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BACK TO THE BEACH

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"But whereas Brian is the one who delivered the astoundingness of the music, I delivered the conceptual and lyrical communication of it. For example, when I first heard `Good Vibrations,' I said, `This is so different, so weird. I wonder how people are going to feel about this.' But then I wrote the words: `I'm picking up good vibrations/She's giving me excitations.' It's more of a boy-girl romance thing that communicated a pretty simple message and was more relatable by more people. That combination of abilities allowed us to come up with something that could complement the music, and that resulted in a number-one record."

It would be the last such Beach Boys chart-topper for 22 years, when the Love-penned song "Kokomo," from the soundtrack to the lousy Tom Cruise film Cocktail, became the nation's biggest seller. Following "Good Vibrations" (released in 1966), Brian set out to create the ultimate concept album, a lighthearted project to be called Smile. He subsequently hooked up with lyricist Van Dyke Parks, a prodigious talent in his own right, but before the album was even close to being completed, Brian flipped out. He had already stopped touring with the group (Bruce Johnston, who is still with the band, became Brian's onstage replacement in 1965); he was so deeply into drugs and his own insecurities that, during a Smile session, he became convinced that his music had started a fire across the street from the studio. As Love says, "He went from being a dynamic, aggressive producer and songwriter to being a reclusive paranoid schizophrenic who barely came out of his house."

After Brian melted down, the rest of the Beach Boys tried to save what they could of the Smile recordings, releasing the results under the title Smiley Smile. That album's single, "Heroes and Villains," was a moderate success, but on the albums that came afterward, Brian's contributions were often limited to the writing of a few insular compositions. Heard as part of the recent Beach Boys five-disc box set, called Good Vibrations, many of the songs from commercially disappointing platters such as Friends, 20/20, Wild Honey and Sunflower sound surprisingly good. Still, America wasn't buying them. The Beach Boys' biggest-selling album of the Seventies was Endless Summer, a greatest-hits compilation. The band was trapped by its own past, and Brian, the man who might have lifted them to another level, was barely functioning. His attempted comeback, represented by the 1988 solo album called simply Brian Wilson, was overseen by Dr. Eugene Landy, a psychiatrist who had surrounded the performer with a full-time staff of professional nursemaids.

"Dr. Landy would love to be an artist--he and his wife, Alexandra," Love says. "But they don't have the talent to support that desire. They see Brian as the goose that laid the golden egg, but the problem is that the eggs haven't been properly fertilized. And they won't be unless there's the right chemistry between people with the right sensitivities--people who know when and how to get the best out of Brian. But instead, they medicate him until he can't make the beautiful, melancholy music that comes from his nature." (Landy has repeatedly denied taking advantage of Brian Wilson.)

Brian's delicate mental health was only one of the reasons Love says he waited so long to seek acknowledgment for his contributions to several of the Beach Boys' songs--and the other factors he cites are exceedingly complicated. He says that he first considered seeking reparations in 1969, when Murry sold the band's publishing company to Almo-Irving, then a branch of A&M Records. Love claims that he asked the band's attorney at the time if he should file a lawsuit in order to recover unpaid royalties and was given a negative response. "But it turns out," Love continues, "that our attorney was also Almo-Irving's attorney--which came to light in the mid-Eighties. So I asked our then-attorney what I should do, and he said it was too late to do anything. But he was wrong, because in the late Eighties Brian sued Almo-Irving because of the conflict of interest back in 1969, and they ended up giving him $10 million. But they didn't give me money or credit for the songs that I'd co-authored, so we've had to force the issue and bring the suit."

As a result, Love has spent much of the past several months involved in the court case, which he believes should be resolved this fall. He's confident that the ruling will come down in his favor. "Brian called me up two years ago and told me, `You were right to sue me. I owe you and I want to pay you, and I want to get back together.' And we found a letter from 1985 where Brian said he wanted to start paying me for `California Girls,' but it was stopped by his attorneys. Brian has surrendered to a conservatorship, because he's basically incompetent to take care of his own financial matters, but he's also controlled by these people who don't know anything about creativity. All they know how to do is administer his money--that being a euphemism for `take his money.' It's a very sad situation."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts