The flight that changed Beach Boy Brian Wilson’s life forever
The Beach Boys’ co-founder and bandleader, Brian Wilson, was nothing short of a genius. Being the band’s official composer, it was he who made the ‘Californian Sound’ peak the charts during a time of the British cultural invasion. The band produced some unforgettable, sun-bathed songs under his guidance whose standard no other member could match after his departure. Though the group continued to perform for quite some time, they lacked the X-factor, namely Brian Wilson. But what made Brian quit the band? Let’s rewind a bit and look at the exact moment when he decided upon his withdrawal.
On 23rd December 1964, Brian Wilson suffered from a major nervous breakdown five minutes into the flight in which the band was travelling to Houston for a concert. His bandmate, Al Jardine, said, “We were really scared for him. He obviously had a breakdown. None of us had ever witnessed something like that.” The Houston press detailed the incident saying that Brian “started crying and making shrieking noises. He screamed into a pillow, spun out of his seat and sobbed on the cabin floor.”
But that didn’t end there. Once the aircraft landed, Brian begged to be allowed to go home immediately. After much persuasion, he gave in and went into his hotel room. All was perceivably well until Ron Foster of the Houston-based band The Detours found him in an almost paralysed state in the band’s dressing room. “He was just kind of staring off into space… He wasn’t rude. He didn’t tell us to get out or anything like that. He was just kind of like staring off into the corner like he wasn’t there.” That night the band performed at the concert without Brian and felt compelled to send him back to Los Angeles.
Once back home, Wilson decided to take a break from his public life, a period which ended up in a twelve-year self-assigned sabbatical from the band. Sharing his thoughts about the incident, he said, “I felt I had no choice, I was run down mentally and emotionally because I was running around, jumping on jets from one city to another on one-night stands, also producing, writing, arranging, singing, planning, teaching—to the point where I had no peace of mind and no chance to actually sit down and think or even rest.”
This period of seclusion had two very different outcomes. On the one hand, he came up with some revolutionary works best known as “innervision” pop music such as Pet Sounds, Summer Days and so on. These were completely off-track compared to his previous soundscape and lyrical content. However, on the other hand, he spiralled more and more into depression and anxiety and trapped himself in the house, his only comfort zone.
His psychological problems were triggered by his weed and LSD addiction which was introduced by a friend late in December 1964. Unaware of its long-term effects, he found it quite effective as he produced ‘California Girls’ just after his first LSD trip which, according to him, was “a religious experience.”
He became what he preferred to call a “psychodelicate” 1965 onwards, suffering from hallucinations both auditory and visual. He became so anti-social that he refused to speak to the CBS record executive after the release of the Pet Sounds. He instead opted to answer via a tape player with the automatic “yes”, “no” and “thank you” recorded.
The flight to Houston marked the beginning of a harrowing phase in Brian Wilson’s life, but he didn’t completely give in. He fought with all his might to come back to the life he once cherished. After several therapy sessions, he slowly and steadily found his way back into the industry for which we are more than grateful.