BOOKS IV: MISCELLANEOUS
I - II - III - IV

NOTE:  Here are the books that for one reason or another, create their own niche in the Beach Boys canon.  For this reason, they can go either way on the taste scale.  But for whatever reason, they stand alone, and fans need to tread carefully.  Hopefully this guide will be helpful to you in making your own choices.  These reviews are solely my own opinion.
The Beach Boys Dean Anthony, 1985; Crescent Books, 64 p.
(out of five)
"In 1965 pop had reached a watershed. If the last two years had seen the emergence of the beat group - simple, effervescent and fun - the next two years were going to be an altogether artier affair. Everything was getting just a bit more serious. Suddenly Lennon and McCartney were classic composers, Bob Dylan was a poet and the Rolling Stones were the precursors of new attitudes among the young. . . This was pop exploring new ground and Brian Wilson wanted to take the Beach Boys there. He became obsessed, watched their every move and craved the critical plaudits they were afforded." [pg. 30]

I recall passing this book up a couple of years ago, and now, having finally bought it, I remember why. With next-to-nothing in the way of text, I can't call this a 'biography'. Mr. Anthony has done nothing more than compile a photo album (mostly from the mid-to-late seventies), slap together a few off-the-cuff biographical paragraphs, and call it a book. Some of the pictures are completely off the subject. . . a full page of Ringo Starr? Or Hank Williams Jr.? Or how about some ridiculously pointless shots of the audience? Oooo. . . be still my beating heart. There are a couple of good photos of the band, but nothing special, and the text is only there so Mr. Anthony could take credit as "author." A low-grade entry in the Beach Boys' canon.



Whale Music Paul Quarrington, 1990; Doubleday, 228 p.

hardcoverpaperback"When the music ends I brace myself.  "All right, Sal," I sigh wearily.  He is head A and R man at Galaxy, how could I have forgotten that, he is the Joseph Goebbels of popular music.  He will tell me how wonderful this music is, then he will evoke the name of the great god Mammon, he will speak of demographics and marketing stratagems, if you don't want to hang around to hear it, I can certainly sympathize.
First of all, though, like any good record executive, he has to pull at his chin and pretend to be deep in thought.
"It's even better than I thought it would be," Sal announces, a novel prelude, not that I'm fooled.  . . ."But," I remind him.
"But?"
"But it's not commercial, but the kids won't like it, but it won't get air play, but record stores wouldn't stock it if it came with a free gram of cocaine."  [pg. 135]

A really odd book.  In what may be the first of its kind, here we have a fictionalized account of the Beach Boys!  Essentially a barely-concealed retelling of the life of Brian Wilson (now named Desmond Howl) and the life and death of Dennis Wilson (renamed Danny here).  Mr. Quarrington's sole claim to artistic merit is in attempting to portray Brian's thoughts during his reclusive 1973-1983 years, with the character Desmond trying desperately to complete his masterpiece "Whale Music" (read "Smile").  All the while acting eccentric and neurotic yet strangely in tune with everyone around him.  It's an intriguing idea: trying to get into the head of one of rock music's greatest enigmas, but while reading it, I felt that the author was over-analytical and too clever by half by using obscure literary references, throwing in "alternate reality" lyrics which are occasionally funny but mostly dumb, or simply trying to titilate the reader with an almost endless amount of graphic sexual references, all of which are crude and debasing (including a scene during a concert when the lead character gets turned on by watching his mother.)  I spent most of my time while reading it trying to figure out who the author was referencing with his pseudonyms, rather than being pulled in by the story.  What disturbed me the most is how vapid the characters are, and how, at the end of the book, when the author attempts to create a cathartic state of grace for Desmond at the unveiling of his masterpiece, it feels empty.  But the entire novel feels false: an overthought retelling of what most fans already know. 



Denny Remembered: Dennis Wilson in Words and Pictures Edward Wincentsen, 1991; Vergin Press, 197 p.

    Denny RememberedMy father once told me that love could not be begged, borrowed or stolen.  Only given.  I may not have been able to spend as much time with my father as I would have liked to, but the time that I did spend with him was the most valued a child could have.  He was very special to me ... as I know I was to him. . . I respected my father with all my heart and soul.  I watched as he constantly gave away all that he had to others, asking nothing in return but the satisfaction they received from what he gave them.  I only wish I could have spent more time with him.  To tell him how very much I loved him.  I know that my Dad is at peace now, and that puts my mind at ease.
    I love you Dad. [tribute from Jennifer Beth Wilson, pg 107]

    A tender and touching tribute to the late Dennis Wilson, "Denny Remembered" is a fond, funny, touching and intimate portrait of the quintessential Beach Boy.  Actually little more than a fan magazine expanded to book size, Mr. Wincentsen has pulled together dozens of black and white photos of Dennis, along with numerous writings from fans and writers such as Domenic Priore, Fred Vail, and David Leaf.  Also included are song lyrics (from Lindsay Buckingham and Christine McVie), poems and stories written by fans, reminiscing from the author, and most touching: written tributes from five of Dennis's six children (Gage being only one year old when his father died.)  A tribute like this can be syrupy and overdone, but Mr. Wincentsen has done a very tasteful, stylish job of gathering together pieces from many different sources and presenting them here. 


Glimpses: A Novel Lewis Shiner, 1993; William Morrow & Co., 331 p.

 
glimpses"It took Brian six days to finish Smile, like Jehovah in the Old Testament.
  I watched it come together and I saw why nobody else could have reconstructed it from the tapes in the vaults.  It was like the Tommy Tedesco guitar part.  Nobody but Brian knew what the missing pieces were, and the missing pieces changed everything. 
. . . "Capitol's not going to like it," Anderele said. 
"Here's what you say," I told him.  "You say, 'You guys may not sell a million units of this today.  But you will eventually.  You'll still be selling copies of this record in twenty years.'  Then you should have Derek Taylor give an acetate to the Beatles.  McCartney especially.  Maybe he'll give you a quote you can use in publicity." 
"A quote?" Anderele said.  "Like on a book cover or something?"
"Why not?  You have to market this as a work of genius, not a piece of disposable pop."  I was wired, ecstatic.  It was so close.
"It could work," Anderele  said.  "It might actually work."
Brian came out a half an hour later.  He was smiling."  [pg. 140]

Here's the ultimate conceit of a Beach Boys fanatic:  imagine that you're a loser stereo repairman who suddenly discovers that you have the power to conjur up lost music from the heyday of the 1960s and capture it on tape. Not only that, but you can transport yourself into the past and mingle with real-life characters like Jim Morrison, The Beatles, Brian Wilson, and Jimi Hendrix, and influence their lives to a degree.  What do you do?  Why, if you're fictional fanboy Ray Shackleford, you "Get Back" and make right all of the tragic wrongs of the time.  No, I'm not talking about saving President Kennedy or Martin Luther King -- Lewis Shiner knows what the public really needs: more great music!  In the case of the Beach Boys, the choice is obvious: link up with Brian Wilson and get him to complete "Smile."  A fantastical puree' of "What If" combined with omniscient 20/20 hindsight sets the tone for this off-kilter fable of a perfect world.  Well-written, with just enough chutzpah to pull it off, I have to admit that as a read, "Glimpses" is a guilty pleasure, and Lewis Shiner manages to make the reader suspend disbelief for long enough to get the story told.  On the down side, there's really not a lot of character development on the part of these famous 60s icons; just a brief skim off the top; and the author tends to make it all a little too easy for Ray Shackleford: he can shove aside Mike Love, worm his way into Brian's inner circle and talk Brian into saving "Smile" in less that a chapter.  Now don't you wish it really had been that easy? 



The Beach Boys: In Their Own Words Nick Wise, 1994; Omnibus Press, 112 p.

    The Beach Boys: In
                                              Their Own Words"Few groups in the history of rock have washed their dirty laundry in public as enthusiastically as The Beach Boys.  If Mike wasn't criticising Brian and Dennis for their errant ways, then Dennis was telling Mike to go take a hike, and while Brian was up to his neck in sand and dope, Carl was simply wishing everyone would stop bickering and get on with it, while poor little Al just shrugged his shoulders and shut up like he was told.  And along came Bruce who took his cue and waded in like the best of them." [pg. 5] 

    Now here's a book for the nineties: a sound bite package of odds and ends quotations by the Beach Boys, perfect for any occasion.  Need a quick stab of authority for the newsgroup?  Here's Mike, telling Brian not to "f*** with the formula."  Granted, there's no reference as to exactly when he said it, or who heard him say it, but it's there.  In fact, the biggest flaw in this book is that while the quotes are interesting in their way, there's no documentation as to when or where the quote was made.  Was it for an interview?  Reported by a close friend?  Was it said at all?  Who knows?  But it's in print now, and so it must be true!  Divided into chapters by subject, we get quick bits of "The Early Days," "The Records," "Surf Music and it's image," "Good Vibrations," "Bad Vibrations," yadda, yadda, yadda and all the rest.  An enjoyable, quick read.  Check your brain at the door. 



The Dark Stuff: Selected Writings on Rock Music 1972-1995 Nick Kent, 1995; DaCapo Press, 379 p.

The Dark Stuff"The king of California, with madness in his eyes and vomit on his 'jammies': it was the Citizen Kane of all great rocky-horror stories, but for me it was more personal. I remember being thirteen or fourteen years old and to escape from the ravages of adolescence I'd go into record shops to study Beach Boys album covers for what seemed like hours on end. . . . 'Fun' wasn't a concept I was too personally attuned to at this point in my life and I can't begin to tell you how exciting it felt to stand there holding photographic proof that it actually existed somewhere - albeit thousands of miles away from the land-locked dumps I found myself inhabiting." [pg. 4]

Nick Kent is one of those authors who likes to spew his opinions all over the page.  "The Dark Stuff," which is a good description not only of the grim subject matter the author tackles but the psychology of the writer as he bends light away from the reader in this relentlessly downputting book.  Filled with biting description and loads of profanity, Nick Kent not only writes about the dessicated lives of rock stars, he successfully pulls the reader in to experience those lives themselves -- making this very visceral reading -- not always a good thing.  The book begins with a long chapter on Brian Wilson from when the author first met him in the mid-seventies.  He discusses when Paul McCartney came to visit, and his editor's rabid dismissal of Wilson as a vital musical force -- but the author also tries to hash out in the limited amount of space a biography of Wilson, his torrential relationship with his father Murray, the sometimes acrimonious relationship between him and the Beach Boys, and his downward spiral into drug abuse and near-total seclusion.  It's riveting writing, but it's also a real downer, and for that reason it recieves only a qualified recommendation.



The Beach Boys: The Musical Evolution Of America's Band Robert G. Anstey, 2004; West Coast Paradise Publishing, 160 p.
Musical
                                            Evolution of America's Band"Anyone who has bootlegs from the Smile sessions knows that there was some real magic there and that Brian really had something going.  It was a special time and he was a special genius who knew what he was doing.  Yes, his vision got shaken up at the end of the sessions and he lost his focus a bit but when he was in control of things, the music was out of this world.  The Beach Boys versions of those songs from the Smile sessions on the Smiley Smile album are very disappointing and even they knew that they had fallen short on the project." [pg. 72]

If notorious filmmaker Ed Wood had been a huge Beach Boys fan, and instead of making atrocious movies had written all his musings on bits of notepaper and then published them, this book would be the result.  Canadian Robert G. Anstey, a self-made author, editor, and songwriter of several hundred pieces, has published this tribute to America's Band, and done nobody a service in the process.  Disjointed, repetitive in the extreme, and written without a hint of style or insight, this book needed some serious reshaping and editing before seeing the light of day.  Filled with mundane, vague statements, conjecture, and glaring mistakes, I was shocked that this author, a reputed editor/publisher of a poetry and prose magazine, repeatedly uses blatant cliches, bland description, and pitiable rhymes throughout (he includes lyrics to a few of his "Beach Boys" songs in the index - here's a sample):

"They sang about beaches and surfing
and cars and girls too
they toured all over the USA
they were sure a good-looking crew"
["Back To Basics" pg. 150]

Bob Dylan he's not.  What's most puzzling about this book is that for a reputed author of more than 125 books (including over fifty-three volumes of his song lyrics!!), is how little continuity and flow there is between chapters; it just rambles from subject to subject, covering biographical information, album reviews, historical exposition and whatever else happens to cross the author's mind.  Anstey states in the foreword that the book grew out of a series of articles he's written over the years, and apologizes beforehand that there might be some repetition - all well and good, but it reads like a series of sticky notes that have been thrown together in the most haphazard fashion, and it becomes evident early on that Mr. Anstey has no insider knowledge of what he's writing, that his "facts" are sometimes completely false (he claims early on that Dennis "fell off" his boat "The Harmony" when he drowned), and all that the readers are getting are his personal musings on his favorite band.  If Mr. Anstey wrote with even a smidgen of humor, talent or style, I could recommend this book on those merits, but this is the blandest, most superficial treatise on the Beach Boys that I've ever had the misfortune to read.  Of cursory interest only, and only available for purchase from the author.



The Beach Boys: Pet Sounds Jim Fusilli, 2005; Continuum International Publishing Group, 121 p.

[Pet Sounds] really is a gift to those of us who need it.  It so perfectly captures a perspective that isn't part of the daily discussion.  I mean, people don't go around telling each other how alienated they feel, and how divorced they feel from the emotions others so readily access, and how they desperately want love and acceptance and yet fear what may come if they grow accustomed to them and then these vital elements of life suddenly go away.  If someone does talk about these things, it's rarely with such eloquence and clarity.  With Pet Sounds, we hear what Brian thought and felt, and his thoughts and feelings are communicated not only through lyrics, but also through often disorienting music that wheedles its way into our subconscious.  [pg. 117]

When I heard that another book about Pet Sounds was coming out, I have to admit that I gave a small inward groan.  After all, we already have two fine books covering the same ground, and there have been literally hundreds of smaller essays and articles written; what could another add to the mountain of published literature?  Thankfully, author Jim Fusilli is no slouch.  Music reporter for the Wall Street Journal and continuing contributer to National Public Radio's "All Things Considered," Fusilli is a keen observer and eloquent writer, bringing a fresh perspective to this seminal album with wit and pathos.  He starts by talking about the forces that shaped his own childhood, notably Walt Disney - from watching Walt host his weekly show on TV, and from viewing endless films and TV shows, Mr. Fusilli had a utopian vision of California imprinted on his mind.  I laughed out loud when I read a description of Annette Funicello as "an Italian sparkplug."  But this autobiographical introduction to the book works perfectly, humanizing the author to his audience, and letting us know exactly where he's coming from.  And despite the slimness of the book, Fusilli doesn't simply dive into analyzing the album, (he doesn't really dig in until page 41) he unfolds, in a very gentle way, the history of the Beach Boys in both professional and a deeply intimate portrait.  Mr. Fusilli knows of what he writes as well, infusing his song-by-song examinations with his clear, intuitive understanding of the what makes each song tick.  He's even lightly critical of several numbers, which I frankly admire, having read several like-minded articles that place Pet Sounds on an unattainable pedestal. I felt as I was reading this that I at last understood how Pet Sounds came about; the shadowy psyche of Brian Wilson became a little clearer, reflected in the dark mirror of his art and here illuminated for my eyes.  The songs are examined one by one, with pertinent quotes from most of the major players, from Marilyn Wilson to Brian himself, with several small facts thrown in that I hadn't recalled reading anywhere else.  This book, part of a series of acclaimed books about individual albums, is published by Continuum Books, and is a fine addition to your Beach Boys library.  I unreservedly recommend it.


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Sloop John B: A Pirates Tale (May 1, 2005) Text by Al Jardine, Illustrated by Jimmy Pickering; Milk & Cookies, 32 p.
 

"We sailed into a fog,
according to the captain's log.
That's when the pirate ship
came alongside.

I heard a voice roar,
"We're coming aboard."
I told my grandpa
we both better hide!

...I almost cried.
I was hiding inside.
Then I saw a pirate,
asleep on the floor." 
[pgs. 8-12]

Before I begin the review, let me confess something.  In my regular-guy job, I'm a children's librarian, a job I've held now for twelve years.  So lest anyone think I don't know what I'm talking about, I most certainly do.  Sloop John B: A Pirate's Tale is a weak attempt at turning the popular folk song and seminal Beach Boys' hit into a story fit for children, and while the illustrations (by Jimmy Pickering) are bright and engaging, Al Jardine's conversion of the original lyric into a more kid-friendly maritime adventure is flat and lacking any kind of humor or dramatic punch that will make this book appealing to any but the most undiscerning children and their poor parents.  The idea isn't a bad one; other folk songs have been successfully transformed into picture books, (Pete Seeger's Abiyoyo is one that springs to mind), but Al visibly struggles to keep the story in rhyme (the better to use as a lyric on the accompanying CD - more about that later), but his rhyming is stale and predictable, and the story that's spun around the new lyric jettisons much of the original story-song (guess we can't have people getting drunk in a kid's book, eh?) and tacks on a non-sensical and disjointed appearance by a generic band of pirates who do nothing except eat the protagonist's corn and make the grandfather walk the plank, only to be saved by the sudden appearance of a constable who just takes the pirates into custody without even a fight.  The story is so weak, that the parent who reads this to his child could easily come up with a more exciting narrative for the pictures than the one Mr. Jardine has invented.  The CD which accompanies the book is a "sing-along" version re-recorded by Alan, which unfortunately doesn't have the good graces to match the words in the book, and the music itself has been stripped of Brian Wilson's brilliant production touches and left with a deflated, 'jamaican-lite' arrangement that's about as exciting as a spelling test.  An all-around weak-effort by Alan Jardine, who should be told not to give up his day job any time soon.

Brian Wilson: An Art Book Edited by Alex Farquharson; Four Corners Press, 115 p.

Purchase in the UK only:  Brian Wilson: An Art Book

"[Michael] Moore's use of "Wouldn't It Be Nice" [in the film Roger & Me] brings out its sardonic aspect.  It's a side to the song that gets stronger the more you listen to it, and the older you get.  The tinkly, merry-go-round intro sounds like its preparing us to condescend to whatever follows.  The sentiment "wouldn't it be nice" seems trivial, "nice" being such a vague and babyish adjective.  It is as if the boy is unable to describe or even feel the specific quality and grain of the emotional life he is wishing for... He can only imagine it as a quantitative change, or more of what he already has - like wanting more cake or more pie. ...The song seems to mock the young couple, or the boy at least.  It seems to mock his failure to know himself and grasp the value of what he already has.  It makes his hope seem preposterous."  Domenic Willsdon ~ pg. 36

Mike Love would hate this book.  Not only does it take Brian Wilson seriously, it takes him waaaaaayy too seriously for its own good.  That being said, however, Brian Wilson: An Art Book is an interesting read, being a dual collection of essays, musings, and full-color photos of artwork which the editor, Alex Farquharson claims is inspired, or at least in the spirit of, the music of Brian Wilson.  Occasionally light and frothy, but more often heavy and intellectual, the various authors take the high road in their pursuit of the meaning of Brian Wilson's music, and, for the most part, succeed in writing entertaining, thought-provoking essays.  Subject matter includes a full-bore dissection of "Wouldn't It Be Nice" (quoted in the essay above); a mini-biography on Brian by Peter Blake (who designed the artwork for Brian's Gettin' In Over My Head album); a colorful description of Los Angeles by Andrew Gellatly; a line-by-line prose dissection of "Guess I'm Dumb" by Jennifer Higgie; a written portrait of Brian Wilson performing Pet Sounds live by Thomas Demand; a brief appreciation of "Good Vibrations" by John McCracken; a few treatises on "SMiLE;" and much more besides.  The essays are, for the most part, exercises in intelligentia, with lots of footnotes, and words that cost significantly more than ten dollars apiece.  Not exactly my cup of tea, but never devolving into that kind of scholarly self-parody which fills modern universities.  The second half of the book is where I lament the small dimensions chosen.  Art needs to be seen in large canvasses, and the book, which is scarcely larger than a trade paperback, leaves the pictures sorely compressed.  Art appreciation not being my strong suit, I shall suffice to say that some of the 'art' presented is directly linkable to Brian Wilson/the Beach Boys; some is loosely inspired by their music; and several of the pieces I see no connection at all.  I give kudos anyway to the authors, artists and editor for trying something different, and in so doing, creating a unique tribute to Brian Wilson.

Beach Boys Vs.  Beatlemania: Rediscovering Sixties Music
G.A. De Forest; Booklocker.com, Inc., 448 p.

Beach
                                                    Boys vs.
                                                    Beatlemania
BEACH BOYS vs Beatlemania
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"Despite [The Beatles] "Luv, Luv, Luv" mantra, nasty personal politics emerged in breakup as all burst into song unflattering to all - tit for tat attacks in unbounded superstar self-indulgence, abusing their exalted position to demean their art form.  Yet because the group died violently in its prime (and resisted all pleas for a rebirth) the Princess Diana Effect mummifies a far-fetched pristine image.  There is no question of speaking ill of their legacy, and an objective reappraisal of their value will wait until all media contemporaries in their thrall have retired from the airwaves.  While the Beatles weren't responsible for every loopy gesture of fandom a finger points at them for hyping it... Their unbounded, unconditional success has a lot to answer for in foisting a travesty on the musical world, preventing a genuinely new course for modern popular music.  They could be accused of corrupting rock in their own way as much as the tame Elvis lookalikes they allegedly saved rock 'n' roll from."  [pg. 137]

REVIEW:  G.A. De Forest, the author of Beach Boys vs. Beatlemania, has written a book that is both fascinating and frustrating.  The germ of his premise, that The Beatles undeservedly ripped away The Beach Boys' rightful crown as 60s music gods, has been endlessly debated in the bands' various forums for decades, and this polarizing book regularly succumbs to "fighting words" in casting a blind eye towards The Beach Boys personal faults, while pillorying The Beatles at every opportunity.  Beatles fans: watch out. 

The author casts a wide net, using his impressive grasp of musical trends and various genre's tidal forces to knit together an enlightening overview of the era's rapidly-changing soundscape.  In this regard, the book strongly reminded me of the similarly epochal Nearest Faraway Place by late author and editor Timothy White, and in a comparative degree, I found it difficult to navigate the numerous side-roads onto which the author swerves.  Often, a paragraph is so stuffed with references to other artists and singles that it takes a visible effort to leap back to a chapter's original premise.  The author also makes some strange comparative leaps early on - for instance, the odd lambasting of The Osmonds (?) who didn't appear on the scene until a decade after the appearance of The Beach Boys. 

The most damning aspect of the book, however, is the unrelenting bilious tone adopted towards The Beatles.  The author's transparent campaign of leveraged, personal attacks on their character, backgrounds, songwriting abilities, and successes is unremitting in its vehemence and ferocity - it's made perfectly clear that the author believes The Beatles to be no-talent poseurs who owe all their success to others.  And although the author quotes several front-line sources who appear to agree with his assertions, there are no opposing viewpoints sought, or given, and the sad end result reads like a semi-hysterical rant, or a very bad case of sour grapes. 

As someone who grew up loving The Beatles, but ended up preferring The Beach Boys, I understand the feeling of being a fan of an under-appreciated band, but the book's arguments would have been better served if the author had paired with a knowledgeable Beatles biographer to write the alternating histories of each band, which would have lent the book a semblance of even-handedness.  That being said, Beach Boys vs. Beatlemania is worth picking for for the author's panoramic view of musical trends, and for his often arresting glimpses into pop music's most volatile era.


Fifty Sides Of The Beach Boys: The Songs That Tell Their Story
by Mark Dillon; ECW Press, 316 p.
Published June 1, 2012
Reflecting on the Beach Boys' long, fascinating history, this book tells the story behind 50 of the band's greatest songs from the perspective of group members, collaborators, fellow musicians, and notable fans. It is filled with new interviews with music legends such as Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Alan Jardine, Bruce Johnston, David Marks, Blondie Chaplin, Randy Bachman, Roger McGuinn, John Sebastian, Lyle Lovett, Alice Cooper, and Al Kooper, and commentary from a younger generation such as Matthew Sweet, Carnie Wilson, Daniel Lanois, Cameron Crowe, and Zooey Deschanel.

To read excerpts, click here.

REVIEW:  This neat little square book, about the size of a 45 single, is a fun read.  For music fans who are just now discovering The Beach Boys through the interest generated by the band's 50th Anniversary tour, this book might be an ideal introduction, for it not only is a compact introduction to fifty of The Beach Boys most influential songs, it also serves as an short introduction to the band members, and the artists who their music influenced.  I went into this book expecting more of a musical biography, since the Beach Boys have used their music to a large degree in revealing their personal lives (i.e.; "I'm Bugged At My Old Man" or "Caroline, No") - but author Mark Dillon instead has pulled together a vast range of interested others, including musicians, authors, and band members, to discuss why certain songs are important to them, or how they impacted society at large.  So you might have Alice Cooper on "In My Room", and then jump to Bruce Johnston, or Blondie Chaplin, or Mike Love, or Tony Asher, or Hal Blaine, Roger McGuinn, etc., etc.  Fifty songs, fifty different people.  And although each song receives about a four-page discussion, this isn't really in-depth analysis of the songs; in fact one of my quibbles with the book is how often the discussion veers away from the songs they're supposed to be discussing, and instead looks at the interviewee's own life and career. Eh - it's still interesting, but if you're planning on purchasing this book expecting deep dissection of either the Beach Boys or their private lives, look elsewhere.  This is a fun, sometimes surprising look at the Beach Boys catalog, with personal tidbits strewn about, and short anecdotal stories woven throughout the narrative.  A very enjoyable, quick read, although I'm also miffed that my own personal favorite Beach Boys song wasn't included. (if you want to know, it's "You're So Good To Me"); maybe they'll be a Volume 2?

Meeting Dennis Wilson: A Novel
by Max Harrick Shenk; CreateSpace Independent Publishing,
636p., Released December 3, 2013


15 year old softball pitcher (and Beach Boys fan) Margo LeDoux has a crush on Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson, and wants to meet him, but her boyfriend, Scott, doesn’t really like the idea (“I don’t want you runnin’ off and bein’ some groupie!”). Meanwhile, Margo’s best friend (and our narrator) Brian Pressley and his girlfriend, Christy Kelly, decide that they’re going to “take steps” toward going all the way, steps which seem to get them into trouble no matter how careful they are. And how can a girl with a rockstar-sized crush meet the drummer of her dreams? This LIMITED EDITION complete volume contains all of the contents of the seven individual serialized books

REVIEW:
  OK, this one was just weird.  One of the downfalls of modern self-publishing is that pretty much ANYONE can put something in print, without all the bothersome business of editors or common sense.  Max Shenk, a twice-divorced 40-something 'author' who lives in Vermont, has written, in the questionable tradition of Glimpses and Whale Music, yet another fictional story of The Beach Boys, this time using the band as a backdrop for a story of teenage crushes, losing your viginity, high school prom and love triangles.  Originally serialized in a seven-book(!) series, this "limited-edition" gathers all seven of those books into one torturous 650-page monstronsity sure to test the patience of all but the most rabid reader.  Written with all the panting haste of a cut-rate Harlequin novelist merged in an unholy union with oh, say, Judy Blume, this novel possesses a very strange vibe.  Any book that begins with a character clenching up his butt cheeks when asked if he's been in a  girl's bedroom has pretty much lost me from the word "go".  But hey, if you can wrap your head around the thought of a forty-year-old man writing in the first person the character of a teenage girl who's hot and bothered over the ideas of chasing after Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys, then you're a better(?) person than I am, because I just couldn't do it.  I'm sure that a psychiatrist could make a big deal out of the author's intent, but I'm simply not up to it.  I'm including it on my site for the sake of completeness, but please, don't make me read it again.


33-1/3: Smile
By Luis Sanchez
Bloomsbury Academic, 144 p.,
Released May 8, 2014


Description: Smile is not merely a great unfinished album, but a living work of art that is all at once expansive, indeterminate, and resolutely pop.

Looking to revise and expand, Brian Wilson sought collaboration with a brilliant musician named Van Dyke Parks. Together they began work on Smile, an ambitious album of music that refracted The Beach Boys’ naïveté into a visionary exploration of American consciousness. Smile edged so close to greatness it seemed destined to become one of the most significant musical advances of its time. But the story didn't end quite like this.

In this book of evocative essays, Sanchez traces the musical journey that transformed The Beach Boys from West Coast surf heroes into America’s pop luminaries, and ultimately why Smile represents a tumultuous turning point in the history of popular music.


REVIEW:  Bloomsbury Publishing has made a nice living with their "33-1/3" series of books devoted to examining rock albums, and this volume (number 94 in the series!) recruits Texan PhD of Musicology Luis Sanchez to tackle The Beach Boys legendary "lost" 1967 album, Smile.  Unfortunately, while Dr. Sanchez has an occasionally too-obvious love and appreciation for The Beach Boys, his approach to this book is off-target.  Rather than examine the album in depth, and all its many interwoven parts, (not to mention its complex history), the author instead decided to take a parenthetical tack, weaving Smile into the entire history of the Beach Boys; the musical movements and artists they were influenced by, and wrap it all up in a gushy, hagiographic love letter. 

So, instead of Smile, you get everything around it - with the odd opening scene of a post-Smile moment: Brian's infamous appearance in the 1976 Saturday Night Live "Surfing" sketch starring Dan Ackroyd and Jim Belushi.  Then - flashback - starting with the Beach Boys first song, and tying in Bob Dylan, George Gerswhin, Brill Buiding songwriters, and a dollop of Phil Spector, along with side-trips into The Beach Boys inter-relationships within the band and outside.  We read about the press build-up of Brian as a genius, and its sad aftermath, but we're never taken into the studio to see how Smile happened, or given much of a taste of the music itself.  Part of the problem is the author's lack of access to Brian himself - outside of his encounter with Van Dyke Parks, most of the author's sources are taken from previously-published works, so outside of the author's own fawning opinions, there's not much new here for fans.  Reading this was like standing outside the recording studio and straining to hear what's going on inside - a limited, frustrating experience. 

Sanchez admits in the introduction that he struggled with how to approach the topic of Smile, and relates that a conversation with Van Dyke Parks led him to this final approach.  But it's a misguided one; fans who love Smile and its myth will find very little of the album within these pages, instead, we're treated to a biographical portrait filled with facts borrowed from other, better sources.  A missed opportunity.

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