August 30, 2006

The Beach Boys - Brian and Murray Wilson, Family Dysfunction and Schizophrenia

News and audio recordings that have just come out on Brian Wilson, the leader of the band "The Beach Boys" - and the news highlights some of the genetic susceptibility and environmental factors that are now believed to contribute to many cases of schizophrenia.

The Beach Boys were one of the top bands in the 1960s and 1970s and much has been written about how in his early to mid 20's Brian Wilson had a "breakdown", and then descended into mental illness and drug abuse in the late '60s and '70s, taking less and less of a role in the Beach Boys. Withdrawing into himself, he spent long periods of time sleeping, taking drugs and overeating.

Such behaviors are common among those developing schizophrenia. Additionally - the fact that Brian Wilson was extremely creative prior to the onset of schizophrenia - is also described as not uncommon in schizophrenia-prone people. Psychological studies indicate that highly creative people share an elevated risk of serious mental illness.

Brian Wilson was then dramatically less creative after the schizophrenia set in - a fact that has been described in depth in the "Scientific American" magazine - where it stated:

"Psychological studies also indicate that highly creative people share an elevated risk of serious mental illness. For certain individuals, such ailments may actually contribute to their soaring achievements. Yet often the same condition eventually ruins their inventiveness and their lives. Perhaps no story better exemplifies how mental illness can free up creativity, then crush it, than that of Brian Wilson"

All of this is very interesting, you might say, but why are we covering this as news today.

Well, in the past few years increasing research suggests that social stress, family dysfunction and child abuse can all play a role as a contributing factor in the development of schizophrenia. Following are just a few recent stories on this:

Lower level of Family Stress May Reduce Risk of Schizophrenia in Children
Trauma Link to Schizophrenia is Strengthened by New Research
An Emotionally Healthy Family Social Environment May Reduce Schizophrenia Risk by 86% in High Risk Groups.

All of this is relevant because today it was announced that there are actual recordings (from studio recording sessions) that you can listen to of Brian Wilson's father (Murry Wilson), who is described as "abusive and alcoholic", interacting in a highly dysfunctional way with the creative son who is trying to record his songs that would ultimately become some of the top sellers in the country.

The WFMU radio station web site describes it this way:

"January 8, 1965: The Beach Boys enter the studio to record what will become their second number one hit, Help Me Rhonda. Well into the session, a drunken Murry Wilson (Brian, Carl and Dennis' Dad) arrives and proceeds to commandeer the session with psychodrama, scat singing and weepy, abusive melodrama.

The session tape captured it all, and versions of these tapes have been floating around bootlegs for years. The fact that the tapes survived is itself surprising - you can hear Brian and Murry fighting over the tape recorder controls at the 35:30 mark of the full version, Murry wanting to stop the recording, with Brian ultimately keeping the tape rolling. And it's a good thing that Brian won out, because this audio verifies many of the Murry Wilson horror stories described in the Steven Gaines book, Heroes and Villains: The True Story of The Beach Boys."

After listening in on this session, It's easy to see why the Beach Boys eventually purchased Murry a fake audio console for their sessions, so he could twiddle knobs to his heart's delight without destroying anything.

To listen to all the tapes over the Internet - and learn more - go here: The Murray Wilson Tapes.

To be clear, parental/family dysfunction is only one of many factors that has been identified as contributing factors in schizophrenia (And, we don't want people to think that it is by any means thought by most researchers to be the leading contributing factor. That research has not been done.) In the case of Brian Wilson, however, it seems entirely possible that a genetic predisposition could easily have been pushed toward schizophrenia due to high levels of family stress, as well as work/band stress, and drug use that was common in the mid-1960s in California.

Its impossible to know for sure how the environmental factors contributed to Brian Wilson's schizophrenia - but we suspect most psychologists would agree that the example of Brian Wilson's alcoholic, yelling, abusive and controlling father seems like a case study of how not to behave as a parent if you care about the mental health of your children.


hi my name is jessi i like the story but i have a qustion
i have schizophrenia i dont under stand if it only in ur head why is it hurting me like i have hurt marks on my body and if its only in are heads how can they pick me up?
plz write back
ur gothic friend

Posted by: jessi at September 6, 2006 08:45 AM

Hi. I sometimes feel pain in deams, so its not impossible.

If you are self-harming you should speak to your doctor. They are there to help!


Posted by: lem at September 15, 2006 06:30 PM

Hi Jessi -
Schizophrenia is something that happens in your brain, and it means that the way you see things isn't always the way they really are. Maybe it's kind of like looking in a mirror that's fogged up or curved. It's something that happens in your brain, but your brain controls your choices and behavior. So you make decisions about what to do based on what seems real to you. The reason they can pick you up is because schizophrenia sometimes causes you to do things that put you or other people in danger. Does that make sense to you?

I don't know where the hurt marks on your body are coming from. The previous person who commented thought maybe you were hurting yourself. That's possible, and it would be good to see a doctor who may be able to help you figure that out. It's also possible that you don't remember everything that happens to you.

I hope you'll go see a doctor who can help you get some medication that will clear away the fog. Best wishes, Sue

Posted by: Sue at October 30, 2006 01:22 PM

Dennis Wilson allowed Charles Manson and his girls live with him back in the 1968-69 period for about half a year after picking up two of them hitch-hiking. He even tried to help get a recording contract as a singing guitar player. It was right after Manson was rejected by a potential record producer that the Tate-Bianca Hollywood murders occured in the house he thought the producer lived in. Interestingly, one of Manson's main attraction was as a guru-father substitue for kids from dysfunctional families who themselves were so damaged as to be potential sociopaths and many turned into criminals. Dennis Wilson spent $100,000 supporting the Manson family who nearly ate him out of house and home before kicking them out. But I think its this father substitute connection amplified by the free-wheeling times that so attracted Dennis and the girls with Manson.

Posted by: Brian at August 5, 2007 11:51 AM

Mercy Shammah, you can't go wrong with their song "Darlin'".

Posted by: Ton Tom Tun at September 12, 2007 03:50 AM

While family dysfuntion being a potential contribution to the development of the disease, like anything in life, allowing yourself to blame others for your problems is an inviting trap.

I would be a lot worse if I used my upbringing as an excuse to not try to get myself under control with my own illness. I'm sorry to hear Mr. Wilson had such a hard time with his father, but I hope he's been able to let that go and remain well.

- Kev-inK

Posted by: Kevin K. at May 28, 2008 08:36 AM

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