30 Years Ago: Brian Wilson Fired from the Beach Boys
Last month, we watched the happy vibes surrounding the Beach Boys‘ 50th anniversary tour evaporate amidst reports that Mike Love had dismissed Brian Wilson and Al Jardine from the lineup. Of course, this isn’t the first time Wilson and Jardine have been fired from the band; in fact, Wilson was shown the door 30 years ago today (Nov. 5).
The early ’80s weren’t exactly a sunny time for the Beach Boys, to put it mildly — following a brief chart revival in the ’70s, their relentlessly sunny harmonies had fallen out of favor on the pop charts. While 1976’s ’15 Big Ones’ broke Billboard’s Top 10, its successors found the Boys in the grip of a harsh commercial decline, with 1978’s ‘M.I.U. Album’ and 1979’s ‘L.A. (Light Album)’ faring particularly miserably.
While their sales dwindled, relations between the band members remained as complicated as ever, with struggles over everything from the group’s artistic direction to certain members’ issues with substance abuse diverting focus from the business of simply making music. Wilson’s well-publicized battles with addiction and emotional instability had long proved a stumbling block for the other Beach Boys — to the point that, when the time came to record 1980’s ‘Keepin’ the Summer Alive,’ executives at CBS demanded that Wilson somehow be corralled back into full-time membership.
Unfortunately, Wilson’s mental and physical condition had deteriorated pretty severely by the start of the decade, and although the band managed to cobble together an album’s worth of material for ‘Summer,’ it didn’t ultimately do much to turn around his health — or to heal the conflicts between the Beach Boys. Things came to a head in 1982, when Brian’s brother Carl pressed the other members of the band to try a little tough love with their de facto creative leader — a tactic that, on November 5, 1982, resulted in Brian’s dismissal from the group he’d helped found.
The split went down during a meeting at the band’s lawyer’s office, where he was handed a letter stating, in part, “This is to advise you that your services as an employee of Brother Records Inc. and otherwise are hereby terminated, effective immediately. … This action is taken in your best interest, and is not reversible. We wish you the best of health.”
That last sentence was key — as Steven Gaines writes in his book ‘Heroes and Villains: The True Story of the Beach Boys,’ Wilson’s firing was part of an elaborate ruse engineered to try and force him into turning his life around. After kicking him out of the band and trying to trick him into thinking he was broke, Wilson’s team convinced him to return to the care of Eugene Landy, the controversial therapist who had earlier worked with him — and been fired by the band — in the mid-’70s.
Sadly, while Landy’s tactics did end up stabilizing Wilson’s public conduct and creative output for a number of years, his second stint as Wilson’s therapist ended up triggering another flood of lawsuits — and it didn’t fix things with the Beach Boys, who suffered through the tragic death of drummer Dennis Wilson in 1983 and wandered through most of the ’80s, largely without Brian’s input, as a sporadically recording live act.