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 take that big step, because Brian made it very clear to him at a certain point that it was always going to be the Beach Boys, that Brian wouldn’t do it alone. God knows he could have: he played all the parts and sang all the parts. But the Beach Boys, they were brothers, that was his family.
That was Brian. It made as much sense to argue with him about that as it did about his clothes. “Stop wearing those T-shirts and tennis shoes,” everyone kept saying, but that was him: T-shirts and tennis shoes.
Brian had been working on his own all this time, cutting tracks at home while the others were touring Europe, becoming the number one group in the world. Pet Sounds threatened to become, in Andrew Oldham’s words, “the Scheherezade of pop music,” They were getting phenomenal press, phenomenal audience response. “Good Vibrations” was their first gold single. They came back to L.A. to learn they were getting their own label. Everyone was going to be a producer, sign artists, vent his own personal ambitions.
Brian played the Beach Boys his new music and it scared the shit out of them.
That’s what David thought happened. He couldn’t figure it any other way. They must have known it was great music. They had to. But they knew it was something that wasn’t them. Brian did not get the family backing that he needed. He had been working as a solitary musician and suddenly had to return to working with the Beach Boys; he lost his immediacy explaining to people.
It got too hard for David. He couldn’t deal with explaining something five or six separate times for five or six separate people. And there was no way to get them to agree to a single course of action when they all had their own personal desires.
Mike Love was the tough one for David. Mike really befriended David: He wanted his aid in going one direction while David was trying to take it the opposite way. Mike kept saying, “You’re so good, you know so much, you’re so realistic, you can do all this for us — why not do it this way,” and David would say, “Because Brian wants it that way.” “Gotta be this way.” David really holds Mike Love responsible for the collapse. Mike wanted the bread, “and don’t fuck with the formula.”
There were conflicts with all the elements. With Vosse, with David, with Jules, with his family, with the group. It got crazy. It had zoomed to the top and was zooming right to the bottom, all in six months.
Brian began to doubt Van Dyke’s lyrics. Perhaps he didn’t really understand a lot of Van Dyke’s words. He suddenly couldn’t live with them. He understood them intellectually, he loved what was happening, but they weren’t his words.
In a strange way it may have been David’s painting that was responsible for the rift in their friendship.
So much creativity was coming out of Brian that it wasn’t enough for David just to go through it in the studio or rap about it at night; he had to create something himself or burst. He indulged his desire to paint Brian.
He couldn’t ask him to pose, that never would have worked with Bri. Instead he would talk with him for hours, then rush home to paint what he remembered. This proved to be a lengthy process: each day something new was happening, they got pretty wasted while rapping, and David’s energy thing began to run down. It took perhaps a month. He had a couple of photographs he used as a kind of guide, but mostly the portrait was based on feelinss. Finally it reached a point where he liked what it felt like more than he liked it as a painting, so he said it was finished. It felt right.
Brian had a knowledge of painting – as he had a knowledge of all forms of art: the obvious ones – Michelangelo, Botticelli, Picasso – but he was aware in a very huge way. His analyses were emotional instead of college of fine arts. He held painting as a super thing. Graphics for the albums were always very important to him. He picked them in a clumsy, uneducated fashion, but it was important: he had to get an emotional response. His reaction was a whole step beyond “how pretty it is.” He had no sense of balance or proportion. It just hit him or it didn’t. But when it hit, it hit on an incredible level.
David hadn’t told Brian what he was doing. One night David asked him to come to his apartment and “see something.” He was living with his wife Sheryll in a dingy little room above a garage near U.S.C. Brian had never been by before. They sat and rapped for a while. The painting in a corner was covered with a bedspread. Finally David pulled off the bedspread.
Brian glared at the painting. David looked at Sheryll, and Sheryll looked at David, and the whole room went on an acid trip. Brian hadn’t said a word. He walked up incredibly close and stared at the face in the portrait for what might have been an hour. No one spoke. It was a moment without time.
At last Brian turned around. He said it had captured his soul. The Indian thing. He said he loved the painting, that he wanted it. But that strange eerie vibe was going on so strong. David told him he couldn’t have it right away, it was still wet, it had to be dried and finished. He was caught completely off-guard by Brian’s reaction. He had expected him to say that he liked it or that he didn’t like it. He had expected the obvious and gotten the supernatural.
Brian began to count the objects – circles, cars and things – David had placed in the background as decorative relief. They were all the same as Brian’s numbers in numerology, a discipline big with Brian at the time. He had big charts on his walls. Now the painting’s numbers, created unconsciously by David, were mirroring the big things in Brian’s history. The numbers in the painting freaked David as much as they did Brian.
Somehow they made it through that night. (Brian said to Michael Vosse as Vosse drove him home, “This painting – I bet this painting business has been going on for thousands of years, huh?”)
David wanted to sell the painting if he could, because he was starving; he wanted to sell it to Marilyn or someone else who would give it to Brian, but he couldn’t manage to arrange that. What the hell, he decided to give it to Brian himself. Brian, though, began talking of having prints made instead, so that David could keep the picture. Brian was very reverent about people who could paint. He really believed they could capture your soul.
David could feel a certain distance starting to appear. It could have been the business thing he was projecting; but something definitely changed after the night Brian saw the painting. Something had been violated. The picture had come too close. David had fucked up. He had scared Brian.
The last time he went up to see him, Brian was in the bedroom and wouldn’t come out. That was a crusher for Anderle. They were right in the middle of doing Brother Records. Lawyers had started suits against Capitol. Brian had so much shit going on in his head from so many sides; such insanity was happening. There were other ways David had let him down, though he tried, he really tried to get in there and let Brian know things were still the same . . .
Immediately after was a very painful time for David. He thought it was unfair that Brian shouldn’t treat the world to his music, and he was angry. He had a mental picture of the survivors surrounding Brian, bullshitting him … but he forgot how strong Brian is. Maybe Brian just didn’t want to put out that music. Maybe it was too scary. A lot of things in our lives we enjoy but won’t do again because they’re too dangerous. David can’t believe Brian doesn’t love it, it was too beautiful. Brian understod what it was, how important it was.
David is sure that Brian can create. He is the master and controls his own destiny. David is not sure that Brian will ever reach that particular point again. It took him years to get there, and it took him years to recover. He may get higher in another area, but he’ll never make that kind of peak because it took all of them to do it. Creative people need that around them, and David thinks Brian is very alone right now.
* * *
A diamond necklace played the pawn
Hand in hand some drummed along
To a handsome man and baton
A blind class aristocracy
Back through the opera glass you see
The pit and the pendulum drawn
Columnated ruins domino
Canvas the town and brush the backdrop
Are you sleeping?
Hung velvet overtaken me
Dim chandelier awaken me
To a song dissolved in the dawn
The music hall a costly bow
The music all is lost for now
To a muted trumpeter’s swan
Columnated ruins domino
Dove nested towers the hour was
Strike the street quicksilver moon
Carriage across the fog
Two-step to lamp light cellar tune
The laughs come hard in Auld Lang Syne
The glass was raised, the fired rose
The fullness of the wine, the dimlast toasting
While at port adieu or die
A choke of grief heart hardened I
Beyond belief a broken man too
tough to cry
Aboard a tidal wave
Come about hard and join
The young and often spring you
I heard the word
A children’s song
The child is the father of the man
–“Surf’s Up,” Brian Wilson/
Van Dyke Parks
* * *
Van Dyke Parks worked with Brian Wilson during the abortive period of Smile. Parts of their collaboration have surfaced on post-Pet Sounds LPs. He is guarded in his talk of the Beach Boys; it is barely possible to discern a bit of bitterness.
I asked if Brian’s music was as good now as it was when he was making Smile.
“Nothing’s been lost through inertia.” he replied. “Nothing’s been gained. Brian’s a pro, you know. Brian gets a very slick sound. It’s good. It’s good slick. I’ve always found it very sensuous.”
Think they’ll ever have a hit single again?
“They don’t need to! If they call that album Surf’s Up we can pre-sell a hundred and fifty thousand copies. And Brian can keep his house on Bellagio.
“They’ve been trying to get away from the beach, you know? They don’t like their image. Even when I first ran into ’em I could never figure out why. What’s wrong with it? Get ’em down to the beach. Put ’em into the trunks. The beach ain’t bad. The ocean is the repository of the entire human condition—the pollution, the solution . . .
“When I was in their picture everything was whirling in a big flux. ‘Wilder women!’ we were calling. ‘Madder wine!’ And I came up with that title, it was so simple, in the context of the excitement it seemed obvious: ‘Surf’s Up.’ I also tried to help to contribute to the idea that perhaps all music did not have to be for dancing. And perhaps dancing was not the high expression it once was.”
Did you like what you heard of the music when you were up there the other night?
“I wasn’t really listening, but Dury tells me that some of the best things they had were what Dennis was doing. And I think that’s nice. You know. I think he deserves his shot. At least he’s not doing Charles Manson. And that’s a very thin line, you know.
“I went up there to congratulate them on acting like grown-ups. On continuing to push. Then they had me doing a vocal. I liked that song about the tree just fine. I was just called in to do some singing on one line. It worked out well. Of course I had to stumble out of the studio in pitch darkness. Brian turned out all the lights. Had to crawl out of there on the floor, clutching my wife. Most humiliating thing I’ve ever . . .
“Oh it’s a power trip all right. But I can get behind that. I can get behind the way Brian does it. It’s funny to watch him when he can’t find something he owns. It’s cute when he ignores someone else’s needs, because he can always plead insanity.”
Think he can do it all again?
“Sure, he can do it again. I sure hope they name their album ‘Surf’s Up,’ because if they don’t Brian’s going to have to lose his house on Bellagio. And he doesn’t want to. He doesn’t want to have to move out of there.
“I’ll have to admit it, Brian just boggles my mind. For some reason he just goes right ahead and does it.
“He is going to have to find a lyricist he can live with comfortably. Perhaps he will find one in the group itself. But he will have to find one. He will have to learn,” Van quietly said, staring at a wall, “to recognize delicate strength.
“And accept it.
“And trust in it.”
* * *
I’m bugged at my old man
‘Cause he’s makin me stay in my
(Darn my dad)
I came in a little late
And my old man he just blew his
(Blew it bad)
Why did he sell my surfboard
He cut off my hair last night in my
I wish I could see outside
But he tacked up boards on my
(Gosh it’s dark)
I can’t hit the surf
Can’t drag, can’t do a doggone thing
(Wish I could)
I tried to call up my chick
But he jerked my phone right out
of the wall
They gave me some bread crumbs
And a little glass of water
And they’re out there eating steak
(Smells so good)
I ripped up my wardrobe
And I’m growin’ a beard
For when they let me come out
I’d listen to my radio
But he took it and he’s usin’ it in
his own room
(Now it’s gone)
I wish I could do some homework
But I got suspended from school
(Blew my cool)
I’m bugged at my old man
And he doesn’t even know where
* * *
I got to Brian Wilson’s at three o’clock, half an hour early. A big brick wall surrounds the place, with a drive-in gate and a walk-in gate. The walk-in gate plaque informs you that the house is protected by the Bel Air Patrol. Underneath that on the squawk box to the house it says Stand Back Speak Normal. A Spanish woman spoke to me in indecipherable syllable bursts. The gate buzzed. There was no one at the front door so I just walked in.
I was downstairs in time for the arrival of Jack Rieley, a recent addition to the Beach Boys management. He coordinates press, writes songs, helps guide their career. A former reporter for NBC News and a producer for Pacifica Radio, he came to the Beach Boys with a long love of their music and a list of suggestions how to revive their momentum.
“I had read some articles about Brian. They first got me interested in meeting him. I thought, ‘Nobody could be that far out.’ I found out,” he laughed, lighting a cigarette, “they could be.”
We went outside to escape Brian’s dog Banana. He makes you play catch with him and he’s pretty damn fast. The only way to get rid of him was to lock ourselves inside the gate surrounding the swimming pool.
Brian was asleep, Rieley explained. He might not be up until late that night. They were all working hard to finish the new album. Al had come into town from Manhattan Beach and was sleeping in his trailer, Dennis had to cut some vocals yet for a few of his tunes, some lyrics would have to be written by Saturday—in other words, the Beach Boys were in the studio again. Not only that, their whole career appeared to be undergoing rejuvenation. They jammed with the Grateful Dead at the Fillmore. Their personal appearances were getting enthusiastic reviews. The Jeffrey Ballet had plans to do a dance to a suite of Brian’s songs. And the new album would showcase the legendary “Surf’s Up.”
“Brian’s very strange, you know. I’m never quite sure when he’s putting me on. The other night for instance, we were in the studio, we’d been trying for hours to get a vocal on a song called ‘Day in the Life of a Tree.’ I think everybody took a crack at it, but it just wasn’t right. I was disgusted and heading for the door to go home when Brian said, ‘Wait a minute, Jack! Come back! I want you to try the vocal!’ Well, the last thing I ever expected I’d have to do was sing a song. But I went out and did it. Brian went on and on how much he loved it, it was perfect, just what he’d wanted all along; other people in the booth testified he had tears in his eyes when he heard it. But you know – I still don’t know whether he was putting me on.
“One afternoon I convinced a musician friend of mine to come up to Brian’s for some session work. All the time that we’re driving here he’s asking these questions: ‘What about the sandbox in the living room?” I say, ‘No man, that was a long time ago, Brian’s not like that anymore.’ He says, ‘Yeah, but what about that tent in the middle of the living room?’ ‘That was three years ago,’ I tell him, ‘that’s all forgotten now.’ He’s trying to say Brian is some kind of freaky wild man. ‘What about the giraffe in the back yard?’ he says. ‘There never was a giraffe,’ I explain,’he wanted a giraffe for the back yard, but he couldn’t get permission from the city. See? That was just another Brian Wilson myth, Brian’s quite normal these days.’
“We pull into the driveway and Brian comes out to greet us. He says, ‘Hi fellows,’ with that usual Brian Wilson friendly sort of meek innocence. He was cutting a track called ‘Solution,’ a kind of funny ‘Monster Mash,’ and he thought it would help to get into costume. He had a black cloak on, fastened at the throat with a safety pin. The throat was painted red and his face was painted green.”
Didn’t get to see Brian that day. Well, just once, briefly: I was leaving his house at midnight and he was arriving. I said I’d see him in a few days. He ducked his head, wheeled, and jogged into the house. He’s quite shy sometimes. Terry Melcher brought Candice Bergen up to meet him once. Brian was embarrassed because Candy was so beautiful. He put a fishbowl on his head. The fishbowl broke. He went into his room and wouldn’t come out.
I went home and had a dream about Brian, though. He referred to the story I was to write about the Beach Boys. “Don’t put me through the wringer with this,” he said.
* * *
I returned to his house on Sunday afternoon. Brian was standing at the kitchen counter flipping through an atlas given him as a present by Jack Rieley. Tomorrow was his 29th birthday. He glanced up. He looked terrified. “It’s the best atlas made, really,” Rieley was explaining, “it’s put out by the London Times.” Brian turned the pages of the atlas. “Look,” he said almost to himself, “It’s got all these different countries. Afghanistan . . . Yugoslavia . . . Bolivia . . . Portugal . . .” There were other features to the atlas as well, and Brian began murmuring these aloud. “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?”
“Let’s go out back,” Jack said to me.
A short time later Brian came over to the pool, looking relaxed and amiable. He would change moods like a chameleon many times that afternoon. He talked easily about the upcoming album.
“It’ll have a song called ‘Surfs Up’ on it, that’s the name of the album, that song was written three or four years ago. I had a sandbox in my living room at the time. It was like playing piano at the beach.”
“Why didn’t that Smile album ever come out?”
“Oh, well, that was because . . . the lyrics, Van Dyke Parks had written lyrics that were, it was all Van Dyke Parks and none of the Beach Boys. The lyrics were so poetic and symbolic they were abstract, we couldn’t . . .
“Oh no, wait, it was, no, really, I remember, this is it, this is why, it didn’t come out because, I’d bought a lot of hashish. It was a really large purchase, I mean perhaps two thousand dollars’ worth. We didn’t realize, but the music was getting so influenced by it, the music had a really drugged feeling. I mean we had to lie on the floor with the microphones next to our mouths to do the vocals. We didn’t have any energy. I mean you come into a session and see the group lying on the floor of the studio doing the vocals, you know, you can’t . . .”
“Brian,” Jack said, “you know what would be a good idea? To write a song about the fourth of July that would actually be about the controversy going on now about the government trying to suppress the New York Times.” Brian said nothing. “What do you think?” Brian said nothing.
Two women were approaching. One of them was the Wilsons’ mother Audrey. They sat down on the lawn and Jack went to talk to them. I asked if Audrey still lived with Murray.
“No, my mom and dad are separated. He only lives about a block away from her. She still sleeps with him, but . . . she goes home.”
Carnie and Wendy, his two daughters, had wandered over to us, and Brian addressed Carnie.
“Can you say ‘Tom’? Carnie, can you say ‘Tom’?” She shook her head and pouted. “OK. Don’t. I don’t care.” She fussed with the gate to the fence surrounding the pool and started to whine. He let her out and sat down again. “She’s not too bright, I’ll tell ya.
“It’s funny, she takes all her clothes off in school. She’s the only one there who does that. She’s really aware of sex. She does things at three, four years old you wouldn’t expect kids to do until much later. She was taking a bath with Carl’s little boy Jonah last week, and she started playing with his penis. And he got an erection.
“It’s the way she was brought up. She’d come into our room and see us doing things, in bed. We never hid anything from her. So – it just goes to prove – that – if you don’t hide anything from kids, they’ll start doing things they normally wouldn’t do until much later. At an early age. Like, three or four years old.”
Brian’s mother brought him a ping pong table for his birthday. We took it from the top of her car and put it on the lawn. “Did you like that beautiful piano Marilyn gave you, Brian?” Audrey asked.
“Yeah.” He shrugged apologetically. “Some of the keys stick.”
Brian brought me into the booth to hear “A Day in the Life of a Tree.” When Rieley entered as it finished Brian said, “Jack, there’s a lot of stuff you didn’t hear we put on after you left. That’s Van Dyke Parks singing at the end.”
“I know, I recognized his voice!” Rieley had heard this version of the track, had in fact played it for me several days previous; but now he seemed to be telling Brian this was the first he’d learned of the additions. “You did that when I went home! Brian, that’s beautiful.” So who’s putting on whom?
“Brian?” Jack settled in a corner and scribbled on his clipboard. “Remember that song we talked about, about the fourth of July?” “Yeah.” “Well . . . I think we’ve got it.” Brian said nothing.
Al Jardine appeared. “Hey,” he grinned, his voice Andy Hardy’s, “can I make a record?”
“Listen to this lyric I wrote for Dennis’ song, Al,” Jack called. He read it through once aloud then repeated it, explaining each line to Jardine. The lyric does not leap readily to mind, but had the words been Francis Scott Key’s anthem, the explanation would have been: “‘The bombs bursting in air’ – explosives going off; ‘the rockets’ red glare’ – light given off when the bombs explode; ‘gave proof to the night’ – showed the people were watching that . . . ” Al nodded dubiously, with energy.
* * *
“And then, hope. Surf’s up! . . . Come about hard and join the once and often spring you gave! Go back to the kids, to the beach, to childhood.
“‘I heard the word’ – of God: ‘Wonderful thing’ – the joy of enlightenment, of seeing God. And what is it? ‘A children’s song!’ And then there’s the song of the universe rising and falling in wave after wave, the song of God, hiding His love from us, but always letting us find Him again, like a mother singing to her children.”
The record was over. Wilson went into the kitchen and squirted Reddi-Whip direct from the can into his mouth; made himself a chocolate Great Shake, and ate a couple of candy bars.
“Of course that’s a very intellectual explanation,” he said. “But maybe sometimes you have to do an intellectual thing. If they don’t get the words, they’ll get the music, because that’s where it’s really at, in the music . . . that’s what I’m doing. Spiritual music.”
–from “Goodbye Surfing, Hello God!” by Jules Siegel
* * *
Down in the back yard I asked Brian why he was deaf in one ear. I had heard rumors. “Ever since I was born – or maybe, when I was two years old somebody punched me in the ear.”
Inside the house he asked if I liked Phil Spector. I told him all of Spector’s early stuff would be coming out on Apple. He got very excited. “Are you kidding? On Apple? His early stuff?” He walked real fast into the living room and put “And Then He Kissed Me” on the record player. He played it through four or five times. Then he played “Da Doo Ron Ron” seven times. Then he flipped furiously through a pile of 45s looking for “Be My Baby” or some other one. It wasn’t there. He turned off the record player and left the room. Well. If it’s not there—can’t . . . It’s funny to watch him when he can’t find something he owns. He was back in five minutes. He played “And Then He Kissed Me” 12 times.
He was watching me. I danced to the music. I sang along. Once when I looked over he had the petrified look he wore when he and Dusty Springfield had their picture taken hugging each other. The next time I looked over he was smirking. Once Carnie tried to come in the door and he closed it in her face.
Carl drifted in, then Jack. The intensity bouncing around the room modulated into something else. Brian put on a tape of “River Deep Mountain High.”
“Was that a hit in this country, Tom?”
“Well — ahh, no, not really.” I happened to glance at Carl as he smiled like a brother tolerating a bad habit and rolled his eyes heavenward. I realized this was it. It was here. The put-on. I found it rather insulting.
“Was it a hit in England?” Brian continued.
“You know it was, Brian.” I held up two fingers. “Twice.”
Carl tried to rescue me from the moment. “It sure was. It was a monster hit in England.”
Brian was walking to the tape deck. “Well,” he mumbled, “I knew it was a hit once in England . . .”
That was the put-on all right and it seemed more like a symptom than the disease itself.
* * *
I’m a cork on the ocean
Floating over the raging sea
How deep is the ocean?
I lost my way
I’m a rock in a landslide
Rolling over the mountainside
How deep is the valley?
It kills my soul
I’m a leaf on a windy day
Pretty soon I’ll be blown away
How long will the wind blow?
Until I die
Later Carl, polite and thoughtful as ever, tried to explain. “Well, he’s not too accessible, you know. There’s probably about three people that know him, four people that really know him. He must not want to talk to journalists, I guess. I think the Jules Siegel stuff and a lot of that stuff that went around before really turned him off. Most of the stuff about Brian is grossly inaccurate. Most of the stuff is in the past, anyway.
“He’s a pretty vulnerable guy. And I think that anybody that really knows him would probably regard it as a private friendship and wouldn’t really be into a thing of ‘what’s Brian like?’ or something like that. It’s quite natural, really, that weird stories circulate.
“Oh, he is somewhat of an eccentric, that’s true. There’s lots of stories about him being flipped out and all that sort of stuff, but . . .”
Well he does spend a lot of time in his room.
Carl laughed affectionately. “Sometimes he stays in his room for awhile. But he’s not, you know, I mean that really cracks me up, that ‘he spends a lot of time in his room.’ He’s all over the place.
“But he’s not cooperative with the press at all. And Brian, I’m sorry, he is a put on. Yeah, he’s out there. He’s really a very highly evolved person. And he’s very sensitive at the same time, which can be confusing. Brian’s Brian, you know?”
(Next issue, Part II: Growing up, if that is the word, in Hawthorne, Calif. The early surfer culture. The tours. The side trips of the side men. Maharishi, Manson and Murray the Wilson. Plus new developments, musical and political, in a group that has already influenced rock more than we probably know.)
This story is from the October 28th, 1971 issue of Rolling Stone.