Beach Boys Dueling Memoirs

If someone is not aware the story behind the Beach Boys is a pretty dark one.  It has enough negativity to really make you wonder how did all the those sun drenched songs of love and hope and girls, cars etc come from such a conflicted place.  There are many books written about the Beach Boys and now some opposing memoirs told from different band members all while they tour separately Brian Wilson now is performing the 50th Anniversary of Pet Sounds and Mike Love touring all year long playing the bands catalog to whoever shows up.   Here is an article I found to shed a little more sunlight on the subject. If you want a good book try Heroes and Villians by Steven Gaines out quite a while ago but an eye opener.

Brian Wilson, Mike Love, and the Psychodrama Behind the Beach Boys’ Sun-Streaked Legacy
As two of the quintessentially California band’s members face off with dueling memoirs, James Wolcott assesses the conflict beneath the surface of its suntanned image.
BY JAMES WOLCOTTSEPTEMBER 2016
Now, I’m not braggin’, babe, so don’t put me down, but I used to be the bossest Beach Boys fan around. Picture me in the early 60s, an East Coast version of Richard Dreyfuss in American Graffiti, right down to the madras shirt and tentative grin. I was so uncool. I couldn’t swim, much less surf, and didn’t drive, reduced to a complete bowling pin whenever debate raged over which muscle car went from zero to 60 with the most atomic blast. A landlocked pedestrian destined to ride the bus, I nevertheless listened devotedly to all of the Beach Boys’ hit-single-strewn albums, even the dorky ones (the horsing-around Beach Boys’ Party!), not just to soak in their peppermint sound but to get the gospel reports from the West Coast, where all the fun was: a View-Master reel of a sun-streaked, wave-cresting paradise with pockets of plaintive melancholy (such as “In My Room,” the lonesome-dove monody of every teenage introspective sensitive type). Like every other rock fan poised for the great leap forward into the psychedelic sublime, I latched onto Pet Sounds, the Beach Boys’ declaration of artistic maturity and an inspirational prod for the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper, and followed the folly of the shambling, cuckoo’s-nest production of Smile, whose incompletion and submergence would provide pop history with one of its greatest continuing what-ifs. It may be philistine of me, but I find that the early hot-rod/surfboard/adolescent-angst singles retain more listenability and gum-snap than the later masterpiece expeditions: the slangy vernacular and catchy concision of “Little Deuce Coupe” and “I Get Around” conjure the energy burst of the Tom Wolfe tangerine-flaked streamlined era, while the self-conscious quest of Surf’s Up for prophecy and profundity seems more like recording-studio heroics.

In recent decades, the vinyl achievements and boxed-set collections have been upstaged by the psychodrama of the band: the revelations of a father’s abuse, a psychotherapist’s malpractice, fratricidal estrangements, and acid freak-outs, with the Manson-family gang skulking in the background, skunking up the place. (Charlie Manson wasn’t a firm adherent to personal hygiene.) The original Beach Boys were primarily a family operation—brothers Brian, Dennis (the surfer stud and future co-star of the existential driving experience Two-Lane Blacktop), and Carl Wilson (the most soulful crooner); cousin Mike Love; and pal Al Jardine—and the dark huju of their fraternal disorder has been depicted and psycho-dramatized in books, documentaries (Brian Wilson: I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times, 1995), TV mini-series (The Beach Boys: An American Family, 2000), the critically acclaimed feature film Love & Mercy (2015), and, most recently, NBC’s 60s-set crime drama Aquarius, starring David Duchovny’s crew cut. And here, finally, comes the ultimate face-off for the Beach Boys’ legacy: the forthcoming memoirs of founding member and current front man Mike Love (Good Vibrations: My Life as a Beach Boy, with James S. Hirsch, Blue Rider Press, September), and its supreme melodist, Brian Wilson (I Am Brian Wilson, with Ben Greenman, Da Capo Press, October). They make for two very different time machines.
Before the main match—the Battle of the Beach Boys memoirs—came a preliminary undercard event that sought to overturn the received wisdom and rip up the pavement of a pop-culture narrative that’s been in place since the Beach Boys traded in their matching striped shirts for hippie beads, heavy pharmaceuticals, bitter lawsuits, and lingering grudges. In an opinion piece on the New York Observer’s Web site, titled “For the Love of Mike Love: It’s Time to Destroy ‘ the Legend of Brian Wilson’ “ (June 3, 2016), the music writer Tim Sommer argued that it was long past time to call a halt to the demonization of Love and the canonization of Brian. “I have met a pile of so-called pop stars, and in terms of being a decent man with a decent heart, Mike Love is pretty goddamn high on the ‘ good guy’ list,” Sommer writes. “Mike Love has kept the Beach Boys, a vital American institution, alive and working in the face of great odds and even greater derision.” These are heretical propositions. For decades the roles had been cast in alabaster: Brian, the band’s chief auteur and rainbow colorist, was the beautiful dreamer wandering lonely as a cloud in a bathrobe, dented by physical trauma (a lead-pipe blow to the head as a child, leaving him almost deaf in one ear), drug addiction, a raft of psychological problems, and his years-long subjugation to guru quack Dr. Eugene Landy (played by Paul Giamatti in Love & Mercy)—a figure of pathos. As for Mike Love, he was and is considered the crass opportunist and venal showboater, the nasal, rah-rah vocalist who needle-dicked the group’s celestial choir, the Republican fellow traveler who buddied up to the Reagans and Bushes, and the ego-tripping sorehead who embarrassed himself at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 1988 by bad-mouthing Mick Jagger as “chickenshit.” (Taking the stage afterward, Bob Dylan cracked, “I want to thank Mike Love for not mentioning me.”) Love realizes the role of hissable villain in which he has been cast. In Good Vibrations, he concedes, “For those who believe that Brian walks on water, I will always be the Antichrist.” The Mephistophelian goatee Love wears in the book’s cover photo doesn’t help.

HERE, FINALLY, COMES THE ULTIMATE FACE-OFF FOR THE BEACH BOYS’ LEGACY.

Where Love’s Good Vibrations is more of a chronological bus tour down memory lane conducted with the fervor of someone who has waited a long time to set the record right and won’t let go of the mike, I Am Brian Wilson slipstreams through the past like a message in a bottle, a bobblehead chronicle. It has moments of personal testimony that are poignant and indelible. His father, Murry Wilson, a small-time songwriter, was the band’s original manager and browbeating motivator, and bad news. “My dad was violent,” Brian says. “He was cruel.” When Murry wasn’t physically smacking Brian and others around (Dennis fought back—he and Murry waged a fistfight over a litter of kittens), he would spook the hell out of them by removing his glass eye and making them stare into the empty socket. That alone would give a kid a Freudian complex or two. Later Murry would yank the planks out from under the boys by selling off their publishing company for a relative pittance, vandalizing their past, present, and future earnings. Once psychotropic drugs take their toll, Brian pads around in an extended twilight, a half-zombie. “Bad days turned into bad months and then bad years.” Once, during a hospital stay, he saw a guy who looked like Tonto from The Lone Ranger looming in the doorway with a “huge hard-on.” Along with Tonto’s flagpole, we get other amusing, absurd snapshots from his memory album, such as breaking out some karate moves for an unimpressed Elvis Presley and the time Dennis and Mike brawled offstage in the middle of a concert (“Dennis won”). The memoir ends with Wilson about to ascend the stage at the Hollywood Bowl, a fade-out reminiscent of those inspirational Hollywood biopics about composers that did so much to hinder music appreciation.

If it’s the jumbo popcorn bag of Beach Boys lore you saltily crave, then Love’s Good Vibrations should hold you the length of the circus. In the battle of the Beach Boys memoirs, it’s the better read: lively, informative, thumbtacked with crazy specifics, and a decent job of self-exoneration. It’s all here and then some, from his learning Transcendental Meditation from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi—the band would eventually be split between the meditators (Love, Jardine) and the partyers (Dennis and Carl), with Brian floating in the no-zone—to running afoul of Charlie Manson’s jailbird scowl. When Squeaky Fromme, a Mansonette who, dressed in a Red Riding Hood robe, would later attempt to assassinate President Gerald Ford, decided to join Love in the shower, it was no Tonto apparition, and Love would later learn that another Manson disciple, Susan Atkins, who held down a pregnant Sharon Tate as she was stabbed to death, had been one of his children’s babysitters. This was the period when the California sun turned occult black, and that the Beach Boys are still touring after a half-century and chugging through the songbook of endless summer is a triumph of nostalgia, perseverance, branding, and trouper professionalism; like the Rolling Stones, they came out the other side of evil, and we should be grateful, not begrudging, that they are still out there entertaining millions and raking in the loot. Love pinpoints the original schism in the band to the moment when Wilson was coronated in the press as a “genius.” He was a genius, but genius isn’t everything, and sometimes it isn’t even enough.