Sunday, January 4, 2015

Book Review: "Heroes & Villains"

Heroes And Villains: The True Story Of The Beach BoysHeroes And Villains: The True Story Of The Beach Boys by Steven Gaines

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Like so many others, I grew up listening to the Beach Boys on the radio. I liked their songs, but as a grade schooler, I had no idea what a Little Deuce Coupe might be. (Still not sure!) But, over time, I really came to love their famous hits. Again like so many others, I sort of thought of them as "surfing Doris Days", as Bruce Johnston summed up the public's view of the group, as quoted in this book. Guess again.

The Beach Boys were three brothers, Brian and the late Dennis and Carl Wilson, joined by cousin Mike Love and also Alan Jardine. Their father, Murry, is revealed in this book as having been a real piece of work, a demanding, demeaning, meddlesome, narcissistic nightmare, who loved music, but was crazy hard on his sons.

The oldest son, Brian, was not only a brilliant songwriter and producer (though he usually needed help with lyrics from Mike Love and others), but is the amazing voice with the fantastic range. However, he is also a casualty of his family's dysfunction, drugs, rock n roll excess, and mental illness.

The middle brother, Dennis, had the looks, but until later in the band's career, not so much musical ability. (He was the drummer, not even holding his sticks in the usual way.) He was charming, sexy, and generous to a fault, but was perhaps the most scarred by father Murry's machinations. Dennis was quite definitely a drug addict and alcoholic, and almost certainly a sex addict as well. He died in a diving accident, or perhaps let himself drown, beneath the empty berth where his beloved boat Harmony had once been kept. By then, Dennis had been married and divorced many times, was homeless and penniless, and had fallen about as far as a soul can do.

Singer Mike Love was a man dedicated to meditation and Eastern religion, who also beat on his wives and had on stage fights with Dennis Wilson.

Nonetheless, this troubled group of men created some of the most memorable, catchy, feel-good music ever recorded. Rolling Stone magazine ranks their album "Pet Sounds" second only to the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper" on their list of the hundred top albums of all time.

As far as the book itself in concerned, once I got into it a little ways, I found it very hard to put down. It *is* dated, having been written in the mid-80s and then reprinted, so it doesn't even include any mention of the band's late-career smash "Kokomo", or anything about the death of Carl Wilson in the 90s, but even so, I heartily recommend it to anyone with any interest in the band's music or in cautionary tales about damaged genius, the 60s, or how the creation can be perfect even if the creator is not. 

View all my reviews


Mama Zen said...

This might be something I'd like.

Sioux said...

What a perfect endline--the creation can be perfect even if the creator is not.