When Brian first met Marilyn Rovell, she was singing with an all-female group, the Honeys; later, with her sister Dianne, she formed a duo called Spring and recorded an album under Brian's direction. But the album bombed, as did several singles, and she's since devoted her time and energy to family affairs.
Mike Love has described her as "one of the most patient people in the world." And you can see why. As Brian's wife, Marilyn had to live with a man whose quirks, put-ons and indulgences were as celebrated as his pioneer writing and arranging talents. And that was when he was healthy. In recent years this small, resilient woman has had to manage a household of two young daughters and one sleeping giant pretty much alone.
MARILYN: Brian was always eccentric. From the day I met him I couldn't stop laughing. Just everything he did was funny. The way he lifted a fork was funny. [Marilyn breaks up just thinking about it.] He'd ride a motorcycle into Gold Star recording studios, I couldn't believe him!
Well, you know, he wanted a sandbox, so he got a sandbox. I mean, who am I to tell a creator what he can do? He said, "I want to play in the sand, I want to feel like a little kid. When I'm writing these songs, I want to feel what I'm writing, all the happiness." Brian wanted to experience it all. So he had this really good carpenter come up to the house — this was when we were living on Laurel Way — and in the dining room the guy built a gorgeous wood sandbox, around two and a half feet tall. And then they came with a dump truck and dumped eight tons of sand in it.
I have the funniest story, about the piano tuner — have you heard it? Okay, the piano tuner, who we still use, walks into the house... and the sandbox had been there awhile and I was very used to it. He says, "Okay, where's the piano?" I was busy in the house. I said, "Oh, it's over there in the sandbox," thinking nothing of it, right? There's this grand piano in the sandbox. He looks at me and goes, "Oh." All of a sudden he walks over to the sandbox and sits down, and he starts taking off his shoes and socks! That made me roar. He just took them off like, "Oh, sand, I got to take off my shoes and socks to go in the sand." And the sand, being that there is no sun, is freezing cold. By the way, the dogs had also used it — you know dogs and sand — and he puts up the hood thing, looks in the piano, and it was like he was going to have a nervous breakdown. "My God, this piano is filled with sand!" We had to vacuum it out.
I'll tell you another story about the piano tuner. One time after we first moved to this house, he came in and Brian sat down and hummed each note of the piano to the guy. Each note! It was Brian's tuning; he didn't want regular pitch, he wanted it tuned to his ears. He wanted the notes to ring a certain way — I could never explain it. But it was the greatest tuning job you ever heard.
How long have you two been married?
MARILYN: It'll be 12 years December. I got married when I was 16 and he was 22.
And how did all that come about?
MARILYN: Well, we were like girlfriend and boyfriend for a year and a half — I already was totally in love with him, you know — and yet he would never admit that there were feelings for me. And the time that he did do it... the guys were going to Australia, and I remember sitting in the airport with Brian and Mike, and Mike — Mike was, you know, Mr. Joker; still is — goes, "Wow, Brian, boy, we're sure going to have a good time in Australia." And Brian's kind of looking at me from the corner of his eye, and he's going, "Yeah... yeah, yeah, we are, aren't we." And I can't imagine why I said this, but I just went, "God, that's great, because I'm going to have a great time too." You know, the typical childish things. And Brian looked at me like — the first time I ever saw such an expression on his face — like, "What? What'd you say?" Anyway, they went on the airplane for 13 hours, and that night when they arrived in Australia I got the call from him. Two telegrams had come in the meantime. I got the call, and for the first time he called me "honey." It was, like, "Marilyn" — do you want to hear this?
MARILYN: I mean our love life?
I want to hear this story, anyway. I'm not sure about your love life.
MARILYN: "Marilyn, oh I couldn't wait to talk to you," he said. "I don't know what happened but on the plane it just hit me, it was like an arrow struck me in the heart, that I was going to lose you." He says, "I realize that, you know, that I need you and I have to have you as my wife, I've got to be with you, I can't stand the thought of ever losing you." And I mean, it was like four o'clock in the morning, and here I was just jumping like a rabbit. He called me three times a day, each day — $3000 worth of phone calls!
Actually there is one thing I'd like to ask you about your love life. Brian mentioned he was experimenting with celibacy, and I figured you would know if that's true.
MARILYN: Celibacy — what's that?
MARILYN: No sex? Um... no, that's not true at all. I mean, I wouldn't say he was into it, you know, like a master. [She giggles.] But that definitely is not true.
He said he'd been refraining from sex for two months so that he would get more energy to do other things.
MARILYN: Let's put it this way — he refrains from coming.
Didn't Brian go through one of his most productive periods when you first got married?
MARILYN: Yeah... I remember him sitting in the sandbox when he was writing Pet Sounds. Pet Sounds was so heavy. He just told me one night, he says, "Marilyn, I'm gonna make the greatest album, the greatest rock album ever made." And he meant it. Boy, he worked his butt off when he was making Pet Sounds. And I'll never forget the night that he finally got the final disc, when they finished it, dubbing it down and all that, and he brought the disc home. And he prepared a moment. We went in the bedroom, we had a stereo in the bedroom, and he goes, "Okay, are you ready?" But he was really serious — this was his soul in there, you know? And we just lay there alone all night, you know, on the bed, and just listened and cried and did a whole thing. It was really, really heavy.
But Pet Sounds was not a big hit. That really hurt him badly, he couldn't understand it. It's like, why put your heart and soul into something? I think that had a lot to do with slowing him down.
But there you have a classic dilemma of popular art — the pressure to be creative versus the pressure to be commercial.
MARILYN: Brian has never... you can't pressure Brian.
Well, yes and no.
MARILYN: Well, you couldn't used to be able to pressure Brian. [She laughs.]
But isn't that sort of what's going on now with the new album and the tour — an answer to commercial demands ?
MARILYN: It's that, but it's also something they need to do for themselves. You know, they're all just so happy to be back together. I mean, the thing that made me go to Dr. Landy was I couldn't stand to see Brian, whom I just love and adore, unhappy with himself and not really creating. Because music is his whole life, that's number one to him. So one of my girlfriends told me about Dr. Landy and I went and talked to him for an hour. I said, "I need someone who's gonna go to him, not where he has to go to you because he won't do it." And Dr. Landy said, "Yeah, I think I can do it." When I met Dr. Landy, I knew I'd met someone who could play Brian's game.
The game plan, as I understand it, was that you told Brian it was actually you who Dr. Landy was coming to see.
MARILYN: Well, it was my problem to begin with. So Dr. Landy was coming to see me for a while, and Brian kept peekin' his head in — "What are you doing with my wife?" you know? Then one day as I was talking to Dr. Landy, Brian just walked in the room and said, "Something's wrong with me, I need your help." And that started it all.
What was life like around then?
MARILYN: Well, it was a big drainer because of all the people coming around — too many weirdos coming over, drug people. And I've had it with drugs. Once we had our children I just said forget it, who needs it? You get all these drainer — that's my word for 'em& #8212; "Hey Brian, I gotta song, listen to this," you know? "Can you help me?" I didn't know how to get rid of all these people. Everyone just — "Oh, Marilyn's a bitch, she won't let anybody come in." It got to the point where I was just yelling and screaming at anybody that walked in the door.
I could kill the guy that gave him acid. Really, that was the worst experience for Brian to go through. Jesus, do you realize how sick that is for people to give people acid? How can people play with drugs like that? Wait a minute, don't get me wrong, I once tried a tiny bit of it years and years ago, like a quarter of a thing. That was enough for me. I wound up with cramps all night.
But Brian's trip happened to be a very outrageous one. It was a beautiful experience for him and yet being so naive and pure, I just don't think he was ready for it. And who knows if he ever would be?
Before you went to Dr. Landy, was Brian spending most of the time in his room, that sort of thing?
MARILYN: Yeah, he spent a lot of time in his room. But I would say through the last seven years it's been in spurts. Like one week he'd be real active and want to go out, and then he'd spend two weeks at home and not go anywhere. And then maybe he would spend a full day in bed or two days in bed and just say, "I don't feel good. I've got a sore throat," or something. It was difficult to find somebody who could help him 'cause I didn't know what needed to be helped. Sometimes I really thought to myself, is it me? Am I the one who's not seein' things right? And it was also difficult for the family to see it the same way, and the close friends, because everyone loved Brian and just said, "Oh, he'll get over it" — that kind of thing. But I'm the one who had to live with him.
It must have been very rough.
MARILYN: It was the worst, the absolute worst. But it just got to the point where I said, okay, this is it. The kids are getting too old; it's not that good they see their daddy in bed. I know that Brian wants to be a good father. He adores them. They adore him. And he didn't have an easy childhood, he really didn't. He once told me, he said, "Marilyn, I want you to discipline the kids. I'll do it wrong." Because he had it really rough. He didn't want to do the same thing to his kids, therefore he backed out of it totally. That makes me the mother and father both. And that's too hard, it's too hard. And so Dr. Landy assures me that I will have my 34-year-old husband soon, you know?
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