WHEN I GROW UP (TO BE A MAN)
“rock And Roll Music”
As the years passed and the Wilson brothers grew older, they seemed like most other southern California teenage boys. Brian and Dennis were handsome, popular athletes at Hawthorne High School, and Carl was their shy, likable kid brother. But the boys had a secret they rarely talked about with each other, let alone with friends or strangers.
Murry, despite his own history of abuse, routinely mistreated his children. As the oldest, Brian was a frequent target of his father's rage, and he responded by becoming withdrawn and fearful of social contact. But the independent and willful Dennis took most of Murry's abuse. As Brian recalled, “Dennis … was forever on the short end of my dad's extremely short fuse.” While Dennis rebelled by spending long periods away from home, often getting into trouble, Brian had his own way of dealing with the pain.
From the time he was eight years old, Brian—who had supposedly hummed the “Marine Corps Hymn” at just eleven months old—loved music. As a youngster, he had written his first song on a toy ukulele. Later, he took accordion lessons, but he soon frustrated his teacher by refusing to learn how to read music; he played perfectly by ear. The lessons stopped when Brian outgrew his child-sized accordion, but by then he had become fascinated with the piano in the Wilson music room.
The first time he sat down to play, the experience was “pure happiness.” He said, “For the first time, I was in touch with the deep waters of my soul.” He continued to teach himself how to play by observing his father, also a self-taught pianist, or by playing along to records. “I was obsessed,” he later said. “Music was a compulsion, as necessary to my health and well-being as food and sleep.” This obsession was fueled by the Four Freshmen, a vocal group he heard one morning on Audree's car radio whose four-part harmonies captured Brian's imagination.
The Four Freshmen, who began as a barbershop quartet, were moderately successful during the late '50s and early '60s. Their gentle, intricate melodies were Brian's first model for the tunes that would make the Beach Boys famous. At night, he gathered his family in the music room and taught them how to harmonize to albums by the Freshmen and another group called the Hi-Los. With a tape recorder he'd received for his sixteenth birthday, he even began recording songs of his own. Carl accompanied him on a guitar he'd learned to play from a neighbor, and Dennis—a fledgling drummer—sometimes joined in. Later, Carl introduced Brian to the joys of R & B, courtesy of DJ Johnny Otis's nine-to-midnight radio show on KFOX. There was no turning back: The Wilson brothers were officially hooked on rock and roll.