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Brian's Song

Listening to the distant echoes of a pop-rock genius.

Unfortunately, Wilson himself is of little assistance when it comes to finding truth amid the melodrama, in large part because his public statements over time have tended to reiterate those of whoever's supervising his activities at the moment.

During the early '60s, when he was spitting out classic singles like "Surfin' U.S.A.," "Little Deuce Couple" and "Be True to Your School" (not to mention the painfully honest "In My Room") at a fearsome clip, he was nothing but deferent toward his manager-father Murry, a slave-driving brute who tried to live out his songwriting dreams through his talented son; only later did he give his dad the boot. Then, throughout much of the '70s and '80s, he talked up Dr. Eugene Landy, a controversial therapist who virtually took over Wilson's life, even going so far as to claim credit for co-producing Brian's self-titled 1988 solo debut and co-writing several of the disc's tracks. Three years later, after no shortage of legal wrangling, Wilson cut his ties with Landy, whose name appears nowhere on the just-re-released edition of Brian Wilson; the sole co-producer listed is Fleetwood Mac brainiac Lindsey Buckingham, who told Westword in 1993 that "God Only Knows" is one of his three favorite songs (the others, incidentally, are the Nelson Riddle-arranged rendition of "I've Got You Under My Skin" by Frank Sinatra and "Louie Louie," by the Kingsmen).

"How's the mix on it?" Wilson asks about the reissue, adding, "I only have one ear, so I can't hear stereo." His deafness on one side was a condition from birth, and not, as has been widely reported, a result of his father hitting him in the head with a two-by-four. Which, by the way, Brian still says Murry did.

Brian Wilson's been dazed and confused for so long.
Brian Wilson's been dazed and confused for so long.
Brian Wilson then (second from left, sleeping) with the Beach Boys.
Brian Wilson then (second from left, sleeping) with the Beach Boys.


More recently, Brian hooked up with producer Joe Thomas, another person who exerted tremendous influence over his professional and personal life. Wilson and his second wife, Melinda, actually bought a Chicago-area home next door to Thomas's during the period when his most recent long-player, 1998's Imagination, was being conjured up. (Even though Brian is performing one song from Imagination on his tour -- "Lay Down Burden" -- he belittles the CD: "I don't like the sound. I don't like my voice on it.") But shortly after an extensive Rolling Stone profile in which all concerned touted their close relationship, Melinda, reportedly acting on Brian's behalf, sued Thomas to dissolve a business partnership that linked them, charging that the producer was taking advantage of her husband's name. Thomas reacted with a countersuit declaring that Melinda was actually the person who was manipulating Brian. The whole mess was legally resolved in July, but Wilson is hardly a font of information about the settlement.

"I don't really know about that end of things, you know? I'm not sure what happened there. I just know it's over."

So, too, is a lawsuit in which Mike Love demanded back royalties for Wilson songs he said he'd co-written, among them "California Girls," which Brian identifies as his favorite Beach Boys tune ("I like it because it's a straightahead type of song. It's just a good song"). But in a Westword interview prior to receiving a judgment in his favor of $5 million ("Back to the Beach," June 8, 1994), Love declared that he'd like to sit down and write songs with Brian again. Wilson doesn't see that happening anytime soon.

"It's possible, sure, but I don't know if I want to. I don't like how it feels to talk to him, so I don't talk to him."

How does it feel?

"Uptight. Scary. He's a scary guy."

There have been many other lawsuits in Brian Wilson's life, and he hasn't enjoyed them: "A lawsuit is a whole drag," he says. "You have to go through depositions and stuff. It's such a drag." But he doesn't take the next logical step and wonder why he seems to attract so many users who pretend to be his friend in order to achieve their own ends. He needs people to take care of him, and although the taking seldom stops there, his needs don't, either. For that reason, he resists beating himself up for trusting individuals who subsequently proved untrustworthy, or for having to eat his so many of his words afterward.

"I wish I would have kept more of my privacy," he says. "But it's too late now, isn't it? It's too late, too late..."


As Brian Wilson knows, the public has gotten a great many chances to see him at his worst. By the mid-'70s, after innumerable dalliances with mind-expanding drugs that seemed to shrink his, he was reclusive, dangerously obese and only intermittently coherent. But handlers such as Dr. Landy pushed him back into the spotlight anyway under the theory that doing so would motivate him to mend his ways. Hence, a dazed, bloated Wilson was seen in a 1976 episode of Saturday Night Live being dragged to a beach for a supposedly comic attempt at surfing. On the same program, he also croaked out an agonizing solo rendition of "Good Vibrations" during which Landy, according to the Timothy White book The Nearest Faraway Place, stood just outside the view of cameras holding up cue cards that read "RELAX" and "SMILE."

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