Dumb Angel: The Life and Music of Dennis Wilson
Interview with author Adam Webb
Interview by Ronnie

Intro: I am usually spellbound by a good rock bio, and Adam Webb's bio on Dennis Wilson is no exception. His book, DUMB ANGEL: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF DENNIS WILSON, paints an extraordinarily complex picture of Dennis Wilson - a person that is usually portrayed as quite shallow if you were to believe TV dramas about the Beach Boys. I talked to Adam about the many facets of Dennis, his music, the Beach Boys and of course Charles Manson.

E.C.: All the TV movies so far have depicted the stereotypical Dennis Wilson, i.e. the Mike Love version of the drug-abuse, womanizing, Manson desciple. Yet, this is only one small aspect of his personality. I think the greatest revelation about Dennis in your book was how prolific a songwriter he had become after about 1967, albeit unappreciated and virtually unused by the band! Would you agree that this is the primary goal of your book, to point out the creative side of Dennis?

Adam: Definitely. I can remember hearing Pacific Ocean Blue for the first time and it just didn't tie up with the myth of Dennis Wilson portrayed in rock history. Some of those parts were true, but he was a very complicated character. He certainly wasn't black & white. I think you need to listen to his music to find what the books didn't say.

E.C.: It was so aggravating to read how Dennis sacrificed his solo album plans not once (early '70s recordings with Daryl Dragon) but twice (his unfinished 'Bamboo' album in the late '70s) for the monster that had become the Beach Boys! I recently read that "Pacific Ocean Blue" is going to be re-released on CD with some bonus tracks. Hopefully, this will help open-the-doors for other Dennis Wilson releases. After reading your book, I'm guessing that there are enough tracks for a 3 CD set of Dennis' work. Do you really think a Dennis Wilson recording retrospective will ever come out? Is it more of a legal problem? Or is it more a Mike Love problem?

Adam: I think that it will come out. I think Dennis Wilson was always one of those names you'd read about in passing, that he was an influence on somebody, or that some song had a 'Dennis Wilson-type' sound (usually melancholic ballads). Now there's a strange situation of some good books out there - Jon Stebbin's "The Real Beach Boy" plus my own rant - and some good magazine articles, like Ben Edmonds recent piece in MOJO, but no music! I think that record company types will realise that there is some economic reasons for a release in addition to the obvious artistic reasons.

The legalities of putting the album out have always been a problem in the past. POB was originally released on Caribou - a subsidary of CBS that was owned by James Guercio of the band Chicago. The Beach Boys left CBS in 1979 (I think, off the top of my head) and Caribou would have ceased to exist too. So there's problems there as to who owns the masters. Is it James Guercio or is it CBS? Or is it Warner Bros - as the Beach Boys were signed to them when work on POB began in 1974/75. Also, Dennis recorded alot of material. He also recorded over alot of material - that was his perfectionist/short attention-spanned style. The tapes are not in one location and they were not well documented. Throw into that the complexities of Dennis' estate (married 5 times, twice to the same woman), the nature of his death, and the friction in The Beach Boys and it's a very complicated situation.

The bottom line seems now to be that James Guercio does own the masters, or some masters at least, and seems to be into the idea of putting them out. That's unconfirmed - but what seems to be rumoured.

Regarding Mike Love - I think he was more a problem when the band were a still going. He certainly didn't promote Dennis' work, as I don't think he rated it and it didn't fit into his ideas of what the Beach Boys should sound like - ie the soundtrack to a 4th July State Fair. If James Guercio releases POB independently of the Beach Boys organisation then Mike Love's opinion would mean very little.

E.C.: Your book states that ,"Dumb Angel, the first working title of Smile, is said to have been an expression of Brian Wilson's insight into the character of his brother Dennis." In my readings of the Beach Boys, this is the first time I've seen that reference. What exactly was the source?

Adam: Off the top of my head I can't remember. How embarrassing. It's probably Dominic Priore or David Leaf, but I'll have to check on that.

E.C.: Speaking of "Smile", there seems to be many of classic rock's "lost" albums finally coming out. Pete Townsend finally released a version of The Who's "Lifehouse" and recently Paul McCartney has talked about finally releasing the original Beatles "Get Back". Do you think that "Smile" will eventually see official release?

Adam: I doubt it. I think the myth is healthier than the reality and you can get it easily enough on bootlegs.

E.C.: I like your coverage of the Dennis Wilson/Charles Manson connection in your book. Unlike the book "Helter Skelter", your telling of the Manson connection is pretty down to earth, with no wild "theories". I am curious, why did you devote such a large section of your book to this episode of Dennis' life? Was it the effect it had on him?

Adam: I think because the ultimate fallacy painted about Dennis Wilson was that he hung out with a gang of killers. And it's an interesting story. It's like Hollywood folklore that Dennis was the fool taken in by this mad man, who brainwashed him. I think the reality is that Dennis was brainwashed by the girls.

He was definitely influenced by some of Manson's teachings - but then he was also influenced by psychedelia, TM and surfing. Dennis was always the first to get into the new thing and then he dropped it. I think that's what happened with Manson. By the time of August '69 he was trying to distance himself from The Family. Also, he was hardly the only pop star who hung out with Manson or the only pop star who thought he was talented. Plus, Dennis was making great music in 1968.

I also have a problem with the way that the whole Manson myth is believed wholesale. That this guy listened to some Beatles records and wanted to start a race was so he killed some poor innocent Hollywood stars. That this guy was the devil incarnate. That's hogwash in my opinion. He was undoubtedly a mad man, but I think he was a product of his times and the murders were probably the result of a drug deal gone wrong. Boring, but most likely true. All the stuff in DA's book about Manson making his watch stop in the courthouse and hinting that he might have superhuman powers just sums it up for me. We acknowledge that the authorities were lying through their teeth about every subject under the sun from Vietnam downwards and yet, in this case, when they tell us that Manson was a Satanist hippy leader picking up ESP messages telling him to kill we believe it unquestionably.

It makes me think of George Bush now. On September 10th everyone thought he was an idiot. One day later and we trust him and his corporate buddies with the safety of the free world. Maybe things don't change....

E.C.: You draw an analogy between the Beach Boys unreleased "Smile" album and Dennis' unreleased "Bamboo" album. Both albums were 'experimental' and nobody to this day really knows the track listing/order. Do you think that "Bamboo" truly died with Dennis and that any attempt to release it would fall short?

Adam: Personally I'd love to hear Bamboo. What's on the bootlegs are mostly just the tracking demos. Those who heard the finished masters (and they do exist somewhere) at the time, people like John Hanlon, say they were amazing. If Smile were released I don't think there would be any suprises - we've heard it all already.

E.C.: Near the end of his Beach Boys days, Dennis used to sing, "You Are So Beautiful", the Joe Cocker tune. I read somewhere that Dennis is one of the uncredited composers of "You Are So Beautiful". Do you know if there is any truth to this?

Adam: I heard from Billy Hinsche on the denniswilsondreamer.com website that Dennis was there when the song was being written and he helped Billy Preston write it.

E.C.: Talking about those horrible TV "docu-dramas" about the Beach Boys - do you think there will ever be a realistic film version of the Beach Boys story?

Adam: Has there ever been a realistic film version of anyone's story? They could get Oliver Stone to do it and he could insert some mystical Indians somewhere.

I'd love to see a documentary on Dennis though. That would be interesting....

E.C.: Let's play devil's advocate. What if "Endless Summer" had NOT been released (or had been a sales disaster)?; What if Dennis' 1971 solo album WAS released?

Adam: Difficult one...maybe he would have gone solo, but I think Dennis realised that he owed the Beach Boys a great deal because they made him what he was. So it wouldn't have been a decision he would have made lightly. Maybe if Two-Lane Blacktop had been successful he may have had the courage to strike out on his own. I think the album he would have released in 1971 would have been incredible, but if he was still part of the Beach Boys then alot of people would have been turned off to it.

If Endless Summer had been a sales disaster then I think the Beach Boys would have split up. Dennis would be touring with Brian and Mike Love would be Bush's Minister of Truth. Al Jardine would be a dentist and I wish Carl Wilson was still alive.

E.C.: Finally, I really like your writing style, have you written any other rock biographies? Or, are there any other bios in the planning stages?

Adam: Seeing as I got paid nothing and it cost me time and money I'm not sure if I could another one. I'd love to, but it's very hard to do two jobs, etc, etc. I'm currently looking into the world of fiction.

Click here to read our book review of Dumb Angel: The Life and Music of Dennis Wilson

Click here to visit the Creation Books website
Click here to visit denniswilsondreamer.com

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