BAD VIBRATIONS; They Were Sold as the Golden Boys of Pop. but the Truth Behind the Beach Boys Is Very Different

Daily Mail (London), March 28, 1998 | Go to article overview

BAD VIBRATIONS; They Were Sold as the Golden Boys of Pop. but the Truth Behind the Beach Boys Is Very Different


Byline: PATRICK HUMPHRIES

AMID the banks of electronic equipment in a recording studio in a remote part of Illinois, a middle-aged man is putting the finishing touches to an album he has been working on for a year.

It is a labour of love, indeed . . . for he hopes that the soaring melodies and close harmonies will recreate one of the most recognisable sounds in pop.

The musician is Brian Wilson, the only survivor of a trio of brothers behind America's best-loved singing group. Those who have heard his work say that, at last, after 30 years of excess, mental torment and personal tragedy, this troubled genius has rediscovered the inspiration that made the Beach Boys the American rivals to The Beatles.

'It is a stunning return to form - vintage Beach Boys,' says one person who has heard the 25 recorded tracks. 'It is an attempt to reproduce the simple, innocent sounds of 1965, when Wilson was happiest.' Since those days, the story of the Beach Boys has been one of endless tragedy. The death last month of Carl Wilson from cancer at 51 was just the latest manifestation of the curse that seems to haunt the group.

The popular image of the Beach Boys was of five clean-cut college kids, surfing their way to happiness on the crest of a Californian wave,

a group of laughing blonde girls waiting patiently on the beach.

At the heart of this sunny Sixties image were the three Wilsons - Brian, Carl and Dennis - seemingly the archetypal close-knit family, united by their love of music and weaving those inimitable harmonies around some of the most memorable feelgood music of the past 40 years. California Girls, I Get Around, Surfin' USA, Good Vibrations and God Only Knows . . . each one instantly memorable.

But the truth was much more sinister. It is, perhaps, the darkest and most disturbing of the many tawdry tales of wasted talent in the music industry.

All three Wilson boys were abused as children by their overbearing father Murry, an amateur songwriter who resented his eldest son Brian's musical genius. As adults, the brothers fought endlessly, blew fortunes, ravaged their bodies with drugs, drink and overeating, indulged in the sleaziest of sex and even became embroiled with mass murderer Charles Manson.

Each lived his own tragedy.

Dennis, the only brother who knew how to surf, died in 1983, drunk and alone - ironically by drowning. Carl, who had led the brothers into rock 'n' roll, endured a terrible battle against cancer. And Brian, the tormented genius, spent years as an obese, drug-raddled paranoid, finally fired from his own group.

THERE is an uncanny similarity with another famous Sixties family: it is almost as if the Wilsons are the rock world's equivalent of the Kennedy clan.

Both suffered from domineering fathers and lost talented brothers in their prime.

Both families experienced a rollercoaster ride of international fame and deep personal tragedy. And both failed to recreate their golden years.

What is certain is that there seems something horribly misplaced about the words of the 1964 Beach Boys anthem: Fun, Fun, Fun.

The three Wilson boys were raised in Hawthorne, a Los Angeles suburb, where they suffered a miserable childhood.

Murry ruled the family with a rod of iron, leaving their mother, Audree, unable to do much to make life for her boys more enjoyable. Murry demanded absolute obedience. One early beating for a minor misde-meanour made Brian deaf in one ear, leaving one of the greatest rock 'n' roll composers unable to hear records in stereo.

Dennis, the middle child, a teenage tearaway, remembered his father as someone who 'treated us like rubbish, and whose punishments were sick'. But, like his siblings, he knew how to calm this tyrannical parent. 'You played a tune for him and he was a marshmallow. This monster would cry with bliss when he heard the music. …

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