I’ve been interested in Brian Wilson every since I snagged a copy of PET SOUNDS from my uncle in Tennessee about 10 years ago. I’d always been of the mind that The Beach Boys were the lame-American answer to The Beatles. And while 90% of the Beach Boys music is cringe-worthy and almost embarrassingly bad at times…there was a period in the early 1960s when Brian Wilson was the greatest songwriter on Earth.
PET SOUNDS is one of my all-time favorite records, and it’s always on my iPod. That record speaks to me in so many ways and on so many different levels. The next Beach Boys album after PET SOUNDS was going to be even better. It was going to be stupendous and change rock music forever. And then–?–something happened and he became a complete nutcase.
What happened after PET SOUNDS became the stuff of legend, however, but not the way Brian Wilson, or anyone for that matter, would have wanted. Rather than recording a masterpiece he lost his shit and the entire album was shelved after being hyped by the record label for over a year. That mythic, lost album was SMILE. The Beach Boys next album would ultimately be SMILEY-SMILE, a watered-down version of what many claimed was the Holy Grail of ’60s rock.
Drugs, psychosis, greed, selling-out, and not measuring up to one’s potential. Did I leave anything out? The story of Brian Wilson has always fascinated me. So I picked up Peter Ames Carlin’s book CATCH A WAVE: THE RISE, FALL, & REDEMPTION OF THE BEACH BOYS’ BRIAN WILSON even though I’d just read a book last year covering The Beach Boys. I didn’t really learn anything new, other than a few nasty tidbits about Brian’s cruel father Murray (this book alleges that Murray’s abuse cost young Brian his hearing which is not the story I heard in the other book I read last year).
CATCH A WAVE goes in chronological order and paints a pretty good portrait of Brian Wilson’s early life and initial success. The book gets a little boring when it’s subject loses his mind and stops working. You would think that writing about a rock ‘n roll lunatic would be an instant grandslam–but reading about a guy getting fat and growing a beard ain’t all that interesting. For that reason the middle of the book becomes less about Brian and more about The Beach Boys artistic and commercial success-post Brian (or rather, the lack of that success). I guess the author had no choice but to reduce Brian’s presence in the book near the middle when Brian reduced his presence from reality. I do wish the author would have talked a bit more about the Brian’s shelving of SMILE, specifically his belief that his song “Fire” was causing fires to break out across LA. I also would have like for him to go into more detail about the Brian Wilson/Charles Manson connection.
The book, which is fairly recent, covers the re-recording of SMILE Wilson did a few years ago. The author raised a few good points about whether this new SMILE should have been released at all, and what (if anything) this recording of SMILE might have done to the “legend” of SMILE. I found that last part of the book to be really interesting and thought-provoking. As a metaphor, the album’s release totally kills SMILE. That bummed me out. I’m ashamed to say that it bummed me out more than reading about Brian’s abuse as a child or even the decades he wasted sitting around the house doing nothing.
Overall, I would recommend you read this book if you are interested in reading about Brian Wilson or if you don’t feel like you hate Mike Love enough. Seriously, that guy comes off as a total asshole. My favorite part was when he was bad-mouthing PET SOUNDS when Brian was trying to get the band to record it…only to back peddle years later and claim the entire thing was his idea, Mike Love comes off as Rock’s biggest asshole. And you thought you had bad cousins.
CATCH A WAVE gets 3 out of 5 kicks of Mike Love’s balls.
Have you read Heroes and Villains? That’s a classic story of the Beach Boys and is a great read.
I have read that one, and I thought it was a pretty good read. I need to read more rock books, I love them. I was checking out that massive list over at your blog the other for some helpful suggestions.
“And while 90% of the Beach Boys music is cringe-worthy..”
I’ll have to strongly, strongly disagree with this statement, on every level imaginable. Brian didn’t lose it after canning ‘Smile’, he just embraced a different approach at writing music for the next 6 years, which, apparently didn’t sell very well. Smile Smile is an acquired taste, I’ll give you that. But Wild Honey? Friends? 20/20? Sunflower? Surf’s Up? So Tough? Holland? Love You? Have you heard any of these albums? Do you honestly think they’re cringe-worthy? ‘Cause that’s some of the best music I’ve ever heard in my life. Some absolutely incredible Brian gems to be found there (This Whole World, Time To Get Alone, All I Wanna Do, Let The Wind Blow, Busy Doin’ Nothin’, Till I Die or Breakaway just to mention a few, are as good as anything on Pet Sounds), not to mention hearing Dennis and Carl coming into their prime as individual song-writers.
And that’s not even mentioning the pre-Pet Sounds albums. ‘Today’ is the 2nd best album their ever did, in my opinion.
It’s true that at some point in the late 70’s they started to suck really, really badly, and continued to do so for the majority of the 80’s and the 90’s, but they were in no way a one-good-album band.
I will concede that 90% is a tad high. I like Wild Honey and Smiley Smile, though I don’t think those albums are “classic.” The Smile boxset that came out a few years ago is amazing, but I don’t really count that as it’s not a “proper” album.
For me, the Beach Boys have far too many filler/novelty songs…the band has a song about how great Salt Lake City is for crying out loud!
That said, you are right, 90% is too high a number. I will think about this.