"It looks like I'm going to have to go bananas all by myself," says rock's most famous burnout.

Indeed, on this visit to Washington, Brian Wilson has a gone-bananas look about him. He is here to promote his new book, "Wouldn't It Be Nice -- My Own Story," but he often has difficulty just talking about it. His attention span is short. So are his answers to questions, which must often be repeated. Sometimes he offers answers to questions that haven't been asked.

His eyes, ocean-blue, often seem unfocused. Sometimes they roll back, hollow and vacant. The right side of his face is generally slack, as if he's suffered a mild stroke. Sitting in his hotel room, he tends to fidget with his hands, to sway in his seat, twisting as if comfort is not possible.

Brian Wilson is the victim of a karma crash, with a decades-long skid mark leading back to Hawthorne, Calif. That suburb is where it all began 30 years ago when Wilson, brothers Dennis and Carl, cousin Mike Love and pal Al Jardine went into the studio as the Beach Boys and, with the November single "Surfin'," virtually created the Surf's Up California myth of fast cars, beautiful girls, sunny beaches and good, good, good vibrations.

As a musician, songwriter and producer, Brian Wilson was the heart and soul of the Beach Boys. But his songs -- built on complex vocal harmonies and sophisticated melodies -- seem to have brought happiness and riches to everyone but Wilson himself. He suffered his first breakdown in 1964, his condition diagnosed as manic depression and schizophrenia -- mental illness that would be exacerbated by years of drug, alcohol and food abuse.

"I have for the rest of my life to deal with what I had to go through in order to maintain my sanity, which ought to be interesting, to see just what's inside of me," Wilson says in a typically circular fashion. "I don't know -- you never know. Life is weird. Look at what Leonardo da Vinci did, yet he's one of those specks of dust."

Many feel that Wilson once had Leonardo-like stature -- or at least potential -- in the world of popular music. But now he's best remembered for quarter-century-old songs that celebrate endless summer (and therefore youth), while his legend rests on an ambitious concept album that might have rivaled the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." Except the album never came out -- and Brian Wilson lost his mind.

"It was a rough experience," Wilson sighs. "My life's been a little bit unjust... . I could use some support, but it doesn't look like I'm going to get the kind of support I'm going to need for what I have to do."

What the 49-year-old Wilson has to do is prove that he's capable of standing on his own. Right now he is at the center of a vitriolic battle for control of his life, his estate and his songs. Unless a compromise is reached soon, a hearing will begin in Santa Monica on Thursday to decide whether Wilson needs a court-appointed conservator to protect his interests. The hearing pits his estranged family -- mother Audree, brother Carl and daughters Carnie and Wendy (of the pop group Wilson Phillips) -- against Eugene Landy, the controversial psychologist who began treating Brian Wilson in 1983 and who, the family says, has exerted "undue influence" over his life, music and finances ever since.

After a 1989 investigation by California authorities, Landy surrendered his license to practice, acknowledging that he had prescribed drugs for Wilson even though psychologists are not permitted to do so. At that point Wilson stopped being Landy's patient and became his business partner. According to the Wilson family, there was virtually no change in supervision by Landy associates.

Gregory Aldisert, Brian Wilson's attorney, said late last week that "in the interest of avoiding a trial on such intensely personal matters, Brian is willing to compromise."

The Wilson family attorney, Barry Langberg, notes that "Brian's position is that he does not need a conservatorship and that he believes he should be able to freely associate with Dr. Landy. His family obviously has a problem with that."

Bizarre and Brilliant

The usually reclusive Wilson spent several weeks this fall traveling around the country on a book-signing and interview tour, which some Landy critics feel was nothing more than an exhaustive rehearsal for the conservatorship trial. The book itself has been criticized as a brief to prove that he's capable of living on his own. The dichotomy between Wilson's bizarre behavior and his brilliant music had become the stuff of legend as well as the raw material for "Wouldn't It Be Nice." Co-written with People magazine writer Todd Gold, it's a searing account of a gentle giant who fell headlong into the '60s and '70s drug culture. Wilson describes the damage done as "the gash" in his brain -- and the stiffness in his movement and the hauntedness of his features underline that judgment.

Wilson credits Landy with saving his life. He calls Landy a "life partner," and describes him in his book as "doctor, teacher, parent, liberator, songwriter and manager." Landy's and Wilson's partnership -- named Brains and Genius -- provides Landy with a 50-50 split on all revenues from Wilson's current recordings and from any projects developed from "Wouldn't It Be Nice: My Own Story," from which Landy receives a 30 percent cut of royalties. (A backers' audition for a two-man musical based on the Wilson-Landy relationship was recently held in New York.) While Brian Wilson lives in a modest rented beach house in Malibu, Landy and his companion Alexandra Morgan live in Wilson's palatial estate in Bel Air, renovated at the cost of half a million of Brian Wilson's dollars. Landy's own estimate of his fees over the past eight years is $3 million.

The Wilson family is charging that Landy has long exercised "undue influence" on Brian, that rather than healing him, Landy took over Wilson's life so that he could take over Wilson's money, transcending the normal boundaries of a doctor-patient relationship. That has included taking songwriting and executive production credits on Wilson's 1988 solo album and on a second record that has been rejected by Warner Bros. Records.

One of the major charges, and the impetus for the conservatorship case: that Brian Wilson rewrote his will last year, at Landy's behest, giving 70 percent of his estate to Landy, 10 percent to Morgan and the rest to the two daughters he has hardly seen in the last decade, and who now record on their own. The estate is estimated to be worth as much as $20 million, and Wilson is also involved in a $100 million suit against a publishing company that, he claims, fraudulently acquired his songwriting catalogue in 1971. In a recent interview, Wilson seemed to acknowledge the controversy over the revised will, repeating four times, "We might change that."

Landy declined to be interviewed for this article, but said in a statement that "the best interests of Brian Wilson are and have always been my primary concern. Due to ongoing litigation, I am unable to grant interviews at this time."

Not long ago, Wilson and Landy underwent a 90-day lawyer-negotiated separation, and in discussions aimed at avoiding the conservatorship case, Wilson said he was willing to make a break from Landy, dissolving their partnership and not seeing Landy "except on birthdays and holidays."

"The {Wilson} family believes that Brian is not able to act in his own best interests and therefore needs the protection of a conservator to assure that his psychological, physical and financial self-interests are protected," says Wilson family attorney Jody Leslie, noting that the law in California with respect to conservatorship is quite rigorous in terms of accountability to the court. "The family believes in a sense that Brian already has a de facto conservator in Eugene Landy and there is no system of checks and balances or accountability to the court when you have de facto conservatorship."

"They probably want control of me," says Brian Wilson of his family's petition, "but they will not get it, they will not get it. I say let sleeping dogs lie. If the formula works, don't goof with it. That's one of my major philosophies in life. It's been working."

In Washington, Wilson told WRC talk host Emil Guillermo that Gene Landy "took over my life because he had to save my life, and in order to save my life he had to take over my life. He saw that I had no sense of doing something good for myself, he saw me as a person who did bad things to myself, which is called suicidal. He saw me as a suicidal person who had a beautiful career going but was wasting it away by drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, bad foods and no exercise -- the Big Five."

Wilson has stopped drinking and smoking, and through exercise and dieting has brought his weight down from 340 pounds to 190 (he's 6 feet 3). But there's an unresolved Big One left. Some Wilson associates feel he has taken more drugs -- albeit prescribed -- under Landy's care these last nine years than he did illegally in the preceding 20.

In recent interviews, Wilson has casually listed his medications, which include Xanax (an anti-anxiety sedative), Navane and Serentil (anti-psychotic sedatives that can provoke disturbances in neuromuscular functions), Cogentin (to control the side effects of Navane and Serentil) and Eskalith (used to control manic-depression, it can provoke changes in muscle tone, resulting in both tremors and rigidity).

At the hotel and at the radio station, Wilson's near-constant companion of six years, Kevin Leslie, cajoled him into doing the most basic tasks. Leslie, a long-time Landy employee now contracted directly to Wilson, keeps his own taped record of all of Wilson's interviews. When "PrimeTime Live" filmed Wilson and Landy for a recent segment, Leslie was filming the crew.

A Jealous Father

It seemed so simple way back then, though the warning signals were always there. In his autobiography, Wilson writes that he'd grown up abused -- mentally and physically -- by father Murry, a frustrated songwriter jealous of his son's gifts. (Murry Wilson died in 1973.) Though a capable athlete -- he quarterbacked his high school's football team -- Brian was less adept on the social field -- shy, withdrawn, sensitive, though not yet to the point of being unbalanced.

Wilson was always more musical than lyrical -- most of his songs, and all of his best ones, have featured lyric collaborators. Wilson's harmony skills were remarkable, particularly since he's been virtually deaf in his right ear since childhood. Wilson never could hear stereo, externally anyway, but could hear things no one else could. Sound, music -- they were always going at full tilt inside his head.

And though Brian Wilson created a new California teen culture defined by its hot rod-surf imagery, he himself was petrified by the ocean's vastness and power. Too fearful to surf, he got all the details from the only Beach Boy who did surf, younger brother Dennis. It was the sheer force of Brian's imagination and musical instincts that recast those details into a myth superior to the real thing. Little wonder "Surfin' " first broke in landlocked Detroit and Phoenix.

The Beach Boys' sudden success -- Brian was barely out of high school, Carl and Dennis were still in -- must have been unsettling, particularly for Brian. The first few years were a clutter of cheerful hits -- "Surfin'," "Surfin' Safari," "409," "Surfin' U.S.A.," "Surfer Girl," "Little Deuce Coupe." But the album cut that followed "Little Deuce Coupe" suggested something else, particularly in hindsight. "In My Room," a beautiful soft-spun ballad with a palpable ache, was about isolation, loneliness and self-doubt: "There's a world where I can go and tell my secrets to ... in this world I lock out all my worries and my fears ... in my room, in my room."

Was it an omen? "Yes, yes it was," Wilson says today.

No one noticed, particularly when the follow-ups were "Fun, Fun, Fun" and "I Get Around."

The pressures mounted: from Capitol Records, which wanted two or three albums a year, hoping to milk the Beach Boys fad before it or they faded; from the other Beach Boys, and particularly lead singer Mike Love, who wanted more hit singles (the familial harmony tended to be restricted to the stage and recording studio). With "Surfer Girl" and particularly "Don't Worry Baby," Wilson had already raised rock's production stakes to a new level as the Beach Boys became the first self-contained rock group given the right to produce themselves.

"I felt really pressured," Wilson recalls. "I felt like I could scream -- 'Hey, man, wait a minute, cool it.' But I didn't because I didn't want to bust the group up." Another soft laugh -- his loyalty was always stronger to the group than the group's to him. After throwing assorted fits, Wilson did manage to withdraw from the road, partly because he feared that the loud noise would increase his deafness.

Gradually, what had been accepted as eccentricity was revealed as a deteriorating mental state. Wilson was increasingly given to extreme mood swings and excessive behavior. He proved to be as unprepared for marriage as he was for stardom: He married 16-year-old family friend Marilyn Lovell but says he pined for her two sisters as well.

The control and determination Wilson showed in music never translated to other aspects of his life, and all sorts of people took advantage of that timidity, aware that for Brian Wilson the distance between sudden impulse and gratification was not only minimal, but easy to manipulate. Tony Asher, who wrote most of the lyrics on "Pet Sounds," called Wilson "a genius musician but an amateur human being."

Genius -- that word started being bandied about, particularly by the Beach Boys, who knew that their meal ticket was being punched by drugs and alcohol. Brian's behavior was tolerated as long as he wrote and produced hits, but relations were strained as the other Boys gradually realized they had built their future around a neurotic genius (Mike Love talked about writing a Beach Boys history and calling it "The Fault at the Top").

Carl Wilson once said that Brian's "greatness has been a plague to him," and Brian agrees that as the pressures and expectations changed, the "genius" tag became a genuine burden, the worst thing that could have happened to him.

"Yeah, that's true -- I had me a genius, ya know," he chuckles. "The idea being that you're automatically categorized, and the idea is to break free ... and do a few things not based on what you think others would want to hear."

What the other Beach Boys didn't want to hear was "Pet Sounds," which Brian had created in the studio in 1966 while they were touring overseas -- all they really had to do was come in and replace his vocals with their own. But the album was cloudy rather than sunny, dealing with a young man growing into manhood and coming to terms with life and love. It included the self doubts of "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times," the disappointment of "Caroline, No," as well as the expectancy of "God Only Knows" and "Wouldn't It Be Nice."

Like fans, the Beach Boys were confused by the album's melancholy undercurrent. There were no cars or blondes to connect with and the music was showing an increasing sophistication and daring, as Wilson's ambition outstripped the other Beach Boys' aspirations.

"They said, 'This is a Brian Wilson album, why should we even be on it?' I said because I want you on the album. This is the only time I'll do this, I'll never do this again. And 'Pet Sounds' was that one album. It didn't sell too well but it was acclaimed by the music business as being one of the greatest albums of all time," Wilson says today.

And his own verdict? "It's the greatest pretty album ever made, the prettiest album -- clean sounds, pretty sounds, pretty vocalness, vocal prettiness, the best album ever made in that category."

The reality was that the Beach Boys had to be dragged into the sessions, all the while resisting Brian's advances and pressuring him to resurrect the old formulas. They derided "Pet Sounds," as did Capitol, which did no promotion and, as first single, chose the throwaway folk cover, "Sloop John B." The album alienated the old fans, got little airplay, didn't sell well and garnered few new fans.

Beached

Then there was "Smile." Wilson had become as obsessed with his new labelmates, the Beatles, as he had been with production wizard Phil Spector. Spurred by "Revolver" and "Rubber Soul," which had widened rock from teen fare to adult concerns, Wilson envisioned an ambitious concept album, what he called "a teenage symphony to God."

"I had to live up to my name," he says.

Ironically, "Smile" cemented Brian Wilson's reputation -- though it was never released.

By "Smile," Wilson found it increasingly difficult to complete anything, though the "Good Vibrations" single seemed a harbinger of great things to come. Described as three-minute "pocket symphony," it had taken six months and four studios to record, utilized 90 hours of tape, and cost $50,000 (all unheard of figures, and barely redeemed by its becoming the group's best-selling single).

But Wilson's inertia and indecision derailed whatever momentum that single implied, while the Beatles followed the creative breakthroughs of "Penny Lane" and "Strawberry Fields Forever" with "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," which had been partly inspired by "Pet Sounds."

Wilson was crushed. Having raised the stakes, he must have felt like one was punched into his heart, and he refuses to talk about "Smile" anymore.

"Smile" disappeared into legend. After much buildup and anticipation, what the public got was "Smiley Smile," which had some of the songs but not with the original instrumental tracks, lyrics or vocals. The halfhearted "Smiley Smile" was hastily assembled and minimally produced (one critic dismissed it as "do-it-yourself acid casualty doo-woop") and even Carl Wilson called it "a bunt instead of a grand slam."

Worse news was rolling in like a tidal wave. The Beach Boys' nonappearance at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival signaled the end of the group's importance (Jimi Hendrix declared from the stage that "you've heard the last of surfing music"). As a new California sound arose in San Francisco, the Beach Boys were the suddenly outdated teen relics from Los Angeles whose striped shirt/white pants image instantly squared them.

The later '60s and '70s were not productive years for the Beach Boys. None of their new releases sold particularly well, though the band continued touring on the increasingly older hits, trying to hide Brian Wilson's diminished faculties and diminishing role in the group before adopting the pose of protecting "the troubled genius."

Brian, who has always been something of an idiot savant when it comes to music, continued falling apart, as author Timothy White noted, turning into "a perpetual panic stricken paranoiac," one who escaped farther and farther into himself. He made "In My Room" literal, locking himself away for months at a time, avoiding human contact and dispensing with hygiene, scared of what might come out of the shower head, though nothing could have been as frightening as what came out of his own head.

"I felt like that was rest time and wasted time both," he says now. "I wasn't very creative during that time period and I was being very wasteful with my time. I was withdrawing. I had a lot of stuff come down on top of my head and I had to go somewhere so I went inside my room and stayed there."

Wilson also had a grave dug in the back yard and threatened to inhabit it. He slept in his chauffeur's quarters. He ate without prejudice, ballooning to 340 pounds. He lost himself in drugs and says in his book he once offered cocaine to his toddler daughters Carnie and Wendy. He smoked five packs of cigarettes a day. All the things he was doing, he seemed to be doing to death, and no matter how farfetched, stories about Brian Wilson's behavior usually turned out to be true.

Brian Wilson, about to wipe out, needed help. Badly.

Different Surroundings

In 1975, Eugene Landy entered Wilson's life at his then-wife Marilynn's request. Landy looked and acted more like a rock star than any of the Beach Boys, and managed to act as crazy and stubborn as Brian was naturally. In his 1979 book, "The Beach Boys and the California Myth," author David Leaf noted that Landy was a celebrity therapist with "a reputation for getting quick results with outrageous methods for exorbitant fees." He ran the Beverly Hills FREE Clinic, but that was no indication of cost (it stood for the Foundation for Rechanneling Emotions and Education).

In a 1981 textbook, Landy described his controversial 24-hour surround therapy, saying that its aim was to "exert control over every aspect of the patients' lives ... totally disrupt the privacy of the patients' lives, gaining complete control over every aspect of their physical, personal, social and sexual environments." It also suggested gaining control of their finances to "establish absolute authority" and eventually help the patient "develop a strong sense of self-sufficiency and control over his life" -- implying an eventual end to the therapist-patient relationship.

A 1976 Rolling Stone cover heralded "The Healing of Brother Brian," and Landy seemed to have no problem discussing Brian's progress with the media. Soon, a record company campaign was proclaiming "Brian Wilson Is Back and the Beach Boys Are Happy to Have Him." Wilson's appearance did improve as he lost weight and began to exercise. More importantly to the Beach Boys, Brian began to write, produce and perform with them again. This apparently was the yardstick used to measure his recovery, particularly since by this time, the group desperately needed Brian to rejuvenate their career. A cured Brian was a Beach Boy Brian.

But Landy, who told Rolling Stone that Brian's recovery would take two years, "two and a half at most," was fired by the group within a year. The family and the Beach Boys say Landy was being exceedingly greedy about fees and sought to influence the group's management. Landy says they didn't like his program.

The post-Landy Wilson dug himself into an even deeper hole, so deep that at a party one time, he didn't recognize daughter Carnie (16 at the time). So in January of 1983, Carl Wilson and the Beach Boys management rehired Landy and gave him greater leeway than before. In 1985, Carl Wilson was still supportive of Landy, telling Musician magazine that Landy's firing "was really a shame because Brian regressed pretty much after that." He also conceded that Landy had saved Brian's life. Brian Wilson concurred.

The renewed therapy, costing $35,000 a month, began with several months of seclusion in a remote village in Hawaii, where Landy and his staff helped Wilson kick his addictions and deal with the voices he was hearing. They also isolated him from the bad influences in his past; when they returned to California, that seemed to include members of his family and all his friends.

In February of 1988, complaints were filed against Landy by the California Board of Medical Quality Assurance, ranging from extended sexual relations and cocaine use with a female patient to a number of charges involving Brian Wilson: illegally prescribing drugs and gross negligence from Landy's acting as Wilson's "business manager, business adviser, executive producer and co-song writer while also serving as therapist ... {which} caused severe emotional damage, psychological dependency and financial exploitation to this patient."

The Medical Board alleged that over a five-year period, treatment consisted of Landy calling the house in the morning and evening to talk to his assistants about Wilson's medical condition, at which point he would dictate over the phone which drugs and what quantities to furnish Wilson. Since none of Landy's assistants was licensed, that constituted illegal prescription, the licensing board said. Landy acknowledged a violation of professional codes and in March 1989 surrendered his license for two years.

In 1988, Brian Wilson embarked on his first solo album with Sire Records (his first solo venture since 1966's "Caroline, No"), or as he put it, "Dr. Landy and I decided to go ahead and do our own solo thing."

What Sire chief Seymour Stein found was that Wilson's melodic and voicing skills were apparently intact, but he says that Landy was writing some songs, rewriting others, demanding co-writing credits for himself and companion Morgan, as well as an executive producer credit. "The problem was you very rarely got an opportunity to even talk to Brian without Landy being there, or one of Landy's cronies," says Stein.

Despite tensions behind the scenes, the "Brian Wilson" album was well received critically and sold respectably well, Stein says. But Sire rejected a follow-up album, titled "Sweet Insanity" and apparently containing too much Landy.

"Far and away the weakest point was the lyrics," says Stein. "We didn't feel that releasing that record was in Brian Wilson's best interest." The Glass House

The conservatorship petition was initially brought in May 1990 by Mike Love's cousin (and onetime Washington Bullet) Stan Love, who sought to be named Brian's conservator. Love had been Wilson's salaried guardian for a while in the late '70s (the book paints him as abusive and dishonest) and says the move was made necessary when two former Landy employees signed affidavits claiming Landy himself had drafted the new will giving the therapist-partner as much as 70 percent of Wilson's estate. Last September, the Wilson family joined the petition, supporting the call for a conservator but opposing Stan Love. Love has not been active in the case for the past year and the Wilsons have declined to speak for now.

In April, an agreement was worked out for a 90-day separation between Landy and Wilson, during which Wilson was examined by qualified mental health professionals acceptable to both sides. But Kevin Leslie remained as his personal assistant, and Landy's son Evan has been a companion as well.

Last month Landy told the Los Angeles Times that Brains and Genius was "disassembling to prove Brian really is well," but that he wanted a fair share of the proceeds. He also left the door open to future songwriting collaborations, album development and production deals. Landy has also reapplied for his therapist's license.

Wilson says several "major" labels are listening to "Sweet Insanity," that he's looking forward to working on a new project with producer Don Was, that he'd like his daughters to read "Wouldn't It Be Nice" "to get a jolt, so that jolt can get them going, saying 'Brian, we'll pay you good money to produce us.' " As for the Beach Boys, Wilson is ambivalent about working with them again, knowing that they continue to live in a glass house built on his foundation.

"I know that working with the Beach Boys is hogwash, it's nowhere, hogwash. ... I'm proud of the fact that they still want to play my songs. They could change that show around to where they're hardly doing any of my songs but people wouldn't go see them. I'm glad at least that I have the musical ability to go ahead and do the solo album without those dumb guys, those darn Beach Boys. They don't know what they're doing, those idiots. They didn't know what they were doing to me, but that's okay."

Wilson says that "next June or July, I might get a group together and do a show, a concert. That would drive the Beach Boys crazy."