Where’s the fucking drugs?
You see, I think drugs have done some good things for us. I really do. And if you don’t believe drugs have done good things for us, do me a favor. Go home tonight. Take all your albums, all your tapes and all your CDs and burn them. ‘Cause you know what, the musicians that made all that great music that’s enhanced your lives throughout the years were rrreal fucking high on drugs. The Beatles were so fucking high they let Ringo sing a few tunes.
Drugs are bad, m’kay?
Kids today don’t even do acid anymore – how can they make good rock and roll?
(‘Skip’ Spence, interviewed in 1994, and quoted in Lawrence of Euphoria – The Itinerant Life & Music of Alexander Spence by Martin Jones, published here)
I think that meditation, as opposed to drugs – and the result of promiscuous drugtaking is pretty evident in the lives of people that have done that – has given me a way to relax.
(Mike Love, in Endless Harmony, 1998)
I don’t know why people complain about drugs – I think they’re brilliant!
(a friend, toking on a joint whilst listening to Pet Sounds (probably), some time in the late ’80s)
So you like Pet Sounds and Smile, but not the drugs?
Yes, because I saw how weird people got on acid. It was just too weird and too destructive. And Brian may have told you, but he certainly admitted to me on occasion, that acid, LSD, blew his mind. And he shelved the Smile project. I had nothing to do with shelving the Smile project…[Brian] took a heavy toll because of the LSD and other drugs. For Smiley Smile he retreated to his home in Bel Air where we had a studio installed. He didn’t feel like he had to go out and conquer the world.
(Mike Love, Smile Sessions promotional interview, Mojo 60s, June 2011, from here)
[Mike] Love should study writers he professes to admire: Dickens; Poe; Conan-Doyle; then cite Beaudelaire; Satchmo; Freud, and a legion of similar creative authors whose civility brought beauty to their times, through deftly talented, although drugged doses.
(Van Dyke Parks, 3rd day of Christmas, 2011, from here)
We started to get indications that Brian was taking some hallucinogens, like LSD and stuff like that – a lot of the writers were doing that at the time – but it took a tremendous toll from him. He drove me around the parking lot of William Morris about 20 times, explaining to me about this great trip he had just taken, and I just wanted to be as far away from that as possible!
(Al Jardine, in Endless Harmony, 1998)
Acid was like everything I could ever be, or would ever be I came to grips with – you just come to grips with what you are, what you can do and what you can’t do, and you learn to face it.
(Brian Wilson, some time in the mid-70s, quoted in The Beach Boys – An American Band, 1984)
Mike Douglas: …when you’re experimenting with drugs you are really experimenting
Brian Wilson: Well, a lot of people – a lot of the hippies – in the 60s said ‘the Great Messiah’ was supposed to come in the 60s – and it came in the form of drugs. Which, I agree, there’s a certain amount to be said for that…but, in my personal story I have, to tell, it, er, it really didn’t work out so well, so positively, because I began to depend on the drugs – the cocaine was a beautiful high, I mean I could write songs, I’d get an elated state – but the comedown was so godawful. I mean it was so –
MD: How long did it last, this high?
BW: Two hours. You got at least two hours of a high, then you got another hour and a half of nothing but garbage –
MD: Describe that garbage
BW: Oh, its…well its called Heaven and Hell. Drugs are a definite balance of Heaven and Hell: you go to Heaven, and you go to Hell. I mean, it’s just…I gotta say on TV, if anywhere I’d ever say this: I wouldn’t advance on any encouragement to – the use of cocaine –
MD: Why does a a talented man like you need highs? Wouldn’t just having that talent be enough of a high? You have an immense amount of talent. You started as a kid doing things that most grownups weren’t capable of doing. Why in the world would a man with that kind of God-given talent need any help from drugs?
BW: OK. You said ‘need help. For what reason – for writing?
BW:OK. I don’t say that the drugs are not needed for a person of talent, that God blessed me with some talent – I never have utilised grass, or any drugs or cocaine, to actually – for a stepping stone to write or create music, or create even a thought.
MD: You were in bed for over three years weren’t you…?
BW: Oh…two and half, three years – I hibernated, it was like…it’s like some kind of a Maharishi in the hills hiding in his bed, snorting cocaine, meditating…
BW: Stereo, when it came in in the 50s, everybody was so flipped, and here I was, Brian Wilson, didn’t hear stereo. So you know I think I was a bit – robbed of that pleasure. And I still miss it…I think it’s like being born blind, you try to describe somethig to somebody, ‘what’s it like?’, you know…
(Brian Wilson, as a lucid and cogent guest on The Mike Douglas Show, 1976, recorded 23rd November, broadcast 8th December – presumably)
I say that one must be a seer [voyant], make oneself a seer. The poet makes himself a seer by a long, prodigious, and rational disordering of all the senses. Every form of love, of suffering, of madness; he searches himself, he consumes all the poisons in him, and keeps only their quintessences. This is an unspeakable torture during which he needs all his faith and superhuman strength, and during which he becomes the great patient, the great criminal, the great accursed – and the great learned one! – among men. – For he arrives at the unknown! Because he has cultivated his own soul – which was rich to begin with – more than any other man! He reaches the unknown; and even if, crazed, he ends up by losing the understanding of his visions, at least he has seen them!
Arthur Rimbaud, from his Lettre du voyant, 1871 (aged 17) (English translation quoted from here)
[By the late-80s] when circumstances required Brian [Wilson] to have face-to-face contact with old friends or family members, they often came away dismayed to discover that he could no longer remember some longtime friends and would often lapse into incoherence or even fall asleep in midconversation. Brian had also taken on some disturbing facial tics, which were often accompanied by shaking hands and a visible trembling in the legs.
Some observers concluded that he had suffered a stroke or was showing the latter-day side effects of the mountains of cocaine and the rivers of alcohol he had ingested in the 1970s and early 1980s. But when Brian made a surprise appearance at a Beach Boys’ fan convention in the summer of 1990, it didn’t take long for Peter Reum, a longtime fan who happened to work as a therapist in Colorado, to realize something else. Reum had met and spoken to Brian on several occasions during the previous fifteen years, and so he know the man standing before him in San Diego had changed in distressing ways. Given his professional training, Reum suspected that Brian’s twitching, waxen face, and palsied hands pointed to tardive dyskinesia, a neurological condition that develops in patients whose systems have become saturated with psychotropic medications, like the ones Brian had been taking in quantity ever since Landy had taken over his life in 1983.
Reum’s suspicions were heightened by the many acquaintances who had seen Landy and his helpers dispensing pills to Brian […] when one of the Surf Nazis (as [Landy’s assistants] had all come to be known) accidentally left the medicine bag in the recording studio during the recording of [the album] Brian Wilson in 1987, a couple of the engineers couldn’t resist taking a peek inside. What they found resembled a portable doctor’s office, Mark Linett says. “It looked like every pharmaceutical on the face of the earth”.
Those stories and the many others that confirmed and expanded upon the dizzying quantity of drugs that had been prescribed to control what Landy often described as paranoid schizophrenia mixed with manic-depression added up to what Reum feared was a potentially dire situation. If Brian continued to ingest drugs at the current rate, his system would grow so overloaded that he would deteriorate into “a drooling, palsied mental patient”, as Reum puts it. And by that point, the damage to his nervous system would be irreversible […]
Presented with evidence detailing Landy’s many conflicting roles in Brian’s life, the court ordered Landy to remove himself from the musician’s life […] The ruling came down on February 3rd, 1992.
(Catch A Wave – The Rise, Fall & Redemption of The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, 2006, by Peter Ames Carlin, p.271-3)
Brian Wilson and Bruce Johnston of The Beach Boys reflect on their never-released album Smile, recorded in 1966 and 1967 and now made available for the first time. Brian Wilson remembers the destructive role drugs played in the creation of this legendary ‘lost’ album, and unctuous music broadcaster Paul Gambaccini assesses how it sounds four decades on.
BBC Radio 4, Front Row
Front Row: Brian Wilson, it’s taken 44 years for the Smile Sessions to be released. They’ve become almost the Holy Grail for Beach Boys fans
Brian Wilson: yes. Well y’know what it is, is that when Van Dyke and I were working, in the studio in 1967, we were taking a lot of drugs – y’know, very very many different kinds of drugs – and what happened was we were so slowed on drugs, we could only write like 20 seconds at a time , y’know. So it went on and on like that for like 3 months, finally we got some stuff recorded.
FR: And there is almost a spiritual dimension to the record, and we hear it in these master tapes, particularly in the outtakes of a track like Our Prayer which starts the album, where you bring the voices together, and suggesting harmony parts, and there’s an incredible attention to detail – and there is a spiritual aspect to it
Brian: There was, The Boys’ voices definitely have a spiritual quality to them, and they were all very proud of me and Van Dyke, y’know, for coming up with such an advanced piece of music
FR: And you’ve got the Beach Boys’ voices in there – and some guest appearances, most notably Paul McCartney is said to have munched a celery stick on the track Vega-tables…
FR: I’ve been listening for that, it’s always been billed as a celery stick –
Brian: You’d have to sit down and listen to all those tapes that we made in order to find that one little part, y’know?
(Vega-Tables is heard, with chomping)
Brian: (continuing) He was improvising, yeah
FR: So can you remember that session?
Brian: (pauses) No I can’t. No.
FR: You were driving that creative process
FR: And it took its toll on you, physically and mentally it was a difficult, a very difficult time
FR: And you say you taking lots of drugs at the time…?
Brian: Very many drugs
FR: And were you writing on drugs – was that part of the creative process, or was that just –
Brian: Was I writing on drugs?!? Of course! Without drugs there could not be any Smile.
Bruce Johnston: I’m gonna tell you the negative, not the positive. The negative, simply, was that there were guys coming around to try and get drugs to Brian, which was VERY uncool. This is the wrong time to be doing it. I mean he’s making the next step from Pet Sounds.
Paul Gambaccini: You have to say, if he hadn’t done so many drugs, he probably would have made it, he probably would have finished Smile
Brian: But unfortunately with drugs, and Smile, there’s a bad brain memory. The drug takes you into a song, right? Then you become that song, and so how are gonna squeeze outta there back into reality?
Gambaccini: At one point in these Smile sessions you can hear him saying “you guys feelin’ the acid yet?” – they’re obviously (laughs) doing drugs while the record is being made
Bruce Johnston: The negatives were NOT coming from The Beach Boys, the negatives were coming from the people trying to – I always describe it as trying to – KIDNAPPING Brian – “oh you don’t need The Beach Boys Brian, you’re so brilliant, by the way here’s, take this, this’ll expand your musical horizons…”
FR: So these are the hustlers and the dealers then?
Bruce Johnston: Oh! I guess so …I just call them ‘journeyman pharmacists’
Brian: After we were done working on this, when we shelved Smile, put Smile on the shelf – it took us each about a half a year to recover from the brain damage. SIX MONTHS to recover from it. It was devastating what they did to our brains.
FR: So you gave everything to this album, you gave it all of your creative juices?
Brian: My All and All
FR: And you’re encouraging Al Jardine, and Mike Love –
Brian: And Bruce Johnston
FR: And Bruce Johnston, who was there at the time – taking over from you in the touring – was there in the studio – but who said ‘this is not working out’? Who said let’s stick it on the shelf?
Brian: (hesitantly) I did. I said “we gotta shelve it Van Dyke”, put it on the shelf. Took us 40 years to finally to (laughs) to realise we had a piece of Art in the can
FR: But you knew it was Art at the time – what persuaded you to give up on it? Cause Mike Love your cousin –
Brian: – they didn’t like it
FR: – he wasn’t keen on it –
Brian: The guys didn’t like it.
FR: Is that understated – they hated it at the time?
Brian: He was disgusted with it, he said “I’m DISGUSTED with this”, he said this is nothing like anything like a surf song or a car song or any kinda Beach Boy-type of song
(Child Is Father Of The Man is heard, as Brian continues)
Brian: I said “Mike. You gotta – if you don’t wanna grow, you shouldn’t live – if you don’t wanna grow, you shouldn’t live”. I said, “if you don’t wanna grow, you shouldn’t live”.
FR: So you have fond memories of being in that studio, recording these background vocals then? You don’t think of it as a time of fighting, of animosity, of a sour relationship –
Bruce: The Beach Boys weren’t fighting! If The Beach Boys were fighting against Brian, you wouldn’t hear those harmonies. You don’t sing that beautifully when you’re mad.
(Smile Sessions promotional interview, broadcast 21 Oct 2011 – listen again)
[Brian] Wilson gives a rare interview and discusses his early influences, his experiments with recording music on a tape machine aged just 16, the huge difficulties he had creating masterpieces like Good Vibrations and the Beach Boys great lost album Smile (which has been released this month, 44 years after the original recordings) and how drugs influenced his work and then, sadly, forced his withdrawal from music.
While his fragile mental state does make Wilson a sometimes hesitant interviewee, his humour and passion for music still shine through.
(Smile Sessions promotional interview, BBC Radio 6 Music, 23 Oct 2011. Sorry, this programme is not available to listen again)
OK, panic over, found them – but now that I’ve smoked the spliff I just rolled, I’m fucked if I can remember what point all of the above was gonna illustrate. Bollocks.
And I also forgot this, from a lyric discussion on the smileysmile.net messageboard, July 2010 (here):
Dada: Sounds like a canny reference to pot, such as we see with “Cabinessence” (switch the B and the N around and you get “Canibessence”).
runnersdialzero: I’d say that’s a stretch, especially about “Cabinessence”.
cutterschoice: Frank Holmes (a friend of VDP, and the Smile cover artist) said that “Cabinessence” is a pun on ‘cannabis.’ I think he’s a reliable source.