Co-incident with Father’s Day, we went to see Love & Mercy which is essentially the Brian Wilson story – the Wilson who was the brilliant and tortured creative genius behind The Beach Boys in the 1960s. Can’t say I enjoyed the movie, though I do appreciate its artistic flair at some level. We had seen Wilson in concert at the PNC Arts Center in NJ some time ago, intrigued by him putting his life back together well enough to get on stage after wresting it from the domineering and abusive psychologist, Eugene Landy. What the movie portrayed, which I hadn’t previously grasped, was how difficult and domineering Murry Wilson was.
Thank goodness the movie didn’t depict something Murry reportedly did when he wanted to intimidate the Wilson boys, which was to pop out his artificial eye and make the boys peer into his empty socket.
The movie incorporated material from the documentary film Beautiful Dreamer. The eldest of the three Wilson boys, Brian took the brunt of his father’s abuse. As was common in those days, Murry dished out his brand of tough love on Brian, though by any standards it was extreme, repeatedly clobbering Brian across the face often enough – once with a 2 x 4 – that he lost all hearing in one ear. In an attempt to gain his father’s acceptance and approval, Brian excelled at sports and might have been a baseball player had he been able to hit a curve ball.
The Beach Boys finally had enough of their father as manager and producer, and after they fired him he tried to exact revenge by grooming another band, The Sunrays, to re-create the success of their earlier songs. Perhaps Freudian in some sense, the only Sunrays single to enjoy a modicum of success was “I Live For The Sun”.
A father living for and through a son’s success, yet envious when that success comes and reluctant to let him rest on his laurels. A son endlessly seeking his father’s approval and turning away yet being haunted by the space between them. The story speaks to the complexity of Father’s Day.