Heroes and Villains: The True Story of the Beach Boys
New American Library
Summary: The Beach Boys’ music offers a great diversion from life’s humdrum realities. The men behind that music are complex, interesting, and imperfect. Author Gaines tells their story in Heroes and Villains.
Review: Music fans will not be surprised to learn that Gaines focuses the three Wilsons (Murry, Brian, & Dennis) as well as their first cousin, Mike Love.
In Gaines’ account, Murry – father of Brian and Dennis – was a frustrated would-be musician stuck raising three sons in middle-class Hawthorne, California. When his boys showed promise as musicians, Murry became an abusive Svengali who pushed his sons toward stardom, but also left them with a lifetime of psychological scars.
Brian was the band’s driving musical influence, an exceptionally-talented songwriter-producer and a deeply-troubled soul. First, Brian’s skills lifted the Beach Boys , then his problems destroyed their potential as hit makers. Gaines does a good job of telling Brian’s story, but it may be overly familiar to music fans.
If Brian was the brains behind the group, Dennis Wilson was its soul. Dennis was the only surfer in the band, and he embraced the rock star lifestyle. (Among many other tales, Heroes & Villians details Dennis’ involvement with Charles Manson in the late-60s). The book opens with a great, sad chapter on Dennis’ decline during the early-80s, when he was a homeless alcoholic drifting around Los Angeles; the chapter is harrowing and reminded me of the final chapters of Bob Woodward’s Wired, which detail the last days of comedian John Belushi.
The final major figure is the Wilson’s first cousin, Mike Love. Gaines has little good to say about Love, whom he paints as a hot-tempered egotist and a spendthrift. Still, the “Love material” is fairly interesting.
Gaines spends little time on the other Beach Boys – Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston, and the youngest Wilson brother, Carl. Also, he includes only one mention of Glen Campbell’s brief time in the band. The reader wants to know more about these guys.
Fussing & Fighting
Perhaps predictably, the Boys’ story quickly devolved into another example of having it all and then having it all go bad. By the 1970s, the Boys were constantly fighting and didn’t like each other very much. The book ends in the mid-80s with many chapters left to be written; it concludes before the band’s brief comeback with the song “Kokomo” and before Carl Wilson’s death. An updated version of Heroes and Villains would be welcome.
Heroes and Villains is yet another example of a “drugs, sex, and rock n’ roll” book. It won’t change your life, but it is quite entertaining and you meet some interesting people as you read.