In 1964, less than three years after the release of their first single, Surfin', and following many years of psychological and physical abuse, Murry Wilson was fired as manager of The Beach Boys by his son, Brian. A year later, Murry wrote him the following eight page letter. In it, he blames Brian's mother for their ongoing rift due to her less severe punishment techniques, questions Brian's honesty and the actions of his friends in the music business, and recommends that Brian dissolve the band as soon as possible in order to avoid any future problems. It's an incredibly interesting — albeit dark — snapshot of a showbiz family in free-fall, made all the more remarkable when you consider that just a few months after this was written, The Beach Boys began to record Pet Sounds, an album regarded by many as one of the best ever produced.
(Source: The fine folks at Hard Rock; Image: The Beach Boys in 1965, via.)
Sea of Tunes
AFFILIATE OF B.M.I.
May 8, 1965
Mr. Brian Wilson
1047 N. Gardener
Your mother and I are leaving with Carl and Gwen for a twenty day trip of Europe, and confidentially, because Carl is not a well man, we are taking them on this trip with us to give both Carl and Gwen a little more happiness, because we fear something might happen to Carl within the next two or three years. Under NO circumstances, ever mention to Shirley, Gwen or any of his family of our fears.
Both Gwen and Carl told us that all three of our sons thought their house is wonderful now and I am very proud of the job I did in supervising and helping to design their remodeling. Actually it was a fairly easy job.
Now to the point of this letter; it has become very apparent to me that our family can no longer exist under the worrisome and trying conditions that have been going on for the last five or six years, and I think the time has come for us all to face facts straight in the eye. As long as I can remember, we had a code of honor in the family regarding my sons: First, I tried to teach all of you never to be greedy or dishonest with anyone and be generous with each other. Second, if anyone ever approached any of my children with pills, bennies or dope of any kind, to run away from them, not just walk away. Thirdly, you were all told that if anything ever happened to me that I hoped you would take care of your mother.
Brian you were a wonderful young boy and regardless of what you may think, I gave you very much love and I idolized you as a baby. You can never know how many hundreds of times I picked you up and kissed you and carried you on my shoulders, sang to you and taught you words, songs and so many things because you were a baby. I can remember giving all three of my sons love in many forms and actually, when I was strict from time to time, it was because I felt it was my duty as a father to give you the security a punishment gives. As boys grow into the adolescent time of their life, their brain tells them when they have done something wrong, and, believe it or not, children are sometimes disappointed when they are not punished because their brain tells them right from wrong.
The fact that your Grandmother Betty did not love your Grandfather Carl Korthoff as the normal wife does caused her to transfer her great love to her children and this is the reason your Mother and your Uncle Carl loved her so much because they could do no wrong. It is time now to tell you that your Grandfather Carl was a very frustrated and unhappy man the last five years of his life because he knew fifteen years before that his wife didn't truly love him and I pitied this man because although Betty was a wonderful woman, she was not woman enough to leave him just because she was afraid Audree and Carl would suffer financially.
Now, in our own family, years later, we had three lovely sons and little by little it was only natural for my wife to automatically transfer a lot of her love from her husband to her sons because her own mother did the same thing; and to complicate matters, she resented authority in me of any kind because when her own father showed authority, she resented him. Audree also resented interference of her own father against her brother, who was treated like a dog when he became old enough as a young man to have his own father become jealous of him. In other words, Brian, all your Grandfather Korthoff saw in his own family was that Betty, Audree and Carl loved each other so very much he was always on the outside, and although he was a very smart man he was grieving and the only way he could fight back was to show his authority against Carl, and on occasion, your mother.
Now it may be very hard for you to understand how your mother could be affected by this love transfer to herself and her brother and how it could affect her own family years later, but if you will recall back many years, you will remember that when I gave an order for my sons to do a job, even though my wife didn't actually say something against me, the look of resentment against authority was there..... and if you will ask any psychologist about this, you will see that over a period of 15 to 17 years, looks of anger accompanied by swear words and degrading remarks to a father in front of his children while he is trying to do his job as a leader of the household, would render two automatic emotions to the children's brains: 1) that they would agree with the mother and would have resentment against the father; 2) it would make the child think that although he may have done wrong himself, the fact that the mother and children were in complete rapport in their resentment and rebellion made the act which they had committed wrongly almost right in their minds and this second emotion is the undoing of the love, direction and teaching which I always tried to convey to my sons.
I guess the third major factor which caused a loss of feeling in the family from sons to their father was that my wife could only remember how kind her mother was, and although Audree did not realize what she was doing, she was trying to raise you boys almost like girls, just as she was raised by her mother, and, although from time to time she took a coat hanger to you boys or bawled you out when you did something she felt was wrong, none of her correction really meant a lot or was too effective because you could only compare the more strict punishment I could render as a stronger human being, such as spanks on the bottom and, on occasion, more violent punishment and severe tongue lashings. It is hard for me to explain, Brian, but I was powerless to cope with this situation and I was so much in love with my wife and adored her so much that I could not begin to undo intelligently the damage that was taking place in my own family. No matter how you weigh it, parental difference of opinion in raising children can only leave marks on the children in one way or another and when you have three completely different personalities in children, this even complicates matters more.
Maybe now you can begin to understand that the last seven years has been almost a living hell for me and although I have wanted to give up completely on two separate occasions, something told me to hang on and keep trying because I felt my sons were worth it. I believe I could have achieved part of the undoing of this unwholesome situation in our family when you all reached the ages of 17 or 18, but we found ourselves thrown into this vicious music business together. Instead of having a beautiful thing develop, money, and security of money began to change you so much that this and your first achievements as a songwriter, accompanied by the phony praises of Gary Usher, Lew Adler, Kirschner and countless other (Hollywood) people began to change you so much, in my opinion, that I could no longer reach you, and your natural resentment against me which had been building up through things mentioned before in this letter, became magnified to the point where you acted like you hated me on many occasions.
I can understand part of your becoming a man to give your father a bad time on some things, but not in your basic belief that you and Kent Lent agreed on that it was the smart way to use people and to not work if you could get by by outsmarting people and using finesse. As you will recall, I have always tried to be a honest man in business and I have made it almost an obsession never to cheat anyone in a business deal, and although I know you have told many, many people in Hollywood that I am an honest man and never to worry about me in a business deal, I have seen you take the opposite point of view and try to do it the "cool" way. The fact that you have told me on several occasions that you have to be 'dishonest' in business to get the big money never ceases to hurt and frighten me and my only hope to God is that you are not so far gone but what you can realign your thinking as to your business practics and the uses of deception, which you know in your heart you have used on many occasions, not only against your father but your own brothers as well.
I do not have to relate all of them, but you have broken contracts with me in the Sea of Tunes Publishing Company by giving songs to Kirschner's Alden group. You have recorded on Jan and Dean's record which was an absolutely treacherous act against not only your employers but the welfare of your family financially; but more important, the combined integrity of The Beach Boys group itself. Now you may not think this is important but if you have no conscience about anyone else's feelings or that you don't care if your actions will hurt them, then I would suggest that you consult not only an attorney with some morals but also a psychiatrist and try to unravel your thinking in these areas.
In other words, Brian, the whole concept of my teaching my sons honesty in business was to try to make good men out of all of you, and I can't begin to remember the hundreds of times I was interfered with by my wife when I tried to make you all see the point I was trying to make; but I do know one thing, I can hold up my head in Hollywood and all over the world in the music as well as machinery business and you can't. No matter how many hit songs you write or how many hundreds of thousands of dollars you may earn, you will find when you finish this short cycle of Beach Boy success that you didn't do it honestly and for this reason you are going to suffer remorse. I have been trying to fight you on every act of what I thought was not honest to protect you from yourself some five or seven years later; because I knew that when competition hit you between the eyes that you would not be able to cope with this vicious competition, regardless of how talented you are, because you got so much much too fast and the fact that you used your own father and then threw him away when you thought you didn't need him will come back into your mind over and over again.
The way things are shaping up now, The Beach Boys cannot go on and on because cycles of music change as well as fads, like The Beatles, Presleys, etc., but the fact that my sons' singing your beautiful ballads and very catchy novelty songs can sustain you in this business over a longer period, and because you know this, you have used this extraordinary harmony talent and your great song writing ability as a tool towards your own ends. I mean specifically that when you found out that The Beach Boy image and success was on its way you began to listen to phonies who said that The Beach Boys needed you and that you didn't need them (meaning your own brothers)... the fact that I was included as your guiding factor and manager didn't mean much to you either, and if you don't think this hurts to know that your son would abandon not only his brothers but his father as well, then you are completely mistaken.
I didn't mind so terribly much when you left our home to get an apartment, but the fact that you were ready to hit me in front of Gary Usher, when my wife and I were trying to get rid of Gary Usher and his evil influence on our family, did cause much hurt because you left fighting against your own family for the benefit of Mr. Usher and to his purposes and to your own selfish purposes and which you and Gary were scheming out. You may have forgotten how Gary told you I was a square and didn't know what I was doing and that you didn't have to listen to me, besides countless other derogatory remarks made by other people such as Bob Norman, Jan Berry and the whole bunch. How you can be so gullible when you know right from wrong is beyond my imagination, and over the past three years I believe I have spelled out every phony, pitfall and wrong doing that could come from any one of The Beach Boys' making foolhardy mistakes. I don't believe I have to go too far into the Loren Schwartz bit because the proof of my estimation of this man's character and ability spoke for itself. In other words, you would rather take the word of anyone against your father because you were taught to do this in your very early years as a young boy, hearing your mother tell me I was wrong in front of you, so I do understand what has caused some of your thinking.
Knowing how intelligent you are and how fertile your mind is, I know that you have come into almost an automatic way of thinking that you can succeed in life by taking the easy route or the "cool" way and I state flatly that you may get away with it financially, but you can't escape the eventual understanding that will come to you as a forty year old man that you are and were wrong.
I cannot believe that such a beautiful young boy, who was kind, loving, received good grades in school and had so many versatile talents, could become so obsessed to prove that he was better than his father. I can tell you, although I am strong in many areas and consider myself fairly competent in not one area of music but in countless other fields as well, that I have something between my ears besides vacant air and I am proud of the job I did with my sons as their manager and guiding force, although I know I was wrong in my approach, but there again, what the hell could I do when my own wife, Mrs. Joanne Marks, Mike Love and a bunch of phonies that kept coming out of the walls would trick you all into thinking I was a mean man.
I am over the big hurt of losing my three sons as a manager for their benefit and good fortune, but I am not over the fact that I have lost my three sons' love, and I mean real love, because you are all in a distorted world of screams, cheers and financial success. The money will not mean a damn thing to any of my sons if they are not happy when the job is done and it is a sad thing for three young beautiful sons to place their life's success on the success of a record album or a 45 RPM disc or to how successful they are in the eyes of the music world from how many seats they sell in a live concert. I hope to God that you and your brothers review your thinking now before it is too late, because only more damage can arise from this temporary, fleeting image of success known as The Beach Boys. Try to get back to fundamental thinking of honestly and try to treat your careers as a job and not a way of life. Forget that you are trying to become the greatest producer and greatest songwriter for the benefit of the phonies. Make this achievement for your own personal satisfaction and have pride when you do an honest job.
If you will recall, I didn't mind when you took practically all of the credit for the mixing and the productions for the first two years, but I know now it was wrong because you started to believe that you did it all single-handed. You forgot all the wonderful suggestions Carl made along with those of your mother, Dennis and myself. It was an easy thing for me to learn how to mix you guys because I knew the strong points of each of you as well as your weak points., and coupled with the natural music ability, if you can call it that, that I have, I know I did a good job and I have yet to have a son come up to me and kiss me with an honest emotion for doing many, many good recordings - and you may well believe that this is a slap in the face.
When you think of how you and Gary conned me out of a recording session and let me pay your bills, not only for that series of deals, but paying for studio time while you were experimenting with other artists, using my advice and on occasion my mixing ability, etc., you may begin to understand that it does hurt a father when his son conspired with weak people against his own father, and although I was delighted to be part of your growing success and to be around to see you develop into a great talent, I was grieving inwardly because I knew you were doing it the wrong way (the weak way). You must not listen to the phonies if you expect to become an honest man.
I tried to counsel your cousin but he was a problem child and got into trouble while in High school, later on with his first wife and by the grace of God, no bad publicity got into the papers until the paternity suit thing. I am proud that my son, Dennis, reminded you all in front of Mike that I predicted he was trouble and would be disgracing all of us if he continued to go his way. I can understand how five young men could become rebellious because everyone resents authority, including myself, but when five young men are so damned dumb in business at the start of their careers and will still give an experienced business man nothing but trouble from the word go, it is almost unbelievable, and although we did achieve a lot of good things together, the hurt that comes from knowing that most of this was achieved under duress of threats, punitive measures and arguments is almost disgusting and I say honestly that my intent was pure and honest, and I handled myself in all facets of your careers so as to set an example of honestly as a figurehead, and not one of The Beach Boys can say that they always acted in honest endeavor and in good faith, as much as I did.
In other words, we all goofed, each in our own way, but I didn't do anything dishonest and I don't think that any of you can match my achievement in business experience and business practices, at this point of your lives.
The financial success and achievement of the Beach Boys' vocal group as given each and every one of its members a sense of false security and it has given vent for each member, in his own way, to take pre-calculated risks and on many occasions where if two or three of these premeditated risks were taken got into the papers and trades, this gigantic business deal could have gone down the drain. I am referring, of course, to such things as statutory rape, drinking, lacsivious conduct on the part of one of the members, which I can prove, along with one or two more vilations of the law which could be construed as felonies by a judge in a court of law. Dennis has done his share of things which have made me tremble from time to time and he has taken advantage of his position in the business with no regard to the out come of his actions to please his own personal self and to his satisfaction. I state firmly and finally now that I will not now or ever go along with the thinking of my sons along these lines and I am worried that a continuance of this mockery in handling your lives and careers can only end in personality disasters, one way or the other, not to mention the character of each and every young man, who ever he may be. The simple fact is that we all have to face up eventually to our mistakes and when this time comes, each and every one of you will become men.
Brian, your mother and I are growing further apart and a beautiful thing is becoming destroyed, and though she is a very wonderful woman, she is weak in her way because she loves you all so much and cannot bring herself, after all these years of siding with her babies, to do the right thing and really lay down the law to you fellows on the honesty and character bit. Although she knows you are all three wrong in the way you do things from time to time, she cannot face up to anyone of you now because she has given up; and she is afraid to lose your love and you cannot blame her. The fact that my wife and I are growing apart may not be a great concern to you as a human being, but it is a sad thing for me and with all of the memories, both good and bad, about my family of which I have been so proud, I have come to the final decision that all three of my sons should immediately be taken out of the music business to salvage the rest of their lives, and although this may be against the thinking of your employers, your attorneys and yourselves, you had no right collectively, or individually, to handle yourselves in the manner in which you have so boldly done, and you don't have the right individually to castigate anybody else for your own wrong doings.
I believe the best thing is for you all to have a serious talk in front of your own attorneys and explain the terrible things that have taken place, and then when I return from Europe we will have a general meeting, with your attorneys and three whom I have employed to give you all the facts of life; and I believe when this meeting is finished the attorneys will all concur that it would be the best thing for you all to dissolve yourselves as a group because the temptations are too great for young men who will not take honest direction and who have boldly flaunted the laws of the land in one way or the other, and this is indeed a sad thing because the talent is so great and the achievements have been so wonderful.
I want you all to know that I loved you as my sons and still do, but I am absolutely crushed to think that it would all turn out the way it did and I do not say that it is all your fault - I know I failed my sons many, many times and couldn't spend time with them in their earlier stages of life when I wanted to, but it is pretty rough to run a vicious machinery business against millionaires and try to form your son's character and their sense of respect in front of a woman, wonderful in so very many ways, who could not face up to her real roll of responsibility as a parent.
I have protected your income tax payment for the year of 1964, and I am paying a sizable amount for doing this, but now I must see that you are paid in full sometime this year. I have been trying to prevent Capitol from paying the Sea of Tunes Publishing Company the fortune owing to yourself so that you would not be penalized by the income tax bracket you have achieved. My books are going to be audited by CPA's and I expect to pay you, after the audit and after receipt of funds from Capitol Records, approximately $276,000 and I am proud to turn over these funds to you as a tribute to your great talent, and if I should die by accident prior to this audit, I would ask that you, as my eldest son, obtain the audit from my legal records and see that you are paid.
Always be honest from now on in business, regardless of what business you may be in, and I now ask that after our legal meeting, which should take place in about thirty days, that we disassociate ourselves in any form of business together, such as artist and publisher, etc., because we can no longer work together in a truly honest father and son relationship, and I release you now completely as a young business man in this respect only; and ask that you answer now for all your own mistakes and do not now or forever complicate my honest business practices and life by your breaking legal contracts with me or anybody else.
Please try to understand that all I tried to do was make you all honest men, and instead of hating me for it, I ask that you all try to search your own hearts once in a while and try to be better.