An Oral History by Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain
Brian Wilson: The Beatles’ invasion shook me up an awfully lot. They eclipsed a lot of what we’d worked for, eclipsed the whole music world. We were very threatened by the whole thing. I panicked that we were suddenly outdated, so the next day I met Mike Love at a coffee shop to discuss what we’d seen. I asked him, “Did you see the Beatles last night?”
He did and was equally concerned. Both of us saw them as a threat, but we differed on what action to take. I said, “I want to toss the album, we’ll start over and put out better songs…”
Mike said, “The songs are fine, Brian, they fit into the Beach Boys’ formula.”
I argued, “That’s the point, we’ve got to grow, go beyond the formula. It’s stupid not to.”
Mike said, “But, Brian, if you throw away the album, you’re throwing away money in the bank. The songs have worked so far. They’ll keep on working as long as we don’t screw with the formula.”
I said, “You don’t get it, do you, Mike?”
Mike Love: Brian’s a grown man who has been indulged; acting like an idiot kid, and our reputations were all going down with him.
Brian Wilson: We were going to Houston to kick-off a two-week tour. I said good bye to Marilyn and boarded the plane. Minutes after we were airborne, I turned to Al. Tears were streaming out of my eyes. My face was red. Al asked, “What’s wrong, Brian?”
I said, “I’m going to crack up any minute!”
He said, “Cool it, Brian, pull yourself together.”
It was impossible. I was already over the edge. I buried my face in a pillow and let myself go, hurtling over the brink of sanity. I cried. I screamed. I pounded my fists in the back of the chair.
Al Jardine: We were really scared for him. He obviously had a breakdown. None of us had ever witnessed something like that.
Brian Wilson: Al Jardine called the stewardess back. She placed her hand on my back.
I said, “I want to get off this airplane, I want off! Right now!”
She said, “But we just took off, sir…”
“I don’t care! I want off this fucking airplane!”
She tried soothing me, “I’m sorry, but before you can get off, we have to land. Once we land, then you can get off.” I forearmed the stewardess to the side, stepped over Al, and bounced down the aisle, out of control, scared, utterly mad. I told everyone to leave me alone, to go and fuck themselves.
Dennis Wilson: I was really terrified for my brother. Brian was crying and saying, “I can’t take it!”
Mike Love: I might have been in another part of the plane. I think his brothers might have been closer to it than I was.
Brian Wilson: I had a full-scale breakdown. Within minutes, my brothers wrestled me and ushered me into a seat. Dennis and Carl each held a hand until we landed in Houston that afternoon, reassuring me that everything would be okay.
But once we landed, I’d changed my mind.
I said, “I’m not getting off, turn the plane around and fly back to L.A!”
Carl said, “No, Brian, they can’t, let’s go to the hotel. I’ll help you get to the hotel.”
I pleaded, “Please, I want to go back home. I want to go back home and see Mom…”
Audree Wilson: We received a phone call saying that Brian was coming home and that he had been crying, and breaking down and couldn’t carry on. Dick Cummings made it very clear that only I was to meet Brian, not his father. Once again, my husband was crushed, and, oh, he was furious with me.
Brian Wilson: I was taken to a hospital in Texas, and told a doctor what happened on the plane. He told me not to worry, gave me a tranquilizer, and sent me back to the hotel. I rested for several hours and regained enough composure to perform the entire show that night.
Afterward, I went directly to the hotel, took another tranquilizer, and fell asleep. The next morning I woke up sick. My stomach was full of knots, my head was spinning out of control, and all I did was cry into my pillow.
Carl visited. So did Dennis. But I wanted to be alone and begged them to let me rest. Later, the phone rang. I picked it up and threw it against the wall. I double-bolted the door. I didn’t want to see anyone. Finally, the Beach Boys’ road manager pounded on the door so long that I answered. He said he was escorting me home on a flight leaving that night. I couldn’t wait and sat beside the clock, watching the seconds turn into minutes and the minutes turn into hours.
Carl Wilson: Brian worked really hard for the first seven years and he needed a break. I think he was pretty confused. He was suffering a lot of anguish, a lot of anxiety, frustration and disillusionment.
Brian Wilson: I wanted my mom to pick me up at the airport. Not Marilyn. Not my dad. Especially not my dad. Just my mom. I craved mothering.
Audree Wilson: I met Brian at the airport.
Brian Wilson: Seeing my mom, I couldn’t hold back the tears and let myself cry in her arms. We stood there for at least ten minutes, hugging and crying. I said, “You know, Dad always told me I was a failure, he was right. Look at me!”
My mom said, “Nonsense, just relax and tell me where you want to go. Home with Marilyn? To my house? Where?”
I said, “I want to go to our old Hawthorne house.”
Audree Wilson: We got in the car. Brian was in really bad shape, he was crying, and then he’d stop crying, and talk about his lifelong hang-up.
Brian Wilson: For the next three hours, I sat on the floor and exposed my scarred soul to my mom. She didn’t have any answers for me. Nothing that was able to mend the wounds. But she was my mother. She listened, quietly and patiently and without judgment, as I told her about the demons and fears that vexed my life; my dad, the beatings, the humiliation of my youth, my failure with Carol Mountain, Judy Bowles, my confusion over Marilyn and her sisters, the pressure of the Beach Boys, Phil Spector, smoking pot, and my jealousy over Mike and Marilyn.
I was like a kid reaching for his security blanket. My mom kept her cool. She held my hand, she patted my back, she listened, and then when I was all talked out, she helped me up and drove me home.
I asked her, “Could you do something for me?”
She said, “I’ll try, what is it?”
I said, “Do you remember when I was a little boy, you used to make me soft-boiled eggs?”
She said, “Tomorrow I’ll make them. For lunch.”
Loren Schwartz: I was at a Beach Boys concert with Brain, and when we were leaving, we were trying to get out of the parking lot and the crowd saw us and they came and crawled all over the car like an army of ants, and started pounding in unison on the windows to try to break them to get to Brain! They tore the antennae off!
They ripped off everything, the outside mirror, the rearview mirror too! They got into the car and ripped Brian’s clothing! They tore anything to get a piece of fabric, and it was just me and Brain in the car!
Ya know what fame does to people? It makes them crazy! It’s horrible, horrible, horrible! I don’t know where the other guys were, but I said to Brian, “You put up with this all the time?” He said, “Yeah.”
Can you imagine why he wouldn’t want to go on the road anymore?
Brian Wilson: I said to the band, “If you want me to be able to be creative like I really want to, I’m going to have to stay at home.”
Sure enough, I got my way. I felt I had no choice. I was run down mentally and emotionally because I was running around, jumping on jets, one-night stands, also producing, writing, arranging, singing, planning, teaching.
It was to the point where I had no peace of mind, no chance to actually sit down and think or even rest. I was so mixed-up and so overworked.
Loren Schwartz: Brian told me his well-documented nervous-breakdown on the airplane was a ploy to get off the road. He said, “I did it on purpose.”
Glen Campbell: Mike Love and Carl Wilson called me on Wednesday, and said, “Glen can you be here tomorrow? We gotta gig in Dallas and you wanna come play it with us?”
I said, “Whattya mean, open the show or what?”
They said, “Brian’s sick and can’t make it. You gotta play bass and do Brian’s parts…”
So I said, “Sure,” I had been doing their sessions, so I could easily fill in.
The only problem was I didn’t know all the words to the songs. They’d be singing “Pasadena” and I would sing something else. I didn’t know what I was saying.
Mike Love: Glen Campbell put on Brian’s shirt and got the pants hemmed, and away we go. But he played the bass, not the guitar, which he was known for, he was an excellent guitarist, and he was a blast!
Glen Campbell: I flew out there and played that first date, and I must have made a million mistakes. But nobody could hear anyway over all the screaming and hollering of 17,000 kids. I’d get three lines out of my mouth and the crowd would start screaming. You couldn’t hear anything. So I just sat back and hollered the song as loud as I could.
Brian Wilson: Glen was a nice guy, a hell of a musician; and his falsetto was good enough to cover my parts.
Glen Campbell: Right after the concert the Beach Boys ran like mad for their cars, but I took my time. I didn’t care, figuring nobody would pay any attention to me since I wasn’t really a Beach Boy. Well, I want to tell you, they jumped on me with all four feet, started yanking my hair, stole my watch and tore off my shirt. From then on, I was the first one in the car.
Brian Wilson: Glen had too much talent to remain in the background.
Mike Love: The Beach Boys weren’t the right fit for him.
Brian Wilson: Then he got sick and couldn’t tour.
Glen Campbell: They couldn’t afford me.
Brian Wilson: The Beach Boys were really in trouble now because they couldn’t cancel the tour. So Mike, in the last minute, phones up Bruce Johnston back in Los Angeles to see if he can fill in.
Mike Love: I asked Bruce if he could find someone who could take Glen’s place for a few weekend concerts. When he called back, he said he’d been unable to find a replacement, but he had a suggestion– himself.
Bruce Johnston: I didn’t want to join the band permanently; I had never been on the road before in my life, and I didn’t know how to play bass guitar, so I locked myself in my hotel room for two weeks in Miami, Florida, and taught myself all the songs. I taught myself how to smile, how to relax, and how to bounce around. I was scared.
Mike Love: Bruce actually surfed.
Bruce Johnston: On the first night I appeared onstage, the kids started yelling, “Where’s Brian?” And I thought, “Oh baby, they’re going to stone me!”
The audience reaction to the Beach Boys really overwhelmed at first. My ears rang for two weeks afterwards and it inspired me to play and do things onstage. My mother couldn’t believe I was playing with a successful group. When we went on those long trips, she would think I was in jail or something. It was only when we appeared on coast-to-coast television that she started to believe that the group existed.
Brian Wilson: I just wanted to sit and think and rest, pull myself together, check my life out, and once again evaluate what I am, what I’m doing and what I should be doing.
Bruce Johnston: After that two-week tour, we came home, and I thought, “Okay, now Brian will bounce back, or Glen will bounce back, or they’ll get someone…”
Mike Love: Bruce slid right in, and with the exception of one hiatus in the 1970’s, has been with the band ever since.
Brian Wilson: The “Beach Boys Today” album was in the midst of spinning off five hit singles; it was the band’s most triumphant LP yet, so I was willing to experiment with anything that promised to take me to an even higher plateau.
Mike Love: Being young guys who were first cousins and family, we weren’t knowledgeable enough in the 60’s to know how to respond to some of the issues that were affecting Brian.
Brian Wilson: One night Loren asked me if I’d like to actually hear music in a way that would blow my mind. I could hold it, mold it, juggle the sounds like a circus performer.
I thought he was joking.
He said, “No, I’m serious, Brian, you’re unique. An artist. Very bright. Very talented. I know of something that can really expand your vision. Really open you up to music. In a way you’ve never experienced.”
I said, “What are you talking about?”
He said, “LSD.”
I asked, “What’s LSD?”
He said, “It’s a drug that’s twenty times more powerful than grass….”
Loren Schwartz: Brian came to me and literally begged me to give him LSD. At first, I refused. But once Brian was smoking pot, it was perfectly natural that he wanted to take LSD. I told him all about it, he’d heard about it from people, all kinds of people, so Brian said, “I gotta have this! I mean if pot does this for me, what’s LSD going to do for me?”
I said, “Brian, you’re scaring the hell out of me, I don’t know if I want the responsibility of giving acid to Brian Wilson!” I thought he might be a little schizophrenic, he wasn’t hearing voices, but he certainly saw visions, and god knows what kind of music went through his head.
Brian Wilson: Wow! Twenty times stronger than grass, then it made perfect sense to me that it would be twenty times better than grass!
Loren Schwartz: I had a vile of Owsley acid, and Marilyn was away somewhere; visiting somebody overnight, and I said, “Okay, alright,” so I gave it to Brian.
For the record, it was 125mcg of genuine Owsley, a clean, pure and correct dose from the best source known. I didn’t go with him, because you don’t do that, you don’t get high with the person you’re the guide for, that was the honorable thing to do. I had taken many trips and I knew the rules: Be an attentive and compassionate guide. Don’t take the drug at the same time. Keep silent and protect the tripper from the environment and himself.
Brian Wilson: Loren set a scene at his apartment: low lights, Lava Lites, music, something to drink. There was a sacredness to it all, from the way we said hello to the way Loren handed me a small paper stamp and told me to swallow it.
There was always some story to the drugs Loren had. The hash was from Turkey, the grass Jamaica, and the LSD was from up north. Some chemist named Stanley Owsley. Its intensity was unrivaled.
Loren Schwartz: I said, “I’ll be here, I’m your guide, I’ll bring you down if you get into trouble, I’ll keep you on the path, don’t worry…”
Brian took the acid at my place on Harper and then we went over to Brian’s place on Gardner. It doesn’t come on for 45 minutes, so he wasn’t stoned yet and he said something like he’d be more comfortable at his own place, so we drove over.
LSD doesn’t hit for 45 minutes, it’s very strange that LSD is eliminated the body in the first half an hour, virtually all of it appears in your urine a half an hour later.
And you don’t begin to get high until 45 minutes later.
Brian Wilson: Within fifteen minutes I felt myself stirring. It began with a tension in my neck, like little gnomes grabbing onto my shoulders, and became an all-encompassing fuzziness. Loren suddenly realized I wasn’t listening to him. As my guide, he came to my side.
He asked, “Are you okay, Brian?”
I said, “A little uptight.”
He said, “Just relax, try to relax…”
I couldn’t. Chilled and higher than I’d ever been, I stood up and didn’t move for what was almost an hour, doing nothing more than stare at the undulating liquid in the Lava Lite until I had absorbed its slow rhythm. My brain was a morass of rubber thoughts.
Loren Schwartz: We sat down on the couch and it started to come on, and that’s when Brian said, “Oh I’m feeling it I’m feeling it…”
I said, “Okay just be calm, everything’s fine, this is beautiful…” And he said, “Excuse me, I’ve gotta get out of here,” and he went in the bedroom and he got into bed, which is his safe place, right?
Brian’s safe place is in bed.
He put a pillow over his head and he stayed in that bedroom, I timed it with my watch, and for hour and a half he stayed in there.
Brian Wilson: I had to play Loren’s piano. I sat down in front of the keyboard, but when I looked down all the white keys appeared fused together into a single note.
The chords I’d been poised to play moments ago vanished in my confusion.
My mind went blank.
I tried to play anyway, but only one finger had the ability to work.
I hit an A.
Then I hit it again.
Over and over again for half an hour.
That’s all I was able to play.
It freaked me out. What if I couldn’t play anymore?
Loren Schwartz: After forty-five minutes, Brian came staggering out of the bedroom, saying, “Oh! That’s enough of that!” He’d gone completely interior, right?
Which on acid; you gotta keep some connection with the outside world, otherwise your swimming in your own brain and it’s not anything you wanna do, because can you imagine the fireworks that were going off in his head?
Brian was mostly silent, he’d tell me what he was seeing, and hearing, and what he was feeling, but I kept out of the way, he didn’t wanna be interfered with.
Brian was sitting with me on the couch, and getting up and walking to the kitchen and drinking some water, or wandering around the room. His mind was just reeling with the best acid in the world at the perfect dose, very clean, very pure.
Brian Wilson: I said, “Oh my God, Loren, I can’t play the piano,” and then, “I’m too high to understand what you’re saying. I’ve got to get out of here….”
Loren Schwartz: After the fourth hour, Brian peaked and said, “Ohhh, alright, I’m starting to feel better, let’s go driving…”
I said, “You sure?”
And he said, “Oh yeah, let’s get in the car…”
He drove this ugly, awful Mercury thing, I guess he drove it because he thought nobody would recognize him in it, ha, ha! It was a wreck, this great, big, dumb car. So we got it in and he drove, which is what he often did when he was by himself– just drive two blocks and turn right, then drive two blocks and turn left.
Two blocks, turn right; two blocks, turn left.
He covered the entire Hollywood area, a block or two at a time. That’s how he drove and it helped him, it calmed him.
It got him centered on the wheel.
Brian Wilson: We walked up the street. I spotted a house with a FOR SALE sign in front and shouted, “I have to buy this house! I have to buy this unbelievable house!”
Loren convinced me otherwise, and as we continued walking, like a lunatic, I shouted whatever thoughts came into my head. Seeing a strange-looking man turn a corner, I convinced myself he was God, leading me on a journey of my entire life, showing me the tiny seed I’d once been and taking me to the place where I’d finish my life.
Then he vanished, I was lost.
Loren Schwartz: I would have grabbed the wheel if anything would have happened, but Brian did fine, I mean when you peak, that’s as far as it goes. So he was driving just fine.
When Brian couldn’t stand Marilyn or Murray or Mike Love, he got in that car and drove just exactly like we were doing; two blocks, turn right; two blocks, turn left.
There was an entire tank of gas in the car, and we drove like that for hours, until he completely came down. It was late at night, it must have been midnight, and I said, “Okay, you’re alright?
Brian said, “Oh yeah, fan-fucking-tastic!”
Brian Wilson: That night, in the afterglow of the LSD, I sat at the piano, lit a joint, and tried to forget how weird and unpleasant everything was. I tried to write a country and western shuffle that night, and before turning in, I had something catchy.
The next morning, I began singing about girls,comparing the girls in California to those in other parts of the country and I latched onto the concept of naming those regions, like I did surf spots in “Surfin’ U.S.A.”
The song was finished within the week, and it took another week of playing around before I plunked out the symphonic lead to “California Girls.”
Bruce Johnston: I came home from the Beach Boys tour, and they said, “Why don’t you come and sing on our next album?”
Brian just said, “Here, sing a part,” and I sang a part and it worked.
And that became part of “California Girls.”
Mike Love: Brian told me that he was doing LSD when he did “California Girls,” I never knew that. What an amazing track, beautiful arrangement and great harmonies.
Copyright 2017 Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain
Good Vibrations, My Life as a Beach Boy by Mike Love with James S. Hirsch – pages 109, 110, 111
Heroes & Villains, the True Story of the Beach Boys by Steven Gaines page 128
Mojo Magazine article on the Beach Boys from August 1995
The Beach Boys and the California Myth by David Leaf – pages 5, 66, 67
The Beach Boys, The Definitive Diary of America’s Greatest Band on Stage and in the Studio by Keith Badman – pages 75, 79, 89, 90, 330
The Glen Campbell Story by Freda Kramer – page 72
Wouldn’t It Be Nice, by Brian Wilson with Todd Gold – pages, 107, 108, 109, 113, 114, 116, 117, 119
Interviews with Loren Schwartz by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain – © PKM Archive
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