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Four years ago, the Beach Boys' drummer was sleeping in a garage in Hawthorne, Calif., a bleak beach suburb of Los Angeles, and sweeping out a laundromat to earn enough money to buy wax for his surfboard and Budweiser for himself. He had just been suspended from Hawthorne High School for starting a bloody free-for-all during a physical education class and getting drunk that night at a basketball game. After his suspension, he sullenly avoided high school friends at the usual Saturday morning surf spots and practiced elsewhere along the beaches south of Los Angeles.
There's nothing surf about Dennis Wilson or the other Beach Boys any more; somehow, they've turned straight. All the bleach is gone from their hair, and they wear surfer clothes--tight white levis, striped sports shirts, and blue tennis shoes--only at their concerts. Relaxing in their suite at the Sheraton Boston after Friday night's performance at the Garden, they looked like what we at Hawthorne High used to think of as rich kids--the ones from Beverly Hills who drove Peugeots and Porsches to little coffee houses on Sunset Boulevard after football games. We drove '54 Fords to the 'Wich-Stand.
The Suede Cowboy
The Beach Boys--the three Wilson brothers, a cousin, and a neighbor--are aware of the disparity between the Beach Boy image and what they actually are, but they don't mind. Dennis, the drummer, changed his concert uniform as soon as he entered the suite; and, just as easily, he has shed the 26th Street Beach obscenities and Californiaisms like "bitchin'" from his speech. During our three-hour talk, he looked like an expensively-tailored cowboy. The beige suede boots were new, as were the red gingham shirt, the black suede vest, and the levi-cut pants of loden wool flannel. He pulled self-consciously at his boots and told us that "we've got the bread and we live that way."
The Boys have no privacy and don't seem to mind. Dennis sat in the center of the living room with his mother (who always travels with the group) at his right. Hangers-on attended to his needs--refilling the ice buckets, opening a new box of candy, offering to order dinner for him. Unidentified girls sat on couches and beds and said nothing; they were never introduced. Occasionally one of the Boys would deferentially light a girl's cigarette or send her out to buy dinner. The policeman on duty showed up about every 15 minutes with an autograph seeker. The first time, Dennis's mother quietly reminded him, "Stand up, Denny," and he walked forward to shake hands with a very drunk English teacher attending a convention in the hotel. She wanted his autograph for her two daughters and blubbered fervent thank you's for several minutes while he held her hand and gazed steadily at her flushed face. Dennis was equally gracious to other fans who interrupted; he seemed to want to be the exemplary rock and roller. But he finally said to no one in particular, "That policeman isn't doing his job. Find someone who will." We weren't interrupted again--and we noticed as we left that there was a different man on duty.
Cliffies Can Be Wrong
Although it was three and a half years ago when the Boys first broke into the charts in Southern California, the details of the first recording session and appearances are very vivid to Dennis. They first played "Surfin'", which preceded the big hit "Surfin' Safari," at a dance for the local Veterans of Foreign Wars. "The crowd either foxtrotted or stood around not knowing how to move," Dennis says. A month later, they appeared at a Hawthorne Youth Canteen dance, against the will of a high school classmate now at Radcliffe, who insisted the Canteen should hire any other group for $75, rather than get the Beach Boys for nothing. Two weeks afterward--July of 1962 "Surfin'" was number one in Los Angeles.
Dennis still feels somewhat vengeful toward the people in Hawthorne who snickered at the group. "I like showing them that we've got a lot of cash," he says. "When I visit my mother there, I drive my Ferrari down Hawthorne Boulevard, go home, drive the Cobra along the same street, and do the same thing with the Aston-Martin and my brother's old T-Bird." Like the others, he owns his own home in Beverly Hills. He and his brothers replaced the old home in Hawthorne with a "mansion for mother. It's sort of like a neighborhood memorial to us," Dennis says.
He swaggers when he remembers his older brother Brian was made fun of by his football teammates. Brian was an introspective second-string quarterback who spent most of high school fooling with guitars, recorders, and saxophones. Never lukewarm or moderate about any topic, Dennis considers Brian a genius. Brian skipped this road tour, Dennis explains, to finish writing some new songs.
The Porky Brother
The third Wilson brother, 19-year-old Carl, was still in high school when the group made good. Never particularly interested in school work, porky Carl dropped out of Hawthorne High and finished at the Hollywood Professional School. He is a most unlikely-looking surfer: he stuffs 50 extra pounds into the custom-made, pseudo white levis the group wears on stage. Carl spent most of the interview reclining on a bed in another room, drinking gin and tonic and absent-mindedly squeezing a girl who sat next to him. The television in his room blared and he watched, only casually interested he tossed his head periodically, switching the long brown hair from his face.
Dennis is a great raconteur. He reminisces, drops names, and without changing his expression drifts into the most extravagant and obviously fabricated stories of his exploits. He says he cares only about the most dangerous undertakings and alludes to water skiing, drag racing, and track records he supposedly holds.
Like the others in the group, Dennis has been deferred by his draft board, but "only because I'm really a sick guy," he explains. His thick medical folder didn't impress the board at first, although he has something he calls "cancerous arthritis." He was finally deferred because he threatened to kill himself if the psychiatrist didn't recommend a deferment. "I'd clear all American soldiers out of Vietnam," he volunteered. "Then I'd send a note to Red China saying, 'You've got 20 minutes. The bombs are on their way.'"
Puff the Magic Junkie
Dennis tries to impress people with his respectability. Mike Love, a cousin and the group's 24-year-old lead vocalist, went straight to bar after Friday's concert, and the other Boys drank easily and knowledgeably as they wandered about the suite. But Dennis kept his glass filled with Seven-Up and clucked paternally at his younger brother, who left early to go to the bar in the lobby. When Dennis offered us Cokes, he apologized and explained again that he doesn't drink. "I can't afford to," he says, "with everything that's wrong with me, I'd be dead in a year." Bob Dylan, Dennis insists, writes "his meaningless songs when he's high. 'Puff the Magic Dragon' is about pot, you know? Lived by the sea--that's cocaine, you know?"
Dennis says he rarely leaves his hotel room while traveling, except to go off on expeditions in his boat. He and his mother talked about his proposed sail-fishing expedition to Florida next week. With expansive gestures, reclining in an imaginary deck chair, feet propped against an imaginary bow, he showed us how he reels in "marlin bigger than I am." The other Beach Boys have other preoccupations. "Carl spends money, Brian writes songs, and I just like speed and competition," Dennis says. "I don't like Europe and I don't like the Orient. I like Redondo Beach and Hawthorne and Inglewood, the places I grew up in. That's all."
He doesn't worry about not having a high school diploma ("I can buy one if I need one"), but he is sheepish about the way he treated teachers after the Boys signed their first contract. "I deliberately loitered in the school parking lot, waiting for my old guid-
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