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Brian Wilson: God Only Knows

The troubled pop genius who made the Beach Boys great has finally released his first solo album. Is Wilson really back?

Brian Wilson, Hawthorne High School

Brian Wilson at the Hawthorne High School in Hawthorne in California. Circa 1987

Steve Granitz/WireImage/Getty

Brian Wilson hears voices. They talk to him. They distract him, frighten him, confuse him. Right now, as the creative genius behind the Beach Boys’ classic surf-rock sound sits for an interview in his darkened living room, the Pacific crashing loudly outside his million-dollar Malibu home, the voices are calling.

The forty-six-year-old screws up his face. His eyes roll toward the ceiling; they’ve gone blank. His brow is furrowed with thick worry lines. He is silent. Gone.

“Brian,” says Kevin Leslie, a twenty-four-year-old who is with Brian around the clock, looking after him and acting as the “eyes and ears” for Wilson’s therapist-manager, Dr. Eugene E. Landy. “Uh, Brian, come on.”

This tortured rock & roll legend — who changed pop music irrevocably with the string of masterpieces he created for the Beach Boys — snaps out of it. He looks up, jerks his head back and forth for a few seconds, as if physically shaking away the voices.

“I get calls, in my head, from people in the vicinity or maybe ten, twenty miles out,” he says. “They get to me. They say things like ‘You’re going to get it, you motherfucker!‘ Cruel talk.” He frowns, and then, as if he were a twelve-year-old resigned to the teasing of schoolyard buddies, says, “That’s a drag.”

Wilson is silent again. But this time he’s just thinking. The voices have stopped — for now. He flashes a nervous, boyish smile, summons up some inner resolve and says firmly, “I’ll get through it.” Brian Douglas Wilson has been diagnosed as having a schizoid personality (extremely introverted, unable to express or show emotion, pathologically shy) with manic-depressive features. Untreated, he could shift from delusional highs to possibly suicidal depths of depression and despair. But according to his psychiatrist, Dr. Solon Samuels, 81, controlled use of certain medications — including lithium (Eskalith), sedatives (Xanax and Halcion) and antidepressants (Elavil) — allow Brian to remain somewhat emotionally balanced. Still, Brian remains, in the words of Warner Bros. Records president Lenny Waronker, “a troubled soul.”

Yet despite his problems, for the first time in over twenty years, Wilson has completed a brilliant album. This month he’s releasing his first solo record, Brian Wilson, a delightful, engaging pop masterpiece. His chief co-producer, Russ Titelman, proudly calls it Pet Sounds ’88, referring of course to the legendary 1966 Beach Boys album that helped inspire the Beatles to make Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

If there is one man responsible for Brian’s return to the recording studio, it is Landy, who, in addition to being Brian’s psychotherapist and personal manager, is also his executive producer, business partner (they recently formed a company called Brains and Genius) and songwriting collaborator (Landy receives co-writing credit on five of the eleven songs on the new album; Landy’s girlfriend, Alexandra Morgan, receives co-writing credit on three of those five songs). Beginning five and a half years ago, using a controversial twenty-four-hour-a-day “milieu therapy” program in which Wilson’s entire environment was under Landy’s control, the doctor miraculously brought Brian back from a state of near death.

But Landy’s involvement in every aspect of Wilson’s personal and professional life has caught the attention of the California attorney general’s office. This past February, following what Landy describes as a four-year investigation, the attorney general filed formal charges against him for gross negligence in his treatment of Wilson. He is accused of acting as “the business manager, business adviser, executive producer, and co-song writer with his patient while also serving as his therapist.” Landy is also accused of prescribing drugs to Wilson — something he is not licensed to do, because he is not an M.D. — and of directing his assistants to dole out the drugs. (He is additionally charged with gross negligence in his treatment of a female patient identified only as R.G. He allegedly gave her illicit drugs and forced her to have sex with him.) At the earliest, the Landy case will be heard this fall.

Brian Wilson cost a million dollars to make. The project is considered so important at Warner Bros. Records that although Wilson is signed to Sire Records (a Warner subsidiary) and would normally deal exclusively with Sire president Seymour Stein, Waronker — a longtime Beach Boys fan — has also been heavily involved. In fact, he went so far as to enter the recording studio and coproduce one of the tracks, “Rio Grande,” something Waronker (known for producing Randy Newman and Rickie Lee Jones) hadn’t done in five years. “For the past six months,” says one Warner executive, “we’ve practically been a record company without a president, Lenny has been so preoccupied with the Brian Wilson album.”

For any major recording artist, the release of a new album is a high-pressure experience. There are interviews, photo sessions, video shoots, industry functions, TV appearances. But the resurrection of Brian Wilson has put even more than the usual amount of stress on Wilson and the others involved with the record.

They want the world to perceive Brian Wilson as being back in the saddle in all the important ways: as a recording artist and as a healthy, mentally alert adult.

It’s an uphill battle. In 1962, Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys emerged from the nondescript suburban community of Hawthorne, California, with a Top Twenty hit, “Surfin’ Safari.” With Wilson writing the songs, composing the music and producing the records, the Beach Boys quickly became America’s most popular rock band. Until mental illness and drugs sabotaged his life in the mid-Sixties, Wilson was considered a genius as a songwriter and record producer.

But that was twenty years ago. Since then the image of the youthful genius has been replaced by the image of Brian Wilson as a crazy man, the eccentric with the piano in the sandbox and the tent in the living room, the 303-pound “lumbering hulk” wacked out on both legal and illegal drugs — acid, cocaine, marijuana, hash and, in the mid-Seventies, black heroin — living in a stupor induced by drinking and overeating, stumbling down to Venice to get drugs from his brother Dennis as recently as 1982.

“I lost interest in writing songs,” says Wilson. “I lost the inspiration. I was too concerned with getting drugs to write songs.”

If Brian were completely recovered, his publicists would simply have to expose him to the world, and the new, improved Brian would replace the old preconceptions. But for Brian, the recovery process isn’t over — and may never be. “There is a kind of boyishness about him,” says Samuels, who tends to downplay Brian’s continuing emotional and mental problems. “He still has growth to go to become, as it were, a mature man. He’s become, shall we say, a well-adjusted adolescent.”

Except for those moments when the voices beckon and he spaces out, Brian Wilson looks great. Standing at about six feet two, wearing jeans, running shoes and a colorful Hawaiian shirt, he is 180 pounds of sinew and muscle. Thanks to Landy, he’s become a fitness junkie — the flip side of his new single, “Love and Mercy,” is a pro-fitness anthem called “He Couldn’t Get His Poor Old Body to Move.” His mornings are spent jogging, working out with a trainer or lap swimming. He avoids junk food, doesn’t smoke and says he steers clear of street drugs save for the rare toke from a joint.

But inside Brian’s head, things aren’t so sunny. Actually, within the Beach Boy’s brain, there seem to be many Brians. “There are a lot of different people there,” says Waronker. “I’ve met five different people.”

One Brian is like a ten-year-old; after tripping and mildly scraping his leg during a run, he told Landy he thought he was going to die. Naive and uninformed in many areas, he knows nothing of Woodstock, hasn’t heard of R.E.M. and apparently doesn’t read books. Another Brian is a teenager — sometimes stubborn and moody, other times lazy or bored — who talks in a kind of boyishly appealing Sixties teenage slang: “I had to, man,” he’ll say about an accomplishment. “I didn’t want to goof up.” Or “That would be a real groovy kind of a thing.”

There’s the musical genius who, when placed in a recording studio with the right support team of producers, engineers and studio musicians, instinctively comes up with brilliant, original ideas. There’s a guy whose fantasy life is so real he can state with all seriousness that he expects his album to generate six hit singles. Then there’s the Brian who’s fully aware of his fantasy world. “Reality checks,” he’ll say about how he differentiates between reality and fantasy. “I have a series of reality checks. Am I still in reality, or am I going off into fantasy?”

There’s the Brian who literally can’t make a move without directions from Landy (he was recently observed calling Landy to ask if he could remove a framed poster of the Beach Boys from his wall because, he said, “it’s bumming me out”), who spouts out lines Landy has fed him like a robot. But there’s also a sharp, intelligent guy in there somewhere, a man who understands that he’s working his way through a mass of problems, who’d like to reestablish his relationship with his daughters, Carnie, 20, and Wendy, 18 (he says he can’t handle seeing them at this time), and the Beach Boys (he believes that if his solo album is successful, it will destroy the group), who’d like to someday live some kind of normal life, perhaps even get married again (although at the moment he finds the mere idea of a steady girlfriend intimidating).

“Being called a musical genius,” he says, quite rationally, “was a cross to bear. Genius is a big word. But if you have to live up to something, you might as well live up to that. God damn!”

The phone in Wilson’s dining room rings. Brian involuntarily stiffens. It’s the “E.E. Landy line,” a kind of Batphone, but instead of finding Commissioner Gordon at the other end, one always gets Landy.

Landy, 53, may be the most unorthodox therapist in the world. Beach Boys manager Tom Hulett calls him “this outrageous-looking doctor.” Even Samuels, Landy’s longtime mentor and associate, volunteers that Landy has a “personality problem” and is “emotionally explosive.”

Landy likes to say that he’s “Eugene Wilson Landy” and that Brian has become “Brian Landy Wilson.” “We’ve exchanged names,” says Landy. “We’ve kind of merged. I’ve taken from him, and he’s taken from me. Brian and I are partners in life — we’re sharing a life experience.”

Landy drives a $34,000 black Biturbo 425 Maserati with a license plate that reads, HEADOC. At times, he acts like he’s the pampered star. He showed up for one interview wearing black nylon running pants stuffed into cowboy boots, an orange silk yoked cowboy shirt and a small earring in his left ear; his hair was cut in a modified Rod Stewart shag. “Gene is sort of like a rock star,” says Hulett. “He’s caught up in showbiz.”

Landy has always been attracted by the glitter and the glitz. He says that as a teenager working at the 500 Club, in Atlantic City, he was a flack for Frank Sinatra. Later he was a producer for a syndicated radio show for teens and then worked as an A&R man for a small record label. He also discovered George Benson. Landy got his B.S. in psychology from Cal State at Los Angeles in 1964 and his doctorate in psychology from the University of Oklahoma in 1968. In the late Sixties, he was involved in drug counseling and served briefly as director of the adolescent program at an L.A. hospital. In 1971 his book The Underground Dictionary was published by Simon and Schuster. Soon after, he was earning $200 an hour as a therapist to the stars; in addition, he was a consultant on The Bob Newhart Show.

Landy has a charismatic, manipulative personality. But associates say that he drops the charm once he’s gotten what he wants. He is prone to loud arguments and hysterical shouting matches. Recently, when he arrived at the Los Angeles airport and found that Warner Bros. had sent a town car instead of a stretch limo, he exploded, fuming for twenty minutes. He later put in calls to both Waronker and Stein to straighten out the limo problem. “This is one of Warners’ cheap little numbers again,” he muttered to his girlfriend. “I’m sure this is the bright idea of some junior-accountant type at Warners who wants to save a few bucks.”

Of course, Landy has more than limos on his mind. If found guilty of the attorney general’s gross-negligence charges, Landy could have his license as a clinical psychologist revoked. Ask Landy about the charges involving Brian, and he is expansive, going on for nearly an hour as he tries to explain why rules that other psychotherapists are bound by shouldn’t apply to him in this case. “This is not a normal situation,” Landy says, rising and pacing around his office. “Brian had been with thirty-eight other therapists, and they had failed to somehow motivate him under the conditions that existed in normal-process therapy. He had been hospitalized many times in mental hospitals…. I didn’t have a dual capacity with Brian; I had a multicapacity with Brian. I’m insulted they only have it listed as dual capacity. If I hadn’t, this man would be dead.” (In fact, the attorney general’s complaint against Landy charges him with “various dual, triple and quadruple relationships with his patient.”)

As for the charges involving the female patient identified as R.G. — Landy is accused of furnishing her with cocaine and amyl nitrate from the fall of 1982 through the spring of 1983, of having sex with her on several occasions, of forcing her to perform fellatio on him and of engaging in sex with her at an “orgy” — he says only, “It’s untrue. It’s all untrue. This is all fantasy.”

The press has painted Landy as some kind of Svengali who plucked Brian from the jaws of death only to transform him into a kind of malleable rock & roll zombie. But even Landy’s enemies use words like “miracle worker” when describing what Landy has accomplished with Wilson.

Landy first began treating Wilson in 1975, after being approached by Wilson’s then wife, Marilyn (they divorced in 1980). Although his program seemed to be working, by the end of 1976, Landy and the Beach Boys’ management had had a falling out; Landy was fired. Over the next six years Brian regressed, so Landy was called in again at the end of 1982. “I was a vegetable,” says Brian. “I didn’t do shit.”

“The program” began in January of 1983. With the consent of Brian’s family, the Beach Boys and their management, he was whisked off to Kailua-Kona, a secluded area in Hawaii. There, according to Landy and his associates — Samuels, Dr. Bill Flaxman and Dr. Murray Susser — Wilson was put on an extreme diet and vitamin regimen (Susser says this included daily intravenous injections of “ridiculous amounts of vitamin C”), an exercise program and a resocialization program.

Wilson was so far gone that he’d actually forgotten his own songs and had to attend daily music lessons in which, using a Beach Boys song book, he relearned “Surfer Girl,” “I Get Around” and many of the others.

“I’ve taught him a new way to react to situations and circumstances,” says Landy, who until recently reportedly earned $50,000 a month treating Wilson. “A way to do it with logic, with sanity, with consideration for the consequences and the responsibilities. What a yes means, what a no means.”

According to Brian’s lawyer, John Mason, whose clients include Elton John and Kenny Rogers, Brian is now in control of his business affairs. “During the last year,” Mason says, “Brian has made all of his own decisions about business.”

If Mason really believes that, then he’s not as sharp a lawyer as many in the music industry believe him to be. Brian himself says it’s Landy who calls the shots. “He’s my boss, and I like him as my boss,” Brian says. “I’m in step with Gene. He gets what he wants. I just toe the line.”

The problem, says one associate, is that although serious attempts are made to keep Brian informed of his business, Brian’s extremely erratic memory (he frequently forgets things that happened just hours earlier) and his apathy about business keep him in a state of semiconfusion about many of his affairs.

At Landy’s office recently, Brian sat signing a sheaf of papers provided by one of Landy’s assistants. A little later, upstairs in Landy’s private office, Landy asked Brian about the papers he’d just signed. “I signed everything that was before me,” Brian said, sounding like the dutiful son. “It all has to do with… I signed… I think… God damn. I was so shook up being here.…”

“Well, check it before you go,” said Landy. “Don’t sign shit you don’t know.” Then he added, “Rule that I put into effect at the very beginning: that you don’t sign shit unless you know what it is.”

Landy’s control of Brian’s affairs extends to the Beach Boy’s personal life. Whenever Brian leaves his house, he wears a beeper to stay in touch with Landy. It is Samuels, a longtime associate of Landy’s, who prescribes the potent drugs that hold Brian together. But it is Landy who monitors Brian’s drug intake, and it is one of Landy’s assistants, Kevin Leslie, who stays with Brian twenty-four hours a day and doles out Brian’s “meds” at Landy’s direction. Leslie used to be paid by Landy; now Brian pays his salary, although Leslie still reports to Landy dozens of times a day by phone.

During the course of eight days spent with Landy and Wilson, it became clear just how much control Landy exerts over Brian’s life. With the exception of taking a brief drive by himself to the market to pick up groceries, Brian appeared to be incapable of making a move without Landy’s okay. During one interview session, the Landy line seemed to ring every thirty minutes.

Yet Brian appears to be a willing participant in the program. “Gene told me that the program was legally over about two months ago,” he says. “But I don’t believe it. I just don’t believe that I could walk away. First of all, I’d be afraid. I’d be scared. I wouldn’t know where to live; I wouldn’t know how to live.”

Landy says simply that the program ended last year. “Nobody,” he says, “tells Brian what to do.”

Sitting in his living room, as Leslie disappears into another room, Brian vents his frustration. Pointing in the direction of Leslie, he says he doesn’t like living with him: “It’s like the first two months of the army.” When the Landy line rings again, Brian says softly, “He calls all the time.” Then, to distinguish those calls from the ones that come only in his head, he adds, “On the phone. The sound of that bell is kind of frightening. It’s like a nightmare. A recurring nightmare. The phone keeps ringing. I’m scared of Gene. Obviously. What’s there to be scared of? Nothing really. Kind of a nightmare that’s gonna get easier.” He pauses uncomfortably. “I hope.”

Brian is also uncomfortable when he discusses the Beach Boys. He says that Mike Love’s rambling putdown of Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel and Mick Jagger at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame dinner this year was “an embarrassment.” He’s extremely worried about the negative effect he believes the success of his album will have on the other guys. “Our personal relationships aren’t working,” he says. “Do you know they had, or tried to have, a meeting without me? It’s been four months since I’ve seen the other guys.” He also says that he and Landy suspect that Wilson’s family filed the complaints against Landy with the attorney general’s office. “Carl and my mother and Mike Love. I think they’re trying to get Gene out of there. My brother Carl never liked Gene anyway. He and Gene never got along. If I could, I’d wring Carl’s neck. He makes me mad.”

According to manager Tom Hulett, the Beach Boys “want Brian to have success. I gave the album to each of them, and they were tickled to hear it. They were all positive about it.” Still, although Hulett said he’d get Mike Love on the phone to talk about Brian, Love did not return repeated calls. As for Landy, Hulett said “I’m proud to be associated with him. Brian’s not ready to be on his own. I could see the world hurting Brian. Now Brian’s in a place where things are good.”

Gimme ten tracks for vocals,” says Brian Wilson. “I’m going to do it now.” Seconds later the Beach Boy is out in the studio, adjusting his headphones. And then seasoned studio veterans like Russ Titelman and Lenny Waronker watch in awe as Brian Wilson, on his own, creates the melodious, breathtaking wall of voices that is the Beach Boys’ trademark.

Titelman, who co-produced all but three of the album’s songs, still can’t get over the sessions for “There’s So Many,” the achingly beautiful romantic ballad that ends side one of Brian Wilson. “I said to Brian, ‘Go out and do the background vocals — kill it!'” he says. “It took fifteen minutes. He sang a part, then he’d double it, sang another part, doubled that. When he was finished, it sounded like an old Beatles record, like John Lennon. I said, ‘Brian, I’m so proud of you.’ He leaned over to me and said, ‘Yeah, who needs the fuckin’ Beach Boys!'”

“When it comes to music, he is a genius,” says Waronker.

The album took over a year to record. As the budget doubled, then quadrupled, Warner Bros. Records chairman of the board Mo Ostin, who could have pulled the plug at any moment, didn’t say a word. Sessions were held at eleven recording studios, in Los Angeles, New York, Boston and Honolulu. Six producers — Titelman, Waronker, Andy Paley, Jeff Lynne, Hugh Padgham and Lindsey Buckingham (whose contribution, “He Couldn’t Get His Poor Old Body to Move,” didn’t make it onto the album) — were involved. Numerous songwriters — including Bob Dylan, John Sebastian, Van Dyke Parks, Carole Bayer Sager, Harry Nilsson, Jeff Lynne and the Dream Academy’s Nick Laird-Clowes — had meetings with Brian. A room in Landy’s office contains over 100 reels of recording tape used for the album. “You can’t put a price on art,” says Brian matter-of-factly. “Do you realize that a person can walk in a record store and can buy art that’s worth millions of dollars? If you could put a value on art — I don’t think you can, but if you could — it would be much more than $2 or $1.50 or whatever they charge for records. It kills me. It blows me right out.”

The album began in the small music room downstairs at Brian’s house. That room, which contains only an upright Schafer & Sons piano, two synthesizer keyboards, a Fender precision bass and a boom box, was where Brian, encouraged by songwriter-producer-multi-instrumentalist Andy Paley, worked on many of the songs. Three briefcases sit next to the piano: they contain rough piano-vocal demos of close to 170 mostly unrecorded songs that Wilson has written over the years. “There’s great stuff,” says Paley, who considers himself a student of the Brian Wilson-Beach Boys sound. “But there are also what I call the ‘hamburger songs.'” Reportedly, in the early Eighties, Dennis Wilson would go to McDonald’s and buy a bag of hamburgers; he’d then give Brian a hamburger for each song he completed. “A lot of those are real junk,” says Paley.

Sire Records head Seymour Stein impulsively decided to sign Wilson after meeting him backstage at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame dinner in January of 1987. But before the deal was concluded, Stein made two trips out to the West Coast to hear Brian’s recent material. As Stein listened patiently, Brian sat at the piano banging out song after song after song. “When he played ‘Love and Mercy,’ I got chills,” says Stein. “I said, ‘For this song alone it’s worth doing the album.'”

Now Stein feels differently. “The recording of the album was like hell on earth,” he says. “Because Dr. Landy seems to thrive only on turmoil, tumult and confusion. He would completely destroy the harmony that was going on in the studio. For example, Russ would be ready to work on one track and Landy would send the wrong tape, just to drive Russ crazy.

“It was absolutely frustrating, says Titelman. “I don’t know how to stress it enough. Landy has no qualifications to make creative decisions. In your wildest imagination you couldn’t find a qualification, from songwriting to sound to anything to do with the record-making process. To deal with him and try to convince him — these lyrics are good, these are bad, ‘Melt Away’ should not have a gypsy violin. All of a sudden I’m in a Marx Brothers movie instead of making a record.”

Landy agrees things were strained. “Titelman and I were always nose to nose, pushing, pushing, pushing,” he says. “Russ Titelman is not my favorite person. But I must give him his honest due. He came in, rescued an out-of-proportion situation and brought it together. Russ has to be congratulated for having the balls to stand up to Brian and Dr. Landy.”

When Titelman entered the picture, Brian had already been working with Paley in California for several months. But after Waronker came down to the studio and heard what he felt were six promising but seriously incomplete tracks (Titelman describes them as “sloppy sketches — and that’s being kind”), he realized that another producer was needed. “Each song had moments, but they needed help,” says Waronker. “But Brian had all the inspiration. All Russ did was make it stand up, make it be a record.”

Wilson’s studio collaborators were able to coax brilliant ideas out of him. Brian was inspired to try to work the sampled sounds of crickets, frogs, wolves, water and a saw into the texture of his songs. At one point he asked for a nuclear explosion, although that didn’t make it onto the record. “This is how he works,” Waronker says. “You get him the sound, he fiddles around for a minute, and then he’s done. And it’s great.”

Around Brian there was constant chaos. Wherever he went, Kevin Leslie accompanied him. As work in the studio inched along, Leslie — whose long blond hair but often stern demeanor earned him the nickname Surf Nazi among many of those who worked with Brian on the album — took notes, made tape recordings of everything Brian said and reported by phone to Landy. In one studio, Leslie rigged up an intercom system so he could listen in on conversations between Brian and Titelman. And of course there were constant calls from Landy. Titelman says that during the mixing sessions things got so out of hand that Hugh Padgham said that he would head back to England if Leslie wasn’t removed from the studio. “I told Leslie, ‘You can’t be in here,'” says Titelman. “He said, ‘My instructions are I must be here.’ Finally I said to him, ‘You come in, the record’s over.’ Next day — after he talked to Landy — he was gone.”

The record was finally completed earlier this year. “I don’t care if Warner Bros, makes one dollar,” says Waronker. “I’d like us to break even, that’s all. But I’d really like to see Brian Wilson come back and make more music. That’s what it was all about for me. It was never about hits. The fact of the matter is, if you’re a Brian Wilson fan and you get to hear new Brian Wilson stuff, it’s great. I think he deserves this shot, and if he doesn’t mess up and if he does take advantage of it, then he deserves to have a career. All this work has been done. Unbelievable amounts of energy have been expended, incredible pain inflicted on everybody. One of the most difficult situations I’ve ever been through has occurred, and we still have this thing that I think is good. And now he’s got a shot.”

“It was a labor of love,” says Brian.

Hey,” says Brian. “Let’s go in the hot tub.” He heads up to his room to undress. A few minutes later, he leads the way through the living room, out onto his deck and down a short flight of stairs to a steaming redwood hot tub that looks out on the ocean. Dropping his robe, he eases his body into the warm water.

Out here in the tub, with Kevin Leslie inside the house, Brian suddenly seems to feel less inhibited. “Don’t tell Dr. Landy about this,” he says conspiratorially, then pauses for a moment. “I hate the feeling of looking up in the morning when I wake up in bed. It is like a mountain ahead of me. Nothing seems right. About two or three o’clock in the afternoon, ‘Hey, what was I worried about?’ But you can’t tell yourself that when you’re worried. You say, ‘I’m worried.’ That’s one of my big problems in life, dealing with morning. So now you know!

“I want to be able to pop out of bed at six or seven in the morning and meet the day,” Brian says. “But I can’t. I’m negatively programmed to think that each day is a bummer.”

Above the huge expanse of ocean, clouds are blowing in against the black sky. “I’m going to get out,” Brian says abruptly. And with that he’s out of the tub, draped in his robe, hurrying back into the house.

In the living room, Brian’s mood has changed. He seems giddy. It’s nearly 11:00 p.m., his bedtime, but first he wants to listen to music. He gets up to walk over to the stereo but stops himself.

He stands there, a towering figure wearing only a long, white terry-cloth bathrobe. “I prove to myself over and over again that I can do things,” he says. “I can do music. I go in the studio, and I don’t fuckin’ crack up.

“Everyone in the world has the same hang-ups, only in different ways,” he says. “Same hang-ups. It’s quite an ordeal. Getting things together can be quite an ordeal, I’ll tell you that right now. But once they’re together, you go, ‘Hey, yeah!’ You feel good. Getting used to yourself is hard. I find it hard to get used to myself. But you can get used to yourself. Anybody could. Jesus! Anybody could.

“To be, or not to be,” he suddenly exclaims. “That is the question.” He means, of course, that after fifteen-plus years of trying not to be, Wilson has decided that it’s time to be. A few days later, while looking at some old photos of himself in his days as a 300-pound blob, he will say, “I was ready for death. I had a dying thing.”

But that’s all behind him now. And despite the voices, despite his bad mornings, the sometimes nerve-racking anxiety, the memory lapses and, yes, the omnipresent Landy, Brian Wilson appears to be back in action. He’s already got half of a second album written, talks of producing both the Beach Boys and the Ramones and is contemplating a solo tour. “We’re not going to die,” he says. “We’re going to live!”

In This Article: Brian Wilson, Coverwall

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