Even if you don’t consider The Beach Boys to be the greatest American pop band of all time (and therefore the apex of Protestant expression in the 20th century – kaboom!), hear me out. The well is undeniably deep, and it’s high time we plumbed some of those depths. And while the group’s greatness may not have much to do with Murry Wilson, he’s as good a place to start as any, the ill-tempered patriarch of the Wilson clan and father of Brian, Dennis and Carl.

The story is not an altogether unfamiliar one: Murry was a frustrated songwriter himself, so when his boys showed some talent in that area, he wasted no time inserting himself as their (shrewd) manager and music publisher. His methods were predictably tiger-like – think Joe Jackson by way of California and with a little more means – unafraid to incorporate the belt when the boys stepped out of line. In fact, Murry has come to be seen as something of a prototypical “stage father,” simultaneously living out his dreams vicariously through his sons, while growing more and more threatened as they achieved success. Nowhere was this more evident than in the sessions for their 1965 mega-hit “Help Me, Rhonda,” which culminated in his infamous drunken declaration, “I’m a genius, too.”

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The recording might lead one to believe that the extraordinary tenderness that distinguished Brian’s music from very beginning was a direct response to his father’s mercilessness. Yet things are never that cut and dry, even if in future interviews Brian never hesitated to reference Murry’s harsh ways when explaining his own manifold neuroticisms and breakdowns. Obviously firing Murry as manager, as Brian did in 1964, proved ineffective in evicting that voice from his head. Then there are his brothers, who had their own relationships with Murry, and by extension, the ueber-gifted Brian. It all makes for quite the study in the dynamics of family dysfunction. Don’t take my word for it though – just watch the video below. Brian’s super-corny sense of humor, which was dated even in 1963, always revealed where it was meant to amuse, serving him especially poorly (or perfectly, depending on your point of view) once the LSD robbed of him of all his internal filters. As an indicator of the “father-wound” at the heart of his work, it’s almost unwatchable:

It would be unjust to lay Brian’s mental problems solely at the feet of his father – there’s a lot more going on here beyond the “inheritance” factor – but it does provide an interesting backdrop for appreciating The Beach Boys. The wide-eyed yearning for/surprise at love, the frequent allusion to male tears, the unconvincing bravado, the obsessive leanings, the general sense of melancholy underlying all the fun-in-the-sun stuff: these common Beach Boy themes are much more sympathetic in light of Murry’s overbearing personality. And sympathy, after all, is what lies at the very heart of The Beach Boys. That, of course, and a whole mess of genius.