“They say I live a fast life. Maybe I just like a fast life. I wouldn’t give it up for anything in the world. It won’t last forever, either. But the memories will.”
Since the summer started we’ve been excited to write a piece on Dennis Wilson, the infamous bad boy and drummer of The Beach Boys; the band that brought the beach lifestyle to the forefront of popular culture in the 1960s – a romantic notion that still resides in the populous today.
It’s hard to think of that era without the The Beach Boys and their iconic sound, a mix of harmony, rhythm, soul, and blues all dedicated to Southern California youth culture of surfing, cars, and girls.
Hits such as Surfin USA, California Girls, and Good Vibrations, encapsulated the image we still associate with the notion of surf and beach living to this day.
Their music certainly came to define the dreams and musings of many who longed for the coasts and beaches of California, and the utopian recluse this magical land of surf and sun could provide (Don’t tell me it’s just us!)
Though his eldest brother Brian Wilson is accredited with much of the band’s creative and technical genius, it was the rebel bad boy drummer Dennis who lived and breathed the California that inspired the band in the first place.
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“I don’t do much surfin’, no I don’t. Actually, I don’t even know how to surf, but one guy in the group is a real good surfer, he’s a lot better than any of us, actually, all of us put together. His name is Dennis Wilson, of course, he’s our drummer, and he’s actually the inspiration behind this whole sort of surfing image for the Beach Boys. He encouraged me to write a surfing song a couple, 2, 3 years ago which started the whole thing moving.”
Brian Wilson, St. Louis 1964
Perhaps you noticed, but Dennis certainly had a different presence and a certain swag, as they say, compared to the rest of the band. Even his eldest brother Brian, who created most of the music during The Beach Boys’ hit making days, knew that Dennis and his SoCal rebel lifestyle was the clue to the puzzle of making a name for themselves.
Dennis always seems a mystery, a part of his embodiment of the surfing rock n’ roll image, you could say. Definitely an archetype of rebellion, desire, and thirst for danger. Behind his eyes there are stories and thoughts completely untold.
There are not many rock stars today who truly live the fantasies they suggest in their music. Dennis was not only a surfer, but also a pro drag racer, sailor, movie star, and notorious womanizer. These are the stories and tales written into almost every hit breaking, chart smashing song produced by the band.
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++”I wrest the waters, fight Neptune’s waters, sail through the sorrows of life’s marauders. Unrelenting, often empty, sail on, sail on, sailor.”++
-Sail on Sailors by The Beach Boys from “Holland”
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As much a piece of the puzzle to The Beach Boys’ success, Dennis never seemed to be able to stay far from trouble. As early back as childhood, Dennis was known for getting in fights, and failing classes. He married four times, and had developed a heavy habit for drugs and alcohol.
Most can definitely agree he had some demons.
Free-spirited Dennis would hit the ultimate heights of his notoriety when it was found out that he had housed Charles Manson and his cult for a time. Viewing the group as just a bunch of cosmically inclined free loving spirits with a itching for music, Dennis welcomed the “family” into his home, and housed them for several months.
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During this time Charles Manson and his groupies were hoping to become the next great music act with the help of Dennis. Dennis would indeed get some of their songs out there, but reworked for The Beach Boys, and in 1968 they would release the single “Never Learn Not To Love” written by Dennis, a reworking of a Charles Manson original.
Morbid, considering the message, and later the acts committed by the Manson Family in the Hollywood Hills…This attachment to the Manson family would always stain Dennis’ reputation, and only further instill his bad boy image in the public mind.
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His 1977 solo debut album “Pacific Ocean Blue” was a huge critical hit for the artist, which allowed him to demonstrate his very own unique and progressive point-of-view. Many fans and critics agree it is Dennis’ fearlessness, drama, and deep soul that almost eclipse The Beach Boys altogether.
These are the traits we admire in the man. The adventurer in all aspects. His music. His life. His soul. And the whole time, he wasn’t even trying. He just simply was the most pure form of himself at all times. He just was.
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His style is almost the same. It is not pent up in being cool, it just is…sounds silly, but most of the time Dennis Wilson was just chucking clothes on. His wardrobe is simple, always comfortable, and fitted just right. Classic, but he shakes it up with his rough and messy sort of way about him.
Aaron Eckhart is set to star in a film entitled “The Drummer” documenting the last six tragic years of Dennis Wilson’s life that included losing his yacht “Harmony”, the loss of The Beach Boys recording studios, being kicked out of The Beach Boys, and the subsequent abuse of alcohol and drugs to the bitter end.
Wilson’s body was found curled up in a fetal position at the corner of the dock that once harbored his yacht, Harmony – one of his greatest joys, as well as the scene for many dramas in his life. He had spent the afternoon drinking and diving into the waters finding objects he had thrown over his boat and into the water.
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After nearly an hour of searching, they were able to drag his body out of the 13 feet of bone chilling water at the Marina Del Rey boat slip just three days after Christmas, 1983.
At 39, Dennis Wilson was already a legend in every right. He had inspired his band to create an entire persona around him, and with that they became America’s most famous and beloved band in history.
His devilish grin, and candid charm kept him a favorite of the group, and with a wicked ability to adapt and change, Dennis kept the band going during the band’s hardest times. Sadly, no one would be able to help carry him through his own.
Dennis Wilson was given a burial to sea, his favorite place on Earth, and an honor reserved only to members of the military. The perfect resting place for a restless, wandering, and beautiful soul.
We love you Pacific Ocean blue
Yeah we love you Pacific Ocean Blue
Oh we love you Pacific Ocean Blue
Oh I we love you Pacific Ocean Blue
It’s no wonder the Pacific Ocean is blue
-Dennis Wilson, “Pacific Ocean Blue”.