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.
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.
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.”]
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.
So in June, when the word started spreading that Brian was ready to talk for the first time in half a decade, I flew down to Los Angeles to conduct an official Rolling Stone interview. But it didn’t work out exactly. Brian was ready to talk, all right, just as he was ready to walk or ready to start dressing himself; but there could be no definitive Brian Wilson interview because Brian Wilson was not yet definitively himself. Therefore I also talked to the other Beach Boys and to Brian’s mother, his wife and his shrink. Plus in late 1971 I’d interviewed Brian’s father Murry, while he was still alive, and I threw a little of that in somewhere.
The raw material, I think, is pretty good — some really touching stories, some laughs, hopefully some answers. But focusing it, as I mentioned, was a bitch. First I tried a musical analysis thing, portraying the Beach Boys as “primitivists” like contemporary composer Carl Orff. Both Orff and the Beach Boys ignored the virtuosic contrivances of established music and returned to the common, simple rhythms and harmonies of the people. They both orchestrated this folk element with layers of brilliant tonal color and ambiance to produce a music of incredible spiritual purity. I mentioned this to the Beach Boys and none of them had ever heard of Carl Orff. Which in a way, I thought, reinforced my theory but also sort of soured me on it.
Finally, in late September, I returned to Los Angeles at the suggestion of Brian’s shrink, Dr. Eugene Landy. He wanted me to see Brian’s progress since June. That day disturbed me a great deal, but it did provide an update and ultimately a focus for the story. For this in one sense is a story of gurus, of old and new methods of personal growth in the promised land called California. Brian’s father was a guru of sorts, a frustrated songwriter and ruthlessly aggressive man who heard in his three sons the music he could never articulate himself, who as their manager drove them to such heights of success they eventually fired him. Then Brian took over as guru to the group, teaching the others his genius art of composing and producing, teaching them so well that when he eventually ascended to his bedroom, they could carry on his work with the public hardly noticing. Later came the Beach Boys’ professional gurus — Maharishi Mahesh Yogi of TM and Dr. Landy of Dr. Landy.
I’ve no idea which method works best and I really don’t care. But if you’re seeking peace of mind and body, positive energy and a little spiritual glue, let me strongly recommend adding some Beach Boys music to your day, perhaps when you get up and just before dinner. It’ll give you something.
She’s so gosh darn cute, the colorful clothes she wears and the way the sunlight plays upon her short platinum hair, you wish they all could be California girls like Audree Wilson, mother of Carl, Dennis and Brian and den mother to the Beach Boys since their first days in Hawthorne, California. More amazing, she was the wife of Murry Wilson, by all reports an extremely difficult man, as work-driven as she was playful, as rough as she was easy. A small, quiet, funny woman surrounded by fighting men, she spent much of her time and understanding bridging gaps and soothing wounds. Now the old man has died and the young ones have long since moved away to grow old themselves; so Audree sits alone these days in an elegant, hillside home above Hollywood, with the view and the pool and the shiny Jag in the driveway, and tries to adjust to the strange new peace that plagues her every hour.
AUDREE: The way it really started, Brian, he started singing when he was just a little bitty guy, three years old. He’d sing right on key. He loved to hear me play the piano, he loved the chords. And he’d say, “Play that chord again.”
Brian just always had this incredibly marvelous talent. The other boys were a little slower, they were kinda like slow bloomers. Brian started writing arrangements when he was around 14. He loved the Four Freshmen — I know you’ve read that over and over — and he would make these incredible arrangements, sorta like them but he’d add what he wanted. And we’d sing the first two parts on the tape recorder, then play it back and sing the other two parts with it. That was great fun.
Did he ever lake formal piano lessons or anything like that?
AUDREE: Brian took accordion lessons, on one of those little baby accordions, for six weeks. And the teacher said, “I don’t think he’s reading. He just hears it once and plays the whole thing through perfectly.” Anyway, at the end of six weeks he was supposed to buy a large accordion, but we couldn’t afford it. And that’s all the training he ever had.
Brian is deaf in one ear. Was he born that way?
AUDREE: We don’t really know. Brian thinks it happened when he was around ten. Some kid down the street really whacked him in the ear. However, it’s a damaged ninth nerve, so he could have been born that way; it’s called the ninth nerve and there’s nothing they can do about that. I think it makes him more incredible.
The way he arranges, produces and records — the ambiance and total sound — is something that two ears can really appreciate. He’s never heard that and I guess he never will.
AUDREE: Ah, he hears. [Audree laughs in amazement.] He doesn’t maybe hear like we do, but he does.
So when did your sons start to record?
AUDREE: My husband was in the machinery business, big lathes from England, and the people from whom he imported them were here to visit us. And we took them to Mexico City. When we left, the refrigerator was completely stocked and we gave the boys enough money to buy whatever else they needed. We came back and here they had gone out and rented a bass, a big standup, as tall as Al for sure, and drums and a microphone. They had used every bit of their food money. And they said, “We want to play something for you.” They were very excited about it, and I thought the song was darling — never dreaming anything would happen.
And that song was “Surfin’.”
Well, then they signed with Capitol and they started making a lot of hits. How did that change your life at home ?
AUDREE: Well, it was really very hectic. Telephones never ever stopped ringing. And I was doing all of the book work. I was making all the forms for the musicians’ union and I was going to the bank and being so careful that all five of them got exactly the same amount to the penny. And I remember cooking dinner and we’d have to leave. I remember dinners not even being eaten because we had to fly out to wherever they had to appear.
How did they handle this success?
AUDREE: Well, being a mother, I thought they handled it so beautifully for being that young. But their father had a strong hand as far as… well, they didn’t always listen to him. Later he’d say, “Why didn’t you listen to me?” And they’d say, “Well, I guess we were punks.”
There was a night during or after the Australia tour when they decided they didn’t want their father to manage them.
AUDREE: It destroyed him.
Did you understand why they…
AUDREE: Oh, I understood perfectly. That was a horrible time for me. He was just destroyed by that and yet he wasn’t really up to it. He’d already had an ulcer and it was really too much for him; but he loved them so much, he was so overly protective, really. He couldn’t let them go. He couldn’t stand seeing anyone else handling his kids. Those were terrible days, frankly, and he was angry with me. You always take it out on the closest one. He was angry at the whole world.
What did he say at the time?
AUDREE: Not too much. He stayed in bed a lot.
You Need a Mess of Help to Stand Alone
Meanwhile, back at the Bel Air mansion, Brian had just gone upstairs for his noontime nap when Dennis Wilson bounded into the living room. Dennis is easily the most infectious Beach Boy, the prettiest, wittiest, most outgoing and independent, the most, say his family, like his father. Not surprisingly, it’s gotten him into a lot of trouble over the years, with his dad, his schoolteachers and later with his notorious roommate Charles Manson, to whom he now, bearded and prancing impulsively, bore a striking resemblance. (According to New Musical Express, Dennis told a reporter for England’s Rave magazine in 1968, “Fear is nothing but awareness, man… Sometimes the “Wizard” frightens me. The “Wizard” is Charlie Manson, who is another friend of mine, who says he is God and the Devil. He sings, plays and writes poetry and may be another artist for Brother Records.”)
As Dennis sat down, Sandy Friedman handed him a local trade paper with the Beach Boys on the cover. He glanced at it for a moment, then shrugged and said, “Come on, you can’t read everything you believe.” Then he stood up and walked to the center of the room for an important announcement.
DENNIS: I’ve just made a monumental decision. [Dennis pauses dramatically.] I’m not guilty about masturbation anymore! [Then seriously, folks] I just started my own record company. It’s like, I’ve been in one group my whole life. I always thought if I wasn’t a Beach Boy I would fail. [Here Dennis sticks his arms straight out in mock agony.] So I called up my attorney and said, “Hey, get me a record company.” But my biggest piece of shit is, I’m gonna do a movie where I’m gonna be a flaming gay boy who wants to be a policeman.
So many positive things are happening in the Beach Boys’ career right now. Let me tell you something about the Beach Boys… we had a very normal childhood. Our father beat the shit out of us; his punishments were outrageous. I never saw eye to eye with him, ever. In fact I used to lie to him when I was young. I learned at an early age to be very protective of myself, I played a great mind game.
But one thing about my father — beautiful music would always melt my father’s heart. You always wanted to sing for him. Dad was a frustrated songwriter, and I think Brian wrote his music through him.
[Dennis suggests we go to his VW camper in the driveway, where we listen to a cassette of two cuts from his planned solo album. They have kind of a Beach Boys sound to them, but rougher, more rock & roll, like Dennis’ voice and temperament. Actually, they sound great. Finally I get up enough nerve to ask him a question that has intimidated me for some time.]
I know this is an unpleasant subject, but it’s been a number of years now, and I was wondering if we could discuss your experience with Charles Manson…
[But even before I finish, Dennis is shaking his head.]
DENNIS: No. Never. As long as I live, I’ll never talk about that. [He gazes out the windshield of his camper.] I don’t know anything, you know? If I did, I would’ve been up on that witness stand.
[Just then actress Karen Lamm Wilson, Dennis’ new wife, drives up in a small sports car. “Gotta go, guys,” yells Dennis, bolting from the camper and taking off.]
Inside, Carl, the youngest and most stable Wilson brother, had arrived, sporting, like all the Beach Boys these days, a full, rough beard, and like himself, a workmanlike jumpsuit. He owns a whole closetful of jumpsuits, in a spectrum of colors from gray to brown, and one suspects they are designed to ameliorate the last vestiges of a sweet baby chubbiness. Although he’s occasionally made headlines in the past, resisting the draft for years before a federal court granted him C.O. status, his personality is basically shy and quiet. It was Carl who invariably kept his head while all about him were losing theirs, who took charge of stage performances after Brian left the road and who later took over record production when Brian could no longer handle that one.
Why was your father fired as manager?
CARL: My recollection could be kind of foggy on that. I just know it started in Australia — this was around ’63 or ’64. Brian, and Michael especially, wanted to not have my father involved because he screwed them up with chicks, you know? We’d want to find a girl to be with, the thing on the road, and he was really kind of prudish about it. Also, Brian really disagreed with the way my dad wanted things to sound. And I remember having a conversation with my dad in his bedroom at home. I said, “They really, you know, don’t want you to manage the group anymore.” When I think about it now, Jesus, that must have really crushed him. After all, he gave up his home and business for us, he was kind of crackers over us, you know?
Would your dad be more likely to confide in you?
CARL: Yeah, we had a great relationship. He was crazy about Brian, but he and Brian drove each other nuts. You know, here Brian is really growing massively musically, right? And his old man’s telling him how the records should sound. My dad would say do it faster, and Brian would say no, it’s gotta be more laid back, have more feel to it. But he was a great man, very sensitive. I really loved my dad a lot.
It about killed Brian when my dad died. He went to New York; my dad passed away, Brian split. He could not handle it.
He didn’t go to the funeral?
CARL: No. That’s how come he left, so he wouldn’t have to be here and go. I think Brian hung onto that one for quite some time. I think he’s okay with it now, maybe.
The area of questioning I find most difficult, it’s so personal, is what we might call “Brian’s problem.”
CARL: Brian’s behavior ?
Yeah, well, you once said he went through hell.
CARL: Well… a lot of anguish, a lot of anxiety, frustration, disillusionment. Brian worked really hard for the first seven years and he needed a break. I think he was pretty confused at the time by his environment. He just took a look and saw how fucked up the world was — he’s not a dummy — and he said, “The world is so fucked up, I can’t stand it; it’s unspeakable how fucked up everything is.” And I think it really broke his heart.
He’s painfully conscious. When it hurts, it hurts; he can’t bury it and grow. I mean, he’s one of the nerviest people I’ve ever met. He does exactly what he wants to do. I remember [sits back and laughs] — this is so funny — when we did “Little Honda,” Brian wanted me to get this real distorted guitar sound, real fuzzy. “This guitar sounds like shit,” I said. “Brian, I hate this.” And he goes, “Would you fucking do it? Just do it.” When I heard it, I felt like an asshole. It sounded really hot. That was before fuzz became a big deal.
He’s a true great, and his greatness has been a plague to him.
That afternoon Lorne Michaels, producer of the TV special, held a scheduling meeting at Brian’s house. Most of Michaels’ crew was there, including director Gary Weis and writers Danny Aykroyd, John Belushi and Alan Zweibel. All the Beach Boys came too, except Brian left the room after a few minutes because he was “tired.”
Actually he didn’t miss that much — it was just a nice, friendly business meeting. The crew brought beer and pizza, and the Beach Boys played their new album. Michaels explained the shooting schedule for the next two weeks. Another meeting was announced for the following Monday.
Then an intense, tough-faced man who’d been sitting sort of off to the side suddenly assumed a peculiar authority. “Now, when you come back next Monday — no beer, no food, no anything,” he announced sternly. “Today somebody was very naughty and brought beer. Brian’s on a diet.”
The scolding produced an awkward silence. Belushi shrugged and tried to explain the crew’s transgression. “It was just a friendly gesture…”
“Yes, but Brian blew his diet. He had five beers,” the man continued. “So next time you’ll just have to drink coffee or nothing at all.”
It seemed a bit embarrassing, this explicit discussion of Brian’s personal indulgence. “Who is that guy?” I asked Carl as the meeting broke up. “Oh, that’s Gene Landy,” he said, “Brian’s psychologist.”
A few nights later I phoned Dr. Landy at his Hollywood home and asked if I could interview him. He was about to have dinner, but since he’s one of those brusque, bustling, snap-snap-snap busy people who like to do at least two things at once, he told me to come right over.
We sat down in his newly converted garage library, I with my tape recorder, he with a large green salad, a glass of wine, a phone and an intercom. He wore green pants with white stripes, boots and a Happy-collared flower print shirt and looked really more like a record promoter than a shrink. In fact, years ago he did work as a promo man, for RCA, Coral, Decca, Mercury, and there still seemed to be a hard-sell, wisecracking, PR-bio feedback about him.
For instance, when I asked him, rather perfunctorily, who he was and what he did, Dr. Landy answered for 20 minutes, starting with the sixth grade. In short, he dropped out of sixth grade, unable to read, hit the streets, worked for the circus, fucked around a lot, worked for the record business, produced a radio show, went to night school and earned a bachelor’s degree at the age of 30, went to med school but quit because of a liver disease, went to the University of Oklahoma and earned a doctorate in psychology, worked for the Peace Corps, Job Corps and VISTA, and finally, in the late Sixties, moved to southern California and immersed himself in group dynamics. Also he wrote a book of hippie slang, The Underground Dictionary, a copy of which he now pulled from a shelf, autographed and handed to me without charge.
“My background,” Dr. Landy summarized, “is basically that of a hyperkinetic, perceptually disoriented, brain-damaged person. I’m also very bright, very intuitive, very sensitive, and I’m quite capable of reading what most people are thinking or doing.”
I asked him how much he, a doctor, could talk about his patient Brian Wilson, and the question seemed to strike him for the first time. He immediately phoned a member of the California State Psychological Association’s ethics committee, who advised him to phone Brian. He did, and Brian told him to do whatever he wanted.
Dr. Landy hung up the phone and laughed. “Brian would probably give me permission for anything.”
How’d you get involved with Brian?
LANDY: They came to me. Marilyn, Mrs. Wilson, made an appointment, she came in and talked to me.
Then you must have had some kind of reputation.
LANDY: Right, I’ve treated a lot of people. [He laughs.]
LANDY: Yeah, yeah… the only one I can actually mention is the only one that went on television and said, “This is my shrink” — Richard Harris. But I’ve treated a tremendous number of people in show business; for some reason I seem to be able to relate to them. I think I have a nice reputation that says I’m unorthodox by orthodox standards but basically unique by unorthodox standards.
Well, you sound like a pretty heavy-duty Hollywood shrink.
LANDY: Yeah, 1 guess. [Gleefully] I’m outrageously expensive.
How much do you charge?
LANDY: HOW much do you think I charge?
I don’t know, $40 is what I’ve been paying, so…
LANDY: I’m $90.
Ninety? An hour?
LANDY: Fifty minutes.
How can you charge so much and get away with it? You must be very good.
LANDY: I am. I do unusual — look at Brian, he’s a two-year patient, two and a half at the most. Nobody else would have taken him on for under five. I do a thing that says you don’t have to spend a lot of time.
LANDY: Well, I’m using a team approach, a team of people who work for me in the general, overall supervision and treatment. Let’s see… I’m a clinical psychologist… there’s a psychiatrist, Sol Samuels… there’s Dr. David Gans, the physician… there’s Joey, who’s a shrink… Arnold Horowitz, another shrink who’s working on another part of the situation… there’s Scott Steinberg, that’s six…
Who’s Scott Steinberg?
LANDY: Another one of the boys… and the nutritionist is seven — I have a girl, Nancy, uh, whatever her name is, who does nutritional things.
Anyway, Marilyn called me in late September of last year because she just couldn’t deal with the whole situation any longer. She has two kids that need to have their needs met. She has her own needs for her life. And, uh, Brian was basically withdrawn for a number of years.
What was he suffering from ?
LANDY: Well, Brian was suffering from scared.
Scared of what?
LANDY: Just generally frightened. He was not able to deal with frightened or even have a response to frightened and therefore lived in the area of fantasy for a while. He’s in the process of returning from fantasy every day more and more.
What happened to him in fantasy?
LANDY: [Shrugs]… Nothing. [He laughs impishly.]
So why hire you? There must have been something that was bothering him.
LANDY: Well, it wasn’t bothering hint, it was bothering her. And the kids. I mean, when someone lives in fantasy, they don’t mind — they’re enjoying themselves.
He wasn’t unhappy?
LANDY: No. Why should he be? It was the people around him.
Because he wasn’t being a real person, or…
LANDY: Because he wasn’t relating on the level in the society where we have expectancies of what we expect people to do. When you pick the phone up, you expect it to say hello. If you do something different, depending on how different, you frighten people around you. And if you’re frightened yourself, you simply withdraw.
But the point is, what you had to work with was a serious problem.
LANDY: It depends by whose definition — not by an eight-year-old’s, by a 34-year-old’s. We look at potential. When you stay at home and you can have the whole world if you want it, you’re not living up to your potential. But who says you have to?
But he is a pretty weird guy.
LANDY: No, he’s not a weird guy. Brian is absolutely one of the most charming people I’ve met. He only gets weird when he gets frightened. I see him as a really warm, loving, capable human being who when not frightened is a right-on dude.
I guess what I’m asking is, who are you working for? Are you working for Brian, or for the people who would like to see Brian better?
LANDY: I was hired by Marilyn on the condition that I can do my thing, whatever it is. And she took that at face value. And that face value process has paid off. I’m working for Brian Wilson to have something he has not had, and that’s an alternative… that if he chooses to withdraw and be scared, that’s as good as choosing not to, but to have the choice. And if Brian feels that he’s better and likes better sitting in bed, then goddamnit, “Here’s to you, Brian.”
One thing that surprised me — when we were at that meeting with Lorne Michaels and the whole crew, you told them about not bringing beer next time. I expected a more traditional thing — you would have called Lorne aside, privately, and said, “Hey, look, don’t have your guys bring it.” But you said it right out in the open.
LANDY: Well, if I only tell Lorne, he’s gotta tell the others, and I don’t know if the message gets across.
But my first impulse was, gee, you’re treating Brian like a child. The fact that a private matter was being brought out — wouldn’t that have a humiliating effect?
LANDY: I don’t feel humiliated when I make it very clear that I can’t be in the same room with people that smoke.
But Brian wasn’t making it clear. You were making it clear for Brian.
LANDY: That’s right. But that’s what I’m paid to do.
I understand that, but is that therapeutic?
LANDY: Well, the whole point is that Brian had enjoyed five beers, and that’s not therapeutic. Now, I sometimes assist him in things that he’s not happy I assist him in. “No more beer.” [Laughs] Sometimes I overassist ’cause I compensate for his overindulgence.
He sort of has a rebellious nature to him.
LANDY: Naw, it’s indulgent, not rebellious.
I was thinking of the way he sometimes puts people on.
LANDY: Brian doesn’t put anybody on. Brian doesn’t have that much of a sense of humor.
But Brian is extremely bright, astute, competent, capable and just eats up information. You don’t have to fight to get it in him. He eats it all up, he’s just hungry. That’s why we’re moving so quickly. He just hungers.
It was high noon at Brother Studio in Santa Monica, and something of a showdown was about to disrupt the church like harmony of the place. The Beach Boys were there to record “I’m Bugged at My Old Man” for the TV special, but at the moment Brian Wilson was growing more and more bugged with Scott Steinberg. Scott, a short, thick young man with huge arms, stood guarding the entrance to a narrow corridor. He looked grim and unyielding. Brian faced him from about a foot away and looked absolutely ferocious.
“Where’s my lunch?” Brian asked angrily.
“It’s back there,” said Scott, gesturing toward the corridor, “but you’re not gettin’ any.”
Brian moved closer. Scott widened his stance and put his hands on his hips. “I want my lunch!” shouted Brian.
“You know goddamn well why not. You forfeited your lunch when you snuck upstairs and ate that hamburger.”
“But I’m hungry!” bellowed Brian.
Scott cocked back his head. “You should have thought of that before you ate that hamburger.”
After staring silently at this tough punk for another 30 seconds, Brian rotated his massive body and slowly lumbered back into the main recording studio. Then Scott relaxed, turned to an associate and snickered. “If he sings good, I’ll give him the patty.”
Scott is 19. Brian is 34.
When Brian first met Marilyn Rovell, she was singing with an all-female group, the Honeys; later, with her sister Dianne, she formed a duo called Spring and recorded an album under Brian’s direction. But the album bombed, as did several singles, and she’s since devoted her time and energy to family affairs.
Mike Love has described her as “one of the most patient people in the world.” And you can see why. As Brian’s wife, Marilyn had to live with a man whose quirks, put-ons and indulgences were as celebrated as his pioneer writing and arranging talents. And that was when he was healthy. In recent years this small, resilient woman has had to manage a household of two young daughters and one sleeping giant pretty much alone.
MARILYN: Brian was always eccentric. From the day I met him I couldn’t stop laughing. Just everything he did was funny. The way he lifted a fork was funny. [Marilyn breaks up just thinking about it.] He’d ride a motorcycle into Gold Star recording studios, I couldn’t believe him!
Well, you know, he wanted a sandbox, so he got a sandbox. I mean, who am I to tell a creator what he can do? He said, “I want to play in the sand, I want to feel like a little kid. When I’m writing these songs, I want to feel what I’m writing, all the happiness.” Brian wanted to experience it all. So he had this really good carpenter come up to the house — this was when we were living on Laurel Way — and in the dining room the guy built a gorgeous wood sandbox, around two and a half feet tall. And then they came with a dump truck and dumped eight tons of sand in it.
I have the funniest story, about the piano tuner — have you heard it? Okay, the piano tuner, who we still use, walks into the house… and the sandbox had been there awhile and I was very used to it. He says, “Okay, where’s the piano?” I was busy in the house. I said, “Oh, it’s over there in the sandbox,” thinking nothing of it, right? There’s this grand piano in the sandbox. He looks at me and goes, “Oh.” All of a sudden he walks over to the sandbox and sits down, and he starts taking off his shoes and socks! That made me roar. He just took them off like, “Oh, sand, I got to take off my shoes and socks to go in the sand.” And the sand, being that there is no sun, is freezing cold. By the way, the dogs had also used it — you know dogs and sand — and he puts up the hood thing, looks in the piano, and it was like he was going to have a nervous breakdown. “My God, this piano is filled with sand!” We had to vacuum it out.
I’ll tell you another story about the piano tuner. One time after we first moved to this house, he came in and Brian sat down and hummed each note of the piano to the guy. Each note! It was Brian’s tuning; he didn’t want regular pitch, he wanted it tuned to his ears. He wanted the notes to ring a certain way — I could never explain it. But it was the greatest tuning job you ever heard.
How long have you two been married?
MARILYN: It’ll be 12 years December. I got married when I was 16 and he was 22.
And how did all that come about?
MARILYN: Well, we were like girlfriend and boyfriend for a year and a half — I already was totally in love with him, you know — and yet he would never admit that there were feelings for me. And the time that he did do it… the guys were going to Australia, and I remember sitting in the airport with Brian and Mike, and Mike — Mike was, you know, Mr. Joker; still is — goes, “Wow, Brian, boy, we’re sure going to have a good time in Australia.” And Brian’s kind of looking at me from the corner of his eye, and he’s going, “Yeah… yeah, yeah, we are, aren’t we.” And I can’t imagine why I said this, but I just went, “God, that’s great, because I’m going to have a great time too.” You know, the typical childish things. And Brian looked at me like — the first time I ever saw such an expression on his face — like, “What? What’d you say?” Anyway, they went on the airplane for 13 hours, and that night when they arrived in Australia I got the call from him. Two telegrams had come in the meantime. I got the call, and for the first time he called me “honey.” It was, like, “Marilyn” — do you want to hear this?
MARILYN: I mean our love life?
I want to hear this story, anyway. I’m not sure about your love life.
MARILYN: “Marilyn, oh I couldn’t wait to talk to you,” he said. “I don’t know what happened but on the plane it just hit me, it was like an arrow struck me in the heart, that I was going to lose you.” He says, “I realize that, you know, that I need you and I have to have you as my wife, I’ve got to be with you, I can’t stand the thought of ever losing you.” And I mean, it was like four o’clock in the morning, and here I was just jumping like a rabbit. He called me three times a day, each day — $3000 worth of phone calls!
Actually there is one thing I’d like to ask you about your love life. Brian mentioned he was experimenting with celibacy, and I figured you would know if that’s true.
MARILYN: Celibacy — what’s that?
MARILYN: No sex? Um… no, that’s not true at all. I mean, I wouldn’t say he was into it, you know, like a master. [She giggles.] But that definitely is not true.
He said he’d been refraining from sex for two months so that he would get more energy to do other things.
MARILYN: Let’s put it this way — he refrains from coming.
Didn’t Brian go through one of his most productive periods when you first got married?
MARILYN: Yeah… I remember him sitting in the sandbox when he was writing Pet Sounds. Pet Sounds was so heavy. He just told me one night, he says, “Marilyn, I’m gonna make the greatest album, the greatest rock album ever made.” And he meant it. Boy, he worked his butt off when he was making Pet Sounds. And I’ll never forget the night that he finally got the final disc, when they finished it, dubbing it down and all that, and he brought the disc home. And he prepared a moment. We went in the bedroom, we had a stereo in the bedroom, and he goes, “Okay, are you ready?” But he was really serious — this was his soul in there, you know? And we just lay there alone all night, you know, on the bed, and just listened and cried and did a whole thing. It was really, really heavy.
But Pet Sounds was not a big hit. That really hurt him badly, he couldn’t understand it. It’s like, why put your heart and soul into something? I think that had a lot to do with slowing him down.
But there you have a classic dilemma of popular art — the pressure to be creative versus the pressure to be commercial.
MARILYN: Brian has never… you can’t pressure Brian.
Well, yes and no.
MARILYN: Well, you couldn’t used to be able to pressure Brian. [She laughs.]
But isn’t that sort of what’s going on now with the new album and the tour — an answer to commercial demands ?
MARILYN: It’s that, but it’s also something they need to do for themselves. You know, they’re all just so happy to be back together. I mean, the thing that made me go to Dr. Landy was I couldn’t stand to see Brian, whom I just love and adore, unhappy with himself and not really creating. Because music is his whole life, that’s number one to him. So one of my girlfriends told me about Dr. Landy and I went and talked to him for an hour. I said, “I need someone who’s gonna go to him, not where he has to go to you because he won’t do it.” And Dr. Landy said, “Yeah, I think I can do it.” When I met Dr. Landy, I knew I’d met someone who could play Brian’s game.
The game plan, as I understand it, was that you told Brian it was actually you who Dr. Landy was coming to see.
MARILYN: Well, it was my problem to begin with. So Dr. Landy was coming to see me for a while, and Brian kept peekin’ his head in — “What are you doing with my wife?” you know? Then one day as I was talking to Dr. Landy, Brian just walked in the room and said, “Something’s wrong with me, I need your help.” And that started it all.
What was life like around then?
MARILYN: Well, it was a big drainer because of all the people coming around — too many weirdos coming over, drug people. And I’ve had it with drugs. Once we had our children I just said forget it, who needs it? You get all these drainer — that’s my word for ’em& #8212; “Hey Brian, I gotta song, listen to this,” you know? “Can you help me?” I didn’t know how to get rid of all these people. Everyone just — “Oh, Marilyn’s a bitch, she won’t let anybody come in.” It got to the point where I was just yelling and screaming at anybody that walked in the door.
I could kill the guy that gave him acid. Really, that was the worst experience for Brian to go through. Jesus, do you realize how sick that is for people to give people acid? How can people play with drugs like that? Wait a minute, don’t get me wrong, I once tried a tiny bit of it years and years ago, like a quarter of a thing. That was enough for me. I wound up with cramps all night.
But Brian’s trip happened to be a very outrageous one. It was a beautiful experience for him and yet being so naive and pure, I just don’t think he was ready for it. And who knows if he ever would be?
Before you went to Dr. Landy, was Brian spending most of the time in his room, that sort of thing?
MARILYN: Yeah, he spent a lot of time in his room. But I would say through the last seven years it’s been in spurts. Like one week he’d be real active and want to go out, and then he’d spend two weeks at home and not go anywhere. And then maybe he would spend a full day in bed or two days in bed and just say, “I don’t feel good. I’ve got a sore throat,” or something. It was difficult to find somebody who could help him ’cause I didn’t know what needed to be helped. Sometimes I really thought to myself, is it me? Am I the one who’s not seein’ things right? And it was also difficult for the family to see it the same way, and the close friends, because everyone loved Brian and just said, “Oh, he’ll get over it” — that kind of thing. But I’m the one who had to live with him.
It must have been very rough.
MARILYN: It was the worst, the absolute worst. But it just got to the point where I said, okay, this is it. The kids are getting too old; it’s not that good they see their daddy in bed. I know that Brian wants to be a good father. He adores them. They adore him. And he didn’t have an easy childhood, he really didn’t. He once told me, he said, “Marilyn, I want you to discipline the kids. I’ll do it wrong.” Because he had it really rough. He didn’t want to do the same thing to his kids, therefore he backed out of it totally. That makes me the mother and father both. And that’s too hard, it’s too hard. And so Dr. Landy assures me that I will have my 34-year-old husband soon, you know?
There’s a directness about Brian Wilson that can be alarming. He doesn’t mince words. Like he’ll walk into this really posh Chinese restaurant, wave aside the niceties of cocktails or menus and simply ask, “Ya got any shrimp?” He’s not being rude or childish, just getting the job done and the food there faster. And that’s how he conducts interviews — dutiful, businesslike, wasting no time with small talk or unnecessary emotion, often prefacing his answers with the last words of your question, like some kind of oral exam. Sometimes you think he’s joking because he says outrageous things from the corner of his mouth like Buddy Hackett. But usually he’s quite serious. I think.
We were at the restaurant because Dr. Landy had set up a luncheon interview between me and Brian, which was nice of him except that he invited all these extra people — Marilyn, Audree, Dr. Landy’s friend Alexandra and another shrink, Dr. Arnold Horowitz. Things looked bad for the interview, but Brian, in a remarkable act of quick thinking, solved the problem. Dr. Landy suggested we all move to a quieter table in the back. Everyone peeled off one by one, then Brian suddenly announced, “I think we’ll stay right here.” At first Landy was pissed. “Fine — you can pay your own bill,” he snapped. Later, however, he told me on the phone, “That was tremendous, Brian really asserted himself. I thought that was marvelous.”
At any rate, it allowed us to do the interview in relative privacy, away from family and shrinks and bodyguards. As it turned out, Brian may have had his own reasons for wanting to be alone.
Why don’t we talk a bit about “Good Vibrations.”
BRIAN: That would be a good place to begin. “Good Vibrations” took six months to make. We recorded the very first part of it at Gold Star Recording Studio, then we took it to a place called Western, then we went to Sunset Sound, then we went to Columbia.
So it took quite a while. There’s a story behind this record that I tell everybody. My mother used to tell me about vibrations. I didn’t really understand too much of what that meant when I was just a boy. It scared me, the word “vibrations.” To think that invisible feelings, invisible vibrations existed, scared me to death. But she told about dogs that would bark at people and then not bark at others, that a dog would pick up vibrations from these people that you can’t see, but you can feel. And the same existed with people.
And so it came to pass that we talked about good vibrations. We went ahead and experimented with the song and the idea, and we decided that on the one hand you could say, “I love the colorful clothes she wears and the way the sunlight plays upon her hair. I hear the sound of a gentle word on the wind that lifts her perfume through the air.” Those are sensual things. And then you go, “I’m pickin’ up good vibrations,” which is a contrast against all the sensual — there’s what you call the extrasensory perception which we have. And this is what we’re really talking about.
But you also set out to do something new musically. Why this particular song?
BRIAN: Because we wanted to explain that concept, plus we wanted to do something that was R&B but had a taste of modern, avant-garde R&B to it. “Good Vibrations” was advanced rhythm and blues music.
You took a risk.
BRIAN: Oh yeah, we took a great risk. As a matter of fact, I didn’t think it was going to make it because of its complexity, but apparently people accepted it very well. They felt that it had a naturalness to it, it flowed. It was a little pocket symphony.
How come you used four different studios?
BRIAN: Because we wanted to experiment with combining studio sounds. Every studio has its own marked sound. Using the four different studios had a lot to do with the way the final record sounded.
Did everybody support what you were trying to do?
BRIAN: No, not everybody. There was a lot of “oh you can’t do this, that’s too modern” or “that’s going to be too long a record.” I said no, it’s not going to be too long a record, it’s going to be just right.
Who resisted you? Your manager? The record company?
BRIAN: No, people in the group, but I can’t tell ya who. We just had resisting ideas. They didn’t quite understand what this jumping from studio to studio was all about. And they couldn’t conceive of the record as I did. I saw the record as a totality piece.
Do you remember the time you realized you finally had it?
BRIAN: I remember the time that we had it. It was at Columbia. I remember I had it right in the sack. I could just feel it when I dubbed it down, made the final mix from the 16 track down to mono. It was a feeling of power, it was a rush. A feeling of exaltation. Artistic beauty. It was everything.
Do you remember saying anything?
BRIAN: I remember saying, “Oh my God. Sit back and listen to this!”
At that time did you feel it was your most important song? Did you think in terms like that—reaching a new plateau in music?
BRIAN: Yes, I felt that it was a plateau. First of all, it felt very arty and it sounded arty. Second of all, it was the first utilization of a cello in rock & roll music to that extent — using it as an up-front instrument, as a rock instrument.
Not to mention the theremin.
BRIAN: It was also the first use of a theremin in rock & roll.
By the time you did “Good Vibrations” you had matured your artistic concept far beyond the sort of thing you were doing, say, in “Surfin’.” Was there any particular time period when you realized that you now were totally into creating music on your own terms?
BRIAN: Yes. Pet Sounds would be that period when I figured that I was into my own… via the Phil Spector approach. Now, the Phil Spector approach is utilizing many instruments to combine for a single form or a single sound. Like combining clarinets, trombones and saxophones to give you a certain sound, rather than hearing that arrangement as “oh, those are piccolos, oh, those are trombones.”
How much was Spector an influence on you, artistically and competitively?
BRIAN: Well, I didn’t feel I was competing as much as I was emulating, emulating the greatness of his style in my music. We have a high degree of art in our group. We’ve come to regard Phil Spector as the greatest, the most avant-garde producer in the business.
Yet he’s not really a composer of songs.
BRIAN: Well, I’m a firm believer that he wrote those songs and gave the others credit. In order to produce them the way he did, he had to write them.
Mike Love mentioned the time you composed “The Warmth of the Sun” within hours of the John F. Kennedy assassination and how it illustrated that even during a very negative time you could come up with a very positive feeling.
BRIAN: Yeah, it’s a strange thing, but I think we were always spiritually minded and we wrote music to give strength to people. I always feel holy when it comes to recording. Even during “Surfer Girl,” even then I felt a bit spiritual.
What’s the nature of your spiritual outlook today ? Does it present you with a kind of attitude toward the world?
BRIAN: No, not really. I’m not as aware of the world as I could be.
Is that necessarily a bad thing?
BRIAN: Yeah, because I think if I became more aware, I could structure my lyrics to be a little more in tune with people.
Are you working on that process right now?
BRIAN: Yes, I’m working on that right now, I’m working with people who I know know where it’s at. Like Van Dyke Parks — he’s a guy who’s a link to where it’s at for me. He keeps me very current on what’s happening.
At one time you and he were working on a revolutionary album called Smile, which you never released.
BRIAN: Yeah, we didn’t finish it because we had a lot of problems, inner group problems. We had time commitments we couldn’t keep. So we stopped. Plus, for instance, we did a thing called the “fire track.” We cut a song called “Fire” and we used fire helmets on the musicians and we put a bucket with fire burning in it in the studio so we could smell smoke while we cut. And about a day later a building down the street burned down. We thought maybe it was witchcraft or something, we didn’t know what we were into. So we decided not to finish it.
Plus I got into drugs and I began doing things that were over my head. It was too fancy for the public. I got too fancy and arty and was doing things that were just not Beach Boys at all. They were made for me.
Ever consider doing an album just on your own?
BRIAN: No, I haven’t considered that because I didn’t think it would be commercial if I did.
Well, so what?
BRIAN: Well, maybe I could do that then. I think I might.
What’s this program with Dr. Landy and his team designed to do?
BRIAN: Well, it’s basically designed to correct me from taking drugs.
You’ve had a problem with that?
BRIAN: Yeah, I had a problem taking drugs. Up until four months ago I was taking a lot of cocaine. And these doctors came in and showed me a way to stop doing it, which is having bodyguards with you all the time so you can’t get to it.
What do you think of that approach?
BRIAN: That approach works because there’s someone right there all the time — it keeps you on the spot. They catch you when you’re ready to do something you shouldn’t do. It works until you have finally reached the stage where you don’t need it anymore.
Why did you consent to this program ?
BRIAN: Because my wife called the doctors and legally she had the right to call them.
In addition to guarding you all the time, what else do Dr. Landy’s people do for you?
BRIAN: They teach me socialization, how to socialize. They’re just teaching me different social graces, like manners.
Didn’t you at one time know those?
BRIAN: I did, but I lost them. Drugs took ’em away.
How could that be?
BRIAN: It just was. Drugs took ’em all away. I got real paranoid, I couldn’t do anything.
Were you unhappy then?
BRIAN: I was unhappy as all heck. I knew I was screwing myself up, and I couldn’t do anything about it. I was a useless little vegetable. I made everybody very angry at me because I wasn’t able to work, to get off my butt. Coke every day. Goin’ over to parties. Just havin’ bags of snow around, just snortin’ it down like crazy.
But aren’t drugs just a symptom? There must be something else. Carl said that at some point you looked at the world and it was so messed up that you just couldn’t take it.
BRIAN: I couldn’t.
But the world is messed up. How do you deal with it?
BRIAN: The way I deal with it is I go jogging in the morning. I goddamn get out of bed and I jog, and I make sure I stay in shape. That’s how I do it. And so far the only way I’ve been keeping from drugs is with those bodyguards, and the only way I’ve been going jogging is those bodyguards have been taking me jogging.
So in one sense you’re not yet fully committed to the idea.
BRIAN: It’s just that once you’ve had a taste of drugs, you like ’em and you want ’em. Do you take drugs yourself?
Yeah, I experiment.
BRIAN: Do ya? Do ya snort?
BRIAN: That’s what I thought. Do you have any with ya?
BRIAN: That’s the problem. Do you have any uppers?
I have nothin’ on me.
BRIAN: Nothing? Not a thing, no uppers?
I wouldn’t lie to you. I wish I had ’em, but I don’t.
BRIAN: DO you have any at home? Do you know where you can get some?
See, now I guess you gotta get to the point in the program where you’re not going to ask me questions like that.
BRIAN: That’s right. You just saw my weakness coming out. Which I don’t understand. I just do it anyway. I used to drink my head off too, that’s another thing. They’ve been keeping me from drinkin’, taking pills and taking coke. And I’m jogging every morning.
Had your wife not gone to see Dr. Landy and got him to work on you …
BRIAN: I’d have been a goner. I’d have been in the hospital by now.
The Old Man
How did you first notice something was wrong with Brian?
AUDREE: It was just that he’d stay in his room all the time. I would go over there, and there could be a houseful of people and he just wouldn’t come down.
When you talked to him in his bedroom, would he make sense?
AUDREE: Oh, of course, perfectly. He just wanted to be alone. Sometimes he would say, “I’m really so tired,” or, “I’ll be down in a little while.” And I’d think to myself, “You might or you might not, and if not, that’s okay with me.” I knew he was in trouble. I knew he had a problem.
Did he seem depressed?
AUDREE: Oh yes, I think so. He didn’t show his depression to me that much because if I’d go upstairs to say hi or give him a kiss, he would always be sweet to me and say, “Hi, mom. How are you?” or, “I’m tired,” or, “I have a cold,” or, “My stomach is upset,” or just anything. At that time I didn’t believe it; I just thought, he wants to be alone. I would never — oh God — no way would I bug him. I figured if he wanted to talk to me he would tell me.
Do you think Brian’s creativity began to be a burden to him ?
AUDREE: I do. I think that he just went through a lot of pain. I think it was very painful for him to live up to this tremendous image that had happened just like that [snaps her fingers]. All of a sudden he felt he couldn’t do it anymore, he felt like he had reached the pinnacle — and what was left?
And then for a number of years did he just sort of deteriorate?
AUDREE: Well, he went through stages. In fact, Marilyn would say, “Oh, Brian’s so much better, we this or we that.” I’d be happy to hear it. So it was kind of an up and down thing.
Carl says that he was the closest to his father, but that Brian and Dennis had a difficult time communicating with him.
AUDREE: Yes, they did. But in the later years, Dennis and his father had a great relationship. Well, they had something in common. They both loved to fish, they both loved boxing.
Dennis said when he was young his father used to beat the hell out of him sometimes.
AUDREE: Yeah, he really got the short end of the stick.
How did you feel when you heard about Dennis’ involvement with Charles Manson?
AUDREE: Oh my. God, absolutely horrified. Terrified. First of all, when Manson and his family, the girls, moved in with Dennis, Dennis had this beautiful, beautiful place — at Will Rogers State Park, right off Sunset. And he befriended them. They were just hippies and he thought Manson was the nicest person, a very gentle, nice guy. Murry had a fit. He knew there were a bunch of girls living there.
I went there one day. Dennis was at the recording studio in Brian’s house, and he said, “Will you take me home?” And I was very hesitant because I thought, “Oh God, Murry’s not going to like this.” But I took him home, and he said, “Will you just come in and meet them? Come on, they’re nice.” And I said, “Dennis, promise me you won’t tell Dad.”
So I went in, and Charlie Manson was walking through this big yard with a long robe on, and Dennis introduced me. And we went into the house, and I think three girls were in the house, just darling young girls, I thought. I zipped through the house, got back in my car and left. And wouldn’t you know that Dennis told his dad?
Did you get heck for that ?
AUDREE: Yeah, he didn’t like it. He was pissed.
How did Charlie strike you when you saw him?
AUDREE: I just thought he looked older than he supposedly is, like an older man, and I thought he had a kind face. That was the only impression I had. And I did think they were a bunch of leeches; Dennis had been through that before. He could never stand to see anyone who needed anything or anybody who had any kind of a problem… he was right there.
At that time nobody knew who Manson was.
AUDREE: No idea. In fact, when that horrible story came out about Manson’s arrest for the Sharon Tate murder, Annie, Carl’s wife, called me. And she said, “Ma, do you realize…?” I did not connect at all that that was the same person and the same family who had been with Dennis. When she told me, I just totally froze.
Well, it must have been a shock for Dennis as well.
AUDREE: Horrifying. I think the next day was his birthday, and he was at Carl and Annie’s. I went there and we had dinner. And we were all very quiet. And somebody said something, and Carl said, “I don’t think we should talk about it.” So we just watched television and had a very quiet evening. We were totally terrified. I remember Carl saying, “Mom, let’s all go back and stay at your house.” And I said, “Carl, everybody knows where I live. What good would that do?” So I stayed at their house a couple of nights. And see, when they left Dennis’ house, Manson or somebody stole Dennis’ Ferrari, and they stole everything in the house that could be moved. Everything. Stripped. Dennis had kicked them out because they were into heavy drugs and he just wanted them out. And Manson, of course, had music he wanted published, and he wanted money, quite a sum, 10 or 15 thousand dollars. And Dennis turned him down. So Manson threatened Dennis, he said, “If you don’t give it to me” — I’m paraphrasing — “something’s going to happen to Scotty.” Scotty was Dennis’ first wife’s son, and Dennis just adored him. He was really like his daddy. But that was a terrible period.
You said that Dennis and his father later became much closer.
AUDREE: They were buddies. You know, it’s the most amazing thing… the year that he died, Dennis called his father on Mother’s Day and Murry told him, “I’m just going to live about a month.” Which Dennis didn’t tell me, thank God. I didn’t need to know it. But he could tell Dennis that.
He’d had one heart attack.
AUDREE: He’d had a heart attack and he was just getting along famously. And six weeks later, it was in June, he just… well, it’s weird the way that happened. I was waiting for him to wake up, thinking, “I wish he’d wake up. I wonder if he’s really okay.” I was standing in the kitchen, watching the clock, thinking I’ll be so glad when he wakes up. And all of a sudden he woke up, and we had a great talk. He was in a good mood. He seemed to feel fine. And we talked for quite a while, about so many things. He said to me, “I’m so glad I’ve never had to take nitroglycerin.” And I was glad, too, because I knew that would’ be frightening. That’s for the pain. He said he wanted to take a walk — he’d been able to walk around the house but not outside yet. And I said, “Great, if you feel like it.” So I was going to drive him down to Whittier Boulevard to walk. I went into the kitchen to make cereal for him, and all of a sudden I heard him yelling for me. I started dashing down this long hallway. He was in the bathroom sitting on the toilet. And he said, “Nitroglycerin,” so I grabbed it and said, “Put it under your tongue.” But he just sat there, very pale. And he said, “Cold water.” So I got a cloth with real cold water on it and kept going like this on his forehead, and then I held it on the back of his neck. And he still just sat there. I said, “Are you okay?” And he said, “I don’t know.”
I got up next to him to hold him — he was much bigger than I am — and he just toppled over. So I turned him over — I don’t know how I did it, but I did it. And I realized he was really in bad trouble. In fact, I thought he was gone. By that time his face looked very flushed and his eyes… I knew he didn’t see me because I went like this [pats her cheek] and said, “Baby, baby.” All I said to him was, “Baby, baby, I love you.” I ran into the bedroom and called the fire department. I never went back in that bathroom.
I locked the house, got in my car and went to the hospital… and sat there for quite a while. A doctor came out once and said, “We’re doing everything we can.” And I said, “I’m sure you are.” And I knew that that was it.
Brian did not go to the funeral.
AUDREE: Nope. I understand that perfectly. You know, Carl was very angry that Brian didn’t go to the funeral. And I said, “Carl, I understand perfectly.” It didn’t bother me. Brian couldn’t face it. No way.
Do you think he’ll go to yours?
AUDREE: I’d be surprised. You know, I don’t know if he’s ever been to one. To me, so what? I don’t believe in funerals, frankly — the most barbaric, outmoded bunch of… [censors herself and laughs]. Anyway…
In general you seem to have been much looser than your husband.
AUDREE: Oh yeah, a great deal more. He took life so seriously, really. It was hard for him to have fun. Once he said to me, “Sometimes you can be so mad or in some kind of mood, and somebody comes over and you can laugh and have a good time. Maybe I’m jealous of you.” I used to think it would be so nice if he could just loosen up. But he was what he was, you know?
About ten years ago everyone started getting into drugs and marijuana, and I’m sure your boys did too. How did that affect you ?
AUDREE: Well, I had a horrible problem with my husband about that. He was so, sooo against it, so mortified — I can’t even think of a strong enough word. They all went and told him that they were smoking pot and, oh, he just thought that was the end of the world, the most horrible thing they could do. And of course he was angry with me. In fact, he was so angry he wouldn’t allow them to come to our house for quite a while. And he told me I couldn’t go see them.
But now, of course, dope is much better understood. Have you ever tried it?
AUDREE: Frankly, I did try it. In fact, I just zonked out. I was at Carl and Annie’s house and I walked into the living room and I couldn’t get up. I didn’t like it at all. Then one other time, though, I tried it and I’ve never had more fun in my life. Laughed and laughed and laughed, just had a ball. This is since Murry’s gone.
How old are you?
AUDREE: Thirty-seven. You know I’m lying. Should I tell the truth?
Let’s see… you said you got married when you were 20… and you had Brian after four years, and he just turned 34… so you’re about 58.
AUDREE: Exactly. Rats.
So what are you doing with your time?
AUDREE: Not as much as I should.
You mean not as much as you’d like?
AUDREE: Well, as I’d like and should for my own good, because I’m lonely a lot and that’s ridiculous.
Do you still play music?
AUDREE: I don’t like to play by myself. And I should because I just adore it. In fact, the other night some of my relatives were here and they were watching Gone with the Wind, and all of a sudden I just got bored and I went into the living room and I played the piano for a while. And I played the organ. And I was comfortable because I knew there was somebody here. But by myself I’m not comfortable. I just don’t have anything in particular going for me.
Murry Wilson obituary
Distributed by Warner Bros. Records in June 1973
Murry Wilson, father of Brian, Dennis and Carl, died Monday, June 4th, 1973. The Beach Boys have released the following statement:
“Murry Wilson was a hard, oyster shell of a man, aggressively masking a pushover softness which revealed itself at the sound of a beautiful chord or the thought of his wife and three sons. An unending source of high-powered energy, he could wear down the strongest souls just by explaining his thoughts in a telephone call. A jealous guardian of the incredible career he helped build for his sons, he was the enthusiastic champion of any who sought to help them, and the scourge of those who used the Wilson name for personal gain.
“He was a proud man, who wanted more than anything for his sons to be ‘good boys.’ In his eyes they remained ‘boys’ until the end, though Brian is now 30, Dennis 28, and Carl 26. They were not the ‘tough’ men he used to say he wanted them to be but, over his last years, Murry Wilson whittled down the generation gap through increased confidence in all three, despite their ‘soft’ ways.
“Although there were periods of storms too for Murry and his wife Audree, the last 18 months found them together nearly all the time. And, as if out of a gallant other-age, he almost always referred to her as ‘Mrs. Wilson’ when others were about.
“When it came to his machinery business, which fed the Wilsons until the Beach Boys were born, Murry worked harder than any man. The shop had to be absolutely clean and the demanding father shouted to his sons, ‘Get in the cracks,’ as they scoured the place on Saturday mornings. On the business side Murry said he wasn’t a financial wizard, that he spent money too lavishly. But it was he who would first raise the alarm when his sons were about to embark on questionable business deals. Of one man who laid out a complex real estate scheme, Murry screamed, ‘Sophisticated businessman? Hell no, he’s just a son of a bitch and a crook. Get rid of him.’
“His continuing pleasure for years was music. He relished writing songs, anguished over lyrics and drove studio musicians like a construction foreman in his role as producer. His unbelievable energy could be applied equally to a studio session for the Beach Boys or a demonstration tape for a musical commercial he created. In a recent transatlantic telephone call, Murry devoted nearly a quarter of an hour to playing tapes of a tune he had written and was hoping the Beach Boys would record. As the tapes squeaked through the overseas connection, Murry enthused: ‘Here’s where Mike will come in… this part is a natural for Carl’… and on and on.
“Murry Wilson remained his sons’ most enthusiastic adviser even in 1973, years after his formal managerial ties with the Beach Boys had ended. His compassion for their good fortune was enthusiastic, but critical when he saw them performing live about two months ago. After the concert Murry told someone: ‘Tell the boys to sing out more, especially Carl — he’s not projecting enough. They’re getting good but people pay to see them great. And tell Dennis to keep his hands out of his pockets. But don’t let him know the old man said it.’ ”
A Really Neat Vision
Talk about good vibrations, Mike Love’s seven-acre spread near Santa Barbara is positively infested with them. There on a bluff overlooking the blue Pacific and a tiny surfers’ cove, Mike spends his few non-working days of the year surrounded by jasmine, bougainvillea, wild strawberries, exotic chickens and a small community of serious transcendental meditators. These radiant, gracious people, most of whom help run the place when Mike’s away, were heavy into abstinence abuse — no booze, no drugs, no tobacco, no meat.
Naturally I could only take it for about 24 hours, but I understood why Mike would dig it. When you spend most of your time performing or recording in front of giant speakers turned up full blast, you need some refuge where the ringing stops. Also, Mike, of course, is a stone TM zealot, teaches it, preaches it, writes songs about it and has practiced it twice a day for the last quarter of his life. All the Beach Boys have practiced it off and on; Brian, in fact, was the first. But only Mike, in late 1967, flew to Rishikesh, India, where the Ganges leaves the Himalayas, to sit for a month at the feet of Maharishi (and at the side of the Beatles, Donovan and Mia Farrow). That experience convinced him that TM could not only change his life, it could change the life of the world.
“I didn’t want to just come home 30 years later,” he recalled, “sit down in front of the TV, pop the top off the beer can and sit there feeding my beer gut like so many millions of people were into.”
Now, on a shimmering, starlit summer night, Mike sat down in his redwood hot tub in front of an infinite ocean, slurped the top off an organic fruit-juice fizz, and remembered a really neat vision he once had in Rishikesh.
MIKE: I was in my room and the mantra assumed a little melody. I was sort of singing it to myself, or singing it in my mind, and all of a sudden, from some other part of my mind, I was thinking, “Well, I’m in India, so there’s a little sitarish impulse to the melody.” And then I was thinking of the black kind of impulse — African, rhythmic drum impulses. Then the expression of the Latin kind of rhythm and sound, and the Chinese sort of singsong approach, and the Irish sort of hillbilly Appalachian music — all elements all around the world, Eastern, Oriental, Indian, African and Russian, that whole heavy, dramatic influence they have there, the Slovakian kind of thing. I mean, it was amazing; simultaneously this one little original melody was being played in different instruments and voice expressions and rhythms, until that one sound built to total cacophony, but it made sense.
The whole world, in other words, in its expressions of the same sound, was in harmony, although there was a difference in each one. And then once the whole world had attained that harmony, it became in harmony with the universe and the cosmos. And what I took it to be was a really far-out lesson that once everyone — starting with the individual — once all the nations and races became harmonious, even with their differences, only then will the world be in harmony with nature.
But anyway, it was neat to hear that melody building like that, like a symphony of nations. Like on the new album, “That Same Song” — the whole substance of that song is this:
“The rock of ages built that rockin’ sound, till more and more people started to come around. They worshiped in church and built that great big choir, it grew and grew until it spread like fire.”
I’d like to Personally thank the Beach Boys for breaking from their hectic schedule to put up with another crazy idea of mine — a group interview conducted in Brian’s music room. We’d all had misgivings about the project. John Belushi, in town to film the TV special, had warned me, “Forget it. Group interviews never work.” I suppose he was right. We’d hoped the group thing might put Brian more at ease, but it seemed to do just the opposite. We’d hoped to discuss the music, to get a feel of the music down on paper, but it became painfully apparent that that sort of thing is beyond words.
Yet there is a feeling here, of the warm brotherhood bond that has kept this gang together longer than any other white American band. That, and a sense of the good fart humor inspired years ago in the locker rooms of Hawthorne High.
First of all, let’s test the mikes and see if all this stuff is working. We’ll just go around the room, and you tell me your name and something about yourself.
CARL: Okay. This is Carl. I’m a really groovy guy.
DENNIS: This is Dennis, and I want to know if it’s going on the radio … uh… I’m Dennis and—
BRIAN: This is Brian.
DENNIS: I’m not done, Brian. This is Dennis and I’m the cute one.
[Everyone waits for Brian to speak again, but he simply stares ahead, his face expressionless.]
MIKE: This is cousin Mike, checking in over here on 99.9.
Al is a little late, but he should be at his microphone shortly. What I’d like you to do this afternoon is sort of informally discuss your music, what songs or segments or devices you really are proud of.
DENNIS: There’s a lot of things — how a record will fade out. I love the way Brian has faded out some of his records.
Yeah, there’s a couple of songs—”Wind Chimes,” I think, and “Little Bird” — where the part that delighted me the most was the fadeout.
CARL: “At My Window” is like that too, from Sunflower. I love the tag. We call fadeouts “tags”; we’re big tag fans.
Do you remember when you started doing that sort of tag?
CARL: Oh golly — “Surfer Girl,” “Surfin’ U.S.A.” — I think that’s when Brian got the knack. Brian, would you like to comment?
[Brian says nothing.]
DENNIS: I think “Let Him Run Wild” was one of Brian’s first tracks that he did a real stretch on. It was a real breakthrough.
CARL: That was on Summer Days and Summer Nights. The door starts to fly open on that album, musically speaking — the recording process and, you know, that whole total sound.
Brian, with these innovations, were they, like, planned ahead, or did you just try them in the studio?
BRIAN: We’d just try it, like spontaneous; whatever worked out spontaneously we’d usually go along with.
DENNIS: [Whispers into Carl’s mike] Hi, this is Carl… and I wanna say that… I like pussy.
MIKE: Bomp-bomps, I guess, were the kind of little parts, the spontaneous inventions, Brian was talking about. We might have a song, a good pattern, a good chord structure, maybe a concept, maybe no lyrics, and the thing would come together in the studio.
CARL: I think one of the most unusual background parts Brian came up with is on “This Whole World.”
MIKE: Oom bop didit.
DENNIS: Like the new one Brian’s working on — mow mama…
MIKE: Mow mama yama…
DENNIS: Mow mama yama holy…
MIKE: [Sings] Mow mama yama holy hallelujah.
What’s that song, Brian ?
BRIAN: That’s from a song called “Clang.” We haven’t really got it together yet, so we can’t talk about it. It’s a spiritual sort of rock & roll song.
Some of your innovations in “Good Vibrations” must have struck people as a little unusual. Like taking six months to record it, and using four studios.
DENNIS: Actually, that’s when Brian started losing his mind and he couldn’t tell which studio was which [much laughter]. You know, so he’d go to Columbia, and he’d go, “Oh, jeez, wait a minute. I lost the tapes.”
CARL: I remember Dad was worried about the bridge section. You know, the time change, “They can’t dance to it.”
DENNIS: [Humbly proud] It’s still one of the all-time great standard rock & roll tunes. It was an honor to be able to take part in it. It was so superb. When there was all I could do to struggle to learn one line, one melodic line, Brian had eight or nine going. Brian had me in awe for a long time… till I figured out his secret.
DENNIS: Shooting up acid.
[Dennis’ masterfully timed punch line, delivered with a sly pokerface, cracks up everyone.]
MIKE: [Embarrassed giggle] Oh, God!
DENNIS: Naw, I was kidding.
[Everyone, that is, except Brian, who continues to stare straight ahead as if he’d heard nothing. After a moment the doorbell rings and Al walks into the entrance hall. From the beginning of their career this smallest of Beach Boys, related neither by blood nor temperament, has stood apart from the others. Even today he readily admits that the Beach Boys are “not my whole life.” For one thing he and his family live hundreds of miles up the coast in the remote Big Sur area of northern California. He is a “professional” rancher, dabbling in honeybees and Arabian horses on a 75-acre plot he owns near Monterey. And he’s something of a politician, shaking hands with Governor Brown and supporting community action to preserve the Pacific coastline.
[Yet his influence on the Beach Boys has been considerable. His early folk song background inspired the others to record, almost journalistically, their times and surroundings, in effect to write a new folk music for the Sixties, or at least the Sixties of Hawthorne. And to think he almost blew this profitable gig a year after it started, when he abruptly quit the group to enroll in dental school.
[It took two semesters for Al to come to his senses, and when Brian phoned him in the summer of 63 and asked him to return, Al eagerly accepted. Brian explained that he didn’t want to tour anymore, that he needed Al to replace him. And now as Al enters the music room, there is a curious sense of déjà vu. Brian suddenly stands up and leaves the room, allowing Al to again replace him in the group.]
CARL: [To Brian] You’re not participating much in this.
BRIAN: I did a long interview the other day… let them go for a while. I’m just going to lay down. I got a little headache.
[Brian heads upstairs as Al sits down in front of the sixth Mike.]
AL: This is Alan Jardine.
Did Brian tell you, Al, why he wanted to stop touring?
AL: I don’t remember a reason. He just didn’t enjoy going out there, and I think his weight had something to do with it even at that time. He was starting to get heavy, he didn’t feel comfortable. At times he seemed to enjoy it, though. He always liked to hog the microphone, I remember that. If you were singing on the microphone with three people or even two people, he’d just move you right over [laughter]. He just wanted to make sure he got his part in, I guess. He’s very aggressive in that way, and that’s how he exhibited himself in the studio as a producer, with that very all-encompassing and very dominant personality.
[Scott Steinberg enters the music room.]
SCOTT: Do you need Brian?
Well, he said he had a headache.
SCOTT: [Scornfully] Bullshit. [Twists and shouts] Brian! Come on down!
BRIAN: [From his room] I’m tired, I’m lying down.
SCOTT: [Bounds up the stairs] No, you said you had a headache.
BRIAN: I… I said I had a headache to Felton.
SCOTT: No. We’ll go downstairs now.
BRIAN: Well… I do have a little headache.
[The group giggles affectionately at Brian’s hasty excuses. Al continues.]
AL: But eventually Brian became worn down and tired from all the work, the producing, from what I’ve been able to gather. And it was on our way to Houston, Texas, I was sitting next to him on the plane, and he just broke down and cried, he just crashed right there. This was at the end of 64, right after “When I Grow Up (To Be a Man).”
[Scott leads Brian into the music room and directs him to resume his place behind the Mike. Brian seems irritable and starts cracking his thick neck, twisting his head back and forth with his hands.]
There’s a couple of songs that I think illustrate the Beach Boys’ sense of humor. Like, Al, you wrote “Take a Load off Your Feet.”
BRIAN: [Gruffly] I think we should move faster. I don’t think you’re asking the questions fast enough.
AL: I was wearing Birkenstock sandals, and I read the instructions that came with them; it was inspiring to read about how important your feet are to the rest of your body. And so Brian and I got carried away. He’d come down at night and sit and play the bottles, these Sparklett’s bottles we had lying around. He walked around on the roof — there was this skipping sound on the end of the song, you know, and that was Brian on the asphalt roof of the garage, skipping around in a circle.
Another funny song is Mike’s “She’s Goin’ Bald.”
DENNIS: I took that song in a very strange way, I thought it was more or less about oral sex. [Mike bursts out laughing.] You know, [sings] “Get a job, sha na na na, sha na na na na. What a blow…” And I thought, Jesus, that’s funny as shit — [moronic voice] “Hey, it’s about getting a blow job, huh huh huh.”
AL: Well, that’s what it was, right?
MIKE: We were stoned out of our heads. We were laughing our asses off when we recorded that stuff.
CARL: Yeah, a little hash.
DENNIS: [Gently ribbing] Brian used to have a great sense of humor. [He looks at Brian for some sort of reaction, but gets none.] Michael, just tell me… what is the esoteric meaning behind a bald chick to you? [To the others] Michael once told me that if I ever had a dream about a toilet, I’d be bisexual. [Mike starts shrieking with falsetto laughter.] He said, “Dennis, you ever dream about a toilet?” I told him I had a dream that my grandmother, Grandma Betty, went down the toilet. He said, “Dennis, that means you’re gay.” [The whole group cracks up.] And I believed him. I went, “You’re kidding! My God!” I went, [moronic] “Hey, Mom, am I gay?”
MIKE: [Tries to regain his composure] What… what about the time I told… [but fails, explodes, spits, snorts, wheezes hysterically]… I told my mom you had syphillis?
DENNIS: She wouldn’t talk to me for three years. I’d go, “Hi,” and she’d go [gasps, shrinks back, wipes deadly scum off his clothes]. One time I got Carl on television. And the guy was asking, “The group had a lull, didn’t it? What was the cause of that lull?” And I said, “Carl was in the hospital for four years for junk!” [Again the group breaks up.] Carl goes, “What?”
[Carl jerks back ward in a fit, tears streaming from his eyes.]
CARL: Oh God, we’re so straight, it’s beautiful. Really, we are so straight.
I do… should… I will
On Saturday, September 18th, Brian Wilson was nominated to the “Hall of Fame” on Don Kirshner’s televised Rock Music Awards show. He didn’t make it, but only because all the nominations in that category were ridiculously overdue and included other pioneers like Elvis, the Beatles, John Lennon and Bob Dylan. (The Beatles won.) But Brian did receive his own tribute on the show, a standing ovation when he made a guest appearance to announce the winners of the Best Single and Best Female Vocalist categories. And he looked stunning, with a new tuxedo, a new haircut and a new figure, down from 250 to 215 pounds. He handled his few routine lines with style and confidence, and as he left the stage, a friend of mine watching the show shouted, “He made it!”
Step by step, Brian is making it every day. He still seems a bit timid and programmed in, say, an interview situation, but when he’s in front of a TV camera or a piano, his recovery seems nearly complete.
It’s not, of course, and a few days later Annie Leibovitz and I returned to Los Angeles at the urging of Dr. Landy. “You gotta come down,” he’d said, “it’s been three months, and what you saw is not what you get. We got a new model… I think you’ll be pleasantly impressed.
Well, it wasn’t that pleasant, but in the end I was impressed. Bodyguard Scott Steinberg picked us up at the airport, and on the way to Dr. Landy’s office he enthusiastically described Brian’s progress in the four months he’s been living with him. “When I first met Brian, God, he was very spacey,” he said. “He was this big giant, he seemed like a gorilla to me.” Scott, formerly a veterinary major at Los Angeles City College, knew about gorillas but at first knew absolutely nothing about Brian Wilson, had never heard his music or his name. Which didn’t really matter, his main job was to get him out of bed, take care of him and keep him clean.
“Basically he’s a person now,” said Scott. “Like even getting dressed for the Rock Awards show — he did it himself, he took his own shower.”
At the office I asked Landy if there was any one time when Brian started to withdraw. “Yes, one time, one time in specific,” he said. “It’s all related to his use of acid. Acid attacks the limbic region of the brain, the part that affects one’s whole emotional response. With someone like Brian, who had a predisposition toward psychosis, all it takes is one hit.”
Landy’s plan was for all of us to go to the same Chinese restaurant as before, affording a more scientific comparison, then to the Century West Club to watch Brian work out in the gym, then to his home to hear some new songs he’d written. At the restaurant I had a chance to ask Brian a few more questions, but this time he seemed slightly more tense, or, understandably, impatient.
One thing that puzzles me is why you consented to this interview at all. There’ve been so many stories about your personal life–doesn’t that bother you?
BRIAN: No, that doesn’t bother me.
BRIAN: Any article’s good. Long as it’s publicity, I think that’s all that matters. I think it’s advancement for my career.
You went through two years of really intense withdrawal, but you started getting a reputation for being reclusive or eccentric long before that. You must have read all those reports of your being kind of nuts.
BRIAN: It bothered me, yeah, because I figured, “Why are they calling me nuts?” I didn’t feel I was nuts.
Just weren’t too active.
Last time we talked about the Smile album, and you said you’d gotten too fancy for the public. I was wondering if perhaps today the public might not be ready for it, and if so, don’t you have an obligation to find out by releasing it?
BRIAN: I do… I should… I will.
Do you know when?
BRIAN: I don’t know, probably in a couple years.
There’s been the conjecture that when you heard yourself being called a genius, it frightened you.
BRIAN: Yeah, it gave me a weird feeling, an eerie feeling.
But didn’t you sort of agree with it, too?
BRIAN: Yeah, I did.
I think you must be fully aware of your contribution to music.
BRIAN: I am.
During lunch Brian committed an infraction, nothing big really, but it resulted in Landy yelling at Brian and Brian cringing back, his eyes smarting. Landy subsequently asked me not to write about the incident, that it was not typical of Brian’s present behavior, that his reading about it might be harmful. When Landy left the room for a phone call, I asked Brian if such public admonishments didn’t embarrass him. “That is embarrassing to me,” he admitted. “Don’t you object to that?” I asked, and he said, “I just feel brought down.”
I felt brought down myself, and it occurred to me that Landy might be as concerned with his own image as he is with Brian’s. (At one point Landy said, “Did you read the thing in New West”] I don’t want to appear like I did in that.”) Later at the gym we were going up an escalator, Brian and Scott and Annie and me, and Scott asked, “So, what did you think of Brian today? Did he seem any different?” I couldn’t answer him, I couldn’t continue this game of dissecting Brian, mulling over Brian, in his presence, as if he wasn’t there. Why do they have to do that? Why keep slamming him in public now that he’s so much better? I mean, there’s plenty of evidence Landy’s method is working. I just hope that when Brian’s fully healed, when he’s finally in touch and he’s learned all those good manners, I just hope he’s strong enough to teach Dr. Landy a few.
Fortunately Brian had cheered up by the time we reached his home. He sat down at an old upright in his living room and whipped off three songs he’d written since June. He seemed amazingly confident, singing various parts, playing the piano, even smiling occasionally. One song was called “Hey, Little Tomboy” (“time you turned into a girl”). Another, “I Want to Pick You Up” (” ’cause you’re still a baby to me”). The third, the one I liked best, was a tribute to his wife and was entitled simply “Marilyn Rovell”:
So glad I married a girl named Marilyn Rovell
So glad that I can say so far it’s workin’ out so well
She gets up at nine, while I’m sleepin’ she’s shopping with Bobi or Dee
(That’s short for Dianne)
If only she knew how happy it makes me to see her carry my baby
Mary, oh Mary baby
Oh Mary, my Mary baby
Oh Mary, oh Mary baby
Oh Mary, oh Mary
And sometimes friends will ask us what the heck is your secret
Part luck, part love, and we don’t spend our money, we keep it
And when I come home I say honey please fix me somethin’ good to eat
(She’s right there cookin’ it)
If only she knew how happy it makes me to see her carry my baby
Mary, oh Mary baby
Sure, the words are pretty homey, but then that’s about the only input Brian’s had in the last few years. And the music — pshew! — days later I was still humming it, it was so delicious. And that was just Brian and the piano; who knows how great it’ll sound with the Beach Boys’ voices and those funky instruments and the sound effects and echo and some kind of fantastic fadeout?
That is the miracle of his music. It just grabs you and follows you around like a little angel. It makes you feel good and gives you hope. It certainly gave me hope for Brian. In June he feared he was washed up as a writer, now here were three gems in three months — talk about progress! By the time I left his house I was convinced that, despite his sickness, despite his cure, Brian Wilson shall rise and shine again.
Brian stands barefoot in the sand near Trances Beach, wearing a flowing bathrobe and carrying a surfboard that somehow looks like a tablet. It is June 20th, Father’s Day, Brian’s 34th birthday. He is there to film a spot for the TV special, a comic bit called “Brian’s Nightmare” in which he’s arrested and forced to surf. (Brian’s fear of surfing and water is well known.)
Soberly he plods forward, accompanied by Danny, Aykroyd and John Belushi in highway patrol uniforms. About 50 yards from the ocean they stop, and Aykroyd steps out to direct the breakers. Then he nods to Brian and says, “Okay, Mr. Wilson, here’s your wave.”
A small crowd of friends and crew people watches nervously, silently, as Brian carries out his sentence. His feet touch the surf but he plunges ahead, up to his waist, then dives in, his whalelike body atop the board and totally immersed in the cool, clear water. The crowd cheers like crazy.
Suddenly on the mind’s horizon six giant figures appear, floating over the blue Pacific. They form a pyramid. At the base stand Carl, Brian and Dennis. On their shoulders stand Mike and Al. At the top stands Murry Wilson. He pulls a pipe from his jowly face, and as he begins to speak, the boys begin to chant in harmony with the universe.
BRIAN, DENNIS, CARL, MIKE, AL: Mow mama yama holy hallelujah, mow mama yama holy hallelujah, mow mama yama holy hallelujah, mow mama yama holy hallelujah….
MURRY: I’m sure these guys didn’t give you the facts right. The first record, called Surfin “—which I never did like and still don’t like, it was so rude and crude, you know? — was the first song lyrically about surfing. It was just like a gold mine waiting to be opened. And my boys were so hungry and thirsty to prove how good they were. My kids would whine, and I’d bawl them out. They were so exhausted I had to make them mad at me to get the best out of them. There’s more than one way to give love to kids, you know? I drove them harder because they asked for it. They said, “Help us, make us famous, help us record. We need you, Dad.”
I think the Beach Boys have been instrumental in changing the style of music to a great degree, not only with songwriters but also with band arrangements, with Negro artists, as well as the listening public. They’re using Brian’s Pet Sounds format, and his approach to bass root arrangements and his style of changing keys without any rhyme or reason. Without knowing it, he’s created a monster — actually, he changed the concept of music.
BRIAN, DENNIS, CARL, MIKE, AL: Papa oom mow mow, papa oom mow mow, papa oom mow mow, papa oom mow mow…
MURRY: We were driving in a car, going to a recording session, and I said to Brian, “I read in the Times that you experimented with LSD. Is that a put-on to the newspapers, or did you do it?” And he said, “Yes, Dad, I did.” And I said, “Well, tell me Brian, do you think you’re strong enough in your brain that you can experiment with a chemical that might drive you crazy later or maybe you might kill somebody or jump out of a window if it ricochets on you?” He said, “No, Dad, it made me understand a lot of things.” I said, “Who’re you trying to kid, Brian? What did you understand, except seeing like a nightmare in your brain, colors and things like that maybe?” And I said, “You know, Brian, one thing that God gave you was a brain. If you play with it and destroy it, you’re dead, you’re a vegetable. And we haven’t heard the end of this. There are going to be people killed and people in sanitariums and insane asylums because they played with God.”
BRIAN, DENNIS, CARL, MIKE AL: Mow mama yama holy hallelujah, mow mama yama holy hallelujah…
MURRY: I lost my left eye in an industrial accident at Goodyear, and I wear a plastic eye. But I’d like to add that it made me a better man. When I was 25 I thought the world owed me a living; when I lost my eye I tried harder, drove harder and did the work of two men in the company and got more raises. I put $2300 on my Hawthorne house, went into my own business and succeeded against millionaire dealers. Now you figure it out. Guts.
And that’s what the Beach Boys have — guts. And talent. And I’m proud of them. I’ve been down on them a few times when they would make mistakes or not do what I figured was the best. And I never quit reminding them that they got a big break and “now get out there and earn your money. Don’t whine to me, get up on that stage. So you’re tired — you asked for it. Dennis, don’t you miss a beat on the drum again. Quit looking at the girls and get on the ball.” I drove ’em and I’m proud of it.
I don’t know if you admire any of them or their accomplishments, but I think it’s one of those success stories that can happen in America. And it isn’t all talent — it’s guts and promotion and just keeping at it even when you make mistakes. You can’t be right all the time. But the ability to fight back, come back and create again is America. In other words, they’re just Americans, they’re like any one of you. Got it? Got the message?
BRIAN, DENNIS, CARL, MIKE, AL: [Fading out as the sun begins to set] Oom bop didit, oom bop didit, mow mama yama holy hallelujah, papa oom mow mow, papa oom mow mow, mow mama yama holy hallelujah, papa oom mow mow, holy hallelujah, mow mama yama holy hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah…