Profile of Dennis Wilson, the drummer in the Beach Boys and the only one who surfed, the one who drove hot rod cars in competition and the one who got all the girls.
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Hi, my name is Dennis Wilson, I make rock'n'roll records.
I've had a career of 15 years making hit records with the Beach Boys.
During that 15 years I have had some very exciting moments.
# If everybody had an ocean across the USA
# Then everybody'd be surfing... #
Dennis Wilson was the drummer in The Beach Boys, the teenagers who invented the sound of California,
and for 1960s America, defined a whole new way of living.
Sunshine, cars, girls, I Get Around,
Good Vibrations, Surfin' USA.
At the heart of the Beach Boys were the Wilson brothers, Dennis, Carl and Brian - the musical
genius who penned unforgettable hits, but at the height of the band's fame retired to bed.
But Brian didn't surf, he didn't race cars and he wasn't a teen idol.
It was another Wilson brother who was the genuine article.
The surfer, the hot-rodder, the DNA of the band.
Dennis Wilson gave The Beach Boys their rhythm, but he also gave them their identity and their cool.
When Brian lost his mind, it was Dennis who led the band through hard times.
And it was Dennis who was the first to go solo with a lost classic of an album.
He lived at the rock'n'roll lifestyle to the full,
was married five times, and died tragically before he reached 40.
This is the story of Dennis Wilson, the real Beach Boy.
Act One, Scene One.
An all-American neighbourhood in the golden age of the American Dream.
Hawthorne. A blue-collar suburb of south Los Angeles where,
on a very ordinary street in 1950s America, Dennis,
his brothers and their neighbour David Marks, came of age.
Here we are in Hawthorne,
where The Beach Boys' California state landmark is,
dedicated to the home of the Wilsons and myself.
If we walk over here we will see...
where their house actually was.
The Wilsons' house was right here under this pile of dirt.
And my house was right across the street, this was a corner house, the Wilsons'.
And my house was right here directly across the street,
under this pile of dirt.
Can't go home, nothing there, empty air, a pile of dirt.
The houses have changed here, but this house here looks almost exactly
how the Wilsons' house looked.
Where this garage is, the Wilsons turned theirs into a music room.
That's where Brian wrote a bunch of songs.
The window here, they had a similar window
and I used to sneak up on Brian and peek in there and watch him.
When I first met Dennis, he was 12.
He had a buzz cut, flat top.
We called him Dennis the Menace. He was always causing trouble.
He was considered kind of the neighbourhood bully in a way.
When the other kids saw him coming, they would go the other direction
because they didn't know if Dennis was going to punch them or not.
I had a chemistry set that I got for Christmas with a Bunsen burner, an alcohol burner.
Dennis didn't want to do chemistry, he said, "Let's go and burn the ditch down."
We went over and he threw the Bunsen burner down into the dry brush.
It was about quarter of a mile, it just went up in flames.
The fire department, the police, the National Guard - there was always
something happening with Dennis and the police.
He liked to have fun and he always recruited me to go with him to get in trouble.
Watching over the incendiary Dennis was his loving mother Audrey.
Audrey was very sweet.
She was a nice person.
I liked her very much.
But ruling the roost was Dad Murry.
Part-time composer and the Beach Boys' first manager.
Murry Wilson, to me, was an obnoxious man.
He had to have everything his own way.
Murry's favourite thing was to get one of us boys
and give us the Vulcan neck pinch until we went down on our knees.
I didn't know that.
-Or I would have done something.
-You are going to smile next time on stage, aren't you?
-I would have done something about that.
-Yeah, I didn't tell my parents about that. I wasn't a tattle.
Murry was a tough taskmaster with all three of his boys.
But while eldest son Brian's musical talent and youngest son Carl's
innocence placated Murry, middle son Dennis met his dad head-on.
I did see them in a fist fight in the garage.
I saw Dennis and his dad having it out in the garage.
They obviously had to deal with their problems.
David Marks's dad came from across the street
-and pulled them apart.
-The Wilsons' garage was directly across the street from us, and they faced each other.
Open doors. And we heard a scuffle, we turned around and it was Dennis
and Murry in their garage pushing each other around.
And finally we saw Dennis trying to throw some blows at Murry.
My father was a very big, strong man, and he ran over there
and he tore them apart like dogs and broke the fight up.
Away from Murry, Dennis had one place within walking distance that was all his own - the local beach.
This is Manhattan Beach, 26th Street,
where Dennis Wilson used to come.
He loved this atmosphere, the salt air and the ocean.
This was Dennis's place,
the place where Dennis came for recreation, entertainment,
see the girls, hang with them,
be part of the whole beach scene as it rose in the early '60s.
The rest of the band didn't really surf. Dennis was the only one.
I tried it and didn't like it.
Carl never went in the water. Had an aversion to water.
But Dennis was one of the guys.
He was accepted by the surf cult.
It wasn't really a sport, it was a cult, and Dennis was accepted and he was one of them.
In 1961, a young Brian Wilson
had tunes, but only substandard lyrics for soppy love songs.
He was struggling to write about something that would make him and his band stand out.
It was Dennis's love of the beach that inspired the band's first song.
Dennis, being the avid surfer in the family, he said, "Brian, why don't you write a song about surfing?"
# Surfing's the only life The only way for me
# Now surf, surf with me
# I got up this morning Turned on my radio... #
I played the stand-up, Carl played his little chunka-chunka guitar thing.
A hollow-body electric-acoustic, unplugged.
# ..have a good time Goin' surfing... #
Dennis didn't play. He just sang.
It was Brian hitting a snare drum with his index finger,
and it was background vocals, and that was about it for that song.
Primarily, it was more of an a cappella number than anything else.
# ..only way for me Now surf, surf with me. #
Surfin' was a local hit for the Beach Boys, but didn't make the national top 50.
The band didn't have a record deal and realised they needed a bigger sound if they were to step up.
They had the harmonies, but they needed a rhythm section.
Yeah, Dennis didn't have any drum lessons.
The drums just showed up in the music room one day, and "Dennis, you're the drummer," you know?
Because we already had the guitar players, Brian playing bass solo.
If they'd said, "Dennis, you're the bass player,"
he would have picked up a bass and learned to play.
With Dennis on drums, Carl and David now toting electric guitars and Surfin' their calling card,
the band's demos of their next tune got them signed to Capitol Records
and saw the release of their first long player, Surfin' Safari.
# Let's go surfin' now Everybody's learnin' how
# Come on a safari with me... #
I just love the self-contained rock'n'roll sound. Listen to that.
It's tight, it's energetic,
it's bright, you can hear the little rhythm guitar riffs.
It's so cool. It's so garage.
I just love it.
And, man, I mean, the sound is just so fun.
I mean, you listen to that, it's rock'n'roll, but it's so California.
And Dennis doing just those great surf fills.
You can't call it anything other than surf. It was a surf beat.
And Dennis, self-taught, somehow just nailed it and defined that sound.
The sense of freedom, the sense of exuberance that you got
from hearing that, it really was like the starting pistol of the '60s.
"Dennis, the '60s are going to start."
"All right! Boom! Here we go!"
# Let's go surfin' now Everybody's learnin' how... #
And they were off, packing concert halls round the country
as Surfin' USA went to number three and I Get Around then topped the charts.
In 1964, they played one of the first ever pop music festivals,
the Teenage Awards Music International,
alongside acts such as James Brown, The Supremes and the Rolling Stones.
And out of all of that talent in that one room that night,
the Beach Boys were probably the top-billed act,
probably the most famous act out of them at that moment.
-'Who'd you come to see? Louder!'
-Also in the room on that night was Beach Boys' roadie Ron Swallow.
And to be in this hall again is just amazing, to look around here, and
I've got goose bumps already just reliving the feeling of being here with all those kids.
Are you ready for 'em?
Well, let 'em know you're welcoming 'em! Come on!
They can't hear you!
The stage was set up here, at this end of the hall,
and there were chairs all over the centre of the arena.
When it started, kids were sitting,
but within minutes it was just crazy and they were standing on
the chairs and everybody was running up.
-They were trying to get them back to the front.
-'The fabulous Beach Boys!'
# Round, round, get around, I get around
# Yeah, get around, round, round I get around
# I get around
# Get around, round, round I get around
# Get around, round, round, I get around
# Get around, round, round I get around
# I'm getting bugged driving up and down the same old strip
# I gotta find a new place where the kids are hip... #
On that October night, the Beach Boys broke the hearts of 1,000 teenage girls.
But there was one Beach Boy who broke more than his fair share.
Oh, Dennis was the sex symbol. That rugged look... I mean, he was
animated, he was a little bit crazy,
and they just went crazy, especially when he started doing the hair thing.
Dennis, before the Beatles, just would shake his hair wildly.
He was just passionately all in,
physically just flailing away,
and that just drove the chicks nuts.
There was a hilarious moment where Dennis is whaling away as usual on his drums
and he just shatters a stick.
He kind of hesitates for a second and then tosses it
over his shoulder, grabs a new one and continues.
Now, to me, that was a quintessential rock'n'roll moment.
And there was a reason he broke sticks.
Dennis had his own unique way of playing the drums.
Normally, a right-handed drummer
plays the high-hat, the two cymbals that clack together, over here
with the right hand and the snare, the backbeat, as their left hand.
He, probably just by not knowing any better, played the high-hat
with his left hand and the snare with his right hand, which gave him a really heavy backbeat.
I mean, you could tell he was a strong dude,
and there was a fight in everything he did, you know?
Not only did Dennis have his own maverick drumming style, but also his own look and image
that from the days of the Beach Boys' first album had set him apart from his brothers and band mates.
I looked at the rest of these guys,
and there's David, then there's this kind of
chubby guy over here, and this guy over here has kind of a flat-top.
This guy's kinds getting bald, it looks like.
So Dennis really stood out in that crowd.
Definitely the coolest-looking one, if you ask me.
# Do you wanna dance under the moonlight?
# Kiss me, baby, all though the night
# Oh, baby
# Do you wanna dance? #
I can remember being in a hotel. I can't tell you exactly when or where.
But if his room was three or four rooms down from mine,
there would be ten or fifteen girls lined up
just to come in and say hi to him.
I can remember being pressed up, just happened to be standing next to Dennis after a gig,
and being smashed up against a chain-like fence
by 3,000 screaming girls.
In 1963, we were playing a show in Santa Cruz,
and after the show, word got out of the hotel we were staying in.
And so a lot of the kids came over, and some of the girls were more
interested in the band, and their boyfriends got quite upset about it.
And so they were coming to cause the band some grief,
and when they got there they were coming up the stairs to get to our rooms.
And Dennis being Dennis, he decided to intervene and got
about halfway down the stairs and kicked one of the guys
between the legs, and it actually split his scrotum.
# I'm gonna wake you up early, cos I'm gonna take a ride with you... #
The Beach Boys pulled the girls with their surf tunes and the spirit
of California, but they were shrewd, and knowing that a lot of their audience lived in the vast interior
of America, miles from the sea, they turned to a growing passion - young America's need for speed.
# First gear, it's all right
# Second gear... #
We had 45s that came out, and they would play both sides of our record.
# It's all right! #
Our theme was one side would be a surf song and the flip side would be a car song.
# It's more fun than a barrel of monkeys... #
Dennis's prize possession at the time
was a '63 split-window 327 cubic inch
Corvette with a four-speed.
Also, I might add, fuel-injected.
From a speed standpoint, you're probably looking at an easy 145 on the street at any point in time,
but obviously one of the sexiest machines ever built.
This album really did it for me, for two reasons.
It has Don't Worry Baby on it,
and it has a picture of Dennis's 1963 split-window Corvette Stingray.
Now, this car was one of my dream cars.
Look at that face, man. I mean, what attitude!
But I mean, not in a way that is threatening, in a way that just says,
"I'm cool. And by the way, that's my car."
Dennis was a serious car fanatic.
There was a period that Dennis kind of had a secret life going at the local drag strips,
and he was racing his cars under a different name and winning trophies, setting track records.
And this album, Shut Down Volume 2,
Dennis is right there, not only singing about it and posing on the cover with a cool car,
but he's actually going out on the weekends and racing the damn things.
# I'm picking up good vibrations... #
In 1966, with Good Vibrations topping the charts,
the Beach Boys had the world at their feet.
But backstage, things were changing.
Brian had retired from touring to concentrate on writing, but his new,
psychedelic album, Pet Sounds, which inspired Sgt Pepper's, was not well received by their record label.
The Beach Boys were victimised.
Brian delivers Pet Sounds.
They said, "What is this shit?
"Pet what? Where's the surfing music, you idiot?"
In these turbulent times, Dennis remained fiercely loyal to his elder brother.
Dennis adored Brian. You could not say anything bad about Brian.
Dennis would be all over you.
Dennis quite often would stick up for Brian.
In fact, Dennis never did not stick up for Brian, even when Brian
was going through some very rough, eccentric times.
Dennis would not go for that. "Are you kidding me? We wouldn't be here if it weren't for Brian."
The band appeared to be at a crossroads.
The strain was showing, and Brian began a slide
into drugs and mental illness, much to the agony of Dennis.
I would go to his house daily and beg, "What can I do to help you?
"Forget all of it."
It got to Brian's health.
And then, as the Beach Boys were slowly slipping away,
y'know, we're at home trying to take care of our brother.
Dennis took refuge from the storm,
partying hard and fully embracing the 1960s.
His new home at 14 400 Sunset Boulevard became an open house for young hippies.
Dennis and I met back in '68.
Quite honestly, he tossed me an apothecary jar of marijuana
first, then he said, "Roll 'em till you can't smoke any more."
And he picked up a guitar and he started playing me these songs.
He said, "Yeah, a friend of mine, Charlie, wrote these songs."
"Charlie" was, in fact, the infamous cult leader Charles Manson, who,
along with the so-called Manson Family, moved into 14400 Sunset Boulevard.
And Charlie, pictured here at the house, set out to impress Dennis with his home-grown songs.
That was Charlie's thrust.
He really wanted to be in the music business, he really wanted to be in entertainment.
That's why he came to LA.
And Charlie was an interesting study, in that he could sit down
with a guitar and plunk out a song, just chord out a song.
One of the songs that Charlie and Dennis worked on together was a song called Cease To Exist originally.
# Pretty girl
# Pretty, pretty girl... #
It was very raw.
Dennis took the song, polished it.
# Cease to exist
# Just come and say you love me. #
One of the lyrics in the Charlie version, Charlie had the line "cease to exist" in the lyric.
And Dennis changed it to "cease to resist"
and turned the song into Never Learn Not To Love.
# Cease to resist Come and say you love me
# Give up your world Come on and be with me... #
The reworked song was, in fact, recorded by the Beach Boys
and credited to Dennis.
Charlie wasn't happy.
Dennis by this time was looking to escape from his own house, which had been overrun by the Manson family.
Dennis would lots of times get away from the place and spent a night at my house up in Beverly Glen.
We never did figure this out - Charlie found out where that house was.
We were in this little room of his at Greg's, and the door flung open
and this crazy little man just came
flying into the room, and he looked exactly the way
he looked on the front of the newspaper months later,
when he was arrested.
And he jumped in and he said, "I just come from the moon!"
And Dennis said, "Come on, I want to talk to you,"
and he took Charlie outside.
And he came in and he was white as a ghost, and he said,
"I had to give him a guitar and all the money I had.
"He swore he was going to kidnap my son if I don't get him all of this money."
Because they had not put Charlie's name on this record
of the Beach Boys,
also because Dennis had changed some of the words to it.
And he said, "You mess with anything with me, but you don't mess with my words."
Six months later, Manson and his followers began a series
of brutal killings that would see them convicted and sentenced
in the most high-profile murder case of its time.
There were repercussions for Dennis,
as, inevitably, he was questioned about his relationship with Manson.
It was a low ebb for Dennis and a difficult time for the Beach Boys.
Brian had retreated to the exclusive suburb of Bel Air and the band had
installed a studio in his house, but their music wasn't selling.
Albums were charting well outside the top 50,
Sunflower as low as number 151,
and Brian, battling his own demons,
had retired to bed.
That was really what life was all about for me, staying in bed.
I was hiding away from everything and anything,
and it was just one big hideaway.
It's a problem.
Here's the guy that basically is the impetus of your songwriting,
and if he decided to take a break
or decided to go into some kind of self-imposed songwriting exile,
then there's not much you can do about it.
Well, in that period it was really Carl that, essentially,
took over the producing reins.
Carl comes up with something like
I Can Hear Music, which is a great single.
Brian's not even on that.
# Sweet, sweet music
# Whenever you touch me, baby
# Whenever you're near
# I hear the music all the time, yeah
# I hear the music all the time now, baby
# I hear the music all the time
# I hear the music I hear the music, baby... #
With Brian horizontal, Dennis, who'd only been seen by the band
as a drummer, and even then as something of a pounder,
stepped forward as a writer.
Dennis was starting to become a songwriter,
and he was starting to sit at the piano and play,
and he was learning more and more from his brother.
But I suppose a lot of that is just almost in their DNA.
Sunflower may not have sold, but Dennis took songwriting credits
on four tracks, including the stand out song, Forever,
which he co-wrote with Greg Jacobson.
I was so inspired that I called up Dennis in the middle of the night
and we almost wrote the whole song over the phone.
The melody line was there and most of the chorus and verses were there
within ten minutes on the phone.
# If every word I said
# Could make you laugh, I'd talk forever... #
He said, "Would you help me with this song, Forever?" I helped him arrange it.
# I ask the sky just what we have
# It's shown forever... #
Were you surprised that he had that ability?
Of course. I never thought my brother Dennis could do that.
But he did it anyway.
# To fill your heart with joy I'd sing forever... #
I really recognised him at that point as more than just a drummer.
# Forever, forever... #
Having a song like Forever is what's going to make you turn your head,
and I guess there's certain times where I wish I was older,
when all this stuff was happening,
so I would have been more aware of how wonderful this stuff was.
# Together, my love... #
Times were good for Dennis.
Manson now seemed firmly behind him
as his songs were praised by critics and fans.
Take it easy, man, you're going to kill us.
To cap it, in 1971 he was cast it in cult road movie Two-Lane Blacktop,
putting all that car knowledge to perfect use as the mechanic.
We ought to get some action. We'll need him to do a little work
on the carburettors and check out the rear end.
By the mid-'70s, the Beach Boys were a big draw as a live act
but in reality had become a show band who churned out the oldies,
the surfing and car songs, to huge crowds.
The band were creatively bankrupt
and hadn't released any new material for years.
This exasperated Carl and burgeoning songwriter Dennis,
and a division grew.
Between Dennis and Carl, they pretty much wanted to go in a direction
of continuing to push the edge,
whatever edge there was going to be with the Beach Boys,
continuing Brian's legacy.
Then you had Alan and Mike, who tended to more want to milk the cash cow.
It was just the typical things, as Mike wanted to care of business
with the band and Dennis just wanted to be Dennis.
And so they just had all grown apart creatively.
I don't know if they were ever on the same page.
Dennis would never come to a business meeting or board directors' meetings with the Beach Boys.
He would never do anything that would remotely benefit him financially.
He did everything in his power to derail financial things,
which drove Mike Love nuts!
Why are you sitting down?
Even on tour, Dennis began to relish taking the spotlight away from Mike
with a show stopper that not many people know
he had a hand in writing.
I dedicate this song
to the girls here tonight.
He had a real affinity with the crowd,
and he had a real power over the crowd.
All right! Do you mess around?
He was probably the most charismatic in the band.
When he'd come up to the front and sing, the crowd would go crazy.
He'd say, "I want to leave you with this song."
A piano player would come out and play You Are So Beautiful and Dennis would sing.
# You are so beautiful
# To me... #
Dennis really did write that with Billy Preston.
They were sitting and jamming, and it just kind of came out.
Dennis was plinking, and Billy Preston picked up on it,
because he's really a piano player, and You Are So Beautiful.
The song isn't much more than that.
# Can't you see? Oh-h-h-h... #
It wasn't until much later that it even became a song and Dennis
realised, "Hey, I remember that, that's my lyric."
# You're everything I need... #
# You are so beautiful
# To me. #
Thank you very much.
That song is so distinctively a Dennis song, because first of all...
# You are so beautiful... #
that's a melody of his, and that is a lyric that he would write,
because it's simple and it's straight directly from here to here.
From the early days, Dennis had been the Beach Boy
to catch the eyes of their female fans.
And for a sex bomb pop star in the '60s and '70s,
it's perhaps no surprise that he married more than once.
He was first hitched in 1965 to Carole Freedman.
She's seen with him on the cover of The Beach Boys Party Album.
In '69, he fell for Barbara Charren.
She inspired him to write the songs Cuddle Up and Forever.
But their marriage didn't last forever.
They split in '74.
Dennis wasn't done with marriage.
In 1976, he tied the knot with Karen Lamm,
a headstrong model and actress 12 years his junior
who'd had a picture of Dennis on her bedroom wall growing up in Indiana.
She would become the fiery muse through Dennis's most
creative and turbulent years.
During his marriage to Karen,
Dennis brought another lady into his life,
an ocean-going yacht, the Harmony.
When he found it, it was at the bottom of the ocean.
It was built by hand in Japan years and years ago.
I mean, there was so many woods on it. There was teak and mahogany.
He bought it for, I think, 125,000.
In those days, that was like three quarters of a million,
probably, now, and spent that much having it restored
and never let me see it
until it got dropped in the water here at the marina.
It was just an amazing feat to watch, the way he was like this.
I mean, it was like all his energy tied in with yanking the sails
and going about and everything!
I mean, he was a master.
I was on the boat with my dad and Brian, and I think I got seasick,
and I threw up all over Brian. I remember that.
That was where he got a lot of his inspiration.
We'd be floating out in the ocean at two o'clock in the morning, and he'd get an idea for something.
He'd jump to a little keyboard,
and way before cell phones he'd have me go ship-to-shore to call
to get an engineer into the studio,
and John Hanlon or Tom Murphy would come racing in in the middle
of the night, and he'd go in and he'd lay down this crazy little part.
Dennis would just grab me, because he'd be creative late at night.
Karen would piss him off or something would happen,
and he just wanted to record.
He wasn't going to let anything stand in his way.
And he was very engaging. He was very positive and he took chances.
If Dennis wasn't on the Harmony, he was two miles up the road
from the marina in the Beach Boys' own recording studio.
He was in the zone. I mean, he was extremely focused when he was in the room.
He'd spend weekends, Friday and Saturday nights, working late.
There was no place he'd rather be.
I never saw him agonise over it.
It never looked like work.
There were four songs that were first played for me on my first week.
Gregg Jakobson always had what they call the rough-mix reel.
It was a quarter-inch reel of tape that he'd catalogue the day's work.
I'll never forget, the first week
was River Song, Pacific Ocean Blue, Rainbows and Holy Man.
-These tracks were the nucleus of the very first solo album recorded by a Beach Boy.
My name is Dennis Wilson.
I make rock'n'roll records.
Uh, I've had a career of 15 years
making hit records with the Beach Boys.
During that 15 years, I have had some very exciting moments,
but I've never been as excited as I am now.
As a matter of fact, I'm very proud to announce
that I'll be making albums with James William Guercio,
on Caribou Records.
Pacific Ocean Blue was released in August 1977.
Well, this here's me. That's Carl.
It's a far-back memory, you know?
This has got to be over 30 years ago now, so...
# And live on the edge of a body of water
# Warmed by the blood of cold-hearted slaughter
# Of the otter... #
Hearing just him in the studio
and hearing his voice and just
him do exactly what he wanted to do,
you know, and you start hearing how soulful it was too.
And so much of the original Beach Boys
was just good, but so square.
And there was so much soul involved.
Very soulful. Very emotive.
You're listening to that voice, the lyrics that he's singing,
and you're believing it.
# Wait a minute Can't you see you got an enemy? #
Most people have only heard the other boys, Wilson boys,
so to speak, the other two.
But they didn't...
Hopefully, they were surprised in a nice way, just like I was, to hear
all this beautiful stuff coming out, and that's what made me emotional.
It just made me teary-eyed, because he was a soulful guy.
# Pacific Ocean blue... #
He was just different. I don't know how to describe it.
He sounded different than anybody else I'd ever heard.
Pacific Ocean Blue album opens with the River Song.
# Walking round by the river... #
It's the epic nature of the production.
You've got white-boy rock'n'roll,
and he brings in the Double Rock Baptist choir
and they're singing gospel-oriented backgrounds on this track. It was amazing.
They took off with it.
It was so much more than he had thought about.
It took on a life of its own, you know, and it just blossomed.
# By the river, I would love to be like you
# Ooh, lonely river has not got time to say... #
It has the bliss of a Brian Wilson production,
but it's mature, it's rocking.
# I was born into the city life
-# It's all that I've ever known
# It's rough getting money to spend
# So hard that I can hardly breathe... #
If River Song had the credit "Produced by Brian Wilson" on it,
people would have died.
I mean...their teeth would have fallen out
they would have been so happy, because that's kind of...
where people were hoping Brian would go.
Pacific Ocean Blue didn't just display a maturity,
it revealed a side to Dennis that people hadn't seen before.
It almost seems like his music really shows you what he was feeling.
It's very emotional.
And I was almost surprised at
how dark it seemed and felt at first,
very painful music, but so good!
The pain in Dennis life came from his stormy relationship with Karen,
who he would marry and divorce twice by 1978.
If you like Pacific Ocean Blue,
there's no way you can listen to that album
and not feel the influence that she had on Dennis.
It's right there, it's in the grooves. Thoughts Of You?
That's about Dennis and Karen.
She's not a beloved figure amongst Dennis's friends.
To this day, you speak Karen Lamm and an awful lot of people will say
that she was poison.
# Look at love
# Look at love
# Look what they've done! #
It's love hate. It's that emotion.
He always brought it into the studio.
As soon as he'd be in a beef, he'd come right into the studio.
That was his outlet.
It was just that's where he could bleed safely.
Both Dennis and Karen had a taste for drugs and alcohol.
As their second marriage veered out of control,
Dennis began to rely heavily on both.
That was when his substances became totally detrimental
and not conducive to his working.
It was insane, the nights that I would have to go to get him out of jail
because she fired guns at his car and then called the police,
telling them he was racing down the Coast Highway in a 200,000 Ferrari
that had bullet holes in it
that she had put in and had him arrested with a gun.
It was just crazed, the things that the two of them went through.
And that has a lot to do, I think, with the exceptional
emotionalness that you hear in Bamboo.
# It's not too late... #
Bamboo was intended as the follow up album to Pacific Ocean Blue.
Dennis had made a start on it,
but the drugs and alcohol were taking their toll,
and aged only 34, he began to lose some basic musical skills.
Dennis's voice had deteriorated to the point where he was recording
songs that the melody required places where his voice wouldn't go.
And so he began bringing Carl in to assist him, to sing with him.
Carl was really supportive.
Always loved Dennis's music.
And so you have examples of Dennis taking
part of a song and then Carl
kind of coming in and filling in the rest.
# Ooh, words of love
# Deep words inside of me Ooh...
-# I cry for warmth
-Cry, cry for warmth... #
It's like the two brothers that were used to singing with Brian...
..on early records, where they were in a supporting role
and doing background vocals, and now they're doing leads.
It's the two of them. They've stepped to the forefront,
and Brian's not here.
It's like, "We're picking it up."
That's just what I get.
But unfortunately, Bamboo suffered along with Dennis.
As Dennis deteriorated personally,
the Bamboo sessions deteriorated.
These were dark days for Dennis.
His second marriage to Karen had failed, the Bamboo sessions were
faltering, and worst of all, Brother Studio,
his recording base, was in financial trouble.
The Beach Boys, who owned the studio, put it up for sale.
We were trying to sell it to Fleetwood Mac at this point.
There was a lot of interest from Lindsey Buckingham,
a big Beach Boy fan.
So Lindsey would come by with Mick Fleetwood and look at the studio
with John McVie, and they were very interested in taking it over.
So we started to all become sort of friends, and Dennis initially was trying to hit on Stevie Nicks.
And in the process, Stevie didn't show much interest in Dennis,
but Christine McVie became quite enamoured with him.
I think he was just in awe of her musical talent
and it was something that bonded between them that first night
that materialised within 24 hours.
And they were great for each other for a time.
What this ended up doing for Dennis was that it increased his access to a lot of things.
I mean, the Beach Boys were big,
but Fleetwood Mac at that time, coming off of Rumours,
they were really, literally, the biggest band in the world.
He was enamoured with the fact that Christine was selling more records than the Beach Boys ever did,
and Christine had unlimited funds for drugs and what-have-you.
And so all that was very intoxicating to him.
He became enamoured by the things around Christine
as opposed to maybe Christine's beauty, if that makes sense.
That summer, Dennis and Christine divided their time between the Harmony and Christine's house.
There was a party at Christine McVie's up in the Holmby Hills,
near Beverly Hills area, lovely home,
big white house on the hill, big lawn that goes down to the pool,
and then there's a pool house.
It was a comfortable Beverly Hills home,
and there was a nice little shack
at the far end of the property that was a pool house,
and Dennis adopted it as his own.
And the night that the disaster happened,
I happened to be up in the bedroom, in Christine's bedroom,
and she looked out the window at one point and said,
"My God, what are those flames?"
Dennis had burned down the pool house.
He was fooling around down there with candles to make it romantic.
And Christine is coming down the stairs,
and that's when Christine delivered her great line of,
"Bit excessive, your friend, Dennis."
He had the gardener plant this very large heart in the lawn
with all different-coloured flowers,
and of course it went on Christine's gardener bill, which was fun. But that's Dennis for you.
In 1979, Dennis was facing a far greater loss which couldn't be remedied with hearts and flowers,
as the Beach Boys finally sold Brother Studio.
Dennis was creatively homeless.
This is totally decentring Dennis.
He's totally losing his base as a production, his security,
his playpen, his house, whatever you want to call it.
Dennis was literally carrying around his master reels,
booking time at the odd studio, looking for the odd
engineer or person to help him pull his project together.
I took a couple of shots at it with Dennis, working in the studio,
but it was so erratic, it was so difficult.
I couldn't do it, and I told Dennis, "I'm sorry, I couldn't do it."
I had to bow out.
It was too hard to see what was happening, you know?
The music was always the outlet,
and when he lost the studio, that started the whole process.
In addition to losing the studio, Dennis failed to keep up loan
payments and had his beloved boat, the Harmony, repossessed.
The combination of Dennis losing the studio and losing the boat...
those were two anchors that Dennis would hold on to.
Without that there wasn't much for Dennis to...
hang that hat on, that joy.
The alcohol really numbed the pain for him,
and he got to the point where he'd carry a jug.
It was two different things that he drank.
He either drank rum and orange juice
or vodka and grapefruit juice,
and he got to the point where he'd pour half of it out on the kerb of the liquor store
and fill the other half of the juice bottle up and just carry this thing
around with him all day, constantly numb from alcohol.
It was sad. It was sad to see him in that much pain.
Dennis, maybe you'd like to start us off.
Why do you think that you've had such continued popularity?
Dennis? Good morning, Dennis. I know it's early there.
Dennis has been out for days on end partying,
and he can't hold himself up on the couch.
Dennis, how are you doing out there?
Are we keeping you awake?
I'm borrowing my brother Carl's microphone.
I think that... Is this ABC?
-You need a new microphone.
He's falling into Carl's lap, and he's smoking.
The smoke from his cigarette is wafting across the table
and right up under Mike Love's face.
When they pan over to Mike, you can just see him seething.
Dennis's antics on the couch extended to the stage.
He started missing shows, and a drunken face-off with Mike Love
in front of fans led to the Beach Boys doing the unthinkable -
sacking a Wilson brother.
I can relate to Dennis.
He had an affliction, an illness
that I shared with Dennis,
and it was substance abuse.
He was out in the early 80s, just, "Blaaah! Where am I?
"What am I doing? What happened?"
Much as the same way that I was feeling, I had the same thing.
I anaesthetised myself for 30 years to get over the heartbreak
of separating from my brothers that I got famous with.
That was happening to Dennis also.
The same thing. He was alienated from the band and his family.
Dennis's relationship with Christine McVie was another casualty of his lifestyle.
After they split, she described him as half-little boy and half-insane.
Months later, Dennis met an attractive teenage blonde.
She went by the name of Shaun Love, and although Mike denied it,
claimed to be Mike Love's illegitimate daughter.
I think there's some controversy regarding who accepts that as fact
and who doesn't, but in the Wilson camp,
pretty much everybody will tell you that Shaun was Mike's daughter.
By 1983, a year shy of 40, Dennis's world had changed.
He had made Shaun his fifth wife and had a baby son, Gage.
But they were adrift. Money was short and Dennis lacked direction.
They had made a home of sorts in a beachside Santa Monica hotel,
only yards from the concert hall
where he'd stolen the Tammy Show in 1964.
So at this point, through various circumstances,
we'd all moved across the street there.
This was an old-time motel there called the Santa Monica Bay Inn, and
Dennis and Shaun were living there, my ex-wife and kid and I were living
in the room next door, and we were all able to see our bar stools
over here at JJ's, and that had a lot to do with why he spent
pretty much the last at least six months of his life
either in JJ's or in that motel.
The Beach Boys did let Dennis back in the band,
and on Independence Day, 1983, Dennis serenaded the crowd.
(HOARSELY) Folks, if you knew what it felt like...
..to be up here singing and playing, you know...
in front of you...
the joy it brings to us...
thank you so much.
You sense a deterioration happening to him.
That song, I remember that was probably
around the first time I saw him in a way that was hard to see him,
singing with the voice, having a hard time singing.
# You are so beautiful
# To me. #
God bless you.
The Beach Boys.
This was the last Fourth of July
that Dennis would spend with the Beach Boys.
He drifted around the beach areas.
Lots of people saw him walking barefoot, shirtless during that time.
He'd come down and watch surfers, right here at Manhattan Beach,
above the pier, where maybe he'd surfed in the younger days.
He spiralled. I don't know what else to say.
I just think he got hit with the demons, and you know, he spiralled.
I was doing a show at the Roxy
and some guy came running up to the stage and grabbed my ankle,
just a bunch of hair and a beard and everything.
My first reaction was,
"who the hell is this?" Dennis. "It's me."
I was driving and I saw him, and I didn't recognise at first.
First I just thought it was a bum and then I thought, "It's Dennis."
And he just looked awful. His stability, he was hunched over a little bit, really heavy beard,
and I think he even had a sore on his face.
It was just awful...
and it just damn tore my heart out, to be honest. I didn't stop.
I wasn't able to help him when I was with him more intimately, I didn't think I could help him then.
It was really painful for me.
It was painful just to see your friend in such dire straits.
Not something that you can easily do.
It broke my heart. What can I say?
To this day...you know.
I get very emotional.
The last days were kind of rough. Kind of rough.
He came in on a particular day, morning,
he came in and he'd talk to Alice.
Alice and I would talk and I would say...
"Dennis, you've got to take it easy."
That was it, the last time I saw him. Then he went down to the marina.
'Dennis Wilson no longer owned a boat at the marina,
'but he still spent a lot of time here visiting friends.
'It was during an afternoon get-together aboard this boat
'that Wilson decided to go swimming and diving off the dock.
'For 15 minutes, friends desperately searched the waters for Wilson.
'Divers in the harbour patrol were finally called in.'
They conducted a search with two divers. They brought in two additional divers,
and it took them that length of time,
over an hour, to find the body.
That last day of his life was just...
He'd called me several times,
he was here and he was drinking a little
and he was having a good time, and then I got a call
that he'd started diving,
picking things up that he'd thrown off the Harmony.
He loved that boat so much...
..and he was diving in the empty slip
for things he'd thrown overboard when he was, you know,
he shouldn't have been in the water that day
because he was drinking a lot and I guess he came up very fast
and smashed his head on the piling.
It knocked him out and he drowned.
He curled up in 13ft of water down there.
He'd curled up in a foetal position.
They found him... People don't drown in the foetal position.
People drown in the most horrific ways, you know.
People don't just curl up in the foetal position.
That's what the coastguard guys told me, they said when they found him,
they said he was just laying, curled up, all peaceful.
I'd spoken to him about an hour before it happened,
and didn't want to come down here.
He had been urging me since the night before
to come down here, and I just, I...
I got tired of saving him.
I didn't get tired of saving him, but I just stopped thinking
it was possible to save him. It was, obviously, it was.
On January 4th, 1984,
Dennis was afforded an honour normally reserved for the military
and became one of the select few civilians to be granted a burial at sea.
He left behind some unfinished business.
I waited from 1976 to...
2008 to hear this.
2007. 31 years I waited to hear this.
I heard this melody in my head for 31 frigging years.
Holy Man was one of the first four tracks that Dennis recorded
for Pacific Ocean Blue, but it was never released.
It was the song that Dennis couldn't finish.
He never completed the lyric.
He never laid down a vocal track.
Three decades later,
those closest to him set out to finish what he'd started.
I was always on a search for that song,
and the only way I was ever going to find it was to get into the vault.
I knew that reel existed, and I was determined to see if I could find it.
I finally found Holy Man, the writing,
because I never forgot what it looked like.
I still, to that day, remember what it said on the outside of the box.
We brought it into the studio, killer track,
and I always thought that Taylor Hawkins, who was a friend,
and he's the drummer in the Foo Fighters,
sounded and belongs to that same drummer society.
He's got a gravelly, whisky voice like Dennis.
Greg wrote some lyrics, Taylor reworked a bunch of them, and Taylor sang lead vocal.
# With the ego of a lamb, the holy man... #
Finding a vocal, I just sang how I sing, and it wasn't really trying to sound like Dennis.
I think he had Dennis's attitude. He climbed into the part.
When I play that song for people, they don't believe it's anybody else other than Dennis.
# The holy man will meet you there... #
I was a little nervous, like, "I don't know, man, I don't really want to piss on somebody's Picasso."
# The one you love is everywhere
# He's everywhere
# And you can follow... #
In 2008, 31 years after its original release, Pacific Ocean Blue was
re-mastered and reissued along with Dennis's lost album, Bamboo.
The flat-top, hard-nosed kid from Hawthorne who rode the waves
and charmed the girls in the shadow of his genius brother
was back in the headlines for musical reasons,
earning five-star reviews and voted number one re-issue of the year
in a host of newspapers and magazines.
He's always been recognised. The people that really loved him
and the people that really knew him have always...
said how talented and how big of a heart and just... He was golden.
When I listen to his music, it's weird.
It's just this real deep, intense, like...
I almost want to say like trying to find a lost love or something.
It's a real intense feeling and you can't figure it out, but it's there.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Dennis Wilson was the drummer in the Beach Boys. And he was the real Beach Boy. In a band of geeks who sang about surfing, cars and girls, Dennis was the only one who surfed, the one who drove hot rod cars in competition and the one who got all the girls.
He was married five times, shared a house with Charles Manson (with whom he wrote songs, including one recorded by the Beach Boys) but died, ironically by drowning, at the age of 39. He was also the first Beach Boy to release a solo album, the stunning Pacific Ocean Blue, which after years of being out of print and fetching hundreds on Ebay, was re-released in 2008 to widespread acclaim, being voted No 1 Reissue of the Year by Mojo and Uncut magazines.
This documentary tells the story of Dennis's life and music, with unseen archive footage and original interviews with Beach Boys Al Jardine and David Marks, his sons Michael and Carl and many friends and fellow musicians. These include Taylor Hawkins, drummer with the Foo Fighters who provided a vocal for the lost track on Pacific Ocean Blue, Holy Man, for which Dennis never laid down a vocal when he recorded the song in 1977.