WE'VE BEEN DOING DRUGS ALL SUMMER LONG
Beach Boys fans read this excellent book at their peril. There are a very few good vibrations in the story of Brian Wilson and his group, but there's no shortage of extremely bad vibrations. By the end of the book you may feel you're heartily sick of each and every drug-addled, money-obsessed, talentless washed-out Beach Boy with the exception of Brian himself. These days they're a living, breathing embarrassment. They sue each other perpetually, and Al Jardine and Mike Love now tour America with rival bands claiming to be the Beach Boys.
Pity rich pop star Brian Wilson. First he was bullied and humiliated by his father, the repulsive Murray Wilson. Later he was bullied and harrassed by Mike Love. Years after that he was taken prisoner by a deranged psychiatrist who terrorised him 24 hours a day and was paid for by himself on the orders of his own family. Top that!
COMPLEX CHORDS AND REAL MENTAL ILLNESS
What all these people wanted was - more hit songs! More! Another million seller! Now! It was so blatant, it was brutal. By 1963 the exhilaration of making hit record after hit record quickly became a relentless treadmill. Brian was the sole creative force in the group. (Compare Beatles here). By the age of 22 he was composer, lead singer, bass player, arranger and producer. After two years of that he had his first breakdown and quit touring. The wave crested in 1965 when everything was working out - Brian had fired Murray Wilson, his caricature domineering alpha male worst-nightmare father who had formerly though he knew everything about managing a band and producing records too. They'd all agreed that Brian shouldn't tour any more. There was a perfect logic to it - Brian stayed home and wrote more hits and the group toured. But then he began to change. Within three years there was "Pet Sounds", which wasn't received with delight by the other Beach Boys, the still astonishing single "Good Vibrations", and then the artistic and personal disaster of "Smile" (was ever a project named more ironically?). There was Brian's increasing psychological problems and the commencement of heavy drug intake. And there was the complete revolution in youth culture too, so that by 1968 the desperately unhip Beach Boys were pulling crowds of 200, hopelessly out of fashion.
The 1960s was a very fast decade.
WHAT'S MY FAVOURITE VEGETABLE? BRIAN WILSON
During the next 20 years (!) Brian was not a functioning human being. His colossal intake of drugs and food was in inverse proportion to his tiny output of songs. The whole sorry saga makes for gruesome reading. "As Carnie remembers, her father began most of his days with a dozen eggs and an entire loaf of bread" and for dinner "he'd eat his entire steak in two bites". From the late 60s to the mid-80s the other Beach Boys were perpetually dancing around trying to get Brian to lay more golden eggs for them. They tried anything they could think of, including tough love (pretending to fire him from the group). They ended up hiring a 24-hour-a-day showbiz psychiatrist to rescue him, Dr Eugene Landy. And before you could say "medical ethics" Brian had started writing songs again but they were credited to "Wilson/Landy". So the Beach Boys sued the psychiatrist. You have to laugh.
AN UNEXPECTED HAPPY ENDING
This story of grim Californian irony does have a happy ending though - after trudging through Peter Carlin's (always well-written and readable) catalogue of unhappiness we arrive at the year 2001 when Brian, now married to Melinda Ledbetter (who sounds like one of the few really nice people in the whole book), finally - 34 years later! - finishes "Smile" and even performs it live on stage to universal acclaim. And as we know Brian continued to create and even wrote a whole new album which was .. well, pretty good! ("That Lucky Old Sun").
SADDER BUT WISER - AGAIN
As you finish the book you think "Enough - I don't ever want to read another word about these horrible Beach people or about poor tormented Brian - I just want to listen to their beautiful music". And in some ways I'm sorry I did read this book. It's strange to admire the Beach Boys' great mass of brilliant music so much but to dislike them all as human beings. Except Brian of course. You don't dislike him, but you do pity him. I don't believe the author intended to perform hatchet jobs on all these people, he just let the ghastly facts speak for themselves.