Paul Bryant's Reviews > Catch a Wave: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson

Catch a Wave by Peter Ames Carlin
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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!


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.


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.


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").


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.

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Comments (showing 1-18 of 18) (18 new)

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Paul Bryant You can easily connect the young doomed and beautiful victims of rock and roll with the image of the romatic poets like Keats, Shelley and the earluer Chatterton. They also lived fast and died young. In popular music there are various gruesome cases - Syd Barrett, Nick Drake, Roky, Peter Green and big Brian. It's amazing the Brian didn't die - he's a living testament to the toughness of the human body, as also is my own mother although she didn't consume as many illegal drugs as he did. in fact she didn't consume any. But she's still going strong.

message 2: by Monica (new)

Monica Who's Roky?

message 3: by Sandi (new)

Sandi Paul wrote: "It's amazing the Brian didn't die - he's a living testament to the toughness of the human body..."

I always thought it was weird that Carl and Dennis died young. I thought that Brian would die first of an overdose or suicide.

message 4: by Monica (new)

Monica Carl hurt Brian pretty bad, too, but all things pass.

Paul Bryant Roky Erikson.

message 6: by Monica (new)

Monica Sandi, Carl had cancer, having smoked for a long time. Dennis drowned at Marina del Rey and the family got special permission to have a burial at sea. On a happier note, if you get a chance to see Brian and the Wondermints, you will certainly not be disappointed.

Never heard of Roky, and will google Peter Green, I really like(d) him a bunch...

message 7: by Sandi (new)

Sandi Monica wrote: "Sandi, Carl had cancer, having smoked for a long time. Dennis drowned at Marina del Rey and the family got special permission to have a burial at sea. On a happier note, if you get a chance to see ..."

I thought Dennis died in Hawaii. When I was in high school, I read and watched everything I could about The Beach Boys. That was when Brian had his piano in a sandbox and composed barefoot with his feet in the sand. That was when they all were alive.

message 8: by Rick (new)

Rick Great review. Well worth seeing is the documentary "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times," by Don Was (I think) with a lovely soundtrack album. In the documentary you see and hear peers (Nash, Cale, Petty, Newman to name a few) praising Wilson for his gifts and Wilson speaks for himself in an almost childlike manner that is both heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time.

message 9: by Monica (new)

Monica Rick, he's come a real long way sinceI Just Wasn't Made For these Times

message 10: by Rick (new)

Rick Certainly he has. Done new work; relooked at the old work and recovered much of his lost balance and control. Good outcome to a sad, potentially tragic story.

message 11: by Monica (last edited Feb 15, 2010 10:00AM) (new)

Monica Saw That Lucky Old Sun tour in Ann Arbor, MI, Nov. '08; he even autographed my copy of Wouldn't It Be Nice. It was truly one of my best concert going experiences, and I've been going to concerts for 45 years!

message 12: by Rick (new)

Rick That's fantastic! It took me awhile to warm to the Beach Boys beyond a a couple of their singles but I finally broke through via Pet Sounds. Coincidently I'm listening to an instrumental mix at the moment--Ellington, Davis, Dylan, Kottke, Santana, and two tracks from Pet Sounds.

message 13: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Bryant Holy celestial harmonies, there, Monica! I didn't know you met Big Brian!!! Jeez, him and Robin and Mike!

message 14: by Monica (new)

Monica You don't read my reviews! Celestial harmonies is right. He's one tall white haired glass of water. :-)

Yes, B, R and M the musical triumvirate of our lifetime!

message 15: by Tabasco (new)

Tabasco Great review ... I just saw "Love & Mercy", pretty good movie, and it made me discover Brian Wilson's unbelievable life. And songs, because I had never heard of "Pet Sounds", and it's such an outstanding album!

message 16: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Bryant thanks - there's a great number of brilliant but virtually unknown Beach Boys stuff. Here's one :

message 17: by Tabasco (new)

Tabasco Nice one. I watched a couple of interviews with Mike Love, and I was taken aback by his thin-lipped, mean-looking smirk. Then I found this terrible blog - that still goes on and on with comments since 2006! - about how much hate Mike Love has been able to attract

message 18: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Bryant ha, great find - I have bookmarked that!

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