The Beach Boys: The Healing of Brother Brian – Rolling Stone
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The Beach Boys: The Healing of Brother Brian

A multi-track interview with Brian, Dennis, Carl, Mike and Al, plus Brian’s mom, his dad, his wife and his shrink

Brian Wilson, BEACH BOYS

Brian Wilson of the BEACH BOYS performing on stage in 1976.

RB/Redferns/Getty

The Abominable Beach Boy

Everybody assumes that bigfoot, the legendary man-beast who stalks America’s Northwest, is one mean son of a—son of a something — just because he’s huge and hairy and elusive and reclusive. Just because he makes few public appearances, and even on those occasions he’s all naked and gross looking, they assume he’s antisocial.

But maybe he’s really just a shy guy. Maybe he’s really gentle and sensitive and spends most of his time at home in bed because the public’s so rough and grabby. Christ, he can’t even wander out into the nearest clearing, to pick flowers or look at the blue sky, without some asshole snapping his picture and splashing his name across the front pages.

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Reason I bring all this up, a few months ago I think I may have met Bigfoot in person —not in the Northwest but in southern California — and actually talked to him. Or it may have been Brian Wilson. It looked like either one —this huge, hairy “person” standing at the entrance of a rambling Spanish mansion in fashionable Bel Air.

Probably it was Brian Wilson. Recently several sightings of this abominable Beach Boy had been reported in the Los Angeles area, and some of these reports seemed quite authentic. Also, Sandy Friedman, the Beach Boys‘ PR man who was accompanying me, claimed the Spanish mansion belonged to Brian, and certainly the figure at the door exhibited some of his famous traits. For one thing he kept yawning, and even before we crossed the threshold he explained that he could only spare 20 minutes, that he had to take a nap. It was 11 a.m.

As he spoke, his face betrayed little emotion — no smiles, no pain — but what he had to say was amiable, to the point and often quite personal. I conducted this preliminary interview under the assumption that I was, in fact, speaking to Brian Wilson; if it was Bigfoot, I hope the critter appreciates an honest mistake.

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Right now there’s the new album, the tour and the TV special. Why all this burst of energy at this time?
BRIAN: I can only consider how my energy has bursted. I have refrained from sexual experience. I’m trying out this yoga — I read a book. It showed how if you repress sexual desire, not your kundalini but a similar type of energy is released when you don’t have sex. It’s been a couple months now I haven’t had any sex. That’s just a personal answer.

Very personal, I’d say.
BRIAN: Yes. Also because it was spring. To tell you the very truth, it was springtime. It’s just like they always say, in spring you start hopping, and we started hopping a little before the first of spring — we got our album and stuff.

This is the first spring in a long time, though.
BRIAN: Yeah, right. Well, we started hopping a few springs ago but we really hadn’t been serious about it like we were this time.

Maybe it was the combination of spring and the sexual repression.
BRIAN: Yes, I think that that was probably it.

Do you find it difficult to get into writing?
BRIAN: Yeah. Lately I have found it difficult as heck to finish a song. It’s a funny thing. Probably not much of a song left in me, you know, if any, because I’ve written so many, some 250 songs or 300 or whatever it is. And it just doesn’t seem as vast [yawn], the creativity doesn’t seem as vast. That’s why we did a lot of oldies-but-goodies this time on our album. That got us going, as a matter of fact.

I haven’t yet heard this album. Are you going into some new areas?
BRIAN: Not that I can think of. The only areas would be into Transcendental Meditation, using that as a base. We believe in it, so [yawn] we feel it’s our responsibility, partially, to carry the Maharishi message into the world. Which I think is a great message. I think the meditation is a great thing.

You’ve just recently become more involved in that yourself, haven’t you?
BRIAN: Yeah. I meditate and I also think about meditation. Which is funny. I think about Maharishi, about just the idea of meditating. It gives me something.

Do you think that might help you write more?
BRIAN: Oh, yeah, I think that’s gonna be the answer. As it progresses, I think that I’m going to gather more peace of mind, I’ll be able to gather my thoughts a little easier. I won’t be as jangled in the nerves. I think it’s going to aid in my creativity.

This difficulty in writing songs — would you describe it as a writing block?
BRIAN: Well, I have a writing block right now. Even today I started to sit down to write a song, and there was a block there. God knows what that is. Unless it’s supposed to be there. I mean, it’s not something you just kick away and say, “Come on, let’s go, let’s get a song writ.” If the block is there, it’s there.

Another thing, too, is that I used to write on pills. 1 used to take uppers and write, and I used to like that effect. In fact, I’d like to take uppers now and write because they give me, you know, a certain lift and a certain outlook. And it’s not an unnatural thing. I mean the pill might be unnatural and the energy, but the song itself doesn’t turn out unnatural on the uppers. The creativity flows through.

Well, why don’t you do that?
BRIAN: I’m thinking of asking the doctor if I can go back to those, yeah.

But you believe writers really do run out of material.
BRIAN: I believe that writers run out of material, I really do. I believe very strongly in the fact that when the natural time is up, writers actually do run out of material. [Yawn] To me it’s black and white. When there’s a song there’s a song, when there’s not there’s not. Of course you run out, maybe not indefinitely, but everybody runs out of some material that writes for a while. And it’s a very frightening experience. It’s an awesome thing to think, “Oh my God, the only thing that’s ever supplied me with any success or made us money, I’m running out of.” So right there there’s an insecurity that sets in. This is why I’m going through these different experiments, sexually and all, to see what can happen, to see if there’s anything waiting in there that I haven’t found.

Is there much else you could do if you didn’t write songs?
BRIAN: No, not really. I’m not cut out to do very much at all.

[At that point Brian says he really has to take his nap but that we will talk again. After he leaves the room, Sandy Friedman starts making frantic erasure motions and whispers, “Don’t believe that stuff about uppers; he’s not taking uppers.” But he didn’t say he was taking uppers, I explain, he said he wanted to take uppers. Friedman smiles and does the erasure thing again. “He’s not gonna be taking uppers.”]

Sleepers awake

This may have been, as the trades predicted, the bitchinest summer ever for the Beach Boys, what with their new album, their tour, and Brian Wilson finally getting out of bed. But as far as I’m concerned these last four months have been one endless bummer. I couldn’t seem to come up with a new handle to their venerable rock legend. Let’s face it, the Beach Boys are probably the most thoroughly written about, mythicized, analyzed, agonized over and deeply probed pop group in America. And this summer especially we’ve had Beach Boys up the ass: dozens of heavy feature articles in major magazines and newspapers; a dazzling, hour-long TV documentary; a three-month concert tour of stadiums and fairgrounds throughout the United States and Canada; release of 15 Big Ones, the first album of new Beach Boys material in 42 months, in honor of the 15 years they’ve miraculously played, strayed, prayed and stayed together; and a scholarly sounding paperback entitled The Beach Boys: Southern California Pastoral, in which Cal State professor Bruce Golden puts the guys right up there with Dante, Cervantes, Shakespeare and Milton as masters of the pastoral form.

Well, why not, it’s a great legend, and just like nearly everything the Beach Boys ever recorded, I can never stop listening to it. Mainly it’s about Brian Wilson, the partially deaf boy wonder turned mad genius who tuned his one good ear into the drone of middle-class America and heard the lost chord of God. Until it drove him nuts, and finally silent.