He's a true great, and his greatness has been a plague to him.
That afternoon Lorne Michaels, producer of the TV special, held a scheduling meeting at Brian's house. Most of Michaels' crew was there, including director Gary Weis and writers Danny Aykroyd, John Belushi and Alan Zweibel. All the Beach Boys came too, except Brian left the room after a few minutes because he was "tired."
Actually he didn't miss that much — it was just a nice, friendly business meeting. The crew brought beer and pizza, and the Beach Boys played their new album. Michaels explained the shooting schedule for the next two weeks. Another meeting was announced for the following Monday.
Then an intense, tough-faced man who'd been sitting sort of off to the side suddenly assumed a peculiar authority. "Now, when you come back next Monday — no beer, no food, no anything," he announced sternly. "Today somebody was very naughty and brought beer. Brian's on a diet."
The scolding produced an awkward silence. Belushi shrugged and tried to explain the crew's transgression. "It was just a friendly gesture..."
"Yes, but Brian blew his diet. He had five beers," the man continued. "So next time you'll just have to drink coffee or nothing at all."
It seemed a bit embarrassing, this explicit discussion of Brian's personal indulgence. "Who is that guy?" I asked Carl as the meeting broke up. "Oh, that's Gene Landy," he said, "Brian's psychologist."
A few nights later I phoned Dr. Landy at his Hollywood home and asked if I could interview him. He was about to have dinner, but since he's one of those brusque, bustling, snap-snap-snap busy people who like to do at least two things at once, he told me to come right over.
We sat down in his newly converted garage library, I with my tape recorder, he with a large green salad, a glass of wine, a phone and an intercom. He wore green pants with white stripes, boots and a Happy-collared flower print shirt and looked really more like a record promoter than a shrink. In fact, years ago he did work as a promo man, for RCA, Coral, Decca, Mercury, and there still seemed to be a hard-sell, wisecracking, PR-bio feedback about him.
For instance, when I asked him, rather perfunctorily, who he was and what he did, Dr. Landy answered for 20 minutes, starting with the sixth grade. In short, he dropped out of sixth grade, unable to read, hit the streets, worked for the circus, fucked around a lot, worked for the record business, produced a radio show, went to night school and earned a bachelor's degree at the age of 30, went to med school but quit because of a liver disease, went to the University of Oklahoma and earned a doctorate in psychology, worked for the Peace Corps, Job Corps and VISTA, and finally, in the late Sixties, moved to southern California and immersed himself in group dynamics. Also he wrote a book of hippie slang, The Underground Dictionary, a copy of which he now pulled from a shelf, autographed and handed to me without charge.
"My background," Dr. Landy summarized, "is basically that of a hyperkinetic, perceptually disoriented, brain-damaged person. I'm also very bright, very intuitive, very sensitive, and I'm quite capable of reading what most people are thinking or doing."
I asked him how much he, a doctor, could talk about his patient Brian Wilson, and the question seemed to strike him for the first time. He immediately phoned a member of the California State Psychological Association's ethics committee, who advised him to phone Brian. He did, and Brian told him to do whatever he wanted.
Dr. Landy hung up the phone and laughed. "Brian would probably give me permission for anything."
How'd you get involved with Brian?
LANDY: They came to me. Marilyn, Mrs. Wilson, made an appointment, she came in and talked to me.
Then you must have had some kind of reputation.
LANDY: Right, I've treated a lot of people. [He laughs.]
LANDY: Yeah, yeah... the only one I can actually mention is the only one that went on television and said, "This is my shrink" — Richard Harris. But I've treated a tremendous number of people in show business; for some reason I seem to be able to relate to them. I think I have a nice reputation that says I'm unorthodox by orthodox standards but basically unique by unorthodox standards.
Well, you sound like a pretty heavy-duty Hollywood shrink.
LANDY: Yeah, 1 guess. [Gleefully] I'm outrageously expensive.
How much do you charge?
LANDY: HOW much do you think I charge?
I don't know, $40 is what I've been paying, so...
LANDY: I'm $90.
Ninety? An hour?
LANDY: Fifty minutes.
How can you charge so much and get away with it? You must be very good.
LANDY: I am. I do unusual — look at Brian, he's a two-year patient, two and a half at the most. Nobody else would have taken him on for under five. I do a thing that says you don't have to spend a lot of time.
LANDY: Well, I'm using a team approach, a team of people who work for me in the general, overall supervision and treatment. Let's see... I'm a clinical psychologist... there's a psychiatrist, Sol Samuels... there's Dr. David Gans, the physician... there's Joey, who's a shrink... Arnold Horowitz, another shrink who's working on another part of the situation... there's Scott Steinberg, that's six...
Who's Scott Steinberg?
LANDY: Another one of the boys... and the nutritionist is seven — I have a girl, Nancy, uh, whatever her name is, who does nutritional things.
Anyway, Marilyn called me in late September of last year because she just couldn't deal with the whole situation any longer. She has two kids that need to have their needs met. She has her own needs for her life. And, uh, Brian was basically withdrawn for a number of years.
What was he suffering from ?
LANDY: Well, Brian was suffering from scared.
Scared of what?
LANDY: Just generally frightened. He was not able to deal with frightened or even have a response to frightened and therefore lived in the area of fantasy for a while. He's in the process of returning from fantasy every day more and more.
What happened to him in fantasy?
LANDY: [Shrugs]... Nothing. [He laughs impishly.]
So why hire you? There must have been something that was bothering him.
LANDY: Well, it wasn't bothering hint, it was bothering her. And the kids. I mean, when someone lives in fantasy, they don't mind — they're enjoying themselves.
He wasn't unhappy?
LANDY: No. Why should he be? It was the people around him.
Because he wasn't being a real person, or...
LANDY: Because he wasn't relating on the level in the society where we have expectancies of what we expect people to do. When you pick the phone up, you expect it to say hello. If you do something different, depending on how different, you frighten people around you. And if you're frightened yourself, you simply withdraw.
But the point is, what you had to work with was a serious problem.
LANDY: It depends by whose definition — not by an eight-year-old's, by a 34-year-old's. We look at potential. When you stay at home and you can have the whole world if you want it, you're not living up to your potential. But who says you have to?
But he is a pretty weird guy.
LANDY: No, he's not a weird guy. Brian is absolutely one of the most charming people I've met. He only gets weird when he gets frightened. I see him as a really warm, loving, capable human being who when not frightened is a right-on dude.
I guess what I'm asking is, who are you working for? Are you working for Brian, or for the people who would like to see Brian better?
LANDY: I was hired by Marilyn on the condition that I can do my thing, whatever it is. And she took that at face value. And that face value process has paid off. I'm working for Brian Wilson to have something he has not had, and that's an alternative... that if he chooses to withdraw and be scared, that's as good as choosing not to, but to have the choice. And if Brian feels that he's better and likes better sitting in bed, then goddamnit, "Here's to you, Brian."
One thing that surprised me — when we were at that meeting with Lorne Michaels and the whole crew, you told them about not bringing beer next time. I expected a more traditional thing — you would have called Lorne aside, privately, and said, "Hey, look, don't have your guys bring it." But you said it right out in the open.
LANDY: Well, if I only tell Lorne, he's gotta tell the others, and I don't know if the message gets across.
But my first impulse was, gee, you're treating Brian like a child. The fact that a private matter was being brought out — wouldn't that have a humiliating effect?
LANDY: I don't feel humiliated when I make it very clear that I can't be in the same room with people that smoke.
But Brian wasn't making it clear. You were making it clear for Brian.
LANDY: That's right. But that's what I'm paid to do.
I understand that, but is that therapeutic?
LANDY: Well, the whole point is that Brian had enjoyed five beers, and that's not therapeutic. Now, I sometimes assist him in things that he's not happy I assist him in. "No more beer." [Laughs] Sometimes I overassist 'cause I compensate for his overindulgence.
He sort of has a rebellious nature to him.
LANDY: Naw, it's indulgent, not rebellious.
I was thinking of the way he sometimes puts people on.
LANDY: Brian doesn't put anybody on. Brian doesn't have that much of a sense of humor.
But Brian is extremely bright, astute, competent, capable and just eats up information. You don't have to fight to get it in him. He eats it all up, he's just hungry. That's why we're moving so quickly. He just hungers.
It was high noon at Brother Studio in Santa Monica, and something of a showdown was about to disrupt the church like harmony of the place. The Beach Boys were there to record "I'm Bugged at My Old Man" for the TV special, but at the moment Brian Wilson was growing more and more bugged with Scott Steinberg. Scott, a short, thick young man with huge arms, stood guarding the entrance to a narrow corridor. He looked grim and unyielding. Brian faced him from about a foot away and looked absolutely ferocious.
"Where's my lunch?" Brian asked angrily.
"It's back there," said Scott, gesturing toward the corridor, "but you're not gettin' any."
Brian moved closer. Scott widened his stance and put his hands on his hips. "I want my lunch!" shouted Brian.
"You know goddamn well why not. You forfeited your lunch when you snuck upstairs and ate that hamburger."
"But I'm hungry!" bellowed Brian.
Scott cocked back his head. "You should have thought of that before you ate that hamburger."
After staring silently at this tough punk for another 30 seconds, Brian rotated his massive body and slowly lumbered back into the main recording studio. Then Scott relaxed, turned to an associate and snickered. "If he sings good, I'll give him the patty."
Scott is 19. Brian is 34.
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