the beach boys' abusive father -- 3/08/17

Today's selection -- from Heroes and Villains by Steven Gaines. Standing in the shadows of the Beach Boys' phenomenal success of the 1960s was their abusive father, Murry Wilson, who had in turn been beaten by his own father. Murry loved music, and though he ran a machine shop, he had long aspired to be a songwriter and had attained a very modest level of success in that endeavor. And so the three Wilson brothers, especially the oldest brother Brian, quickly learned that music could appease their father:

"'That asshole beat the shit out of us,' [said Dennis Wilson, who] then grinned sardon­ically. 'He just had a very unique way of expressing himself physically with his kids,' he said. 'Instead of saying, "Son, you shouldn't shoot a beebee gun at the streetlight," he'd go boooom!!! I got the blunt end of the broom. Crack! One minute late! Just one minute late! Boom! And that's it. Brian and Carl would hide in the bathroom, "Oh God! He's getting it!" Later they'd ask, "Did it hurt, Dennis?"'

Murry WiIlson 

Murry's father beat him; Murry beat his children. [His wife] Audree watched helplessly from the sidelines, according to Dennis, frightened of Murry herself. 'Ohh, please, Murry, no, don't do that.' ...

"Indeed, if beating the boys had been all Murry did, it would have been one thing. But Murry had red-faced, screaming, roaring tantrums. On many occasions his punishments went beyond simple beatings into the realm of the sadistic. Dennis spoke of Murry beating him up in the bathtub so he couldn't break anything by kicking. ... Dennis was summarily punched, kicked, and beaten with a two-by­-four. At a family Christmas gathering, when Murry noticed Dennis sneaking drinks, he actually picked him up and tossed him across the room, where Dennis crashed against the wall and collapsed in a pile on the floor. ...

"When Brian was only six or seven years old, the family noticed that he had a peculiar way of turning his head to listen. According to Audree, Dennis and Carl had frequent ear infec­tions, but not Brian. A doctor suggested that all three boys should have their tonsils out. Audree related, 'The doctor said that Brian's tonsil on the right side was so huge that if we had his tonsils taken out ... that [it] would stop blocking ... his eu­stachian tube -- he said after three months he should be okay. But it wasn't okay. They say it's a nerve deafness ... it could be congenital or it could have been caused by an injury. We had a neighbor who he got into a fight with one time. He hit him really hard on his ear ... '

"What is really important is that Brian believed that Murry was responsible -- a belief that he was only able to admit much later in his adult life. In Brian's mind, his deafness was pos­sibly the result of Murry smacking him on the side of the head when he was only two years old. Incredibly, this hearing defect -- only 6 percent of normal hearing in his right ear­ -- meant that Brian, who was to become one of the great inno­vative producers of modern music, would never hear stereo. The irony of this loss would plague him for life.

"'My dad was an asshole,' Dennis said, 'and he treated us like shit, and his punishments were sick. But you played a tune for him and he was a marshmallow. This mean mother­f*cker would cry with bliss, like the lion in The Wizard of Oz, when he heard the music.' If music can soothe the savage beast, the Wilson children learned to make music at an early age."


Steven Gaines


Heroes And Villains: The True Story Of The Beach Boys


Da Capo Press


Copyright 1986 by Steven Gaines


barns and noble booksellers
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

All delanceyplace profits are donated to charity and support children’s literacy projects.


Sign in or create an account to comment