, in bright crescendo. “Wow, we made over $210,000!” After a few more moments, he said his farewell ” Dad thanked them both profusely, hung up, and vaulted around our small house, howling with disbelieving joy.
When he had finished recalling the story to me, we stayed on the line for hours afterwards, marveling at our fortune and the unexpected kindness of the Wilsons. I cheered the turn of chance that my father had anticipated for so long, and was still caught in reverent disbelief. (A small, irrelevant parcel of my consciousness could not move past the fact that Brian Wilson had said my name, knew my name.) My dad and I reflected together on the events, over a decade in the making, that should never logically have led us to the present, but somehow did. I don’t think I was the only one crying.
To my surprise, though, Brian’s farewell was only temporary. Melinda responded kindly to my apologetic e-mail, musing that loyalty to family is a fading and admirable value. In the same letter, she offered me the chance to interview Brian. Access to him was an unprecedented opportunity ” the cloistered star so rarely allowed press, I’d seen maybe four interviews with him my life. Coupled with the previous night’s events, it all bordered on ridiculous, a lucid dream. The same day my father mailed his CD, I e-mailed a list of queries; Brian’s resulting answers, sent promptly, were upbeat and gracious.
My father and I did work together, after those years of expectation. It was in a way neither of us predicted; Brian almost certainly wouldn’t have called if I had not written so forcefully, but my actions were still antagonistic. Maybe it was my defensive snap that ultimately linked two very different families; the fury for my scorned father ultimately reflected Melinda’s own nurturing ferocity. Above music, above success, it was our families that inspired us to action.
Brian and my father really are no different; they both hear beauty and wish to create more. And though communication between them has ended since that night, I have been stunned to discover the confident change in my father: he is calmer, happier, finally content with the success he always tried amplifying. And with that still comes his opportunity, as he is enjoying greater radio airplay than ever before thanks to his inclusion on a new compilation album.
I believe my father’s story is far from over. He dreams that Brian will be a part of his music, and that could still happen, but he doesn’t need the lure of a Beach Boy anymore. He and I are just thankful to Brian and his wife for seeing, for caring ” and suggesting that impossible may not exist anymore. I am, in every way, my father’s daughter.
So what’s next for us? God only knows.
Stacey Anderson is a journalism and music senior and KCPR DJ. Catch her Sundays from 7-8 p.m. and Wednesdays from 3-4 p.m. on 91.3 FM or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org