68 Things You Didn’t Know About Brian Wilson


“One day, I’ll write songs people pray to,” Brian Wilson once told the Rolling Stones’ producer. In his 68 years — his birthday is June 20th — Wilson has crafted the closest thing to psychedelic gospel music to ever capture the public imagination, a repertoire of honey-soaked harmonies with a core of personal anguish. His drug exploits and loopy recording practices are the stuff of legend — like forcing the entire production team to wear firemen’s helmets and start a controlled blaze when he recorded “Mrs O’Leary’s Cow (Fire).” But that’s only the beginning of all the biographical quirks Wilson has accumulated in his almost 70 years on earth. After the jump: 68 things you didn’t know about Brian Wilson.

Photo credit: Guy Webster

1. Brian Wilson’s father, Murry, had a glass left eye after an accident at Goodyear. One of his punishments for his children was to take out the eye and force them to peer into the empty socket.

2. According to several accounts, after a blow to his head from his father, Wilson lost the hearing in his right ear.

3. It took Wilson five tries to get his driver’s license — he kept getting distracted by the radio dial.

4. Wilson was a formidable high school athlete, running cross country and playing quarterback on the football team.

5. The song “Caroline, No” was originally titled “Carol, I Know,” after Wilson’s high school crush, a cheerleader named Carol Mountain.

6. Murry Wilson scored a songwriting success with a novelty dance number called “Two-Step, Side-Step” that was popular enough that Lawrence Welk performed it on his weekly radio show.

7. In high school, Wilson adapted “Hully Gully” into a campaign song for his friend Carol Hess, who was running for commissioner of the student government.

8. The original name for The Beach Boys was The Pendletones, after the Pendleton wool shirts worn by surfers.

9. Wilson and his group played their first big gig in 1961 at the Ritchie Valens Memorial Dance on New Year’s Eve.

Photo credit: Guy Webster

10. Murry, who acted as the group’s manager in their early years, instituted a system of fines for the Boys, despite the fact that Mike Love was 22 years old: $100 for cussing and $50 for hanging out with girls.

11. When he was young, Wilson became obsessed with Phil Spector’s work, using the same Hollywood recording studios as Spector and sitting quietly in the corner during Spector’s sessions.

12. Spector once invited Wilson to play piano on a session, but then kicked him out for his poor piano skills.

13. The first time Wilson dropped acid, he was so terrified by the hallucinations he saw that he hid in his friend’s bed for two hours.

14. When Paul McCartney heard Pet Sounds for the first time at a listening party in the UK, he declared “God Only Knows” to be the best song ever written.

15. “Good Vibrations” was inspired by an exchange Wilson had with his mother about how dogs can sense if a person is going to be friendly to them or not: “They feel the vibrations.”

16. Wilson recorded different segments of “Good Vibrations” in different rooms in order to get various echoes on the track.

17. While he recorded Smile, Wilson had a sandbox built around his piano so that he could feel the beach beneath his feet while he composed.

18. His two dogs at the time were named Banana and Louie.

19. At one point, Wilson had all the furniture in his house replaced with gymnasium mats so everyone could exercise together.

Photo credit: Guy Webster

20. One night, Thomas Pynchon came over to Wilson’s house and neither of them spoke the whole evening, they were so nervous to be in each other’s company.

21. Wilson’s instructions to the percussionists who were playing on “Surf’s Up” were “It’s gotta sound like jewelry!”

22. When Wilson became gripped by paranoia during the Smile recording sessions, he insisted that all his business meetings be conducted in the deep end of his swimming pool.

23. After the session for “Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow (Fire),” Wilson became convinced that the song was responsible for a sudden spate of fires in downtown LA and destroyed the tapes.

24. The original title of Smile was Dumb Angel.

25. Dennis Wilson brought Charles Manson and his family to Brian’s house on several occasions to record pop songs. Manson wrote the Beach Boys B-side “Never Learn Not to Love.”

26. Wilson opened a short-lived health food store in West Hollywood called “Radiant Radish.”

27. At one party at Wilson’s house, Wilson coaxed Iggy Pop into a multi-part sing-along of “Shortenin’ Beard” that went on for about an hour until Pop finally snapped, declaring “I gotta get out of here, man. This guy is nuts!”

28. Flying to Amsterdam to record Holland, Wilson snuck off without his ticket or passport and fell asleep in the duty-free lounge.

29. During the early 1970s, Wilson gained more than 100 pounds in two years, thanks, in part, to a daily breakfast that included a dozen eggs and an entire loaf of bread.

Photo credit: Guy Webster

30. Wilson’s psychologist, Eugene Landy, used to padlock the family’s refrigerator to keep Wilson on his diet. When Wilson didn’t want to get out of bed, Landy would pour water on him.

31. An hour-long Beach Boys special called It’s OK, produced by Lorne Michaels, featured Dan Akyroyd and John Belushi shaking Wilson out of bed to force him to start surfing.

32. Once, under the influence of drugs, Wilson tried to give his daughter Carnie a hug and forgot he had a lit cigarette in his hand. Wilson locked himself in the bathroom and shaved his head in penance.

33. To keep his demons at bay, Wilson had several routines. One of them included polishing off steaks for every meal, eating an entire cake, and then sprinting around his pool as fast as possible for as long as possible, limping back into the house, and playing “Be My Baby” on repeat.

34.Wilson appeared on an episode of Full House — “Beach Boy Bingo” — as himself.

35. Psychologist Landy required Wilson to wear several beepers at all times so that he and a team of “minders” could always locate him.

36. Landy lost his medical license because of reports of patient abuse, including some evidence that he had been feeding Wilson psychotropic drugs for many years.

37. Wilson sang back-up vocals on Belinda Carlisle’s single “California.”

38. In 1991, Wilson played the role of the rock promoter “Bryan Wilson” in Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho.

39. The Beach Boys first royalty check, for the song “Surfin’” was for $1000.

Photo credit: Guy Webster

40. When Wilson married his first wife, Marilyn Rovell, he was 22 and she was 16 years old.

41. The couple had planned to exchange vows in Las Vegas, but Wilson forgot his birth certificate and had to postpone the wedding for a week.

42. Whenever he had a panic attack, Wilson asked for soft-boiled eggs to soothe his stomach.

43. Wilson originally intended to submit the song “Girl Don’t Tell Me” to the Beatles.

44. When working on a piece of music, Wilson calls small segments of harmonies “feels.”

45. Lou Adler introduced Wilson to Mick Jagger, who offered Wilson a drink. Wilson refused because he had heard that Jagger threw acid in peoples’ Cokes.

46. “Good Vibrations” cost Wilson $50,000 to record.

47. While recording Smile, Wilson installed a portable sauna in his bedroom.

48. He also constructed a hashish tent in his living room filled with pillows, but deconstructed it after using it only a couple of times because “it turned out to be too claustrophobic for my taste.”

49. To record “Vegetables,” Wilson constructed an elaborate pool table made of vegetables — celery for cues, tomatoes for billiards, and Dixie cups for pockets.

Photo credit: Guy Webster

50. Carnie Wilson’s name was a compromise between Wilson — who wanted to name her Rose — and his wife, who suggested Carnation.

51. When Wilson met Elvis, he pissed off the King by repeatedly feigning karate chops to the King’s stomach.

52. The song “Cool, Cool Water” was originally written for a Coca-Cola commercial.

53. Wilson skipped his father’s funeral, flying to New York to get as far away from the service as possible.

54. John Belushi and Dr. Landy got into a screaming match after Belushi brought Wilson a pizza during a rehearsal for their TV special.

55. In 1981, Interior Secretary James Watt banned the Beach Boys from playing an Independence Day concert at the Washington Monument because they attracted “the wrong element.”

56. Wilson didn’t watch a movie for more than 15 years after he saw the 1966 film Seconds. He had become convinced that Phil Spector made the movie to screw up Wilson’s mind. The first movie he saw after that was E.T.

57. Wilson’s heavily ghostwritten memoir, Wouldn’t It Be Nice, was taken off the presses after Wilson testified that he hadn’t even read the final manuscript of the book.

58. He is planning to release an album of Disney classics sometime this year.

59. In 2005, Wilson had a cameo as Daffy Duck’s spiritual adviser on the TV series Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2 Century.

Photo credit: Guy Webster

60. Wilson won his only Grammy in 2005, in the category of Best Rock Instrumental, for “Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow (Fire).”

61. Wilson has an upcoming album of George Gershwin songs, including a collaboration with Gershwin himself.

62. Zooey Deschanel interviewed Brian Wilson for a bit on MySpace TV. He told her that She & Him reminded him of a Phil Spector backing track.

63. Wilson has seven children: Carnie and Wendy from his first marriage, and Dash, Delanie, Dakota Rose, Daria, and Dylan, adopted during his second marriage.

64. In 2006, Variety reported that a Wilson biopic was in the works.

65. Wilson famously hated touring but worked to get over his fear to begin promoting his first solo album. Wilson’s first tour without the Beach Boys was in 1999.

66. His favorite song ever is Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”

67. After Wilson performed Smile in 2004, the audience gave him a ten-minute standing ovation.

68. In 2005, Wilson’s remake of “Deck the Halls” became a surprise hit on the adult contemporary charts.