The Mad Genius of Brian Wilson
They say Keith Richards is the ultimate rock'n'roll survivor, but "they" somehow must not have met Brian Wilson. From the moment he entered the world, the founder of the Beach Boys was exposed to a school of hard knocks through the tireless control and abuse of a megalomaniacal father looking to live vicariously through the talent of not only just Brian, but his other two sons, Dennis and Carl. It can be argued that the pressure felt from his father both pushed Brian to strive and succeed as one of pop music's greatest minds, but also help him crumble into a pathetic man-child for a dark period that found him depressed, misdiagnosed as a schizophrenic and vulnerable to a dependency on drugs, alcohol and food. But Brian is the perfect example of "what doesn't kill us only makes us stronger," as he managed to survive fighting off the demons, as well as the stranglehold of a father and a psychologist/business partner, and produce a body of work that includes pop music's 1966 masterpiece, Pet Sounds, as well as 2004's recovered Smile and hundreds of feel-good anthems for the waves, the highway and the heart. Keith Richards, eat your heart out.
1942 to 1960
Brian Douglas Wilson is born June 20, 1942 in Hawthorne, CA to Audree and Murry Wilson, the owner of an industrial equipment rental business called A.B.L.E. and a tirelessly aspiring songwriter. At around two years of age, Brian hears Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" at his grandmother's house, immediately infusing him with a love for music. Brothers Dennis and Carl are born in 1944 and 1946, respectively. Raised in a tough love household, the Wilson brothers grow up in fear of their father, who was known around the neighbourhood to use his leather belt on them and taunt them in front of friends whenever they fail to do live up to Murry's expectations. According to Peter Ames Carlin's authorized biography, Catch A Wave: The Rise, Fall & Redemption of the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson, the boys told contrary tales growing up of their father's abuse, like instructing Dennis to eat tomatoes, the food he despised most, till he vomited and making a young Brian defecate on a plate as punishment. Most famous of all, however, was Murry's well-known tendency to taunt his sons by removing his glass eye and forcing them to stare at the empty socket. But Murry's most detrimental act comes when Brian is six years old, and was struck in the head by his father, causing him to lose hearing permanently in his right ear. The account has both been confirmed and denied by Brian and his family over the years, who also cite birth, a fight with a neighbourhood kid and a congenital nerve defect as other reasons. In high school, Brian, a popular and athletic student develops a crush on Carol Mountain, a girl he would repeatedly visit in song throughout the following decades, most famously on 1965's "Caroline No." Brian begins hanging out with friend Ted Sprague as a way of avoiding his father, and begins attending church. He joins the choir and begins developing his voice, discovering the falsetto and learning the importance of harmonizing. On family occasions, the Wilsons, led by Brian on piano, would perform with cousins the Loves; cousin Mike Love turns Brian on to R&B, doo wop, and most importantly the Four Freshmen, who quickly become a favourite. Brian begins mimicking the group's music with his mother and Carl, and experiments with layered vocals using a Wollensak tape recorder purchased by his parents. Brian studies composition and harmony in school and soon he begins recording everything, as well as writing and performing songs at home and school, including a song to help a fellow student run for student council and an early version of "Sloop John B." After he graduates from high school, Brian enrols at El Camino Junior College, where he bumps into acquaintance Al Jardine, who along with Mike Love, begin discussing the possibilities of forming a group.
When Brian struggles to find something new to write about, Dennis, now enthralled in an indolent lifestyle of booze, marijuana and surfing, suggests his brother try writing surf songs using the slang he learned from the beach. Brian, Mike, Al, Dennis and Carl form a band and give life to Brian's song "Surfin'." While Murry and Audree are away in Mexico on Labor Day weekend, the group use emergency house money and a loan from Al's mom to rent instruments and equipment to rehearse. When the elder Wilsons return home, Murry is livid, but a run-through of the song convinces him the band have potential, and he shortly declares himself their manager. Al is briefly booted out of the band when Murry decides it should be a family-only affair before Brian changes his mind; Jardine doesn't learn of his ejection until 2005. They call themselves the Pendletones, after a popular wool shirt favoured by surfers, and record their first single, "Surfin'" with b-side "Luau," which is released on December 8, 1961 by local record label Candix. When the label suggests they change their name for the release, they choose the Beach Boys; the single does so well locally, selling 50,000 copies, that it enters the Billboard charts at #75. Brian drops out of college to focus on the band, and they begin playing shows to support the single. In their matching striped shirts, the band play school assemblies, hops and beach parties, transported to and from by a watchful Murry in his station wagon. Brian begins to obsess over the work of producer Phil Spector, whose "wall of sound" style of production begins to influence the head Beach Boy's ear in the studio.
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