Three Reviled Men Who Need To Have Their Due
By David Bash
As most passionate Beach Boys fans would agree, Murry Wilson, Mike Love, and Eugene Landy have been villified, castigated, even reviled for having done so many heinous things over the years, several in particular which have adversely affected Brian Wilson. I’m not here to take issue with any of that, other than to say that while these attacks are not errors of commission, they are definitely errors of omission, because each of these men, and I’m not exaggerating one bit, have played a vital role in making both Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys what they are today.
Let’s begin at the beginning, with Mr. Wilson: Murry, that is. There can be no dispute that he was an abusive dad, both verbally and physically, particularly to Brian (as it is with most abusive fathers, directing it in most part towards the oldest boy), who he constantly bombarded with both blatant and thinly veiled put-downs…and of course, if it’s really true that he hit his eldest son with a baseball bat when Brian was two, effecting the deafness in his right ear, then he should have been put in jail (no doubt that if Social Services, as we know it today, was around back then, his ass would have been hauled off either to court or jail several times), and the verbal abuse greatly contributed not only to Brian’s nervous breakdown, but to many subsequent years of mental and physical degeneration. Having said all that, had Murry not constantly been on Brian with exhorts to “work harder and do better”, there’s a good chance that Brian never would have created the output he has. For better or worse, Murry kicked Brian’s ass (Brian actually thanked his Dad for “kicking my ass” in an interview he did with me), mainly emotionally, which caused Brian to seek Murry’s approval by working harder and harder to produce work of which his father would be proud. The fact that, in Brian’s mind, he never reached that goal, and that this took an awful toll on his mental well being, doesn’t obscure the other fact that without Murry, Brian likely would have taken it a lot easier, possibly even giving up before The Beach Boys achieved even a modicum of fame, thereby depriving the world of years of genius. Would Brian Wilson, with a dad who treated him with kindness and love, been a happier, more well-adjusted human being? Almost certainly. But would he have been as prodigious a songwriter and producer? Almost certainly not. For that, Murry must be given some due.
Next is Mike Love, who probably has the most ironic last name in the history of popular music. To love Brian Wilson means you hate Mike Love, and no doubt there’s good reason for it: Mike was, and still is, a smug, smarmy ass who used to play constant mind games with Brian, put down the most brilliant work of Brian’s career, and tried to claim credit for many things for which it wasn’t deserved (to be fair, there were times where he had been denied credit that should have been forthcoming). However, while all of the above is true, what’s also undeniable is that without Mike Love, The Beach Boys would never have been the live entity they have become, would likely have stopped touring after Brian retreated to the studio, and would never have created the enduring legacy that now exists for millions of people. Why? Because Mike Love was the only member of The Beach Boys who was an effective front man. Brian had way too much stagefright, Carl and Al were too quiet (although eventually Carl exerted a bit of authority on stage), and while Dennis was an obvious sex symbol who was never short of female admirers, he was mostly in back on the drums, and really didn’t possess the sponteneity of articulation necessary to be the front man. Mike Love craved being the center of attention, would strut around the stage, exhorting the crowd to get excited, and was, at least in that sphere, a reasonably articulate guy. He was the glue that held the band together as a live entity, and both driven and narcissistic enough to hold tightly to those reigns to this day. Love is also the one who advised Capitol Records on the track listing to Endless Summer, and album that, without its existence, may have left The Beach Boys dead and buried. Those 400,000 people who came to see The Beach Boys play at The Washington Monument have Mike Love to thank…and so do we, for keeping the summer alive.
Finally, we get to Eugene Landy, a man who took power and abused it to the nth degree, which effected the eventual loss of his licence to practice psychiatry. Landy’s therapy sessions put Brian through sheer hell, and once Landy brought Brian to a point where he could function with a modicum of ability, Landy assumed full control of his life, both outside and inside of the studio, a huge breach of ethics. Many people in the Beach Boys circle felt Landy’s control was akin to a prison camp, and Brian himself, in interviews that were able to escape the verbal manipulation of Landy, revealed that he indeed felt imprisoned. All this is well and good, and Landy deserved to lose his license and more, but there is one thing which cannot be denied: had Eugene Landy not come to Brian’s rescue in 1983, Brian would today likely be incapacitated at best, and six feet underground at worst. At the time Landy came back into Brian’s life, Brian was in absolutely awful shape, his weight more than 300 pounds and climbing, snorting prodigious amounts of cocaine, effectively placing one foot into the grave. Eugene Landy saved his life-call his methods extreme, highly unethical, reprehensible if you will-he saved Brian’s life. Not only that, but he got Brian to *work* again, to write and record a very, very good record in 1988, and planted the seeds for Brian’s eventual work, including the newly recorded Smile album. Of course there are many other people in Brian’s world who played a larger part in shaping the past 15 years of Brian’s life and career, but what I’m saying is, had it not been for Eugene Landy, there wouldn’t have been a Brian on this earth to shape, and that carries as much or more weight than anything else.
In sum, I’m not suggesting that you stop feeling the way you do about Murry Wilson, Mike Love, and Eugene Landy; I’m saying that there’s the other side of the story which simply cannot be denied, and must be given its due process.