I’m the only guy who’s run lights for AC/DC for 31 years, and Aerosmith and so many others. There aren’t many bands of that stature left, so it’s incredible to me that I am one of the few people who do lights for these bands.
Do you remember the first rock concert you ever attended? For Charles “Cosmo” Wilson it was 1977 in Lakeland, Florida. The band was KISS. “The first thing I noticed was this enormous rig hanging from the rafters,” he remembers. “It was such a spectacle between the lighting, the sound and the pyro. It was mind boggling to me.”
Most people dream of becoming rockstars. Wilson’s dream was different. “Well, nobody grows up wanting to be a rock band lighting director, but after that I really started paying attention.”
He got a job as a stagehand, and once again, he saw the light. “My job was to shove lots of boxes around,” he said. “But the lighting guys didn’t have to do that, so I thought, ‘Maybe I should be one of them.’”
Wilson learned the job inside and out, patiently waiting for an opportunity which finally came. He loved that he got to express himself both artistically and physically, setting up lighting scenes that change with the beat of the music. “I have a lot of people in the audience who see me run the show and they’ll say, ‘God, watching you is almost as interesting as watching the band.’”
He was earning a reputation for his skills, but he needed one more thing. “Everybody gets a nickname,” he explained. “I was worried they’d tag me with something really embarrassing so I kind of chose Cosmo myself and it stuck.”
Over the last 37 years he has traveled the world and worked with the biggest acts in music: AC/DC, Aerosmith, Black Sabbath, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Foreigner, INXS, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Meat Loaf, Mötley Crüe, David Lee Roth, Scorpions, and Rod Stewart.
Many of those artists are now in their 60s and 70s. Some have retired, and others are getting close, a fact that has made Wilson, who has become one of the most respected lighting directors in the business, appreciative and reflective of his exciting and unusual life. His thoughts go back to 1990 at Olympic Stadium in Berlin. He was lighting director for the Rolling Stones when he remembers, “Mick Jagger launched into ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ and I brought up the audience lights,” he said. “I looked around and it hit me that everyone was singing, smiling and waving their hands. I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it. I thought, ‘How lucky am I to be a part of something that brings so much happiness to so many people?’ There’s nothing like it.”
This article is featured in the Fall 2023 issue of The Growing Bolder Digital Digest.