I started to read Peter Carlin's latest book about Brian Wilson,
I asked myself if there could possibly be anything else to write
about. Wilson's life has been dissected and analyzed by numerous
authors over the years and most people are aware of the story behind
the famed musician who created the California sound, rode the wave
of success, plummeted to the depths of despair and depression, then
reemerged as a universally-respected rock icon. You don't have to
be a Beach Boys scholar to know the Brian Wilson story. It's become
a part of American folklore.
I've read several books about The Beach Boys and Brian Wilson (one
of the best being David Leaf's "The Beach Boys and the California
Myth"), and have always found the story to be somewhat compelling.
It's a true-to-life American success story about five young high
school students from middle-class Hawthorne, California who were
swept to superstardom practically overnight and, despite a tumultuous
ride along the way, had gone on to achieve the status as one of
the greatest rock and roll bands ever to emerge from the 1960s,
along with being the only American band to truly rival The Beatles.
It's a story of success, but success comes with a price, and the
one who paid the most for attaining fame and fortune was Brian Wilson.
As it turns out, Brian became a victim of the monster he created.
But does Carlin's book reveal any new information about the Wilson
saga that has not already been explored? Not particularly, but he
has done exhaustive research along with numerous interviews, plus
has unearthed new documents and recordings that add more detail
to the existing story. Transcripts of family altercations were used
to emphasize the stressful environment that Murry Wilson (father
of band members Brian, Dennis and Carl) created at home and in the
studio. The book explores the all-to-fragile mind of Brian Wilson
and how he gradually and painfully succumbed to the demands of being
the creative force behind the Beach Boys. Carlin examines the various
stages that led to Brian's mental and physical collapse including
the turbulent relationship with his father, the pressures of touring,
the weight placed upon him to keep producing hit records, and eventually,
dissention within the group because of their disapproval of his
new music. Combined with his continued substance abuse, these issues
caused enormous stress for Brian, eventually forcing him to abandon
his work on the legendary "Smile" album. They also contributed
to his withdrawal into a very dark world of anxiety, paranoia, depression,
alcohol and drug abuse.
As Brian's life began spiraling downward, the band's fortunes also
followed in the same path. Carlin takes an in-depth look at the
late 60s and the tough times that the band had to endure. With Brian
no longer at the helm, the hits had all but dried up, and by 1968,
just as a new generation was beginning to flower, The Beach Boys
were suddenly considered passé and unhip. While the band
was struggling to survive, Brian withdrew even further, spending
most of his time in bed, with his weight ballooning up to an unhealthy
340 pounds. Carlin writes, "For some people the answer seemed
all too obvious: Brian was going to die. His family and the Beach
Boys either felt powerless to do anything to change his direction,
or didn't have the energy to try."
At the request of the Wilson family, Dr. Eugene Landy, a noted psychologist
was hired and put Brian on a 24-hour regimen that took control of
every aspect of his "physical, personal, social and sexual
environment." Wilson has been quoted as saying that Landy saved
his life, but as it turns out, Dr. Landy was interested in more
than just Brian's health. He took advantage of Wilson's fragile
condition to reap the financial rewards of his musical talents,
but in 1992 the Supreme Court in Santa Monica ordered Landy to permanently
disengage himself from Wilson's life after it was discovered that
he was prescribing too many psychotropic drugs, which proved to
be harmful to his patient.
As Carlin points out, Brian's life took a major turnaround after
being freed from the clutches of Landy. He resumed an active writing
and recording schedule, began touring with a new band and finally,
after close to 40 years, had the ambition to complete his long-abandoned
musical project "Smile."
The story behind the turbulent life of Brian Wilson is a fascinating
one, filled with joy and sorrow, triumph and tragedy and finally,
as Carlin states, redemption. Although there are no new revelations
to add to the Wilson saga, Carlin, through his extensive research,
has filled in the gaps and created a superb memoir that is both
moving and enticing. It's a true American success story, but one
that came with a heavy price.
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