In today’s Event magazine, Love recalls his horror when he realised the children had been left with Susan Atkins, later convicted for her role in the notorious Manson murder spree of 1969.
In an extract from his autobiography, Love writes: ‘Atkins was convicted of participating in eight murders and was sentenced to death. And she was our babysitter!’
At the time, Love was separated from his wife and mother of his children, Suzanne, who was involved with his cousin and fellow band member Dennis Wilson. Atkins had landed the job of babysitter after Wilson fell under the spell of Manson in the summer of 1968.
Love, who had co-founded the group in the 1960s, recalls how Manson and his debauched followers began taking over every aspect of his cousin’s life.
Manson, then 33, had already served time for armed robbery and car theft but harboured dreams of being a rock star and believed Wilson could put him on the road to fame and fortune.
Love recalls how the ‘guileless’ Wilson gave Manson and his female followers control over his home, his credit cards and even his Mercedes.
Atkins’s death sentence for her role in the murder spree was commuted to life imprisonment and she died behind bars in 2009.
Manson is now 81 and remains imprisoned in America.
When The Beach Boys came home from the road in 1966, we knew instantly that things were getting weird.
Our leader, Brian Wilson, had erected a tent in his house – red and maroon with gold brocade – built in his den, with hookah pipes for marijuana. He’d had a carpenter construct an 18-inch-high sandbox around the grand piano, filled with eight tons of sand, allowing Brian to feel as if he were writing music at the beach – which was strange, because Brian didn’t like the beach.
He’d removed the furniture from his living room and put down workout mats, which were good in theory if not in practice – Brian’s weight continued to balloon.
Recording a song in our absence called Mrs O’Leary’s Cow – after the animal that started Chicago’s deadly fire in 1871 – he burned wood in buckets and had the musicians play wearing red fire hats. When a building across the street from the studio burned down a few days later, a panicked Brian thought it was the fault of his song.
The problem, of course, was the drugs – not just LSD, but large amounts of marijuana, hashish and amphetamines.
We had seen signs that something was amiss for some time. On a flight to Houston in December 1964, Brian had an extreme panic attack, crying and yelling, ‘I just can’t take it!’ In July 1965, he pulled into a gas station and rammed his car repeatedly into a 7-Up machine, laughing all the while.
By 1966, Brian’s wife Marilyn was as uneasy as we were. When Brian was writing the song Love To Say Dada, he asked her to buy him a baby bottle and fill it with chocolate milk, which he would drink as he wrote. ‘I slept with one eye open because I never knew what he was going to do,’ she later said of her husband’s alarming behaviour. ‘He was like a wild man.’
The Beach Boys had been the first boy band – a group of young guys who played pop songs for teenagers, taking ‘the California sound’ to the world. Brian was our musical genius, although as the lead singer, I had co-written some of our biggest hits, including Surfin’ USA, I Get Around and California Girls.
But by 1966 we were all under a lot of pressure, trying to keep pace with The Beatles, trying to satisfy the label, trying to become a global band – and 24-year-old Brian felt it the most.
While we toured, Brian was working on an ambitious new album known as Smile, envisioned as a ‘teenage symphony to God’. The music was bizarre and beautiful, but I didn’t understand a lot of the words – I thought they had been influenced by the drugs. My complaints were ignored.
When it was time for us to provide vocals, Brian had us lie on our backs and make strange guttural sounds. He drained his swimming pool, put a mic at the bottom, and had us sing. For the song Heroes And Villains, we sang through our noses. These are not pleasant memories for any of us.
‘Brian degraded us, made us lie down for hours and make barnyard noises, demoralised us, freaked us out,’ our bass player Bruce Johnston recalled in 1995. ‘He was stoned and laughing. We didn’t really know what was happening to him.’
It was certainly a long way from singing with my three cousins, Brian, Dennis and Carl Wilson, as a child at my mother’s Christmas parties. The first time I saw Brian perform, he was on Grandma Wilson’s lap and singing Danny Boy. I can still see him and hear him: his voice was crystal.
As we got older, we never had a big meeting and decided to create a band – it was more of a natural evolution. On one of our youthful fishing trips, Dennis and I got talking about the surfing craze and why it made sense to do a surfing song. He went home all fired up and told Brian about it. Brian didn’t surf and knew little about it, but the idea intrigued him. With Brian’s friend Al Jardine on board, we just coalesced, singing in the Wilsons’ music room.
If Brian was the musical dreamer and youngster Carl the little angel, middle brother Dennis was the furious rebel of the Wilson family, which was ruled by father Murry, a blunt, pipe-smoking bull of a man who managed the group in our early years.
Dennis craved anything that might be dangerous. As a teenager, he used a BB gun to shatter windows from passing cars. As an adult, while flying on a commuter plane into New York, he told the pilot to bisect the Twin Towers, or he’d be fired. Dennis thought it’d be fun to buzz them. (The pilot refused and kept his job.)
He had an evil sense of humour, too. Dennis once showed up at our early guitarist David Marks’ house with a jar of ashes and tears in his eyes, jabbering that Brian had died in a house fire and the ashes were all that remained. David believed him until Dennis burst into laughter.
Uncle Murry had dreamed of his own career in music, which he eventually channelled through his sons. But he also dominated and bullied them. One of his more ghastly tactics was to remove his glass eye and force his boys to stare into the empty socket.
We started making demos, and an early song, Surfin’ Safari, struck Capitol Records as a sure hit. Uncle Murry did the deal.
‘What do you want, Mr Wilson?’
Uncle Murry opened his wallet, showed it was empty, and said, ‘I just paid the boys my last $1,000. I need $300.’
‘Is that all you want?’ they asked.
‘$300,’ he said. The record company man later said he had the authority to sign us for $50,000, so he got us pretty cheap.
Even though I was the oldest in the group, I don’t believe I was better prepared for handling our rapid success. One day you’re sweating in your father’s sheet metal factory, and the next day, you’re singing before a thousand girls screaming at the top of their lungs. Dennis said the first time he heard that sound, he thought there was a fire.
It felt good to be a rock star, I can’t deny that. My wife Frannie was pregnant with our second child, but I was not prepared to be a father or a husband. I suddenly had the life of a young rock star, and that meant yielding to every sexual impulse and sleeping with as many women as possible. I was like a kid in a candy store, and there was a lot of candy.
On one of my weekend jaunts to Hawaii I met a beautiful young Japanese woman who sold real estate and though I wasn’t looking for property, she invited me to her apartment for the night. The next day, I met a gorgeous Filipina woman. At lunch, the maître d’ told us that her boyfriend was looking for her, so we escaped through the kitchen and spent the rest of the afternoon in my hotel room.
That evening I bumped into an attractive young woman whom I knew from Dallas, and well, you know the rest. This delirious circuit, of three girls and copious booze, went on for a couple of days – and then ended abruptly with a shame-faced trip to the clinic.
For a bunch of California kids, this was a strange, exciting, bewildering time. And as our fame grew, tensions materialised in the band, especially between Dennis and me. It’s not that he and I were like oil and water. We were like burning oil and burning oil.
We had water pistols and liked to goof around with them, but in Des Moines, Dennis filled one with urine and fired it at me in the airport lounge. I told him to cut it out, and we just mauled each other. He got me in a headlock. I sank my teeth into his wrist.
Eventually, Dennis stood over me. He was preparing to smash me with his fist but his legs were spread and I was ready to drive my heel into his groin. ‘You hit me and you’ll never have kids,’ I snarled. We looked each other in the eye. And we realised we were still cousins, still bandmates, still booked to do our next show in a couple of nights.
After Franny and I inevitably split, I lived with Dennis for a while in Hermosa Beach in Los Angeles. He and I had our battles over the years – about women, about his drug use and lifestyle. But no one ever said Dennis didn’t have fun. The apartment was a non-stop party pad – I’d come home sometimes and not recognise half the people there. I’m not sure Dennis did either.
Onstage, behind the drums, Dennis was nearly impossible to upstage. As one woman told me years later, ‘Dennis could just move his head, and women’s zippers would drop.’
While Dennis and I were living the rock ’n’ roll life, Brian was learning his craft, and it didn’t take long to see his evolution as a producer. Within months of our first hit, he had more confidence and would no longer tolerate his father’s meddling. When Murry showed up at the studio, Brian told him to leave. He told his dad he was fired as producer.
‘If I don’t produce these records, you’re going out of business,’ Murry said. ‘You guys are going down the tubes in six months!’
Brian prevailed, but Murry still managed us, and he also controlled our songwriting credits. So when I looked at the sleeve of our second record, I was surprised to find that I was not credited on two songs I had co-written with Brian – Catch A Wave and Hawaii.
I asked Brian about it, and he said his father would get it done. I trusted Brian and assumed that Uncle Murry would take care of the details. This was, after all, a family business. Back on the road, the wild times continued. I remember an opening act in Australia and New Zealand called the Joy Boys. They had a spellbinding effect on young women and liked to invite their most attractive groupies to something called a Shalomanakee. The invitation was extended to us, and when we arrived, there were the Joy Boys and their lady friends, all in various stages of undress. We had walked into our first Australian orgy.
Carl and I had no interest in group sex, but that wasn’t all there was to it. A naked Joy Boy rolled up a newspaper into a funnel, lit the big end on fire, and stuck the other end in his buttocks. Then he started waltzing around the room – they called this ‘the dance of the flames’. Dennis and I later imported our own unique interpretation to the Hawaiian Islands, though not without a fire extinguisher nearby.
Murry came with us on that tour, too. He had bullied Brian for years, but he increasingly called into question his manhood.
‘If you were a man, you would tell Mike to stand closer to the microphone.’
‘If you were a man, you would tell Carl and Dennis to brush up on their harmonies.’
Enough was enough. After we got back from Australia, we took a vote on whether Murry should remain as our manager. It was five-zero to dismiss. My uncle was only 46 years old, but the episode sent his life into a spiral. Aunt Audree later said that his dismissal destroyed him – he stayed in bed for weeks.
A couple of months later, in April of 1964, he appeared at a studio session, inflamed and inebriated, and approached Brian, who was at the control board.
‘Get out of the way,’ Murry huffed. ‘Get out of my way for a minute.’
Brian had a hard time standing up to his father, but this time he did. ‘No! You get out of my way!’ He shoved his dad, who went sprawling backward. That was the only time I saw Brian defy him physically, and Murry, defeated, left the studio.
Within Brian, too, a storm was brewing. We already knew that he didn’t like the road, and his ongoing battles with his father took an emotional toll. In January 1965, he announced to the band that he wouldn’t be touring with us any more.
He later told a journalist that he was boiling with resentment for both Phil Spector and The Beatles, and to compete with them, he wanted to sit at the piano and write songs while we played and promoted them across the country.
But there were other concerns. In a hotel room, as early as 1964, I’d seen a syringe and other drug paraphernalia in Brian’s toiletry kit. He was the last person I imagined getting involved in drugs. In high school, he didn’t even drink or smoke. But Brian’s drug abuse would soon be evident to all of us.
By 1965 he was taking one LSD pill a day and smoking three or four marijuana cigarettes. He credits LSD with inspiring songs like California Girls and Good Vibrations, and the album Pet Sounds. What I know is that Brian was healthy before he took the drugs, and then he wasn’t.
I was outspoken about the drugs and my contempt for Brian’s hipster friends who introduced him to them, so I took the brunt of their scorn. Later, I would be cast, with the other Beach Boys, as a villain of the piece for ‘being negative towards Brian’s experimentation’. I learned long ago that if you’re going to be in the spotlight, either you develop a thick skin or you find another job.
Brian eventually scrapped the Smile album. Doctors would diagnose him with a variety of mental illnesses, including depression, paranoid schizophrenia, auditory hallucinations and organic personality disorder. It took decades for my cousin to get his life back on track, and he was never truly the same.
In Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, a character is asked how he went bankrupt. ‘Two ways,’ he says. ‘Gradually and then suddenly.’ The Beach Boys’ fall from the top happened in a similar fashion.
FBI agents arrested Carl for evading the draft. We had a disastrous tour of the UK – the British Musicians’ Union forbade us from using the four extra musicians we had brought from the States, so we couldn’t recreate the studio sounds onstage. Smile’s replacement, Smiley Smile, was a baffling departure from everything we’d ever done, pretty much alienating our entire market. Dennis, meanwhile, found a troubling new guru named Charles Manson.
And in 1969, we learned that our entire catalogue of songs – 140 to 150 of them, including about 80 I had co-written, though I had received credit on only a fraction of them – was to be sold. A&M agreed to pay $700,000 for the entire catalogue. And the payment was going, not to the band, but to Uncle Murry. In cash.
I drove to Brian’s house in Bel Air to see if he knew what was going on. At the time, Brian was not in good shape. He was using cocaine and living in the chauffeur’s quarters of his home while his wife Marilyn slept in the bedroom.
I reached his house, stormed into his room and asked what happened with our songs.
‘My dad f***ed us,’ he said.
‘Yeah, no s***.’
For the deal to go through, the agreement had to be signed by Brian, Dennis, Carl, Al, and me. I complained to the lawyers that songs like California Girls, I Get Around and Surfin’ USA, while co-written by me, had never been credited. If I signed, I’d lose the chance to claim them. But if I didn’t, he said, I might lose credit for Good Vibrations, Surfin’ Safari and The Warmth Of The Sun, which did bear my name.
What could I do? I had to sign the agreement to retain what I had. Everyone else signed too, and we lost all we had created.
It wasn’t until 1994, as I faced Brian in a courtroom, that jurors ruled that I deserved credit on 35 Beach Boys songs that had been solely credited to Brian for decades, leaving him facing potential damages of between $58m and $342m.
I had no interest in crushing my cousin, and it wasn’t about the money anyway. It was about getting credit for my songs. I proposed that he give me $5m and we move on. Brian agreed.
Years passed. Dennis had drowned in 1983, and Carl died from cancer in 1998, but Brian and I continued to communicate, and The Beach Boys continued to tour while Brian pursued a solo career.
In 2012, Brian, Al, David Marks and I reunited as The Beach Boys for a tour and a new album. The whole experience was bittersweet for me. The concerts were amazing, and I was grateful to play again with all the living Beach Boys. Brian and I never had a cross word, but there were tensions between our camps.
The reunion was never meant to be permanent – it wasn’t feasible logistically or economically. But after the shows, when I issued a press release to announce its end, the media backlash was swift and devastating: I had fired Brian Wilson from The Beach Boys. This triggered death threats, by mail and phone, which we had to take to the authorities.
I didn’t care for the vilification at the end; I’m used it. For those who believe Brian walks on water, I will always be the Antichrist.
Edited extract from ‘Good Vibrations: My Life As A Beach Boy’ by Mike Love, published by Faber & Faber on September 15, priced £20. Offer price £15 (25% discount) until September 11, 2016. Order at mailbookshop.co.uk or call 0844 571 0640, p&p is free on orders over £15