“I’m A Genius Too, Y’ Know!”: Peter Bagge’s Genius “Rock ‘n’ Roll Dad”

By on June 1, 2015

With the long-awaited theatrical release of the non-bio pic Brian Wilson saga Love & Mercy coming this Friday, June 5th, we thought instead that we’d look back at “Rock ‘n’ Roll Dad,” the four-part flash-animation cartoon — by comic artist Peter Bagge and comedian Dana Gould — about Brian’s dad, Murry Wilson.

ROCK 'N' ROLL DAD 1

Even though there’s a nice little disclaimer that precedes the online cartoon from 2001 for the Icebox website, it’s safe to say that it was based or on at least inspired by about forty minutes of open audio from an actual Beach Boys recording session, in particular one that took place on January 8, 1965, when the Beach Boys were recording “Help Me, Rhonda.” Listen to the long version of the recording right here. A shorter excerpt can be heard here.

On those tapes, you can hear the early takes are broken up by the entry of a drunken, sometimes angry, sometimes weepy, but almost always abusive Murry Wilson, Brian Wilson’s abusive, demanding alcoholic father (he was Dennis’s and Carl’s father too, of course). You can hear Murry lecturing Brian on sacrifice and hard work (“I’m a genius, too!” he testily proclaims).

ROCK 'N' ROLL DAD 2
Not the Beach Boys

At the time, it’s fair to say that Murry was trying his best to wrest control of the band from his 22-year old son Brian, who was digging in his heels and fighting back, not wanting to give an inch to the old man. There are lots of stories about what was actually happening in the Wilson family home that you can read for yourself in Steven Gaines’ Heroes and Villains: The True Story of the Beach Boys.

Murry Wilson had arrived at the recording session inebriated (“Brian asked me to relax and come down tonight, so I got drunk”) and then proceeded to berate and taunt his oldest son, Brian, the shy and brilliant young man responsible for the Beach Boys’ sound.

ROCK 'N' ROLL DAD 4

Feeling a little left out, and feeling the effects of several rum and Cokes, Murry proceeds to take over the sessions by offering his expert advice (“Loosen up and be happy!”) and drunken wisdom (“I have 3,000 words to say: Quit screaming and start singing from your hearts…So you’re big stars. Let’s fight! Let’s fight for success!”).

At one point, you can hear Murry trying to turn off the recording equipment, but Brian manages to leave the tape rolling. He ended up first ruining the recording session as it was being recorded, and later destroyed copies of those particular sessions. However, when the Beach Boys reconvened several weeks later to record the song again without Murry at the control board (changing the original spelling from Ronda to Rhonda, by the way), they would end up scoring a #1 hit without the old man’s help.

Wilson had always done horrible things to his sons, including whacking Brian so hard on the side of his head with a 2×4 wood plank that Brian lost some hearing in his left ear. On the original tapes, Murry can be heard bellowing into a microphone hooked up to Brian’s headphones in the recording studio, and Brian pleads to his father: “I got one ear left, and your big loud voice is killing me!”

According to Gaines’ book, “Murry also used his prosthetic eye — which he could pop out to reveal the gnarled and scarred socket — to punish the boys.” Murry apparently would make Brian stare into the empty socket (he’d lost his left eye in a freak accident at the Goodyear Tire & Rubber plant, where he used to work). “At the dinner table, he would sometimes roll the glass eyeball next to his plate while winking the empty socket at them. While the socket frightened and horrified Brian and Carl, it fascinated and amused Dennis, with his macabre sense of humor.” (Heroes and Villains, p. 48)

Oh, and then there’s also the time that he made Brian take a crap on either a paper plate or a newspaper (sources vary) in front of his family and then demanded that he eat it (Heroes and Villains, p. 47). We’re not making any of this up.

ROCK 'N' ROLL DAD 3

Just a few months after this recording session for “Help Me, Rhonda,” Murry wrote his son Brian an eight-page letter, in which he blames Brian’s mother for their ongoing rift due to her less severe punishment techniques, and 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.

ROCK 'N' ROLL DAD 5

In November 1969, without anyone else’s consent, Murry Wilson sold the Sea Of Tunes Publishing company, which consisted of all of Brian’s Beach Boys music, to Irving Almo Music for a paltry $700,000. He kept all of the money.

It’ll be interesting to see how Love & Mercy — a few years ago the advance word claimed that, “rather than a bio pic, the film will take an unconventional look at seminal moments in Wilson’s life, his artistic genius, his profound struggles, and the love that kept him alive” — will deal with the Brian vs. Murry studio scenarios, and whether we’ll get to see Brian staring into dear ol’ dad’s eye-socket or crapping on a paper plate, but we’re sure there’ll be a lot of great scenes even if those end up on the cutting room floor!

ROCK 'N' ROLL DAD 6a

About Bryan

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide and a dozen other websites and zines, most of them long gone. He’s also worked for over twenty years at reissue record labels, and penned scads of liner notes -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He is now somewhat reclusive and bides his time quietly in his dusty Miracle Mile hermitage in Los Angeles, CA.