Friday, November 13, 2009

Let’s Go Away For Awhile

As he sat on the bed, head down, thinking about the day, Brian Wilson sobbed, a torrent of tears streaming down his doughy face. In the solitude of his Houston hotel room, Brian couldn’t bear the thought of performing on stage in a few hours. Not in the state he was in.

He told Marilyn before they got in the car that he had a bad feeling about the day, dark visions clouding his mind. Maybe some of the bad vibrations were caused by his usual dread of standing before a crowd of screaming kids. Maybe some of his anxiety was a result of the constant fighting with his new wife. Either way, Brian wanted to quit, again. He knew he didn’t relate well to people and would shell up, but today he burst from his defensive armor and exploded. What a scene!

With only two days to go until Christmas, he should have been happy, but the pressures of writing, recording and touring were sucking all the joy out of his life. Even his new marriage wasn’t providing any peace. He and Marilyn were constantly at odds. They were so young; they shouldn’t have married at all. Brian hated being on the road in general, but especially now. He and Marilyn wouldn’t have the time to work things out if they were apart.



When they arrived at Los Angeles International Airport for the flight to Texas, Brian was thankful that Marilyn didn’t drop him off, but parked and went inside with him. It was the usual holiday chaos: insanely huge lines nearly impossible to get through, screaming kids, angry adults, surly workers. Brian’s head was swimming. The mob was turning into beasts and demons before his eyes, flashing pointed teeth and snarling as he passed by nervously.

Fidgety and agitated, the sight of the Beach Boys near the gate gave him some comfort. They greeted him warmly. Wait, what was that? Was Marilyn staring at Mike? Was Mike staring back? Brian was getting juiced up by the black thoughts seeping into his skull. Were Marilyn and Mike in love? Brian was crushed, but, hanging on to his ego, he went off.

“What’s going on here with you two? You two want to fuck?”

Marilyn and Mike were stunned. Marilyn tried to calm him down; “Don’t be silly,” she said sweetly, but Brian was not in a position to be stilled. It sure wasn’t how Brian wanted to leave Marilyn, but that’s how it went. Thinking about it now from so far away sunk him deeper in his depression. Then came the plane ride. Oh man, it was awful!

Five minutes out of LA, Brian stared vacantly at the back of the seat in front of him. He counted the stitches in the seams, some of them coming apart. The hum of the plane’s engines sounded to his one good ear like a cacophony of animal screams. His hair felt as if it were pulling away by the roots. Suddenly, Brian pounded his white knuckled fists on the headrest facing him. His face was contorted, beet red.

“I want to get off this airplane,” he shrieked. “Right now.”

“Cool it Brian,” begged Al, the smallest member of the band, frightened by the imposing figure of Brian Wilson totally out of control.

With terror in his stark, wide eyes, Brian turned and looked at Al. “I’m going to crack up any minute!”

Al passed a pillow to Brian, who pressed his face into the soft whiteness and began to cry and howl.

A stewardess hearing Brian, rushed over. “We just took off sir. You need to calm down.”

Brian bolted out of his seat, knocking the slim blonde aside with a forearm. Now tearing down the aisle, screaming “She doesn’t love me,” over and over, he passed his brothers. Carl and Dennis had heard his outburst but were not prepared to see Brian run past. They both jumped up and chased him down, wrestling him to the cabin floor.

“My God! What’s wrong, Brian? Please tell me what’s wrong!” Carl implored.

“I can’t take it. I can’t take it. Don’t you understand? I can’t go on.”

His brothers restrained him long enough that he eventually quieted down. Brian sat back next to Al, still shaking. He wouldn’t eat, a further sign that something was seriously wrong. He never passed up a meal.

As soon as the plane touched down in Houston, Brian wanted to go right back to Los Angeles. Instead, he was taken to a nearby hospital and given a tranquilizer. Though groggy, he still insisted that he needed to get back to Marilyn right away and patch things up, but the band wouldn’t let him. There was a show that night, and they needed him, so they brought him to his hotel room, gave him another sedative and placed him gently at the edge of the bed where he remained with all his worries and his fears.


It was impossible to regain his composure, and added to the constant crying was a painful knot in his stomach. Everything was coming apart, that much was clear. He couldn’t perform any more, the demands on him to write hit songs were becoming too great, his family depended on him too much. It was a dream of Brian’s to sing with his brothers and cousin, but now that it was happening, there was too much pressure. Carl was sweet and supportive, but Dennis was a hot head. And Mike? What kind of cousin was he, always out to hurt Brian? Thoughts returned to the airport, and the possibility of Mike and Marilyn together.

No more. What was the point? He was distressed at playing his music, disappointed with his family and distraught about his marriage. No more.

His movement slowed by the double dose of barbiturates, Brain staggered toward the bathroom. Sluggishly he removed his belt and buckled it around his neck, looping the other end around the shower curtain rod nearest the wall where it was fastened in the tightest. Once it was secure, Brian Wilson sat down hard, pulling out his legs from beneath him. The screws popped out a bit from the brackets but held.

The sound of someone pounding frantically on the double-bolted door gave way to the strains of a teenage symphony from God.
Two days before Christmas 1964, The Beach Boys flew to Houston for a concert. After “seeing” his wife Marilyn and cousin Mike Love exchange intimate glances, Brian flew into a rage. Soon after the airplane took off, Wilson suffered a breakdown. After arriving in Houston and performing that night, he returned to Los Angeles. Doctors informed Brian that continued touring would cause additional damage to his left ear (he was deaf in his right) and irreparable mental damage. Brian broke the news to The Beach Boys who, except for Carl Wilson, reacted angrily. Over the next 17 months, Brian Wilson suffered two more severe breakdowns. He would not tour for over a decade.

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