Brian began murmuring . . . “World Climatic Regions . . . Face of the Moon . . . Geodetic Satellites. What does geodetic mean? Of the earth? Of the earth, it must be, it must be the relation of the earth to the satellites, that’s right.” He was like a man trying to fight his way out of a pocket of time. “Is there any part of the earth that never has any sun?”
Part One: Mr. Everything
I’m not a genius, I’m just a hardworking guy.
– Brian Wilson
The night I saw Bergman’s Skamen was the night I decided to try out the Radiant Radish. It had just opened a few days before in West Hollywood and was purveying health foods right across the street from the Black Rabbit Inn. The movie had left me shaken; perhaps the little store wasn’t as surreal as it seemed. It certainly seemed surreal. At eleven o’clock at night there was no overhead lighting; the only illumination came from fluorescent tubes in the food bins. The only other person in the store was the counter man, the owner, Magic Christian Brian Wilson.
I handed him a bottle of Vitamin B-12 I wanted to buy. He said, “What you want is a B-complex.”
He ran his fingers over the rows of bottles, seeking just the right supplement. “Did you get a call for B-12?”
“From your doctor. If you got a call –”
“Well, now, unless there’s a call, we – you can’t –” He would not sell me any B-12.
* * *
Producer Nick Venet speaks of his association with the group, beginning with Surfin’ U.S.A.
“I signed them to Capitol Records. It was a master purchase. They brought the first record ready-made. They had a minor release earlier on an independent label, a local chart record, I think it was ‘Surfin’.’ The father had brought a master of the second record. He wanted to make a new deal. He wanted to sell the master and was asking $100, a small royalty. He didn’t want very much . . . a very humble man.
“I was the only person at the label under 62. He played me the record and it was really good. Probably the best record I heard that year. Sensation. They produced it, Brian and the guys, and it was a-fucking-terrific.
“We bought the master. Gave him $300 for it and made him a good royalty deal. He wanted to give us the publishing and I had to advise them to open a small company with the boys, with the group, split it between them and keep the publishing.
“The day the record came out it was a hit. I think it broke in Phoenix, Arizona. California had put it off, in fact some of the people in California had put it down. The record just broke all kinds of sales records in New York City and everything for us that year. The Beach Boys became very important.
“Brian had all the odds against him ever having more than two hit records. Brian was a square peg in a round hole. Brian was five years too early with his business thinking, with his creative thinking, and yet he made it. But he suffered for it. And I’m sure he’s paying for it today.”
“Brian bled a lot for demanding changes. It cost him more money to make records. See, the company used to absorb the cost if you used their magic studios. Brian had to pay for his studios.
“He was one of the first acts on a major label to bust out of the major label syndrome of coming into their studios at their appointed hours and using their facilities – good, bad or indifferent – at their union scales and their hours, changing engineers for dinner breaks, banana breaks, pee breaks, all that bullshit; he’s the first one to be allowed to go outside. That’s a pretty heavy trip for a kid of his age.
“Brian Wilson liberated California for producers and musicians. New York was the center for recording. Brian Wilson – and a lot of people may not agree with this, if they don’t they’re full of shit – Brian Wilson brought a lot of action to California for young producers and young musicians. He used guys who were not the A-line. Guys that are being called studio cats today at that time were young guys; Brian Wilson used them extensively, and they became heavy studio cats.
“He also was the first guy to do it until it was right. He damned everyone till it was right and then he gave them the record; he took his chances. A lot of us would get chicken after four hours and say, ‘We’d better get off the tune.’ Brian would hang in there for nine hours, no matter what the cost. I used to think he was crazy, but he was right. Brian was tough to work with. Brian really demanded.
“Do you realize that 70 percent of the jingles you hear on the air and on TV evolved from Brian Wilson’s records? Think about all the ads, from Coca-Cola to Seven-Up; from Thom McCann to some bank in Cleveland. Before they used to have that chick do her be-bop-a-do-wah in the air at the end of each commercial, with the guys who weren’t traveling that week with Stan Kenton doing the background. Even on Top 40 radio, they had those pseudo-jazz changes in the station tags. Brian Wilson’s records changed all that. Check out those jingles. They come off of Beach Boys riffs.
“Brian was making music in those days, he wasn’t making speeches, and it was OK, because no one was using words then. A reflection of last Saturday, that’s what his music was on the Coast. It was honest. It was for all time.
“You really can’t pull an individual record. Even ‘Good Vibrations’ is an evolution of ‘Surfin’ U.S.A.’
“If Brian had started today — I think the record industry is more equipped to handle a Brian Wilson, set up a life style for him so that he could live and work without ever worrying about going broke. In those days they really didn’t care where the fuck you were going. If you had a hit record and wanted to spend all your money, fine, because the law of averages was you weren’t to have one tomorrow.
“They went through a lot of attorneys and business managers. Once you have a few hit records for the company and it looks like you might be there a while, you start dealing with a lot of strange people. Like all of a sudden I didn’t deal with them anymore, I dealt with attorneys, bookkeepers, executives. Eventually I think they were dealing directly with the vice-president.
“I think Brian got eaten up by that syndrome. He thought he was going to make it forever on their terms. So when they asked for a record he gave them one. A lot of people kept trending him. Like, ‘That was a hit, that’s it, but now that’s out.’ That was a lot of shit. Brian was growing and they held him down. They held down his music. They would say, ‘Well, surfing is off, you know, dead, or car stuff is dead.’ But Brian Wilson was still alive.
“I think Brian’s gonna be with us as long as he wants to be with us. I would never count him out. You can’t push the man. He is not a Mickey Mouse person. If I had him under contract, he could take four years between records. As long as he was happy with the record, that’s all. It’s the only sane thing. He was always brilliant and I’m sure he’s a lot smarter now. So consequently it’ll take him a lot longer, because it’s probably very hard for him to be satisfied.
“Carl was the other one in the group that I thought was brilliant. I thought he would become a producer on his own, branch off and work with other acts. I still think that’s what he will do. Carl was the silent voice in the early stages. He’d quietly make a few changes, quietly make sure everyone got their way. He was all right, a very mature young guy.
“I didn’t really help Brian that much. I didn’t hinder him but I didn’t help him because I never really got close to him.”
* * *
From a Warner Bros. publicity release:
Young people everywhere were enchanted by the romance of the open road, and no one had to strain to understand all that was implied by the search for the perfect wave.
Earl Leaf, author of a regular column (“My Fair and Frantic Hollywood”) in Teen Magazine, has led a checkered career. A real Hollywood original, an elderly gent (he admits only to being “somewhere between the age of consent and collapse”) whose walls are covered with framed, autographed tit shots (“Fuck you, Earl”) in the midst of which is a startling pic of National Geographic photographer Earl Leaf at a table outside a house with a bottle of wine and Mao Tse Tung and Chou En Lai when the latter two were fugitive bandits in the mountains of China (“Yeah, me and Mao were pretty good friends there for about a week”), Earl was once paid by the Beach Boys to make a documentary film of their European tour and start a fan sheet.
From his files he produced the transcript of an old interview in which Brian Wilson explained how he came to make the decision to stop touring with the group.
“I used to be Mr. Everything,” Brian had told Earl. “I felt I had no choice. I was run down mentally and emotionally because I was running around, jumping on jets from one city to another on one-night stands, also producing, writing, arranging, singing, planning, teaching—to the point where I had no peace of mind and no chance to actually sit down and think or even rest. I was so mixed up and so overworked.
“We were on a tour, December 23rd, 1964 (two days before Christmas). We were going to Houston to kick off a two-week tour. I said goodbye to Marilyn. We weren’t getting along too good. The plane had been in the air only five minutes when I told Al Jardine I was going to crack up any minute. He told me to cool it. Then I started crying. I put a pillow over my face and began screaming and yelling.
“Then I started telling people I’m not getting off the plane. I was getting far out, coming undone, having a breakdown, and I just let myself go completely. I dumped myself out of the seat and all over the plane. I let myself go emotionally. They took care of me well. They were as understanding as they could be. They knew what was happening and I was coming apart. The rubber band had stretched as far as it would go.
“That night I cooled off and I played that show. Next morning I woke up with the biggest knot in my stomach and I felt like I was going out of my mind. In other words it was a breakdown period.
“I must have cried about 15 times the next day. Every half hour I’d start crying. Carl came to my hotel room, I saw him and I just slammed the door in his face. I didn’t want to see him or anybody because I was flipping out.
“Nobody knew what was going on. I wouldn’t talk, I just put my head down and wouldn’t even look at anyone. That night the road manager took me back to L.A. and I didn’t want to see anybody except my mother. She was at the airport to meet me. As soon as I saw her again I started crying. I just needed to hear her talk to me, it’s a kind of security to be able to talk to your mother as I can talk to Audrey.
“We went over to the house and we had a three-hour talk there. I told her things I’d never told anyone in my life and she sort of straightened me out. Generally I dumped out a life-long hang-up.
“And this was the first of a series of three breakdowns I’ve had since then. (The latest one happened two weeks ago. That was a much more profound thing, triggered by another stimulus, not something that had been building up for a long time.)
“The other guys didn’t want to bug me but they wanted to know what was happening. There were four Beach Boys on the road. So they finished out that five-day tour without me and when they came back I didn’t want to talk to them or anybody. I just wanted to sit and think and rest, pull myself together, check my life out, and once again evaluate what I am, what I’m doing and what I should be doing.
“So what it amounted to was a guilt feeling. I knew I should have stopped going on tours much earlier to do justice to our recordings and business operations. I was also under pressure from my old man, who figured I’d be a traitor if I didn’t travel on one-nighters with the other guys. He always has had a problem of understanding people and their feelings. I had a lot of static from everyone outside the group as well as the members. The only way I could do it was by breaking down as I did.
“The boys stayed home for a long rest, about two weeks, then, we started recording the Beach Boys Today album. We were about half way through the album, and one night I told the guys I wasn’t going to perform on stage anymore, that I can’t travel.
“I told them I foresee a beautiful future for the Beach Boys group but the only way we could achieve it was if they did their job and I did mine. They would have to get a replacement for me . . . I didn’t say ‘they.’ I said ‘we’ because it isn’t they and me, it’s ‘us.’
“That night when I gave them the news of my decision, they all broke down. I’d already gone through my breakdown – and now it was their turn. When I told them, they were shook. Mike had a couple of tears in his eyes, he couldn’t take the reality that their big brother wasn’t ever going to be on the stage with them again. It was a blow to their sense of security, of course.
“Mike lost his cool and felt, like there was no reason to go on. Dennis picked up a big ashtray and told some people to get out of there or he’d hit them on the head with it. He kind of blew it, y’know, in fact the guy he threatened to hit with the ashtray was Terry Sachen, who became our road manager within two weeks.
“Al Jardine broke out in tears and broke out in stomach cramps. He was all goofed up and my mother, who was there, had to take care of him.
“And good old Carl was the only guy who never got into a bad emotional scene. He just sat there and didn’t get uptight about it. He always kept a cool head. If it weren’t for Carl it’s hard to say where we’d be. He is the greatest stabilizing influence in the group. He’s been like that ever since he was a kid and he’s like that now, together with a lot of experience and brains. Carl has mastered his emotions. He cooled Dennis, Mike and Al down.
“Now it was just a matter of time until the guys adjusted to the new scene. The first replacement we had was Glenn Campbell. He was adequate, but he wasn’t really a Beach Boy. He didn’t look or act like one. That must have gone on for three or four months. Then Glenn got sick and couldn’t tour. The Beach Boys were really in trouble now because they couldn’t cancel out the tour.
“So Mike in the last minute called up Bruce Johnston and found he was free. Bruce and Carl got together. Carl taught Bruce all the songs we were doing on the stage. Bruce learned enough songs in one day to perform with the Beach Boys the next night. In one day’s practice, he got in the group.
“He was making records with Terry Melcher before he joined us. Bruce sounds somewhat like me when he sings falsetto. He plays and sings well. Bruce is making the Beach Boys his career. He’s happy with us, he’s making good money, but more than anything he just digs being in the group. And we love Bruce. He came just at the right time when we were against the wall. It was Mike who brought him in. It was very logical as Bruce had done surfing records very similar to the Beach Boys. We’ve known Bruce for a couple of years. Bruce and Terry discontinued their duo only recently because of the different paths they have taken. Bruce is with us and Terry is producer of the Raiders’ platters. Both now swinging in their own scenes.
“The logical thing to do from then on was to expand in our publicity, photographically, and to make a much more planned production in records. I always knew what I was doing but I had a rough time communicating with people for a while.
“The fellows are just growing up and adjusting to the position in life which we are in. I think that being actually originally a teenage group that made that much money and success in such a short time, was a little bit hard to handle for obvious reasons. It’s been almost five years since we started, and it’s taken just about that long to adjust and reach present maturity . . .
“You learn so much about people’s motives, especially when you’re in a position to bring out greed and such in people. But understanding the weaknesses of other people helps you to see your own weaknesses as well as strength, and so it’s been helpful to us all.
“I don’t think there’ll ever be a dull moment in my career as I’m too dedicated to some kind of a scence. I don’t want to be static, I must keep functioning … No, I’m not a genius, I’m just a hardworking guy.”
* * *
From a Warner Brothers publicity release:
It was from ’63 through ’65 that the Beach Boys cranked out the bulk of the songs for which they are best remembered. You know the titles as well as they do: “Surfer Girl,” “Little Deuce Coupe,” “I Get Around,” “Don’t Worry Baby,” “Be True to Your School,” “In My Room,” “Fun, Fun, Fun,” “Barbara Ann,” “Surfin’ U. S. A.” “California Girls,” “Help Me Rhonda,” etc. It was simple, undemanding music, and the kids gobbled it up, contributing mightily to the group’s total sales to date of 65 million records.
* * *
Although the youngest Wilson and the youngest Beach Boy, 25-year-old Carl clearly leads the group when they’re on the road. And now some say he even . . . but we’re jumping ahead. Carl, like his brothers, attended Hawthorne High, five miles from the Pacific Ocean. Unlike his brothers, he fucked up his grades and eventually was kicked out for going to the bathroom without permission.
“Brian was a tremendous student. He was interested in music more than anything, but he was into sports quite a bit. He was really a good baseball player, he could be a pro, actually, if he wanted to. He quit the football team his senior year because he wanted to do music, and the coach got pissed off at him, wouldn’t talk to him for the rest of the whole year. He was really a very good athlete. He played quarterback. Al Jardine played there too. In fact, Brian got Al’s leg busted in a game, for fucking up on a play. He was quarterback, and the ball went the wrong way and Al got his leg broken.
“It was around 1963 that Brian started to get into it. In ’64 he was already solid into what he was trying to do, and in ’65 or ’66 it was realized in Pet Sounds. An album called Summer Days and Summer Nights was the last studio album before Pet Sounds, and that has ‘Let Him Run Wild’ on it and a few other things that are indicative of him getting into orchestrating things.
“He just dug it, he just loved music and he just did it. He made it up. He though it. He taught himself how to read and how to write music. He really does it from soul, really. Just ear.
“There were many years of his life where he did nothing but play the piano. Months at a time. Days on end. He’d listen to Four Freshmen records. Just all music. And, of course, Phil Spector I think would be his biggest influence or inspiration, pertaining to recording.
“Brian’s influence is much more than anyone would know. He inspired a lot of musicians and writers to get into orchestration and to really doing a sort of high music. Brian was really sort of the first one to get into the album thing as an art, you know? This was like in 1964. I think that Summer Days and Summer Nights was the first indication of it. Pet Sounds was the obvious step.
“He doesn’t have to prove himself. He doesn’t really want to either. He doesn’t need to. I think that’s what maybe he was doing with Smile, you know, and of course he realizes now that he really doesn’t have to prove himself. His music is really ingenious. I mean, all the guys really regard him as the most talented person in the world.”
* * *
Terry Melcher is a prince, victim of a bad press, lives in Benedict Canyon, and is attended by a secretary known only as Ginny. Many years ago, as a callow youth, Melcher was one-half of a duo known as Bruce and Terry. Bruce later became a Beach Boy. Terry remembers Brian Wilson with affection.
“He isn’t fashionable. He’s definitely not fashionable in any sense of the word as it might apply to anything. We all have certain modes; we’re wearing levis, we’re not wearing gingham pants. But he might be wearing blue-and-white-specked ginghams when you get to his house. And a red short-sleeved T-shirt with some food on the front. It wouldn’t be a shock. He’s just so involved in that one thing that he doesn’t see any reason for concessions on any level. They just don’t exist. He’s really an unusual guy.
“As a record producer, somebody who knows what goes on as far as mixing, EQs, things that make a balance sound right, there isn’t anyone better. He’s as good as anyone I’ve heard.
“He writes fantastic melodies. He’s like a classical composer. Brian can do a Bach thing. Give him 90 pieces and he’ll give you a Bach thing; then give it to an expert and he’d have a hell of a time finding the difference. But he isn’t a lyricist, so he’s been put down a lot for being an asshole. But the people who put him down, if they were really musicians, they’d forget the words and get into the structure of the thing.
“Take one of his albums out, play a song that he wrote, play the chords, and then play, say, the Who’s chords. One’s got a surface kind of excitement going to it, that Brain’s not into. But his has a depth that other people can’t touch. If he had someone who wrote good words . . . “
It’s been suggested that he couldn’t live with Van Dyke’s lyrics.
“That’s possible. So he should have tried somebody else. Not just stop there. He stopped there. He should have tried 50 people. If I could write melodies and chords like Brian Wilson, I’d take those fucking songs and make up demos of the tracks and send them out to Hal David and to Lennon and to McCartney – I’d send ’em all over the fuckin’ world, and take the best one. That’s what he should do. ‘Cause he’s good enough. He’s better than all those people. He knows more about music than anyone who’s at all present on the music scene. He knows a lot more.
“He left the music, yes. He left it, it never left him.
“For years I spent my nights at Brian’s house, sitting around, not saying a word, not getting into any conversation, just hearing him play the piano and write some melodies once in a while. It was just fantastic. The guy’s . . . he’s better than anyone. It’s really true. He just knows everything there is to know.
“It’s unfortunate. He was born too late or something. If Brian Wilson were born 500 years ago, he’d be one of those giant classical figures that we all revere so much. But he wasn’t, and he had some brothers who fooled around with words and stuff, so his melodies came out on a different plane. His music is genius and his words, the ones that come out of those songs anyway, are grammar school. And that’s the whole trip. I guess it’s hard to be a hit like that, if your music and words start separating from each other so distinctly.
“If I were Brian and couldn’t live with someone’s lyrics I’d just do an album and . . . delete all the lyrics. Just hum it. But he always puts lyrics on there. I think that’s kind of a . . . a habit: ‘What are the words?’ Well, fuck the words. Nobody asked Chopin what the fucking words were.
“I think he was pressured by the group. And knowing that everyone in that group was married, and had children, and a house. I think he felt like more of a benefactor than an artist. I picked that up a few times, that he felt like he was expected to do certain things on time: We’ll have a hit record every three months, a tour every two months, and an album every four months. He was the creative force, and there were five other people – five other families – relying on his creativity. Which sort of puts a . . . I don’t suppose any musical genius ever operated on a time-clock basis. He was feeling it a lot. So, I think he just went to sleep for a couple months. Just went to his room and went away.
“I think the people in the group blew it by not knowing when they were applying pressure. They might all start independently calling up to say, ‘Is there a session tonight?’ ‘When’s the album out?’ ‘Is the song finished?’ When there are five people doing that all the time . . . “
He remembered the house on Bellagio.
“Brian painted his house purple when he first moved in there. The neighborhood went crazy. He lives on Bellagio, in the heart of Bel Air. He painted it a fucking bright purple. Everything. There was a Bel Air Residents Citizens’ Committee and all that shit. They were up in arms. They were pretty pissed off. It was funny.
“It was a shirty color, I’ll have to admit. You wouldn’t want to live in it.
“I don’t think he thinks about everything. I don’t believe he has time to consider everything.
“Innocent? Oh yeah. For sure. He’d have to be; to be that much involved in one thing, you can’t be on your guard. If you would define innocence as being off-guard. Choosing not to have to be aware of certain things. He chooses not to bother.”
Terry was present at the public debut of “Heroes and Villains.”
“Brian was holding onto this single, like: ‘All right, world – I’ve got it,’ and waiting for the right time. He felt it was important to wait for the right time. It was a good record. This woman, I guess she was an astrologer – of sorts – she came by Brian’s house. She said to him, ‘Brian – the time is right.’ He was waiting for the word from this woman to release the record, I guess.
‘So he said, ‘All right.’ He called the whole group. It was like: ‘OK. Look. Here it is.’A small disk, you know. Seven inches. It was very solemn, very important. Weighty. A heavy situation. It was all, ‘Brace yourself – for the big one.’ All the group had those limos. And there was a caravan of Rolls Royces taking the record to KHJ. He was going to give the station an exclusive, just give it to them without telling Capitol.
“We got to the gate of KHJ. The guard wouldn’t let us in.
“A little talking, a little hubbub, a little bullshit. The guard was finally intimidated enough by four or five Rolls Royce limousines to open his gate. We got in the building, got to the disc jockey who was presiding over the turntable. It was pretty late, probably around midnight. Brian said, ‘Hi, I’m Brian Wilson, here’s the new Beach Boys single. I’d like to give you and KHJ an exclusive on it.’ And this asshole turned around and he said: ‘Can’t play anything that’s not on the playlist.’ And Brian almost fainted. It was all over. He’d been holding the record, waiting for the right time. He’d had astrologers figuring out the correct moment. It really killed him.
“Finally they played it, after a few calls to the program director or someone, who screamed, ‘Put it on, you idiot.’ But the damage to Brian had already been done.
“He never surfed, you know. And yet he convinced surfers, those songs were written by someone who was out there hanging ten.
“The Beach Boys had people in England surfing. Blokes were bleaching their hair blonde and carrying boards through Soho.
“The guy never asked for any trouble, he just wrote songs about cars and the beach, and everyone nailed the motherfucker to the wall. They really nailed him. That poor motherfucker.”
* * *
David Anderle grew up in Inglewood, California during the same years Bring Wilson grew up in nearby Hawthorne. Hawthorne is closer to the ocean, to sun and surf. David was a nocturnal creature. Beach Boys records never meant much to him. He could take ’em or leave ’em. He could not tell the difference between the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean.
He first met Brian in 1966 through a relative who knew the Wilson family. He liked Brian as a person right away, not even associating the man with his music. The next time they met was with Danny Hutton and Van Dyke Parks, whom David was managing. He heard the beginnings of what would become “Good Vibrations,” and the music hit him personally. He loved Brian’s working processes. They shared an admiration for Beethoven and Dylan. Brian seemed a little frightened by Dylan, and Brian loved things that frightened him a little, like a child hiding under the covers, peeking out at a scary movie.
Brian proved to be a fantastic musician. At a session he would go around to each player, take the instrument from him, show him what he wanted, and hand it back. Once that was accomplished he could go into the booth and take over the board. Sometimes he would mix the track even as it was being recorded. He knew about percussion. He understood music so well that no instrument was foreign to him. He was a total musician.
His musical theories were based upon emotion. He could sit down and write a chart, anytime, but when he described the music it was always in artistic or litewary allusions, colors, mental responses.
And the music . . . Where other people were going to electronics – speeded tapes, concept albums, reversed tapes, echoes, reverse — Brian made those things happen with pure music, just by writing it out or singing a certain way, by telling people how to play, by his mixing. It was awesome.
David became close with Brian. There were other new faces as well: Jules Siegel, a journalist sent by the Saturday Evening Post to turn out a predictable piece on the Beach Boys who stayed instead to do some serious writing; Michael Vosse, a man of many trades whose father had printed one of the first books in America about LSD. And Van Dyke Parks began putting lyrics to Brian’s notes.
Anyone who worked with Brian was going way beyond their limits. He would move to a certain point, and everyone would try to move a little ahead of him; that would nudge him forward, and suddenly . . . It was completely crazy. No time existed. There were no rules. No one involved can really remember a lot of specifics. That helped Brian accomplish things: they were burning.
David Oppenheim came up to film a few regulation scenes for Leonard Bernstein’s TV special on rock, and they had him and his camera crew in trunks at two o’clock in the morning in the pool, taking underwater shots of all of them; it was way beyond anything Oppenheim thought he was going to get into. They pushed and pushed and pushed because, as they told each other, the only limits were nature.
David and Brian would take four or five desbutols and sit looking at the sky all night, zeroing in whatever they could, rapping until dawn as the steam rose from the swimming pool. They agreed the rules they would live by were whatever rules were out there. That was the only barrier. The limits were the universe; everything else could be dealt with. There were no laws, no rules, no heroes, no giants. They would bust right through all of that.
So much was flowing from Brian. He was going into the studio and cutting sections, thoughts of music; he was coming home and tying these thoughts together into songs. They would change daily. The beginning of “Cabinessence” might become the middle of “Vegetables.” or the ending become the bridge. It was like changing colors or areas in a painting, almost like a jigsaw puzzle, but the pieces were so musically interrelated that they would fit. David would beg Brian not to change a piece of music because it was too fantastic; when Brian did change it, David would have to admit it was equally beautiful.
His appetite for experience was as large as his output. When he got into something he’d get into it right then. If he wanted to see the moon, he’d go out and buy a telescope that minufe. “Brian, there’s no place open at three in the morning to sell telescopes.” He’d get angry. “Well, let’s buy a telescope place, man, we’ll have it open 24 hours a day.” “Brian, who’s gonna want a telescope other than you at three o’clock in the morning?” “Somebody does, and if somebody does, they should have it.”
Or, “Wouldn’t it be great to play ping-pong? Let’s get a ping-pong table.”
“Brian, it’s four in the morning.”
“Get those Yellow Pages. Somebody must know – you must know somebody who knows how to get a ping-pong table.”
The house was changing every week with something new going on. A sandbox. Tents. Sauna baths. All of a sudden the living room was stripped down and it was a gymnasium. Baseball, the swimming pool outside – whatever they got into had to surround them completely. When they got into health foods, there were health food charts all over the kitchen. When one got a motorbike, they all got motorbikes.
There were whipped cream fights. Silly shit, but all immediate release, immediate release. If it doesn’t happen immediately, it’s not gonna happen. If it can’t be put together right now, it can’t be put together.
For instance, Brian once decided he wasn’t going to put out “Good Vibrations.” Maybe Brian had started doubting it because he’d worked on it so long. Maybe David pulled him out of that. A few days later Brian put out “Good Vibrations.” (It was a big thing for him when it became the Beach Boys’ first million-selling single. A proof thing.)
He had a great sense of humor about himself, very open and honest. They were all able to laugh at themselves, much easier in a way than David can now. Brian wanted a lot of humor in the album he was making, Smile, because to him humor was salvation. Humor was the Holy Grail.
He loved crazy physical things, like putting a circular slide from the roof of his house to the swimming pool, doing crazy dives. Almost adolescent stuff, but totally open: Forget who you are. what your image is, how groovy you’re supposed to be, and just have a good time. Sounds like crazy stuff, but boy, is it free. When you think you’re free and then you find yourself doing all the things you’ve really wanted to. Riding a bicycle backwards. Always that healthy kind of humor: not to embarrass other people but to embarrass yourself. To put your self into the humorous position. Buying the limo may have been a humorous thing for Brian. He bought that big limousine and then he drove it around.
The one musical area where David had some difficulties was Brian’s sense of humor. He never quite understood it. The root of Brian’s musical humor was not the same as David’s. He could never figure out why Brian would get off behind certain things. David would hear something in the music – a sound effect, a sudden turn of a corner – that would strike him as satirical, cvnical even. “It was so beautiful up to there,” he’d say in frustration, “why did you do that?” But to Brian the humor wasn’t satirical; to him it was just as beautiful because it was pure and real.
Humor per se was not the predominant element in the music. Smile conveyed a tremendous amount of real, really deep happiness. There was glitter and sunshine, yet there were profound shades of blue like yawning caves or climbing through thick ivy. Like that incredible thing that happens when you meet a girl for the first time, that wonderful period that lasts for a week, a day, a night.
David would sit at night with Brian and listen to this music and go right out into fantasyland. However deep he wanted to go. To listen to that music was to look at the stars. Brian was taking the sound of the spheres and putting it right on tape.
It was all positive. That’s what they were really working on. To make everyone feel positive. Even in the dark areas of life there’s still something affirmative going on. Black can be a beautiful color if you think about it the right way. Gray can be, too. Anything can be beautiful, because it’s an experience.
Smile was a step. It wasn’t “better than Sergeant Pepper.” It was just so new. even in its raw form. It didn’t even need lyrics (though it could have accommodated Van’s lyrics, they certainly fit the task of the music.)
Everything went into the music then. When they were swimming, building themselves up, the music became robust. If you came up to the house and introduced something new to Brian’s thought processes – astrology, a different way to think about the relationship of Russia to China, anything at all – if all of a sudden he was into that, it would find its way into the music. You could hear a bit and say, “I know where that feeling came from.”
Smile was finished. There was enough for a whole album. More than enough. There was an awful lot of music. “Wind Chimes.” “Cabinessence.” “Vegetables.” “The Iron Horse” – that one was magnificent: the first trains going across the country . . . the buffalo . . . the Indians.
There was a section about Kansas. Sitting in the studio, the kettle drums booming, you could see big black crows sweeping across the corn fields.
Brian wasn’t limiting himself to Smile. He was moving so quickly, he had so many projects, it was hard for anything to set in. He wanted to do an album of music built from sound effects. They were taping water sounds, fountains, faucets, everything. He wanted to use the water noise as note patterns, chords spliced together through a whole LP.
He wanted to do a comedy album. He wanted to do a health food album. They’d always have trouble trying to figure his ideas out. “That’s great Brian, you wanna do a health food album. What does that mean?” He had incredible fantasies. He wanted to put everything down on disc, and when he realized he couldn’t, he shifted to, “I wanna make films.” That was a step easier to capturing more. If you couldn’t get a sound from a carrot, you could show a carrot. He would really liked to have made music that was a carrot.
* * *
The idea of Brother Records was to guarantee Brian the liberty to make whatever kind of music he wanted. It would be the Beach Boys’ own label, and David would be its director.
It seemed like a good idea at the time, but once into it David realized it had nothing to do with the creativity. It ran counter to their whole ethic. The rest of the crew was trying to be open and fertile, while David was putting things into compartments because he was trying to make a business. A certain amount of structuring was needed. He thought he could do it all: hang out, fantasize at night; then put it all together in the daytime. You couldn’t do both. The music always suffered at the hands of the business. You had to be open to all vibrations, you had to have strength, and you couldn’t get it sitting behind a desk all day listening to uptight phone calls and deciding what percentage was right.
Business wasn’t the only dissonant element suddenly to appear. Just when everything seemed to be coming together, it fell apart.
Brian always wanted acceptance from what was then called the underground; he had never really had that, no one ever took him seriously, aside from a very few people. Suddenly he was getting that, he was a giant. He was getting phone calls from Paul McCartney. Andrew Oldham was calling from London. All hours of the morning, all these calls. A continuous stream of writers coming up to the house. The movie people, the television people. CBS was there. Van Dyke. It was all happening.
Then all of a sudden it was not happening anymore.
Definitely Brian was frightened. He would have had to alienate himself from all he had had in the past. David wanted to see the Beach Boys as a group