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Wednesday Ramblings

It's December 7th and Christmas is now only 18 days away. You wouldn't know it by the weather here in Ontario though - it's dull, grey, damp and rainy. We had our first snow storm back in November, and the snow squalls that hit here in Port Hope left us with about 6" of heavy, wet snow. However, as happens at this time of year, the weather warmed up, the snow melted and we've had off and on rain and cloudy skies pretty much since then.


The transition period between autumn and winter has never been a favorite time for me. Everything looks dull and gloomy, and bright sunshine seems to be a rare occurrence. I used to greatly dislike commuting during this time of year, especially on the long, dark drives home. I prefer having snow around as at least it brightens things up! At this time of year, when it's too miserable to be outside unless it is absolutely necessary, I tend to stay indoors. But that can get very boring, very fast.


Yesterday I ventured out and spent some time talking to my neighbours who had just returned from a trip. Once that visit was over, I came back home, did some work and then decided to see what was on TV. There was nothing on that could hold my attention for more than a few minutes, so I decided to check out the YouTube channel where I was surprised to find an old made-for-TV movie from 1978 called Deadman's Curve.


Deadman's Curve is a movie about the life of California musicians Jan Berry and Dean Torrence better known as "Jan and Dean". I had watched this particular movie way back in 1978 when it was originally aired, and I remember being captivated by the story as my family and I watched it. Afterwards, while visiting family friends, the movie became a topic of discussion. I had heard Jan and Dean's music before (my parents were big on playing 50's & 60's music during our weekend drives to nowhere in particular) and Jan and Dean's music spoke to me, maybe even more so than their fellow contemporaries, The Beach Boys. Even though I was not yet a teenager, their music about fast cars, racing and the mystique of the California lifestyle (myth?) spoke to me, as it did to thousands of other people.


I have no family relation to either Jan Berry or Dean Torrence, so what does all this have to do with my family history website? More than you might think! For starters, the actor who played Jan Berry in Deadman's Curve was none other than Richard Hatch, a distant paternal relative. For those readers who are old enough to remember, Richard Hatch also played a key role on Battlestar Gallactica, a big TV hit back in the late 1970's. Richard was my 9th cousin, 2x removed.


That wasn't the only family connection that the movie had. There were some references to The Beach Boys made, including the climatic ending where Jan and Dean were holding their first concert after Jan's nearly fatal car accident several years earlier. They were invited to perform by Mike Love of the Beach Boys who had a cameo in the movie. Mike Love, along with Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson and Dennis Wilson were/are my paternal 21st cousins, once removed.


After I finished watching Deadman's Curve on YouTube, and reliving some dusty old memories from when I had originally watched the movie, a series of documentaries played about Jan and Dean. One of the main guests that talked about Jan Berry was none other than Brian Wilson. It was through this series of documentaries that I learned that he and Jan had been friends and had collaborated on a number of songs. This explains why both the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean covered some of the same songs, something I had always wondered about. In the movie Deadman's Curve, the friendship and collaboration between the two groups was not discussed, but portrayed somewhat as a rivalry between them, especially in the opening parts of the movie.


When the documentary about Jan and Dean (with heavy emphasis on Jan Berry, his accident, long recovery and events that happened prior to his death) ended, a documentary about The Beach Boys started to play, so I watched it.


The documentary included all the members of the group, including Carl and Dennis Wilson who had passed by the time the documentary was made. Until I accidentally discovered that I was distantly related to all but one member of The Beach Boys, I really had not paid a lot of attention to their story; I just enjoyed a great deal of their songs, especially those that included cars, racing and the California "lifestyle" that their early music exuded. The documentary was a real eye-opener as to what had really gone on behind the scenes of one of the best known groups from the 1960's.


The documentary was interesting and disturbing at the same time. The group had a lot of internal issues, and both Brian and Dennis Wilson had a number of demons that they were fighting, including alcohol & substance abuse. Brian Wilson, while a genius at writing and producing songs, had other mental issues that he struggled with. There were a number of interviews that were played in the documentary, and some of them were quite hard to watch. The Beach Boys image was one of exceptionally clean-cut California boys, and as is true with a lot of celebrities, their real personalities differed greatly from that of their public image. Still, it was an informative and interesting documentary to watch, as was the documentary about Brian Wilson that followed.


During the course of The Beach Boys documentary, the relationship between Dennis Wilson and the Manson family was briefly discussed. This is yet another odd coincidence because not only was Dennis Wilson a distant paternal cousin of mine, but so was Manson Family murder victim, Abigail Folger (17th cousin, 3x removed).


I had previously read about Dennis' interaction with the Manson Family members, including their leader, Charles Manson. Accounts vary as to what happened when Dennis finally confronted Manson and forced him and his "family" members out of his house, ranging from Charles Manson holding a .45 calibre pistol to Dennis' head, threatening to kidnap Dennis' son, to Dennis beating up Manson. Whatever the truth was, Dennis - and probably the other members of The Beach Boys - are lucky to have escaped with their lives. It was only a short while later that the infamous Tate-LaBianca murders took place, and where my distant cousin Abigail Folger and 6 other people were brutally murdered. From some accounts that I have read, this interaction with Manson and his followers, and the subsequent murders that took place weighed heavily on Dennis Wilson, and may have contributed to his later fall into alcoholism and ultimately his untimely death at age 39 by drowning.


It's funny how the entertainment industry works hard to sell us - the general public - a picture of an ideal lifestyle. The songs of Jan and Dean as well as those of The Beach Boys were written and performed based on an idealized California lifestyle. Endless summer sunshine, parties at the beach with perfectly tanned and toned young men and women, fast cars and a glamourous free lifestyle. We bought this dream, and continue to buy this dream today. The reality of their lives - and ours - is significantly different. However, each time one of my favorite Jan and Dean or Beach Boys' songs comes on while I am driving, I will still turn up the stereo, step a little harder on the gas pedal, and imagine that I am driving down the Pacific Coast Highway, on my way to somewhere wonderful that one can only find in the endless California sun.






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