'I Feel Pretty Good': A Moment With Brian Wilson

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The Beach Boys were all California - beach, waves and a sunny, blue sky.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WOULDN'T IT BE NICE")

THE BEACH BOYS: (Singing) Wouldn't it be nice if we were older? Then we wouldn't have to wait so long.

SIMON: But Brian Wilson, who co-founded the group with his brothers Carl and Dennis and their cousin Mike Love and wrote many of their signature hits, struggled for years with mental illness - voices in his head and ghosts of the ways in which his father, who encouraged his musical career, beat and abused him.

Brian Wilson has written a new memoir with Ben Greenman called "I Am Brian Wilson." We reached him in Portland, Ore., as he prepared for a soundcheck. He seemed courteous but wary, a man who prefers to express himself in song.

Let me ask you straight out - do you hear voices?

BRIAN WILSON: I have auditory hallucinations, yes.

SIMON: You still have them now and then?

WILSON: Yeah, I have had them now for about 50 years.

SIMON: May I ask what they say?

WILSON: Usually talk at me, not say things. Just, you know, I can't understand the words they're saying, but I can hear them talking.

SIMON: Does...

WILSON: Let's talk about some different. Let's get off this subject.

SIMON: OK. Well, it's in the book. There's a lot of it in the book...

WILSON: Right.

SIMON: ...Because I gather you didn't talk about that for years, right?

WILSON: Right.

SIMON: How does the creative process work with you? You hear something, you see something?

WILSON: No, no. I hear the chords on my piano. I play chords.

SIMON: Yeah.

WILSON: And those chords inspire a melody. And after I get the melody, then the words come, so it works perfect.

SIMON: Can we talk about your father?

WILSON: Sure.

SIMON: Sounds like you had a complicated relationship with him.

WILSON: Yeah, he wasn't all that nice to me, you know? He was a cool guy, but, I mean, he wasn't that nice to me.

SIMON: You sort of credit him with starting The Beach Boys.

WILSON: Right. Mike Love and I got together and wrote "Surfin'." Then my dad stepped in and said, I'll be your manager.

SIMON: But you had to fire him at one point, didn't you?

WILSON: Yeah, we did, in 1965, we fired him.

SIMON: And why?

WILSON: Because he was being too difficult with us. He was like, you know - he wasn't - he was too hard to work with.

SIMON: Do you think that some of the problems you've had with hearing is - have changed the way you write music?

WILSON: I - my - I went deaf. A neighbor friend of mine hit me with a lead pipe in my - the right side of my head.

SIMON: Yeah.

WILSON: And it put my ear out. I only hear monophonic hearing. I can't hear stereophonic. So I'll never know the difference. You know, I can't change it.

SIMON: Do you think you write music differently that way or think of music differently?

WILSON: Well, I think it made me - I feel - felt a little inadequate as a person only having one ear. So when I wrote music, I kind of compensated for that. I overcompensated. I sort of had a little hang-up for being a good song - music person.

SIMON: Yeah. Must have been rough to lose your brothers.

WILSON: Oh, are you kidding? It was very rough.

SIMON: Yeah.

WILSON: Dennis died when he was 38. Carl died when he was about 50.

SIMON: Can I talk about Dr. Landy?

WILSON: Sure.

SIMON: Dr. Eugene Landy - well, in the late '70s, you had a particularly bad bout of depression.

WILSON: Yes, I did.

SIMON: What did that feel like?

WILSON: Kind of felt helpless.

SIMON: Sounds like he kind of tried to take over everything in your life.

WILSON: Well, he took my life over, put me in a nine-year doctor's program. The good thing is that he taught - he showed me diet and exercise, eat good foods and exercise. And I started doing that and I felt better.

SIMON: But he wouldn't let any part of your life alone. He didn't want you to see your children, I gather.

WILSON: He wouldn't let me talk to my family on the phone, no, for nine years.

SIMON: Why did you agree to that?

WILSON: I had no power over him. He had power over me.

SIMON: How are you feeling now, Mr. Wilson?

WILSON: I feel pretty good. We've been having a great tour. We're doing the "Pet Sounds" album on stage.

SIMON: Yeah.

WILSON: The people love it. They just love it.

SIMON: It's a great album, sir.

WILSON: Thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOD ONLY KNOWS")

THE BEACH BOYS: (Singing) I may not always love you, but long as there are stars above you, you never need to doubt it. I'll make you so sure about it. God only knows what I'd be without you.

SIMON: I love the story of how you met your wife, Melinda. So you were looking to buy a car.

WILSON: Right.

SIMON: She was a salesperson, right?

WILSON: Right.

SIMON: Yeah. Quite a purchase you made that day.

WILSON: Yeah, I bought a really nice Cadillac car.

SIMON: Yeah, and met the woman - sounds like she really helped you.

WILSON: Yeah, she did. Well, when I finally started to live with her, she said, Brian, I think it would be a good idea for you to do a solo career where you do concerts under your own name. She realized - made me realize that I was a good singer.

SIMON: You didn't know that yourself?

WILSON: No. No, I didn't.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WONDERFUL")

WILSON: (Singing) She knew how to gather the forest when God reached softly and moved her body.

SIMON: You still write music, right?

WILSON: I haven't written a song for four and a half years, but I'm going to write a rock 'n' roll album soon. I'm going to make a rock 'n' roll album that will make people want to dance, clap and yell.

SIMON: Is there something you'd like to tell other people who have had some of the challenges you've had in life?

WILSON: Yeah. Well, I would like to tell the - my advice to people would be not to take psychedelic drugs. They're very dangerous and they're not good for your mind.

SIMON: Anything else?

WILSON: No, that covers it.

THE BEACH BOYS: Do you have a favorite Brian Wilson song?

WILSON: Yeah, "California Girls." It's my favorite because of the bass - the bass line and the lyrics. I thought the lyrics were pretty good.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CALIFORNIA GIRLS")

WILSON: (Singing) I wish they all could be California girls.

SIMON: Mr. Wilson.

WILSON: Yeah.

SIMON: Thank you very much for all your time.

WILSON: Thank you very much. Your name is what?

SIMON: Scott Simon.

WILSON: Scott Simon?

SIMON: Yes, sir.

WILSON: OK. I'll see you sometime, OK, Scott?

WILSON: I hope so. Thank you so much, Mr. Wilson.

WILSON: OK, Scott. Bye-bye.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CALIFORNIA GIRLS")

WILSON: (Singing) I wish they all could be California girls.

 

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