The Brian Wilson Story... From a Fan, Friend, Advocate and Writer
At the age of 19, David Leaf created a To-Do list:
1) Write about Brian Wilson
2) Become his friend
3) Help him finish SMILE.
You may know Brian as an extraordinary artist who spread surf, song and Southern California style around the world, but there is SO much more to uncover.
David has released an expanded version of his seminal tome entitled ‘God Only Knows” The Story of Brian Wilson, The Beach Boys and the California Myth,’. First published in 1978, and updated in 1985, the story continues to unfold and this definitive opus has been extensively bookended with what amounts to an entirely bonus book of Brian Lore.
David joins us for an in-depth conversation, digging into Brian Wilson's artistry and influences as we explore his relationships with family, fellow Beach Boys + the triumphant hero’s journey of 'SMiLE’.
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Speaker 1 (00:00:00):
Fritz Coleman (00:00:04):
Welcome to Media Path. I'm Fritz Coleman,
Louise Lanker (00:00:06):
Bro. I'm Louise Palanker. I always forget my line.
Fritz Coleman (00:00:10):
We rehearsed this over and over and over, heading into the holidays. You can consider media path here, designated shopper. We've got great suggestions of things you could watch or listen to, or rent, or purchase, or even consume for free with or without visiting relatives. <laugh>, our favorite part is welcoming, fascinating guests who are experts in their field. And I will say that no one knows more about the Beach Boys and specifically Brian Wilson than our guest today. David Leaf. David is a writer and director and producer, and has nearly made a career of studying the fascinating lives and the careers of the Quinta Central California Band, the Beach Boys. We're gonna talk about his latest book. God Only Knows Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys and the California Myth. Can't wait to get to it. But first wheezy. What have you got?
Louise Lanker (00:00:57):
I've been watching tv, Fritz.
Fritz Coleman (00:00:58):
Louise Lanker (00:00:59):
You have. So, 1989 is not a Yellowstone spinoff. Why are shows using log lines as titles? The only people who should be permitted to title their work with a number are the Ban. Chicago and Adele Numbers confuse me. So to help you remember this particular number, picture people on a ship about to get their Victorian party on, like it's 1899. But then mysterious events change the course of an immigrant steamship heading for New York. As a mind-bending riddle begins to unfold for its bewildered passengers. This is a German production series with an eerie, elegant aesthetic that challenges you to just try relaxing into it pretty quickly. The mood, the tone, the complexities, and the sci-fi thriller mystery of it all will remind you of the show lost. Everyone is struggling with personal dilemmas and backstories, which collide with chillingly confounding supernatural circumstances. Get your subtitles fired up. These characters are speaking 11 different languages, and even their English is the British version over, as the subtitles may call it, unsettling, dramatic music and difficult to understand. Everyone appears to be fleeing something back home. And so when the captain decides to tow a ghost ship back to England, revolt and Mutiny and Sue the show is beautiful and challenging. Be prepared to be confused, but just take it all in both streaming and life are about the journey. 1899 is on Netflix.
Fritz Coleman (00:02:23):
Louise Lanker (00:02:23):
Fritz, what have you been taking?
Fritz Coleman (00:02:24):
Well, I watched a movie in a theater, uh, she said, I think it's only in theaters now. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, or it's on Amazon Prime for $35 or something like that. <laugh>. This is the story of the Harvey Weinstein nightmare and the beginning of the Me Too movement. Two New York Times journalists, Megan Tuy and Jodi Kenter published a report that exposes sexual abuse charges against Harvey Weinstein. This is at the same time that Ronan Farrow was doing his expose in the New Yorker magazine. There was a lot of heat about that topic at the time. And the movie starts and sort of sets the tone for the, the atmosphere of sexual assault by going through Donald Trump's honor role of sexual assault charges. This is very similar to movie Spotlight, which showed the investigation of the priests sex scandal in Boston, and the Post, which was the background for the Pentagon Papers.
And of course, all the president's men, all of these stories are about reporters doing their groundwork, making secret confabs, and even facing death threats. And th this is the greatest work of all of their careers in, in order to shed light on the dysfunction in every workplace, great and small and corporate America. That is sexual abuse. The the two leads are played by Kerry Mulligan and Zoe Kaza. I think it's an important movie because all these movies I mentioned are journalism at its best, the reason why we have a free press. Now. I saw this movie with my 22 year old college student daughter, and it was a chance to gauge the reaction of her generation to see how seriously they take the whole Me Too movement. And they take it very seriously. Her outrage grew and grew as the movie went along. It was the same reaction I'd seen with her when her and her roommates blew up at the Dobbs decision with Roe Wade.
They're on fire. And it ultimately drove all of those kids on her campus to the polls. So, as I often say to my daughter, hurry up, finish college. You guys have to save us from ourselves. So it was fun. I'm, I'm so glad I saw it with my daughter. Oh, I mean, this is all, this is nothing, none of it is new material, all docs that have been produced about him. Uh, but it was, to see a dramatized makes it even more powerful. And these women did a great job. Yeah. I'm looking for it. All right. Let's get to our amazing guest. Yes. Our guest is a Peabody and writer Guild Award winner. He's a director and a writer and a producer. He wrote the authorized biography of the Beach Boys, Weezy, I'll give you a chance to gasp. He's the creative force behind music documentaries like The Knight James Brown saved Boston about the night Martin Luther King was shot, the US versus John Lennon. Beautiful dreamer. The story of Brian Wilson and the album Smile. We'll talk about that one. He's written several books about rock and roll, like Kiss Behind The Mask, the Beach Boys and The Beach Boys in the California Myth. And his latest book is an update of that. God only knows Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys and the California Myth. Were very happy to welcome David Leaf. David, thank, thank you for being here today.
David Leaf (00:05:24):
My, my pleasure. Uh, Fritz, this is, that was, did I write that?
Fritz Coleman (00:05:29):
No, I always say if if the your introducer gets 50% of it correct, then that's fine. You
David Leaf (00:05:34):
Fritz Coleman (00:05:35):
<laugh>. You spend
Louise Lanker (00:05:36):
The rest of the show correcting your
Fritz Coleman (00:05:37):
Introduction. Yeah, there it is. I I wanna comment on the title, uh, because, um, you had a great line. I don't know if it was in the introduction of your book or later on in the book. You said before the Beach Boys California was a state, and then where the Beach Boys hit, California became an idea, which I thought was spectacular. What lit your passion for the Beach Boys?
David Leaf (00:06:01):
Well, my passion for the Beach Boys, I, I was kind of late to it, uh, in the 1960s. I was, the Beatles were my musical gods. I I bought a few Beach Boys singles. Um, I saw the Beach Boys in Concert in 1967, but they, they were just another group on my hit parade. Um, in 1971, I, I read an article in Rolling Stone Magazine, written by Tom Nolan, a two-part cover story on Rolling Stone, if you can imagine The Beach Boys being on the cover of, of Rolling Stone. And this story laid out in various pieces, uh, really the myth of smile, the, the story of the abusive childhood that the Wilson Brothers had, had the kind of, you used the word dysfunction, the dysfunctional family that was the Beach Boys, and, and where Brian Wilson was at this particular time. And it, the Myth of Smile really caught my attention.
What is this smile music they're talking about? And the, and the story was promoting the, the latest Beach Boys album called Surfs Up. So I bought the album, the story worked. I bought the album and surfs up. The last song on the album was as great, if not greater than what the, what the article had described. And I was like, wow, I want to hear more of this smile music. The song just before surfs up on side two called Till I Die, was one of the most depressing songs I'd ever heard. However, what you heard until I Die was that Brian Wilson's musical talents were all intact. His ability to write a beautiful melody, write a beautiful lyric, create great harmonies for the group. And so I thought to myself, something is wrong here. Um, I was a journalism student. I was going to school at, at, at George Washington in the middle of the Nixon administration.
Uh, you mentioned the Washington Post. We used to go to the, uh, Howard Johnson's near the Watergate Hotel, and it was at that Howard Johnson's where they were leaving envelopes of cash at, at, at, at the phone booth. Wow. So we were in the midst of, of the criminal Nixon administration. I don't use that phrase lightly. They all went to jail, I think 36 of 'em, maybe. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Yeah. Um, but we were angry and I was a journalism student, and what can we do? Um, and then I studied Edward Arm Murrow, and it was like, okay, so you can tell a story and change the narrative of the story mm-hmm. <affirmative> as he did with Joe McCarthy. And, and so for whatever reason, I took it upon myself that I was gonna be the one to tell Brian Wilson's story and change the narrative of this story. And how old are you when you make that epiphany? Uh, 19. Oh my God. I was, I was, um, I had a roommate who also became obsessed with the subject, and we'd sit and talk about it, and I said, something is wrong here. And he said, well, why don't you, you do something about it.
Fritz Coleman (00:08:56):
Well, let me, let me just interrupt you. So change the narrative from what the public perception about Brian Wilson was and what the truth was. Or you were trying to get to the reason why all of these, you know, mental illness things were floating around. What, what, what was your, what were you trying to set straight with your narrative?
Louise Lanker (00:09:12):
Right. What was the narrative at that moment?
David Leaf (00:09:13):
The narrative at that moment was that Brian Wilson was a crazy genius. Oh. As, as, as, uh, his best friend, Danny Hudden says brilliantly in, in Don Wes' film, uh, uh, I just wasn't made for these times. When you're having hits, you're eccentric. And when you stop having hits, they just think you're crazy. So Brian Wilson is at that point where people just think he's crazy. And it's like, no, he's not crazy. He's just different. And he's an artist. And artists aren't supposed to be normal. Great art doesn't come from an everyday person. And so I, I wanted to kind of grab the, the, the world by the collar and under and, and like shake him said, do you understand how important this Brian Wilson guy is? Um, there were other issues as well as you described that, that I thought should be part of the story. Uh, it, none of it made any sense.
And I was really angry also that this person who clearly was, was having, well, he was mentally ill from what I, the way I read it. But so why are they having him do interviews to promote an album that struck me as, as morally wrong? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So I just had had all of these things roiling around in my head, and it was, I'm gonna move to California and, and write a book about Brian Wilson, become his friend and help him finish smile. That was, that was the, the notion. I might as well have said to my rebate, you know what, I'm gonna become president of the United States.
Louise Lanker (00:10:36):
So where are we on that checklist? David
David Leaf (00:10:38):
<laugh>, check, check, check, check, check.
Louise Lanker (00:10:41):
How does that feel?
David Leaf (00:10:43):
It it's kind of unbelievable. It's, it's, it's, it's as surreal as it was 51 years ago when I thought about the possibility, but it almost seems like it was meant to be that this was my calling that, that I was a missionary and this was my mission.
Louise Lanker (00:11:00):
Well, what it feels like when you're reading all the installments, cuz it's like, basically David wrote his book in 1978, then it was, then there was a new version in 1985, but those were all print versions. Now it's on Kindle. And you have bookended that with all kinds of added wisdom and ingredients and, and more of the story. But what it feels like throughout the journey is that y you know, you had a moral rudder that that remained very focused and that Brian was responding to that. Is that accurate?
David Leaf (00:11:30):
I, I, I think that's a, uh, uh, I think of it as a moral compass. Okay. It's like what's right and what's wrong. And that's, that really was a guiding principle for the way I was brought up, uh, the way the world was. And we watched a series of assassinations in the 1960s of people who were taking us in the direction that I thought was the right direction. The Beach Boy's music was not part of any of that, that was just, you know, happy music. But when I saw that the man who had made all this happy music, who was the principal reason for the Beach boy's success wasn't being treated well, it was like, this is wrong. Like, he's sacrificing his happiness for ours. Well, he's not so much sacrificing his happiness, but he's being exploited. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>,
Fritz Coleman (00:12:19):
I want to mention, I want to talk about that too. It seems to me, and I think you sort of in a, in a general way mentioned this in the book, that the band put him out there, for instance, to do interviews. He was very uncomfortable, as a matter of fact, he was uncomfortable to perform live, but the band talked him into it cuz he was the guy responsible for the music. He didn't necessarily want to do that early in his life. But again, to talk about this dichotomy between mental illness and sort of genius. The thing about it was, they knew that he had a gift, like when he was 5, 6, 7 years old, when he sang in church and he was able to, uh, um, um, harmonize with his family. They knew there was something very special. So the genius part was recognized very, very early. The mental health part came later. And there's a light you can argue about of how much of that was the corporal punishment elicited by Murray his father and how much was, you know, all the other stuff we'll talk about. But it was, it's two things, really. The genius and the mental illness don't have to be from the same source.
David Leaf (00:13:21):
Uh, they sure don't. He, he, he was born with this gift. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. He, he, you know, it, it could have been the Beach Boys and, and the, uh, the Wisconsin myth myth, if he had been born in Madison, I mean, it just was a coincidence of, of geography that his family was here. So there, there is the, the corporal punishment you talk about, there's the, the recognition of the, the, the genius early on. His father was an unsuccessful songwriter. His father saw what Brian had, and he, he fostered it. I mean, he took Brian to see the four freshmen. Brian worshiped the four freshmen. He bought Brian a tape recorder, real, real tape recorder so Brian could practice, uh, creating harmonies. So, so, uh, the family, uh, uh, Dennis wasn't part of it, but dad and mom and brother Carl and Bryant would, would have Saturday night sing alongs where they would sing.
There was no such thing as rock and roll when Brian was a kid. It hadn't, hadn't, hadn't come along. They were singing, you know, the Great American songbook. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> Brian was singing in the church choir. He was singing Christmas carols when they would go caroling. He just had this beautiful, beautiful, uh, boy soprano voice that, that ended up being a beautiful high tenor voice. And it was a magical sound. I mean, I get goosebumps when I think about the impact that that sound had on me and millions of people all over the world. And, and just jumping ahead, you know, pe people talk about what about the lyrics? What about the lyrics? And I remember in 1999, um, Brian asked me to go with, with he and Melinda, his, his second wife, when he toured, uh, Japan. It was a very short tour, but very exciting to go.
And we had a day off and we went to Kyoto. And, um, the man who drove us around Kyoto spoke a little bit of English, but not a lot. And at the very last stop at a, at a, at a holy site in the city, after we had toured the site, Brian and Melinda went into the gift shop to buy something for their, their two very young, uh, daughters, uh, Daria and Delaney. And I was standing with, with the driver, and I said, do you know who that man is? And he said, no, I, and so I explained to him that it was the man who, who was responsible for composing and arranging and producing the Beach Boys music. And he says, that music makes my heart sore. Oh, wow.
Fritz Coleman (00:15:49):
Wow. That's all you need right
David Leaf (00:15:51):
There. That that's all you, that's all you need. So I invited him to, to one of Brian's Tokyo concerts. I said, if you can, if you can get, get off from work, you and your wife are welcome to come to the show. Not realizing that not only were the show sold out, but unlike in the United States where the promoters always holding some tickets, that wasn't the case in Tokyo. So the Tokyo Promoter says, well, all we have is the royal box.
Louise Lanker (00:16:15):
Oh, I don't have
Fritz Coleman (00:16:16):
David Leaf (00:16:17):
So, so these people came from Kyoto and they were seated in the royal box. Wow. And they came backstage after the show. And of course they brought gifts. And, and this is a very magical moment. And afterwards, Brian and I were walking back to his dressing room and he said, this is the reason to tour because you're touching people all over the world with your music. Yeah.
Fritz Coleman (00:16:41):
And how did he receive that sort of adulation? I mean, he was very shy. Uh, he was a, he was a dichotomy. He was shy and sort of introspective, but he loved to do jokes and love to sort of be funny and get laughs. But how, how was that moment for him?
David Leaf (00:16:57):
It, it was a beautiful moment for him. Be because these, these people were shy as well in his presence. People, people are in Brian's intimidating. He's, he's big man. He's a big man. He's larger than life physically and who, because of who he is. And, and so even Paul McCartney, when he talks to Brian, he's a little, I wouldn't say intimidated, but he's careful. Deferential. Deferential. Yeah. Deferential. But it's there, there are peers talking to each other. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And there aren't too many people who you can say that about with Brian who, but
Louise Lanker (00:17:31):
Paul McCartney that he would, that Paul McCartney would feel in awe in their presence. Cuz I'm sure every since he became a Beatle, the moment Paul McCartney walked in a room, everything stops.
David Leaf (00:17:41):
Fritz Coleman (00:17:42):
Paul McCartney said that God only knows is the greatest song ever written. That's pretty strong.
David Leaf (00:17:47):
I, I had the great privilege of interviewing Paul. He wasn't yet Sir Paul, when, when I did this interview in 1990, it was for the, the, the CD liner notes for Pet Sounds when it, when it finally came out on cd. And there's, you know, there, there's so many great moments. But, you know, we're waiting on a Saturday night, there's going to be a call Paul's on, on tour in Tokyo, and the phone rings and can you hold for Paul <laugh>? And it's like, yes, I think I can hold for Paul. But what was special about that interview? Not so much. I mean, it was, for me, it was mind blowing. But he had, I don't think he'd ever done an interview where he wasn't the focus of the interview. He was talking about somebody who he loved in music that he loved. And in that interview, he talking about pet sounds and the influence on he and John and that God only knows, made him cry when he would listen to it. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And, you know, people are always asking him, what's your favorite song? And he says, I usually put God only knows at the top of the list.
Fritz Coleman (00:18:45):
Well, the creative strain, not strain, but the creative energy between the Beach Boys and the Beatles is very interesting. Uh, Brian said that Rubber Soul was the impetus to write Pet Sounds to do a better album. And then The Beatles said Pet Sounds was the impetus to do Sergeant Pepper, which they wanted to be production wise, a better album. So they've always bounced back and forth like that, which is wonderful.
David Leaf (00:19:10):
Well, the, the great thing about that, uh, cuz I've had, I had the privilege, uh, before he passed of working with Sir George Martin. And one, he said two things about, about Brian and the, and, and pet sounds that I think are worth mentioning. One, he, he said, Sergeant Pepper was, was our attempt to equal pet sounds, which I think is, is a staggering thing to say. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> was, we, we didn't, we didn't equal it. We didn't better it, it was our attempt to equal it. The other thing he said, I I I, with, with the late Phil Ramone and the great record producer and, and my pal Chip Racklin, we, we produced a tribute to Brian in 2001 in Radio City musical. And Sir George said, if I had to select one living genius of popular music, it would be Brian Wilson. Ooh, hello. And, and this is somebody who's worked with pretty much everybody mm-hmm. <affirmative>.
And so, so, and, and the great thing about it is Brian is sitting there in, in the, and the, you know, stage left, backstage, left watching these moments happen at this tribute. And when you're famous, people are always trying to curry favor with you. And they'll say, oh, you know, I ran into so-and-so today and they're big fans of yours. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And what you learn is just ignore it at some point. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, because there's, you realize there's a sick of fans, but he couldn't deny, he could not deny what was happening in front of his face. Oh. That Paul Simon did this magnificent version of, of Surfer Girl. That, that, that Elton John came out and talked about how influential Brian was, that George Martin said what he did. And so there have been so many wonderful movies.
Fritz Coleman (00:20:45):
What was the occasion? Where were all
David Leaf (00:20:46):
These This was, this was an all-star tribute to Brian Wilson at Radio City Music. Oh, wow.
Louise Lanker (00:20:51):
Well, let's talk for a moment. There might be listeners to our show that aren't familiar with the Myth of Smile and, you know, and what it me, what it means, and what it was and what it meant to fans and the part that you played in its ultimate, um, completion. So, what is Smile?
David Leaf (00:21:10):
So Smile, smile was the follow up album to Pet sounds in the, in the, in the course of Making Pet Sounds. Brian had started working on a song that he titled Good, good, good Vibrations. But he decided to, to put it aside, that it wasn't right for Pet Sounds. And when he finished Pet Sounds, he then went to work on good vibrations. And he recorded in, in what would be called a modular technique, pieces of songs. I'm gonna go to one studio and record the first. Here. I'm going somewhere else to record the bridge. I'm going somewhere else to record the middle eight, whatever, uh, uh, the, the, the, the ramp what whatever it was. And then he stitched it all together to make this.
Louise Lanker (00:21:49):
So he really wanted it to sound like separate movements.
David Leaf (00:21:51):
He, he, he wanted to do something that no one else had ever done before. Smile was gonna be an entire album like that. In, in the fall of 1966, he went to work on it with a, with a great writer, composer, lyricist, uh, named Van Dyke Parks. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And they started working on, on Smile. And they were writing away songs, songs like Surfs Up and Wonderful in Cabin Esce. Uh, Brian got a sandbox for his house. He put his piano in the sandbox and he sat there with a bare feet cuz he wanted the feeling of being at the sand, which when you're having hit records, remember you're just being eccentric. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you're not, you're not being crazy. Later on, that became a legend that he was crazy cuz he had the sandbox. So they're writing this great music. The Beach Boys are on tour in England.
And Dennis Wilson was asked about this new album the Beach Boys were working on. And he said, smile is so good. It makes Pet sound stink. <laugh>. So, so the bar was raised to say the least simultaneous to all of that was that a man named Derek Taylor had become the Beach Boys publicist. He had been the Beatles publicist, then he moved to Los Angeles. He was working with The Beatles. He was working with The Birds and, and Brian and the Beach Boys. And because of his connections in the, in the UK press, he, he created the notion, he wrote, Brian Wilson is a genius. Dot, dot dot. I think <laugh>, which eventually became Shorten to Brian Wilson is a genius. And so there was all this expectation around this album, and Brian worked on it and he worked on it, and he worked on it. And at some point in the course of the spring of, of 1967, he shelved it and it became mythological.
What happened to this album that was gonna be better than Pet sounds? What hap happened to this album that Derek Taylor was telling the the Beatles about? He says, boy, you guys better raise your game. This guy's doing unbelievable stuff. Paul McCartney came to, to Los Angeles on, on a periodic trip, and Brian came over to Derek Taylor's house and he said, you want to hear our new single, it hasn't come out yet. And he played him good vibrations. So when Paul went back to London, it was like, you guys, this, this guy's, he, you know, he's doing amazing work.
Fritz Coleman (00:24:15):
Let, let me read. Well, I, I love this story. I, but I just wanna read some stats about Good vibrations. Okay. Because that was the song, you know, uh, uh, pet Sounds was artistically accepted and lauded, but commercially was not huge. But it, correct me if I'm wrong, good Vibrations sort of restored their reputation briefly in this one single, it took six months to record it. 90 hours of recording tape, 11 completed versions of the song. And it took 10 different studios, as you mentioned, to get the right and perfect final sound. That's pretty staggering. That has to be the first time that
David Leaf (00:24:49):
Ever happened. It, it was, and, and of course, what did the record company care about? How much money he was spending on this single, the, the one thing about Pet Sounds not being the commercial success that previous Beach Boys albums had been, from what I understand, um, when, when record stores sold out of Pet sounds and they would reorder copies, the the record company would send Best of The Beach Boys. Really? Wow. As out.
Fritz Coleman (00:25:14):
They didn't support
David Leaf (00:25:15):
It at all. They didn't support it.
Fritz Coleman (00:25:17):
They put out the Best of the Beach Boys. It's something to promote, but,
David Leaf (00:25:20):
Well, it's, it's, it's, what was that the new label? It? No, it's what, it's what the record company does when they think your career's over, it's like, let's get a greatest hits out Mountain and ca Cash in one more time. Okay. Anyway, so Brian's at Work, it's Uns smile after, after the, after the monumental success of Good Vibrations, creative and, and commercial. And the Beach Boys are touring to, to universal acclaim, but not because of what they're doing on stage. Cuz they're basically doing a 25 minute show. But because of what Brian's doing in the studio or the anticipation when they get back from their tour and they hear this new music, it's not necessarily well received by all members of the group. And so there's a combination of factors happening that cause Brian to shelve it. And when I interviewed him, uh, for the Beautiful Dreamer documentary, now think about it.
He shelves it in the spring of 67. And in the 37 years after that, every time he's interviewed, he's asked, what about Smile? Are you ever gonna finish? Smile? So when I asked him the question in the, in in the documentary, why did you decide to stop working on Smile? He answers his, he answers me. Okay, if I tell you the answer, he doesn't say this out loud, but it's this the tone. If I tell you, will people stop asking me, <laugh> Fair is this, the last can be this be the last time I answered this question. And he says, okay, I'll tell you from my heart, there were four reasons why I stopped working on Smile. And those four reasons all make sense within the psychodrama that was his life and the Beach Boys. Um, there was, there was too much drug taking going on.
For sure. Any drug taking when you have mental illness isn't probably not a good idea. But the first time Brian took l s d, he went to the piano and wrote California Girls. So it opened up artistic windows for him that, that weren't there before. So with with, unless we had a, you know, a way back machine like we were on Rocky and his friends, and we could go back and actually be in the room and see what, see how it went from here to here. We don't really know for sure. But, but the four reasons Brian gave included the fact that Mike Love didn't like it. And one of the things that, that is true about the Beach Boys, it's about true about all of them as individuals, is they essentially sacrificed themselves for the group. The group always came first. Uh, in Brian's life, the Beach Boys came first. He had been taught loyalty by his father. And, and so he, he sacrificed this great work of art.
Louise Lanker (00:28:10):
But he may have also sensed that the, that Mike Love was a barometer and, and that the audience wasn't gonna be ready for it. And he may have been, right? Because when it was finally presented, his audience had grown up and, and, and maybe were, were more favorably inclined to something that unusual,
David Leaf (00:28:31):
Well you could be, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, however, John Lennon was asked circa 1966, maybe it was right after Revolver, are you afraid you're gonna lose your, your your old fans? And he said something like, well, yeah, we may lose some of our old fans, but we'll get some new fans too. And, and that's what artists do. Artists don't stay in one place. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> and Brian had been moving quite rapidly, 65, 66 into 67. There was clearly the music was changing. Um, the music and the culture was changing. I mean, 1967 is the year the Monterey Pop Festival. So there was a new audience that might have embraced this music
Louise Lanker (00:29:11):
Maybe, but he was so far ahead of Ev Taste Curves. He was so far ahead cuz he was constantly challenging himself. So, I don't know. I was gonna ask you if you think Smile came out when it was meant to come out? Ultimately,
David Leaf (00:29:27):
I guess it did. I, I don't, I don't know. I've never been asked that question and, and I've never really thought of it. Uh, I know that in 1993 when we were working on, um, the Beach Boy's first box set called Good Vibrations, um, and I had done the track listing, um, with Andy Paley and, and I went over to Brian's to go over the track listing with him. And we looked at, and he had a couple of suggestions and I said, you know, Brian, between the single of Good Vibrations and the single of Heroes and villains, there's a giant gap. I said, there's eight months, but there's nothing from the Smile Sessions. I'm not asking you to finish them, but we should put some of the, the, the closely finished Smile recordings here so that this is a complete presentation of your career. And he said, okay. Because if you, if you talk to Brian Wilson with respect, if you, if you respect the fact that it's his creation and he, he's extraordinarily reasonable. So we went through a list of, of songs and we picked about a half hour's worth of Smile music. So in 1993 mm-hmm. <affirmative>, that music was on the Good Vibrations box set. Okay. Box sets usually appeal to hardcore fans. Yeah. This one was a Gold album. Wow. Primarily because the smile music was on there. Oh,
Fritz Coleman (00:30:43):
Really? A couple of questions about, back to the Mike Love comment that Weezy made, which was great. Um, do you think there was some jealousy because the surf songs, Mike was the lyric writer with Brian on those, and then he started to use the lyric talents of Van Dyke Parks and other people for pet sounds and beyond, do you think there was some jealousy involved in might not being included in the creative process?
David Leaf (00:31:07):
I, I, I think jealousy's, uh, the, the right word, I think there's also a sense of, uh, money. Uh, because if you have your name on the song, you're getting the royalties, uh, publishing royalties. In terms of Mike being Bri, Mike was Brian's most successful lyrical collaborator. But from the very beginning, Brian was writing with other people. He wrote in my room with, with Tony Asher. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, he wrote, don't Worry Baby with Roger Christian. He wrote the, the most of the Pet Sounds album with Tony Asher. I mean, he, he wrote Surfer Girl all by himself. I mean, Brian, Brian was a very competent lyricist. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, he just liked writing songs with people. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> and, and the engineer, Chuck Brits, who, who was there for the vocal sessions for most of their greatest records in the 1960s, said to me, as far as I'm concerned, Brian is the Beach Boys. That's a, that's a direct quote from him. He said, Brian would would be teaching the songs to the guys, and he would have the lyric and somebody would jump in with lyrical suggestions to get their name on the record.
Fritz Coleman (00:32:13):
Oh. Oh man. Wow. And and what about the complication? You know, pet Sounds and Smile were beautiful studio creations. And so how did they duplicate, even though Brian wasn't touring with them at that point? How did they recreate those beautiful sounds on tour? Or didn't they do that many of the songs from those particular albums on tour,
David Leaf (00:32:33):
They did it because what made those songs beautiful, what makes those songs beautiful is, is their vocals. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And actually in, in, in the fall of 1966, Brian went to to to Michigan where the Beach Boys were gonna perform good vibrations live for the first time to, to work with them, to get it to sound. Wow. Not like the record, but as close to enough like the record that the audience would go, yeah, that's that's good vibrations. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So the Beach Boys really never had a hard time recreating the, their vocal magic on stage. A great, great singers, all of them. I mean, and, and, and you know, Mike, Mike is the bass singer Al Jardine, uh, uh, high school friend of Brian's a a really solid vocalist. And, and brothers Carl and Dennis, they, they, they all knew their parts and they sang them beautifully. So no matter when you saw the Beach Boys in concert from 63 on, they sounded like the Beach Boys,
Louise Lanker (00:33:35):
You still to today. They know how to replicate that sound on a stage. And Mike being really the leader on the stage, maybe he, because he had, he had taken the Beach Boys around the world, he knew how audience responded and maybe he just couldn't envision them responding to pet sounds the way they were responding to some of the earlier stuff. But I think it's a combination of things. But it also, well,
David Leaf (00:33:58):
You know, pet Sounds had, wouldn't it be nice on it? It had Sloop John on it. It had, God only knows on it. So it had hit singles on it. The audience, he, the Beach Boys weren't being asked to play the whole album. Although when, although when Brian went out on tour and played the whole album Standing Ovations all over the
Fritz Coleman (00:34:14):
World, that's what makes me not understand Capital Records, feeling it not support the album to have three hit singles on one album. I, I call that successful.
David Leaf (00:34:23):
Um, so let's go back to the sixties. Em, I, which is the parent company for Capital for an entire year, even though the, the, the, the Beatles were signed to Emmi in, in England, capital in United States said, Hey, we don't want those, we don't want those Beatles records for an entire year. We don't want those Beatles records. It wasn't until I wanna hold your hand that they finally, they finally, they, they didn't want, she Loves you. They didn't wanna, please, please Me. The, the, so the people at Capital didn't know the market. They really didn't. They they were, they were, they were old fashioned. They
Louise Lanker (00:35:00):
Didn't understand this. The Baby boomers, you know, it was a first generation with walking around money. And then we're gonna be kind of like at the forefront of musical taste from this time forward. Cuz we had a first generation of teenagers after World War II who said, I'm I'll decide what I like, I can find it.
David Leaf (00:35:16):
Well, one of the interesting things about that is is is while we, as baby boomers had walking around Money <affirmative>, we were buying primarily singles. Yeah. The, there was, the album business was an adult business. Okay. So that Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass was outselling the Beatles on the album charts. Wow. Because adults was like, we're gonna buy that. Our kids are gonna buy whatever they want. But the kids bought singles.
Fritz Coleman (00:35:40):
Interesting. Plus Pet Sounds was the first, I think, considered the first concept album. And so if you didn't like the vibe of the whole album, maybe you weren't prone to buy it or you wouldn't pick the singles out that you like, and,
Louise Lanker (00:35:51):
But it was an album that you would sit on your bed and dream to or have, have a series of feelings too. Well,
David Leaf (00:35:58):
The, the, the, yes. And it's, the, the reason why it's still consistently in the top five greatest albums of all times in every survey, usually at number two, sometimes number one is because it's about teenage angst. Right. I, I think a pet sounds as Brian's emotional autobiography because everything that matters to me about Brian is the feeling he puts into the music and pet sounds has a lot of feeling.
Louise Lanker (00:36:23):
Well, um, talk about rereading your original 1978 book, because it feels like there are parallels to you revisiting that book. And then Brian finally completing Smile. Like, we have to acknowledge what we did when we were too young to know what we were doing. <laugh>
David Leaf (00:36:39):
Uh, you know, I had, when, when I, when the publisher said, yes, we'd like to bring out your old book, but with a massive update using the British term <laugh>. Um, I said, it's really important that the update be significant because otherwise the people who bought the first book or the second edition aren't gonna buy this. And so we agree that 30,000 words of an, of an, of an update would be a massive update. And, and as I'm writing away, I get the 30,000 words and it's like, oh, I, I email the, the editor and I say, I'm in 1994, I'm gonna need 40,000 words. And when I get to 40,000 words, I email 'em, I'm gonna need the, the update's over 60,000 words, which is more than half the length of the original book. And so the idea is you're getting two books in one, you're getting two lives in one.
I was a journalist fan writing the first book, now I'm a friend insider. The, the, the book is designed to celebrate what Brian Wilson has accomplished since the last book came out because both the first edition and, and the second edition, and un un un hopeful but sad notes, there's, there's no real reason to think that Brian Wilson's gonna have both a personal redemption and a and an artistic renaissance at at the end of either edition of the book. I'm hoping for it as a fan, but, but it's, what do they say again? If you don't have false hope, you don't have any hope. I mean, it's <laugh>. It's, it's, it, it was really an unlikely series of circumstances. Brian finishing Smile, um, sort of put the pin on my story in terms of what I had set out to do. Um, but I didn't just stop being friends with him. Right. Um, it was, it was, um, you know, it was just this incredible moment. And I was there in unexpected ways. I just expected to be at the concert.
Louise Lanker (00:38:28):
So what's your personal journey with Brian and Smile?
David Leaf (00:38:31):
So, in, in, in the summer of 2003, the Smile concerts have been announced for February of 2004, and we're in the third Street Promenade in Santa Monica and walking back from the movies and outta nowhere, he says to me, I, I can't do the Smile Un unless you're there with me. Mm. And Brian is so intuitive. It's like, he probably, that was true, but he probably knew I wanted to be there too. <laugh> he knew how much it, it would mean to me. Um, he never said that. But, um, I said, well, Brian, I'm, I've got a production company. I can't, I can't just be gone for four months. I said, the only way that could happen is if, if I made a documentary about it. And he said, okay. And <laugh>. And so we went, uh, when we went to, to his house and, and talked to he and his wife about it. And she said, well, how are the, what will the fans think of this documentary? And I said, I'm not worried about what the fans are gonna think. We're, we're get, we want the 99% of the people who've never heard of Smile, who don't even care about the Beach Boys. This is their chance to understand Brian Wilson, the artist. And that's the audience we want to get.
Fritz Coleman (00:39:47):
I'm always, uh, this may be a root of my relationship with my own father, but I'm always interested in, um, the, the thread of relationship, uh, between father and a creative person. And when you see how their life started in Hawthorne, California, where their father beat the tar out of 'em for no apparent reason, all of them, not just Brian, but all the kids, corporal punishment to the point where they feared him and hated him. But he continued to be a great influence in their life to the point where he represented them in the business world. And when they were having arguments with capital records, he went and stood up for 'em. I'm, I'm so interested. They didn't do an official patch up of their relationship. His father just never went away. Right. And assumed a different role as they got older.
David Leaf (00:40:37):
Um, so there's a lot of yin and yang here. Um, he, Brian says, my father gave me the competitive spirit. He told me to be the best. He pushed me without that push. Who knows what happens. Uh, uh, Carl I don't think got too much abuse. I think Brian is the oldest boy, the brunt of it. Dennis is saw as, as soon as he saw what was going on, he was out of the house and he was off to the beach where he became, he became the only real beach boy. He's, he's, he was the surfer in the group.
Fritz Coleman (00:41:15):
And I love the fact that all these spectacular beach songs that put California on the map, Brian hates the ocean and never surfed.
David Leaf (00:41:23):
Would he put sand in his living room?
Fritz Coleman (00:41:25):
Yeah. Oh, okay. Well, that, that, but isn't that crazy? It's,
David Leaf (00:41:28):
Well, there's nothing, there's nothing but contradiction in this story, <laugh>. And, and one of the reasons the book is called God Only Knows is because of the song title and the opening quote from Paul McCartney in the book In The Overture where he talks about God only knows in the genius of Brian Wilson. But as much as anything it's called, God only knows. Because when you ask me a question, the answer is often God only knows because because there is an inexplicable nature to this. I've written more words about Brian and the Beach Boys, I'm pretty sure than anybody else alive. And th there's just no way to know the answer to, to a lot of these, uh, questions, particularly when it comes to the relationship with, with, with Murray Wilson, who did terrible things to them, but then drove them to success. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, they fired him as his, uh, the manager. He remained their publisher and he sold the publishing out from under Brian without telling
Fritz Coleman (00:42:23):
Him. Talk about that. They came back from a tour in Australia or something and they fired their dad. How, how did that, why did they do that? And how did that transpire?
David Leaf (00:42:30):
Well, probably more than anything he was, they were probably tired of being told not to go near the girls <laugh>. That, that would be my guess. I mean, you're, you're young, you're on the road, and there are a lot of girls. And these were red-blooded American boys in a, in a time, uh, of there had, there was no, um, the sexual revolution, maybe they invented it <laugh>,
Louise Lanker (00:42:54):
But that's, that's competition to a controlling father could. He does not want another voice in their heads, especially the voice of someone they're in love with. So he, he knew to kind of try to at least contain that. Well,
David Leaf (00:43:05):
He was also concerned about statutory rape. Oh, well there we go. So there was, there was a lot's an issue. There was lots of stuff going on. It's just, it goes on deeper and deeper and deeper and deeper. My focus as much as possible, has just been about the artistry. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> and the artistic journey. Um, there, there have been books written about the, the, the behind the scenes lives of these guys that are, that are more salacious. And Carl, the late Carl Wilson was asked about one of 'em. He goes, that's just the tip of the iceberg. I don't want to, I don't wanna go anywhere near that iceberg. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Now, I unfortunately to be Brian's friend, you have no choice but to, but to, but to be there, there was a, a weird psychologist who took control of his life for, for nine years. And when, when it ended, looking back on it, Brian said, when asked what it was like, he said it was like being in prison for nine years.
Louise Lanker (00:43:56):
So talk about the Landy years for a moment. Cuz that's another huge contradiction. It's, it's kind of a guy who's gonna push him like his dad did. But then it's, it's a guy who, who exerts too much control over someone's independent path and, and was a lot of fear-based, uh, behavioral psychology. So, so talk about those years, cuz that's something that a lot of fans are interested in.
David Leaf (00:44:20):
So one, one could write an entire book about those years. Yeah, for sure. I, I've devoted a chapter in, in the update to that because I was there when a lot of it happened. If, if you go back to the original, original book, there's a sentence that angered people in the extended Beach Boys family. Uh, the sentence was, there's the family's love of Brian and then there's the family's love of fame and fortune. And, um, Dr. Landy, I hate to word use the word doctor in front of his name, <laugh>. Um, he was a psychologist. Um, he could understand what was going on in, in the, in the, in the psychodrama of the Wilson world. And he knew how to take advantage of it. So he was hired in 1975 by Brian's first wife, Marilyn. And a year, about a year later, he was fired by the Beach Boys cuz he was meddling so much in, in their affairs.
So the question you would ask is, well, if he was hired to make Brian better, why was he fired by the Beach Boys? Mm-hmm. Because he was meddling in their business. Well, that's one issue. So now we fast forward six years, it's the fall of two of, of, of 1982. And Brian is almost eating himself to death. I remember seeing him, uh, at a house in, in the Palisades. And, and he was, he, he looked like he was gonna die soon. And the Beach boys hired Landy to save Brian's life. Uh, desperation would be the right word. It was a, it was a Hail Mary pass. Right pass. Uh, Landy having been fired the first time, knew the second time he says, okay, you want me back? You want me to perform a miracle? I want total control. Wow. And so he gets total control. The irony of, of what that total control means is two things, both of which turn out to be great for Brian once his prison sentence is over. Okay. It's Dr. Landy who takes Brian into a solo career. It's, he has the power to stand up to the Beach Boys now. And
Louise Lanker (00:46:27):
That was when Brian, I mean, that was when Dennis and Carl were still alive.
David Leaf (00:46:30):
Dennis had passed away. Carl was still alive. Okay. So, so the Beach Boys were still had a record deal. They were functioning, they were making albums and touring. And, and Landy got Brian a solo deal. Um, I shouldn't say he got a solo deal. Uh, Warner Brothers and, and CYA records approached, uh, Brian's representatives and said, we'd like to do an album with Brian. So that was a great thing that Brian suddenly was gonna be in a place where it wouldn't matter what anyone else thought of the music, whether it was right or wrong for the Beach Boys, that he could just make his own music. The other thing that, that Landy did, we saw the seeds of our own destruction. When, when, when Brian bought a car at Martin Cadillac at the corner of Bundy and, and, and West Olympic Boulevard no longer there. So there's no, no promo for them. The saleswoman who bought the car? Melinda Ledbetter at the time. Oh. Uh, Dr. Landy said, Brian, I want you to ask her out on a date what he
Louise Lanker (00:47:29):
Picked his wife.
David Leaf (00:47:30):
He didn't pick his wife. He picked somebody that he thought would be safe for Brian to go out with. Okay. And, and land and Melinda seeing what was going on is the person who led the charge to get rid of Landy. That's fascinating. Go Melinda. Yes. That's extraordinary. So he saves Brian's life. We'll give him credit for that. He takes Brian's solo. We give him credit for that. And he brings Melinda into his life. She's her own Trojan horse. Yes. So, so each part of Brian's life is full of these unbelievably complicated circumstances. And the way I've I've come to, to experience it is I believe that Brian has guardian angels. That I think you're right that, that at various times and in the 1970s, he really needed them. He was wandering, literally wandering the streets of Los Angeles, um, sometimes drugged up, sometimes just lost.
And there was always somebody there to take 'em in and help 'em. Linda Ronstadt tells a wonderful story in the book in, in her autobiography about See Brian showing up at her house one day and holding out, uh, a handful of change and saying, I'm a quarter short of this grape juice I need to get for this condition that I've got. Can you help me out? And she says, sure. And they go, they drive in Brian's car to the store and they get the grape juice. And, and Linda looks in the back seat and sees a whole pile of dirty laundry. And she said, I had a lot of quarters, and Brian, let's go do your laundry. And so they went and did his laundry and then they, they went back to Linda's apartment and listened to Phil Specter records. Oh wow. And, but one story, if we have time for it.
Oh yes. I'm, I'm sitting in my apartment in West Los Angeles in 1978. I finished the book, but it hasn't yet come out. And there's a, uh, beach Boys Collector is visiting me from Colorado. He was the biggest beach boys collector in the world outside of the, the Beach Boys themselves. And the agreement I had made when I worked on the, when we were working on the book was, whatever I get in the course of making the book will be yours. I can't pay you to work. And so he had flown out to LA to get, get the the stuff, and we dropped his, his suitcase at my apartment. We went to another place that no longer exists, L la Barbara's Pizzeria on on Wilshire Boulevard, had pizza and went back to my apartment, put the leftover slices in the refrigerator, and we're talking into the wee hours of the morning about Brian and the Beach Boys in the book.
And, and, and my friend Peter says, you know, this is the first time I've ever come to Los Angeles without running into Rodney Bing Inheimer and Harvey Kubick, Rodney, of course, the legendary dj, K O Q K R O Q. And, and Harvey at that time, the, the, the West Coast correspondent for Melody Maker Magazine. And I said, well, you're not gonna see him on this trip cuz he's going to the airport in the morning. Well, one o'clock in the morning on my door, it's like, who's in my apartment? One o'clock in the morning? And I open the door and it's Rodney and Harvey and with them is Brian Wilson. No. Wow. And Harvey says to me, we didn't know what to do with them. So we brought him here cause we figured you'd know
Fritz Coleman (00:50:48):
David Leaf (00:50:49):
What happened? And they leave and they left him there. And Brian sits down and he says, do you have anything to eat? And I said, well, I got some leftover pizza, <laugh> pizza. Sure. And I heat the pizza up in my little toaster oven. He, he wolfs them down and he goes to sleep on the couch, wakes up around three 30 in the morning and, and, and, uh, says, can you gimme a ride home?
Fritz Coleman (00:51:12):
David Leaf (00:51:13):
And I did. And so I, but I think every night of his life would something like that was happening. Someone would
Fritz Coleman (00:51:21):
Interview. What was the reaction to the big collectors? You provided a great service. Where do you see his coming at one o'clock in the morning? This is part of your collection. You get Brian,
David Leaf (00:51:28):
Well, what's, what's, what's, you know, the time Brian was asleep, we can't talk about him now. We're just, we're just, we're just looking at each other like, what the heck is going on Now when I, when I did, when I wrote the update of the book, I didn't go back and, and change the original book cuz people had wanted to read that original book. It was a big eBay item for decades. And, and, and in the update and the epilogue, I put stories from the seventies like this that, that I had no place for. And I talked to Harvey, I said, why did you bring them to my house? And he says, well, you were always the adult in the room. And I was, you know, I met Harvey when I was 24 at the Santa Monica Civic. We were, we were sleeping outside the box office for Bruce Springsteen tickets, <laugh>. And we'd become friends. But, but I said, well, what happened? Why was Brian with you? And he says, well, I was going to Rodney's house that night cuz Rodney always had the latest records from England. And I was gonna listen to records. And I parked at, at his place, uh, off of Sunset. And I saw this guy weaving in traffic in the middle of the Sunset Boulevard. He was hungry and Harvey just ran out and grabbed the guy. He didn't know who the guy was. And it was Brian. Wow.
Fritz Coleman (00:52:45):
That's so sad.
David Leaf (00:52:46):
That hole. And, and so, so this tremendous sadness in this story, uh, uh, Fritz, it's, it's really, it, it's, it's, this guy has made
Fritz Coleman (00:52:56):
David Leaf (00:52:56):
Still with us. The, the the, he's 80, he's over 80 now. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. He, he, he's, he is with us. He, he, he gave the world so much joy with his music and in this new edition of the book, that's what I wanted to celebrate. I didn't want to tell the sad stories. I didn't want to talk about what went wrong.
Fritz Coleman (00:53:13):
Does he understand that you are now his greatest advocate? That you wanted to set the record straight with the narrative of his life and correct all the misinformation? And obviously he does cuz he's included you in his life. But does he feel like you've done him a great service with these books?
David Leaf (00:53:29):
I dunno if he'd put it that way. He knows I'm his friend and, and friend. That's what friends do for their friends. I guess I get a little extreme here, you know, I, I'm, but again, as a, as a missionary, I was, this was a calling for me. Mm-hmm.
Louise Lanker (00:53:41):
<affirmative>. Well, if you think about it, Brian is courageous because he has to push his art through the torment and the complexities of his mind. So he really is just valiant.
David Leaf (00:53:52):
So, so Louis, the, the key to what you just said is not only is he brave, and when people say, well, if you said to him, you know, how have you done this and where did you get the strength? He says, well, my last name is Wilson, so I guess I have willpower. I mean, you know, that's, but, but without going through all that terror, all that horror, we wouldn't have the music because
Fritz Coleman (00:54:13):
He said that he did his greatest writing when he was his most depressed. Right.
David Leaf (00:54:18):
Well, it, he's drawing upon all of those feelings. And that's what touched me. The First Beach Boy song that I was touched by was in my room, <laugh>. There's a melancholy to his work that, that every baby boomer 12 year old could relate to. And that con continued for generation after generation after
Louise Lanker (00:54:38):
Generation. And I think you also have to watch some of the movies because there's a lot of expression in his eyes. And if you, if you, when you watch Brian in a movie, you realize, like, this face is so known to me, because we know him at every age. We know him at every weight. We know him with every hairstyle. We just know him. And you look in his eyes and they, they're saying so much to you.
David Leaf (00:55:02):
Th th there there's a, there's a, there's sometimes a real sadness in his eyes. The, the Don was film. I just wasn't made for these times available on YouTube. It's a, it's a terrific little documentary. And in it, Brian, his mother, Audrey, his brother Carl, sing a song together. His, his late wife, Marilyn and I, his late wife, his first wife, Marilyn, I'm sorry, uh, is asked a question and she says, they in reference to the Beach Boys, I, I'm, I'm something like, it's, I'm sorry to say it, but they really tore him down and she's referring to, to the Beach Boys. Um, you asked Brian, uh, uh, in the movie did, Brian has asked a couple of very straightforward questions. Where did this song come from? And he says, well, once in a while your soul wants to come out and play.
Fritz Coleman (00:55:54):
Oh. Oh, what a great line.
David Leaf (00:55:55):
Yeah. He's asked, you know, why are you not making music with the Beach Boys? He says, well, they wanted to make their kind of music, and I wanted to make my kind of music. It's as simple as that kind of music. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, it, it's, it's not, it's not that complicated in, in his mind, but to live it, to make it happen. Well,
Louise Lanker (00:56:13):
To live, it was, he, he was torn by his loyalty. They were his family. So that, you know, you have scenes where they're sitting down and saying, okay, Brian, you could make, I think it was David Andrew Lee was saying, was saying, you could make your own record and there's a meeting. And Brian's just like, but I don't want to, he, he didn't want to do that to them. They were, you know, he had this emotional push for
David Leaf (00:56:34):
That's right. Yeah. He, he needed them to say, Brian, we love this smile music. Right. Unconditionally. And he wouldn't have been worried about the marketplace. It would've, it would've been finished and, and, and come out and the, the path of the, of the, the media path of music history mm-hmm. <affirmative> would, would've been changed in ways that we don't know. But, but that's not, that, that's not his story. His story was not one of undying loyalty towards him. Now, at the same time, there were periods, you know, we talked about guardian angels as much conflict as there might have been in the family. There were nights where Carl Wilson was out on the streets of Los Angeles looking for his brother. Where is he? I mean, it's just, it's, it's just, I, I couldn't understand. And, and it, and it comes, comes down to, I came from a different world. I couldn't understand how the person who had made you all rich and famous could be abandoned the way it felt like he had been abandoned.
Louise Lanker (00:57:33):
Well, I mean, you do kind of articulate some of the trickiness of it. They all went to Beach Boys University. That was their education. They knew how to be a beach boy. Now they've got families, they've got obligations, they've got a house, they've got a mortgage. They've got this kid who needs to go to this school or whatever their issues were. So there's a lot of pressure on every individual person that, that isn't necessarily being articulated at that one meeting. But that person, whether it's Al or Dennis, is thinking, geez, I, we need another hit. Because I, you know, I know.
David Leaf (00:58:05):
Well, wasn't, it wasn't Dennis Dennis.
Louise Lanker (00:58:06):
Not every, Dennis loved everything Brian did. Yeah. Yeah. But I mean, whoever it was,
David Leaf (00:58:10):
And Dennis and Dennis had a similar gift to Brian's. Yeah. He just didn't have the discipline. His, his one solo album, Pacific Ocean Blue from 77 is spectacular in, in terms of If you love Will Sony and Music, the Beach Boys could have recorded those songs.
Louise Lanker (00:58:27):
I should always say, Mike, when I'm giving examples, so Mike is thinking, I have this wife or ex-wife or whatever, kids or whatever, and how am I gonna make this work? You know, and what's my 10 year plan if this is the kind of music that isn't going to be played on the radio, and how do I tour and all that?
David Leaf (00:58:41):
Well, it goes back to you, you refer to the family. Um, in 1962, the Beach, the Beatles, who had The Beatles were struggling for five years. They were, they were bonded like, like, you know, unbreakable, particularly John Paul and George. Um, and then this guy, Brian Epstein comes along a worldly, sophisticated, classy man who has a vision for what the, what the Beatles are gonna be. That same year in 1962, Murray Wilson becomes the manager of the Beach Boys. And he, he decided it was gonna be a family business. And that's, and that's the difference between their stor, their narratives diverge in large part because we're gonna keep this to ourselves versus share it all with, with the world and whoever comes in our path that we might want to collaborate
Louise Lanker (00:59:35):
With. I see. Yeah. To the Beatles, it felt like Brian was this fancy guy who likes us, Liverpool kids, and like that they were just completely enamored to the Wilson's, this is our dad, to the whole different level of relationship. Um,
David Leaf (00:59:50):
Fritz Coleman (00:59:50):
How many kids did Brian, he had Carney Wilson was his
David Leaf (00:59:53):
Daughter, Carney Carney and Wendy Daughters from his first marriage.
Fritz Coleman (00:59:56):
And what was his relationship with those kids?
David Leaf (00:59:59):
Better answered by them, but it w it was, it was not, there was nothing traditional about their, their, uh, the father-daughter relationship. I mean, one of the saddest things I ever heard Carney say was, and, and it wasn't said fif, you know, 40 years ago, it was said within the last 25 years, he said, we're gonna be spending Father's Day with our dad for the first time. Really?
Louise Lanker (01:00:22):
David Leaf (01:00:23):
Wow. And there was just something about the, the Dyna, the Wilson family dynamic, uh, Carl Wilson was, was, was kind of more of a father to, to them than, than than Brian was. Brian said in an interview, he said, I don't want to screw it up the way my dad did. So he went 180 degrees in the other direction. Right.
Fritz Coleman (01:00:45):
Well, that's so
Louise Lanker (01:00:46):
Interesting. Does Brian enjoy being an interesting puzzle?
David Leaf (01:00:50):
David Leaf (01:00:53):
I, you know, he enjoys eating. He enjoys <laugh>. He enjoys laughing. He enjoys singing. He enjoys making music. He really, musicians are the people he loves being around the most, and young people, uh, especially kids, because kids, you know, to him haven't been kind of sullied by life. And, and so, um, you know, he, he's, he's so sweet and there's a childlike quality to him that that still is there. You know, even, you know, it's, I was, I think I called him to, to, he was touring this summer, and I said, called, called to say Happy Birthday. And he said, what are you driving these days? <laugh>. I mean, it's such a, such a, you know, a teenage question. Yeah.
Louise Lanker (01:01:36):
Fritz Coleman (01:01:36):
D does he like performing? He didn't at first. Right.
David Leaf (01:01:40):
He didn't like performing. You know, if you, if you think about what, what sounds was like on stage in the si early sixties, it was, the sound systems were terrible. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, there were, there were no stage monitors. Mm-hmm. There were, there were no great equipment. Um, and he only is, he could only hear in one ear. So it was really tough on his hearing. He also was shy. So, so there's a period before he quits touring for Good, where he's not going out on on dates e either, both Al Jardine and, and David Marks are there, and, and Brian isn't. So it, the, the, the, the, the road was clear for him to leave the road, um, when he started touring in 1999, it was the most unexpected thing I ever heard. In fact, uh, one of my favorite sentences in, in the update of the book is, you know, I, I say, you know, when I heard Brian, when we heard Brian was gonna on tour, uh, we were wrong A moment to reflect on how wrong we were, because everything great that happened, um, in Brian's creative life happened because he went on tour from that point on.
And, and, and because what, what he experienced was that people wanted to hear Brian Wilson. It didn't have to be within the context of the Beach Boys.
Fritz Coleman (01:02:59):
I I, before we run out of Time wheezy, I wanted to, uh, address one thing that I wanted to talk about earlier in the Hour, which was, um, pet Sounds was the first time they used studio musicians to do the Beach Boy Parts. Correct. He, he, he was enamored with a Phil Spector sound and wanted a kind of duplicate that, but we watched The Wrecking Crew, and that's another, you know, that's another part of that story where he used these brilliant studio musicians, but never had anything written down. Uh, Hal Blaine says he would come in there and Hal Blaine was the drummer in the Wrecking Crew and for the Beach Boy sections, and he would just come committed, sort of describe the sound he wanted to each of the musicians, and that's how they would build it. There was no notation at all, which is another evidence of his Gen genius. I guess he
David Leaf (01:03:48):
Would write out the chord shorts. He had the melody, but, but, but it was, it was all in his head. Uh, Danny Hutton tells a great story in the Don was documentary about Ellie, uh, symphony, uh, players coming in to do a string part. And, and, and they nailed it on the first take. And Brian says, no, no, no, I want, I want to cry. Make it sound like it's crying. And they're like, what's he talking about? We're hitting the notes perfectly. But Danny says he drove them to a place they hadn't thought about before. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, and he did that with everybody in, in his life. Some people he drove crazy, um, with, with, with his, you know, demands. But, but in terms of, of the Wrecking Crew, which wasn't their real name. Um, that was, that was a, that
Fritz Coleman (01:04:39):
Was the name of the movie
David Leaf (01:04:40):
That they did. That's the name of the movie, and that's a, that's the name of that that Hal Blaine put on them. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, they weren't known as, as that back in the sixties, Brian had used Mu Session session musicians in, in 65 while the Beach Boys were on tour. Um, um, so, but Pet Sounds was for a complete album where, where, where, with the exception of maybe Carl on guitar there,
Fritz Coleman (01:05:01):
There's, there was a Brian Wilson album
David Leaf (01:05:03):
Essentially. It, it essentially was, there's two, there's two instrumentals. So there's No Beach Boys on that. There's two songs where Brian sings the lead and there's no backing vocals. Uh, God only knows his has a le has only three vocalists, Carl, he, Brian, and Bruce. So five of of the songs on Pet Sounds are not Beach Boys songs at all. And something like, I just Wasn't Made for these times, which is, again, Brian tells you exactly where he is. If, if I can leave, leave anybody with any thought, if you wanna know the story of Brian Wilson, yes, please buy the book. But, but the truth is, it's in his music. You, you follow his musical journey and you can hear what he's thinking at, at, at every, every moment of his life.
Louise Lanker (01:05:48):
Well, I have to close whether bgs question because, um, I'm a fan.
David Leaf (01:05:52):
I'm, I'm an enormous bgs believe
Louise Lanker (01:05:54):
It. I spent a lot of time in, in, in the, in, in the b section of the record store, <laugh> Beatles, bgs, and Beach Boys. But can we, uh, both Barry and Brian are now brother List brothers. So w when you built a high profile career with siblings, describe the blend of emotions and losing the, the only folks who share those surreal memories with you and you know, Barry and you know Brian. Like, what, what, what are they going through?
David Leaf (01:06:18):
I'll, I'll leave Barry Barry who's writing his autobiography to, to, to answer that question. Okay. The relationships are complicated. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, when, when Barry and and his brothers started out, their first billing was Barry and the twins, really before it became the Begs. And some people say BG stood for Barry Gibb
Louise Lanker (01:06:39):
Brothers Gibb more,
David Leaf (01:06:41):
Well, eventually Brothers Gibb. Yeah. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Um, so, and Barry had the same loyalty to his brothers that Brian had. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> as the oldest brother. He felt responsible for them. And in the 1960s when, when the Begs really hit big worldwide, 67, 68, Barry Gibb looked like Richard the lion hearted. I mean, he is this gorgeous guy, you know, he
Louise Lanker (01:07:03):
Looked like Jesus.
David Leaf (01:07:04):
Well, okay, I'll, I'll leave that. Barry was better looking than that. Barry's
Louise Lanker (01:07:08):
Better looking than Jesus <laugh>. He was a
David Leaf (01:07:10):
God. And, and people were saying, Barry, what do you need these guys for? Go solo? He says, no. Oh, yeah, I
Louise Lanker (01:07:15):
Love the twins.
David Leaf (01:07:16):
And, and, and so he's, no, I'm not going. And then Robin leaves the group, and then Barry and Morris carry on, and then one day Barry shows up for a session and he hears Morris has left the group, and it's like, oh, I guess I'm on my own. And Barry spends 18 months working on a solo album and just, he's about to put it out. Robin shows up and says, can we put the Begs back together? And Barry puts his album aside. So Barry made sacrifices. The difference was Barry Barry, um, who wrote a very sweet essay in, in, in for the book. Um, he never, he was, he was a pothead. He was never into heavy drugs or psychedelics or anything like that. So he's, he's had his wits about him all these years. Uh, the heartbreak of losing brothers is, is, is indescribable. Um, he misses them. Brian misses his brothers. He misses the ability to use their voices. Um, he, he misses just laughing with Dennis. Unfortunately, Dennis, um, I, I mentioned Dennis wasn't the most disciplined person. There's a, there's a, there's a tape on, I think it's online, it's called The Cocaine Tapes from the early eighties where Brian and Dennis are making music and great music together, fueled by, uh, the, the, the, the white powder. So the tennis wasn't necessarily a good influence on Brian and vice versa. Um, Barry was always a good influence.
Louise Lanker (01:08:43):
Have Barry and Brian ever had a chance to get to gather and talk about their very similar life
David Leaf (01:08:48):
Arcs? When we talked, we talked earlier about being intimidated. Barry is enormously intimidated by Brian. Really. He really wants, wants to, wanted to make a record with him. And I don't know if it's gonna happen. My f one of my favorite moments in life was I got a call from the Bee Gee's world asking if Brian would induct the Bee Gees into the Rock and Roll Bowl of Fame. Oh
Fritz Coleman (01:09:07):
God. That would've been
David Leaf (01:09:07):
Something. And, and he and Brian did. Brian said, yeah, I'll do that. Oh, that's how much Brian was loved the Bee Gees. Yeah. Wow. And so we went to Cleveland, and the night before Brian was going to sing the song Too Much Heaven as part of the induction. Wow. And so Barry came to the hotel room where Brian was, and they went over the song together, and you wanna talk about Magical Moments, goosebump moments mm-hmm. <affirmative> Wow. The, the two of them. And, and the night of the induction, when, when Brian was singing the song, he hits that, that note
Louise Lanker (01:09:39):
Fritz Coleman (01:09:40):
David Leaf (01:09:41):
<laugh>, I'm sorry, I went flat. <laugh>. Um, usually I'll sing God All He Knows If You, if you push me at the end, <laugh>. But, but at the table next to, to us at, at the, at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was this group you may have heard of called Crosby Stills in Nash Little Bit. And, and when Brian hits that note, we hear from the next table, David Crosby goes, oh my God. Because Brian's voice is one of the great voices of all time. He could still hit the note. Wow. He could still hit the note. And, and, and it, it was, it was a pretty magical wow. Magical time. And I, I, you know, you mentioned spending time in, in the bees section. I've been trying to, uh, to do a, a course at UCLA called The Killer Bees. Oh, that, that would focus on my, my three favorite groups and Bob Dylan.
Louise Lanker (01:10:27):
Well, okay, so here's your next project. If you can pull this off, I'll help you with it. So there'd be an album and we would have collaborating and on writing Brian Barry Gibb and Paul McCartney.
David Leaf (01:10:40):
Sure. Why not
Louise Lanker (01:10:41):
Three part, three part harmony.
Fritz Coleman (01:10:43):
Just arrange that. And, and then we'll have you
David Leaf (01:10:45):
Back. Why, why not sell?
Louise Lanker (01:10:47):
Why only under those conditions,
David Leaf (01:10:49):
Why, why not sell the homelessness price? What crisis in America,
Louise Lanker (01:10:52):
<laugh>, you didn't think you could pull off? Smile, and you did.
Fritz Coleman (01:10:55):
What are you working on now?
David Leaf (01:10:57):
Um, I'm, I'm just finishing a documentary on, on the legendary Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Dion. Wow. Who is one of the greatest
Fritz Coleman (01:11:05):
David Leaf (01:11:06):
Great writer. And
Fritz Coleman (01:11:07):
On the way over here, I listened to the fifties on five on Sirius xm, and they played some old Dion in the Belmont Tunes, a couple in a row. And I thought, what a wide arc of talent
David Leaf (01:11:16):
He is. He has the greatest story and he's the best storyteller. I mean, he didn't get on the plane with Buddy Holly. I was after him for years Wow. To to do a documentary. And one day we're having lunch, and I, and I told him why he didn't get on the plane with Buddy Holly. And he goes, no, no, David, that's not what happened. Let me tell you why I didn't get on the plane. And I said, that's why we need to make this film, Dion.
Louise Lanker (01:11:39):
Wait, why didn't he get on the plane?
David Leaf (01:11:41):
Oh, that's a long story. Oh,
Fritz Coleman (01:11:42):
He has a blues album out. And that, which is very good, cuz they play that on, on, uh, BB King's Blues. He's
David Leaf (01:11:48):
Had two blue number one blues albums in a row. Yeah.
Fritz Coleman (01:11:51):
David Leaf (01:11:51):
Good. He's an amazing, amazing artist. Yeah. Bob Dylan says, if you want to know about singing, listen to Dion. Oh, wow.
Fritz Coleman (01:12:00):
That's so cool. So what's this gonna be completed and out and for public consumption?
David Leaf (01:12:04):
Uh, hopefully, uh, by middle of next year.
Louise Lanker (01:12:07):
All right. So let's tell people where they can find your book. God only knows
David Leaf (01:12:13):
Right now the only place to get it is Amazon. They've got the stock. It's, it's pretty much outta stock everywhere else. Yeah. Um, until the middle of December. So as, as, uh, as a Christmas present, Amazon is,
Fritz Coleman (01:12:24):
I think every resident of the state of California should do California History 1 0 1, which is the story of the Beach Boys, because it's the attitude that they brought. It's how they changed the culture of California. It's how the rest of the world perceived us. You're from New Rochelle, New York. I'm from Philadelphia. I had to have a skateboard. I pretended I was the surfer kid. And, and, and it, I'd have to fly to get to an ocean. That's, that's how close. And, and so I, I'm telling you, they were a great cultural force in America, and I highly recommend your book. It's a really, a beautiful piece of work.
David Leaf (01:12:59):
Thank you so much. And, and if, if only the southern half of the state buys it, that'll be okay.
Fritz Coleman (01:13:03):
Louise Lanker (01:13:04):
<laugh> No, there's there, there's, there's so much in here about family dynamics. Yes. About being there for one another about overlapping, uh, storylines. And, and you, you have such a beautiful way of making complex concepts. Simple. You know, sometimes I'd read a sentence again and I'd go, okay, got what? He is got this point. And it's, and we all come from families. So this is stuff that's highly relatable, but in under a microscope and a high profile spotlight, these people kind of existed and shared their gift
David Leaf (01:13:36):
With us. Thank you. And, and really if you, if you, if you love popular music.
Fritz Coleman (01:13:40):
David Leaf (01:13:41):
Absolutely. Bri Brian's story is pretty essential.
Fritz Coleman (01:13:43):
And how the rest of the pop world reacted to him, especially pet sounds and how highly he was lauded for that piece at work.
Louise Lanker (01:13:49):
And Fritz has something to announce. I
Fritz Coleman (01:13:51):
I, I'm, we're going way off topic here, but, uh, our friend Jamie Holcroft, one of the great comedians of all time, is the recipient of a heart. He ha he was somebody who donated their heart to him when he died, and he's doing a benefit for organ donors. This Thursday night at Comedy and Magic Club in Hermosa Beach at 10 18 18 Hermosa Avenue, one of the great comedy clubs. As a matter of fact, if you watch Jay Leno's return to standup comedy on the news, that's where he performed, uh, last Sunday night. It was a big thing. But he's doing a, a, a donor night. It's free admission for organ donors and only $25 if you're a non organ donor. Wait, just,
Louise Lanker (01:14:29):
Just to clarify, you don't have to give a kidney to get in.
Fritz Coleman (01:14:32):
Well, that was the last part of license. No, do, no. They're gonna have people there that there's gonna be a kiosk for liver <laugh>, a kiosk for kidney. No, no. It's people who have not, not chopped liver, I assume. <laugh>. Oh no. We pack a place if we could do that. Yeah. But anyway, there'll be 10 comics. I'm gonna be honored to be performing on this bill. Who else is there? Fritz, it, it, it, it, he, they, they're not revealing it. It's so spectacular that they're afraid that the roof will go off the place. But it's
Louise Lanker (01:15:00):
Rodney Bing Inheimer is gonna show up with, with Brian that be Wilson and, uh, who's gonna ask for a meal and fall asleep on the couch. <laugh>.
Fritz Coleman (01:15:07):
Anyway, showtime's eight o'clock. Uh, we would love to see you there. It'll be fun. Comedy and magic. One of the great comedy clubs in America. And for more information about it, go to their website, which is, uh, what, what would it be? It would be, I'm sure, um, comedy and magic.com.
Louise Lanker (01:15:22):
Oh yeah. Mike Laces. Wonderful club. Yeah. Great food there too. Here come your closing credits. Thank you so much for joining us. We would love to continue this conversation with you on Instagram and Twitter, or we are at Media Path Pod and on Facebook where our show page is, media Path Podcast. And our Facebook group is Media Path with Fritz and Weezy podcast community. You can find full video podcast episodes loaded with bonus visual content on our YouTube channel Media Path podcast. You can write to us at Media Path email@example.com. And if you enjoy the show, please give us five stars and a kind review in Apple Podcast and talk about us on social media. We would love you for that. You can sign up for our Fun and dishy firstname.lastname@example.org. And we wanna thank our wonderful guest, David Leaf. Please buy and read his book. You will love it. Our team includes Dean of Friedman, John Maddox, Sharon Beo, bill Fiac, Thomas Hubble, Mason Brown, Garrett Arch, and you. Our theme music is by me and John Maddox. I'm Louise p Planker here with Fritz Coleman. Be well and wise and we will see you along the media path.
Louise Lanker (01:16:26):
Yeah. Once you get me into the Bee Gees in it. Slate. Wait. I wanna know why Barry and Robin never got along as adults.