The Beach Boys poison-pen letter
A recently discovered letter written by Brian Wilson's father sheds more troubling light on their relationship
Thursday 7 January 2010
Murry Wilson was in the habit of beating his children. We know that from his oldest son Brian's autobiography, Wouldn't It Be Nice, published in 1991, in which the chief Beach Boy – then deep in therapy – detailed the painful humiliations to which he had been subjected in his youth. But now, out there on the internet, is a hitherto unknown and quite startling document that appears to shed new light on Brian's troubled relationship with his father. Future biographers searching for the deep background to the genius behind California Girls and Good Vibrations have just been handed a goldmine.
Brian, photographed a couple of years ago
The document is a letter written on the headed notepaper of the Sea of Tunes music publishing company, through which Murry Wilson administered the Beach Boys' copyrights. Addressed to Brian at his Hollywood home, it runs to seven-and-a-half pages and about 5,000 words. Although it is not signed, there is no doubting the identity of the writer – it begins "Dear Brian: Your mother and I …" – and it appears to have been dictated to a secretary but not sent, at least in this form.
Dated 8 May 1965, it was written when Help Me, Rhonda was topping the charts and Brian was about to begin work on Pet Sounds, having just announced his decision not to accompany the band on their forthcoming world tour. What it contains is a diatribe of criticism and resentment. Murray appears to have reached the end of his tether over his grown-up children's behaviour and in particular their refusal to continue to bend to his sovereign will.
"It has become very apparent to me that the family cannot exist under the worrisome and trying conditions that have been going on for the last five or six years," he writes, "and I think the time has come for us to face facts straight in the eye." The fact that Murry has in mind is his belief that the overindulgent parenting of his wife, Audree, has effectively ruined the boys as human beings.The Beach Boys, minus Bruce Johnston, in the mid-60s
"Although Audree did not realise what she was doing," Murry writes, "she was trying to raise you boys almost like girls, just as she was raised by her mother, and, although from time to time she took a coat hanger to you boys or bawled you out when you did something she felt was wrong, none of her corrections mean a lot to you or was too effective because you could only compare the more strict punishment I could render as a stronger human being."
And on he goes, delving into how his sons' moral failings have corrupted their growth as men, their approach to their art, and their business dealings. "No matter how many hit songs you write," he tells Brian, "or how many hundreds of thousands of dollars you may earn, you will find when you finish this short cycle of business success that you didn't do it honestly and for this reason you are going to suffer remorse."
After alluding to some of their alleged misdemeanours – "statutory rape, drinking, lacsivious [sic] conduct on the part of one of the members, which I can prove, along with one or two more vilations [sic] of the law" – he concludes by virtually ordering the group to break up: "The temptations are too great for young men who will not take honest direction and who have boldly flaunted [sic] the laws of the land."
Murry Wilson died of a heart attack in 1973, aged 55. Dennis, the middle son, drowned in a Los Angeles marina in 1983. Carl, the youngest, succumbed to cancer in 1998, shortly after the death of Audree. Brian, now 67, continues to perform around the world to great acclaim. Now anyone who feels like Googling "Murry Wilson letter" can discover something of the ordeal the three brothers endured while creating their sublime, timeless music.
This has, for those in the know, been on the internet since October. If you want all the sordid and heartbreaking detail, you can find it here: http://img156.imageshack.us/img156/1135/murryslettermay8th1965.jpg
A transcript can be found here: http://smileysmile.net/board/index.php/topic,8066.40.html
A couple of Beach Boys scholars, including Andrew G. Doe, contribute their 10 cents worth, but there are the inevitably bizarre comments claiming to understand where Murry was coming from. Stalin and Hitler would've found a lot of support on the internet.