Troubled Genius: Brian Wilson Talks About Drugs

By Dirk Hanson 05/25/11

Wilson’s drug-fueled descent into mental illness is the stuff of legend, and when he goes live for an interview, anything can happen.

Beach Boy Brian Wilson sat down for a videotaped interview on CBC Radio yesterday, discussing the effect his drug addiction has had on his musical career. Wilson is the very model of a mad musical genius, whose foibles and failures in ordinary life are transcended by his creative talent. Wilson’s drug-fueled descent into mental illness is the stuff of legend, like the grand piano in a sandbox he had installed in his living room years ago.

Brian is promoting his new album, Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin. There’s always a high potential wince factor when Wilson goes live for an interview. In the past, his mental illness has often been all too obviously on display. The Studio Q radio interview is relatively coherent and ranges all the way back to TV clips from the early years of the Beach Boys. When asked if drugs can fuel artistic creativity, Wilson said: “Very much so, yeah. Marijuana helped me write Pet Sounds.” The interviewer, somewhat at a loss, suggested that using drugs for creativity might be a double-edged sword. Wilson didn’t disagree. “We got stoned making Smile. We were just doing little snippets…. so we put it on the shelf for 38 years.”

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]