Brian Wilson biography
Born in California in 1942, Brian Wilson formed the Beach Boys in 1961 and had a long string of hits. Moving beyond the cheery harmonies and catchy hooks that characterized his early music, Brian Wilson elevated himself and the Beach Boys to the status of rock legends with the release of the acclaimed album Pet Sounds in 1966. This would be the last Beach Boys album, as drugs and mental issues would plague Wilson for years.
One of the most influential songwriters of the 20th century, Brian Douglas Wilson was born on June 20, 1942, in Inglewood, California. Wilson endured a rough childhood. He was subjected to regular physical abuse by his father, Murry Wilson, and describes his mother, Audree Wilson, as an alcoholic. However, the Wilsons were also a very musical family. Both of his parents played piano, and Brian often joined his younger brothers, Dennis and Carl, in singing harmonies in the living room. Brian Wilson remembers his childhood with mixed feelings, once telling an interviewer, "I had a good childhood—except for my dad beating me up all the time."
The Beach Boys
As Wilson grew older, he increasingly turned to music as an escape from the pain of his home life. Along with his two younger brothers and their cousin, Mike Love, Wilson began singing at parties and small gatherings. The four relatives joined with high school friend Al Jardine to form a band in the late 1950s. Initially called The Pendletones, a name chosen because of the popular Pendleton flannel shirts that became the group's uniform throughout the 60s, the band changed its name to the Beach Boys in 1961. They released their first single, "Surfin'," in December 1961. Within a few months, "Surfin'" cracked Billboard's Hot 100 singles list, eventually peaking at No. 75 while remaining on the chart for six weeks. The Beach Boys signed with Capitol Records in 1962, and in the same year released their first full album, Surfin' Safari, which reached No. 32 on Billboard's Albums chart.
With Brian Wilson serving as their primary composer, the Beach Boys released a slew of hit singles during the early 1960s, creating music that would come to epitomize a generation. The Beach Boys released three albums in 1963 alone: Surfin' U.S.A., Surfer Girl and Little Deuce Coupe, all of which cracked the Top 10. They followed that breakout year with hit releases like All Summer Long (1964) and Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!) (1965). Some of the band's most iconic songs from this era include "Surfin' U.SA.," "Little Deuce Coupe," and "California Girls." The early Beach Boys sound, cheery and bright, came to represent the California youth culture of the period.
Moving beyond the cheery harmonies and catchy hooks that characterized his early music, Brian Wilson elevated himself and the Beach Boys to the status of rock legends with the release of the widely acclaimed album Pet Sounds in 1966. Wilson quit touring with the band in order to focus all of his energy on writing Pet Sounds with his new collaborator, Tony Asher.
The album, which features the songs "God Only Knows," "I Just Wasn't Made for these Times," "Don't Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)" and "Caroline, No," is ranked by many critics among the greatest records ever recorded (Rolling Stone magazine, for example, placed Pet Sounds at No. 2 on their list of the "500 Greatest Albums of All Time"). Paul McCartney named it his favorite album and called "God Only Knows" one of the most beautiful songs ever written. Ironically, considering its later success, Capitol Records and the other members of the Beach Boys initially resisted the musical direction Wilson took on the album. The name Pet Sounds was born when band member Mike Love quipped, "Who's gonna hear this sh**? The ears of a dog?"
Battling Drug Addiction
Immediately after releasing Pet Sounds, Wilson began work on another project that he hoped would reach even greater heights. At first called Dumb Angel and later renamed SMiLE, Wilson imagined the album as a "teenage symphony to God." It would not be released for over 37 years. One of the most famous unfinished albums of all time, SMiLE was shelved when Wilson's personal life took a sharp turn for the worse. Plagued by heavy abuse of alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and LSD, Wilson was diagnosed with depression and schizophrenia, suffered numerous nervous breakdowns, and grew obese. He famously began wailing in the aisle of an airplane, played his grand piano in a sandbox, and claimed to hear voices in his head. Attempting to deal with his drug addictions and mental illnesses, Wilson spent much of the next three decades in seclusion.
In the 1980s, Wilson began seeing the famous psychologist Eugene Landy. While Landy managed to cure Wilson of his drug addictions, he also may have exploited Wilson's dependency on him. He convinced Wilson to list him as a collaborator on several songs and as a beneficiary in his will. In 1991, Wilson's family sued Landy, resulting in a restraining order and the loss of Landy's license to practice psychology in California.
Brian Wilson claims that one thing and one thing only contributed to the renaissance of his personal and professional life in the mid-1990s: His wife. In 1995, Wilson married Melinda Ledbetter, and the couple has since adopted three kids. (Wilson had previously married Marilyn Rovell in 1964, and the couple had two children before divorcing in 1979). Since marrying Ledbetter, Wilson has released numerous solo albums including Orange Art Crate (1995) and Imagination (1998). In 2004, 37 years after its initial recordings, Wilson finally released a complete version of SMiLE to wide acclaim. Since reviving his career, Wilson has even overcome his legendary stage fright, performing in concerts throughout the United States and Europe.
Wilson has won numerous honors and awards for his music. Wilson and the Beach Boys were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, and in 2000 Wilson was also inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
He won the 2005 Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental for the song "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow," and in 2007 he received the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors for lifetime contribution to the performing arts.
After decades of seclusion, a happy and productive Wilson received a warm welcome back into the music industry. His good friend Sir Elton John said of Wilson, "He's got a great family life now, he goes to basketball games, he seems happy. He's leading as normal a life as Brian Wilson can." In fact, Wilson might be happier now than he was even during the heyday of the Beach Boys. "I'm having much more fun than I did as a Beach Boy," he said in a May 2002 interview with The Guardian. "Because I'm no longer a Beach Boy. I'm Brian Wilson."