Brian Wilson, the eccentric creative force behind the fun-in-the-sun Beach Boys, is charging his music publisher with fraud and seeking $50 million in royalties lost over 20 years and $50 million in punitive damages.
The singer-composer filed suit Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court against Irving Music, the publishing company owned by A&M; General Corp., which also is named along with four other divisions--A&M; Records, Rondor Music International, Almo Music and Almo/Irving Music.
Also named was the prominent entertainment industry law firm of Mitchell, Silberberg & Knupp.
A companion suit also was filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles claiming copyright infringement.
(Capitol Records has the recording rights to the Beach Boys and is not involved in the dispute.)
The Superior Court suit makes a variety of charges, including forgery of Wilson’s signature on the original 1969 contract in dispute, plus malpractice, misrepresentations, suppression of facts, breach of contract and conflicts of interest.
The filing charges that Wilson, now 47, was suffering paranoid psychosis in 1969--"and continues to suffer from this disorder"--and was incompetent to sign such a document.
Several bizarre details are included in the suit, including the legendary allegation that Wilson’s father, Murry, the iron-fisted manager of the band in its formative years, would remove his prosthetic eye and force his son to look at the scarred socket to terrify and punish him. The father died in 1973.
In the mid-1960s, the suit alleges, Wilson suffered a widely publicized nervous breakdown, and he was “given LSD (a hallucinogen) by an agent of the William Morris Agency (the band’s representative).” That led eventually to Wilson’s psychosis, the suit says.
In the early 1960s, until the Beatles arrived, the Beach Boys were the most popular rock band in the world with its compelling images of bouncing bleached blondes (“California Girls”) and bronzed surfers (“Fun Fun Fun”).
Wilson is represented by attorney James P. Tierney of Santa Monica, whose other entertainment clients include actor Timothy Hutton, Geffen Records and the Miami Sound Machine. Earlier this year he won a $9.75-million suit against MGM Studios for allegedly breaking a “play or pay” contract with Hutton on the aborted 1983 film “Roadshow.” A settlement was reached for an undisclosed amount.
Tierney said that the Beach Boys “catalogue"--including such historic tunes as “Surfin’ Safari,” “Good Vibrations,” “I Get Around,” “Don’t Worry, Baby” and “Cool Water"--were sold to Irving Music for $700,000.
Tierney, who figured that he was distinctly “on the low side” in estimating the current value of the song income now at “in excess of a million dollars a year,” wants a full accounting of publishing revenues. The songs are staples of golden-oldie radio and are frequently licensed for product advertising for major fees, the lawyer said.
There was no immediate comment from the companies or the Mitchell, Silberberg firm.
Brian Wilson’s difficulties on the turbulent turf of rock ‘n’ roll have been widely represented in the media. Basically shy in nature, he beat a physical and emotional retreat in the later 1960s and ‘70s, compounded by drugs. He was referred to constantly and reverently as the “troubled genius” for his musical talents.
At one time in the ‘80s he had eaten himself to 311 pounds and a size 55 belt and was a virtual reclusive.
Over the year he had series of doctors, psychiatrists and “handlers.” Then began equally publicized attempts at mental and physical rehabilitation, including the “24-hour therapy” with controversial psychologist Eugene Landy.
Last year Wilson performed a solo album of his new songs for Sire Records--"Brian Wilson.” It received great reviews but only modest sales. Wilson performed with the Beach Boys on some shows during the band’s summer tour and contributed one new song to their new “Still Cruisin’ ” album.
The lawsuit claims that in 1962 Brian and Murry Wilson agreed orally to divide profits from their new publishing company, called Sea of Tunes, and that between 1962 and 1969, the son wrote or co-wrote more than 100 songs for the company. But, the court filing claims, since Brian was underage and there was no court approval of the oral agreement, the contract was not legal.
Then in 1969--with the son “not legally competent” because of mental, drug and alcohol problems--the father sold the copyrights to Irving Music for $700,000. Lawyer Tierney said that Brian Wilson never received any part of the fee.
The suit charges that throughout the son’s childhood and into his adult life, Murry Wilson “subjected Plaintiff to extreme mental, physical and emotional abuse, including . . . beatings, intimidations and threats of physical harm.”
The court papers assert that as the son’s mental state was deteriorating and the William Morris agent administered the LSD, the composer “began consuming marijuana, alcohol and a host of other mind-altering drugs.” As a result, he developed the psychosis that persists, charges the suit.
The filing also claims that between 1966 and 1974 the band was represented by Abraham Somer, widely considered a major pop-music attorney. But, the suit goes on, “Unknown to Plaintiff, at the time of the 1969 sale, Mr. Somer and (the Mitchell firm) also represented Defendants A&M; Records and Irving Music.” Further, Somer was on the board of directors of A&M.;
The court documents also allege that Somer and the law firm represented Irving Music in the sale--"and failed to disclose this direct and irreconciliable conflict of interest.”
An A&M; official said that the company is “between” lawyers for its publishing companies and that Somer is its de facto counsel for business affairs. Somer could not immediately be reached for comment.