Childhood & Early Life
Brian Wilson was born on June 20, 1942, at Centinela Hospital in Inglewood, California, as the oldest of the three sons of Audree Neva (née Korthof) and Murry Wilson. He, along with his brothers Dennis and Carl, drew their initial inspiration from their father, who was a musician and a mechanist. He is of Dutch, English, German, Irish, and Swedish descent.
Wilson began to demonstrate his musical talent even prior to his first birthday. According to his father, he could sing the melody of "When the Caissons Go Rolling Along" and was extremely intelligent. About a year later, he heard George Gershwin's ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ for the first time, which would have a tremendous emotional impact on him. The family relocated from Inglewood to Hawthorne when Wilson was two years old.
A few years later, he suffered a drastic hearing loss in his right ear. While the exact cause of this has remained unknown, speculations range from him simply being born with the defect to the hearing loss being a result of abuse at the hands of his father or a neighbourhood bully.
Despite being a good provider for his family, Murry used to beat up his children. He never amounted to anything of significance as a musician and his talented children gave him the opportunity to vicariously fulfil his dreams.
Wilson attended Hawthorne High School, where he played basketball and baseball, and was a cross-country runner. He sang and played multiple instruments. He and his brothers, along with their cousin, Mike, formed a musical act named Carl and the Passions and they performed at a fall arts program. One of the audience members at this program was Jardine, who would join the group a few years later.
After graduating from high school, he started attending El Camino College in September 1960, pursuing a degree in psychology and continuing with his music studies. Drawing inspiration from Dion and the Belmonts’ version of ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’, he created his first original melody in 1961. It eventually became the song ‘Surfer Girl’, which was released as a part of their third album, which was named after the song.
Continue Reading Below
Brian Wilson and his group first performed under the name the Pendletones and released their first single ‘Surfin’ through Candix Records, who, without permission from any of the band members, changed the group’s name to the Beach Boys.
Over a period of weeks, ‘Surfin’ began to fade out from the charts and Candix Records sold the band’s master recordings to another record label after they encountered financial problems. Murry, who was serving as the band’s manager at the time, terminated their contract with the label.
The band eventually signed with Capitol Records and through them, released their debut album, ‘Surfin' Safari’, on October 1, 1962. It was a success, reaching no. 32 at one point on the US charts.
The album ’Surfin’ U.S.A’ was released next, in March 1963. It was their first album to be certified Gold by RIAA. They became a national sensation after this. Between 1963 and 1966, the Beach Boys released eight more albums, including ‘Surfer Girl’ (1963), ‘Little Deuce Coupe’ (1963), ‘Shut Down Volume 2’ (1964), ‘All Summer Long’ (1964), ‘The Beach Boys' Christmas Album’ (1964)’ and ‘The Beach Boys Today!’ (1965).
On May 16, 1966, they put out the greatest album they have ever made, ‘Pet Sounds’. After ‘Pet Sounds’, Wilson began to be touted as a genius, a notion that originally circulated among the group’s friends from the music industry. It was later taken up by their publicist, Derek Taylor.
The band’s next project, ‘Smile’, which Wilson had dubbed as “a teenage symphony to God,” was scrapped, leaving Wilson seriously disheartened. It was later released as a simplified version, titled ‘Smiley Smile’. By the time they were working on their 13th album ‘Wild Honey’, Wilson had started asking others to play more prominent roles in the creative process.
Wilson was a heavy substance abuser. Besides the regular use of amphetamines, marijuana, and psychedelics, he started taking cocaine as well. In the late 1960s, Wilson sought treatment at a psychiatric hospital for a brief period of time and was subjected to doses of lithium and electroconvulsive therapy there.
The Beach Boys were in deep trouble financially. They continued to release albums but these albums continued to underperform. In 1969, they were dropped by Capitol Records and later signed a contract with then-newly formed Reprise Records.
In the 1970s, following his father’s death, Wilson became more reclusive and became a shadow of his past self. In 1975, his wife Marilyn introduced him to the psychologist and psychotherapist Eugene Landy and hired him to treat Wilson. He was later dropped because of his astronomical fees.
Continue Reading Below
In 1983, Landy was re-hired and he eventually became Wilson’s executive producer, business manager, co-songwriter, and business adviser. Landy’s professional license was revoked by the State of California and a restraining order was issued in 1992 barring him from seeing Wilson again.
Wilson released his self-titled first solo album in 1988. Since then, he has released ten more albums. They are ‘I Just Wasn't Made for These Times’ (1995), ‘Orange Crate Art’ (1995), ‘Imagination’ (1998), ‘Gettin' in Over My Head’ (2004) ‘Brian Wilson Presents Smile’ (2004), ‘What I Really Want for Christmas’ (2005), ‘That Lucky Old Sun’ (2008), ‘Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin’ (2010), ‘In the Key of Disney’ (2011) and ‘No Pier Pressure’ (2015).
Wilson won the Grammy Award for the Best Rock Instrumental Performance for ‘Mrs. O'Leary's Cow’ and the Grammy Award for Best Historical Album for ‘The Smile Sessions’. *In 1988, he and the rest of the members of the Beach Boys were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Paul McCartney inducted him into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2000.
The Beach Boys had been plagued with multiple issues for years. Brian’s mental health had been gradually deteriorating. His brother, Dennis, died in 1983. Carl Wilson’s death in 1998 was the final nail in the coffin. The group simply splintered. Brian went on to focus on his solo career.
In February 2011, the remaining members of the group, along with David Marks and Bruce Johnston, put out a single titled ‘Don’t Fight the Sea’ in an effort to help the victims of the 2011 Japan earthquake. They released their 29th studio album, ‘That's Why God Made the Radio’ in 2012. Afterwards, the group briefly reunited for the Pet Sounds 50th anniversary world tour in 2016.