Beach Boys - The Beach Boys FAQ
by Andy Cassidy
published: 4 / 10 / 2011
Andy Cassidy is disappointed by Jon Stebbins' new book, 'The Beach Boys FAQ', who while at one level clearly knowledgeable about his subject, also provides little which is new in the way of insight about them
It seems these days that everyone has a take on the Beach Boys’ story. Whether it’s crazy Brian Wilson, litigious Mike Love or drunken Dennis, years of hyperbole and half-truths have muddied the facts and generated a body of documents which rivals any band, with the exception of the Beach Boys’ Liverpudlian rivals, the Beatles. Jon Stebbins’ 'The Beach Boys FAQ' is subtitled “All that’s left to know about America’s band,” a bold claim indeed considering that the major players in the Beach Boys’ saga have consistently failed to reach consensus on many events in their past. Sadly the book falls some way short of providing the missing pieces of the jigsaw, and, with the imminent release of the infamous 'SMiLE!' sessions and rumours of a fiftieth anniversary reunion, it strikes me as simply another cynical milking of America’s favourite musical cash-cow. The title is somewhat misleading. FAQ implies questions and answers, and yet there are few actual questions raised and discussed. Instead, Jon Stebbins has opted for a collection of essays, each based on some aspect of the Beach Boys’ career. Some are more interesting than others, and the quality of the pieces ranges from excellent to execrable. As someone who has read a great deal about the Beach Boys, I found practically no new information in the book – to me, it was simply too heavy on anecdotes and personal opinion and too light on hard facts. The book starts well, with the first chapter listing each of the “official” Beach Boys and providing a brief autobiography. Chapter two continues in this vein, listing notable collaborators and bit players in the Beach Boys’ story. It’s a fairly comprehensive list, taking in everyone from session drummer Hal Blaine to early lyrical collaborator Roger Christian. Also included is a full list of the Beach Boys’ wives, ex-wives and children. The comprehensive list of collaborators is, however, atypical of the other collections of information in the book. Too often, one is presented with a “select list” of details. Examples include a select list of songs about surfing, a select list of significant places, an utterly useless select list of “great musical moments by each Beach Boy,” and a select list of songs which feature one or more of the Beach Boys playing instruments in a track. These lists are vapid and vacuous, and provide little more than an increased word count. Chapter three, 'Catch a Wave', provides a relatively interesting insight into the Beach Boys’ progression from garage band to surf superstars, but I found it repetitive in some places. Chapter four, subtitled “the truth about the Beach Boys and surfing,” trots out the familiar cliché that the only serious surfer in the group was Dennis. I suspect that even those who have little more than a slight knowledge of the Beach Boys fan already knew this hoary old nugget. One of the strangest “facts” in the book comes in chapter six, where it describes the Beach Boys’ “golden years” as 1963-1965. I found this odd – surely their most celebrated album, 1966’s 'Pet Sounds', and the truly remarkable single 'Good Vibrations 'would have some place in this particular catalogue of success? It seems not, however, with “The Golden Years” ending with the relatively disappointing 'Beach Boys’ Party'! 'Pet Sounds' is dealt with in the following chapter. Described by Stebbins as, “the greatest pop/rock album of all time,” his essay detailing its genesis, its production, its reception, and its genius fills a mere five and a half pages - hardly the edifying word count such a description deserves. Chapter ten, an essay on 'Good Vibrations' (similarly described as “the greatest pop/rock single ever”), also fills five and half pages, this time with nearly one full page taken up by a photograph. I personally found chapter eleven deeply insulting. It deals with Brian Wilson’s mental health issues under the subtitle “the tragedy and strategy of Brian Wilson.” Despite some interesting speculation about the nature of the treatment Brian received from controversial psychologist Dr Eugene Landy, the chapter implies that Brian has, throughout his life, actually benefitted from his well-publicised battles with mental illness. The question Stebbins raises is as follows, “…has mental illness actually worked to Brian’s advantage?” He then proceeds to answer the question thus, “Let’s just say it’s afforded him a generous amount of love and mercy.” To my mind, this question is sickening. Brian Wilson had, and possibly still has, mental health problems. To suggest that he somehow embraces and uses them for personal benefit is deeply offensive to Brian, his fans and anyone who has suffered with mental illness. Chapter fourteen takes the irrelevance of some previous chapters to a whole new level. According to Stebbins, “The Beach Boys may have created global warming… or saved the planet!” What follows is a discussion of the group’s politics, green credentials and a contrast between their environmentally conscious lyrics of the early 70's and their celebration of gas-guzzling hot-rods in the early to mid-60's. This chapter is seven pages of irrelevant nonsense masquerading as political insight. If anything, the following chapter is worse. Subtitled, “The Beach Boys’ image problems,” it is essentially a list of reasons to dislike the band! Listing their fashion sense, Mike Love, their voices, Barbara Ann and their relationship with Charles Manson among other factors, it is a frankly bizarre addition to a book which had, up till this point, seemingly celebrated the Beach Boys. One of the most useful sections in the book is chapter twenty, which provides a list of who sings on each and every Beach Boys’ recording released to date. As resources go, this is something which many fans will benefit from, and it is something which I’m sure I will turn to often. In a similar vein to chapter fifteen, chapter twenty-six offers a ten page guide to “the fun of hating Mike Love.” Again, I found this a bizarre inclusion and I wonder how it will be received by the fans of the group who read this book. The book has a very good bibliography, and, unlike many of its type, it has a full and useful index. Although I would have liked a colour picture section, there are plenty of black and white photographs scattered throughout, many of them I had not previously seen. These positive inclusions, however, do not come close to making up for the disappointment I felt with the book as a whole. While I’m sure it is well-researched, it provided me with little or no new information, and will probably fail to enlighten anyone with more than a passing acquaintance with the band. Much of the information is utterly irrelevant, and speculation and personal opinion are rife throughout. Jon Stebbins is clearly knowledgeable about the Beach Boys (his resume includes writing and producing shows on the group for the BBC and he is the author of books on Dennis Wilson and David Marks). Sadly very little of his insight is included in this book. To Beach Boys fans, I would suggest that you save the money you would have spent on this book and put it towards 'The SMiLE! Sessions' when it is released in a few weeks. At least with 'The SMiLE! Sessions you can be guaranteed something new.
|486 Posted By: Shan Marie, California on 22 Oct 2011|
Andy Cassidy's review of The Beach Boys FAQ book by Jon Stebbins seems to be written by someone with questionable intelligence and a flair for missing the obvious. While Backbeat Books FAQ series has been well established for years with FAQ books on the Beatles, Pink Floyd Led Zeppelin, Doors, and along list of others have been well circulated, Cassidy seems clueless when he states about Stebbins' entry into the series the following..."The title is somewhat misleading. FAQ implies questions and answers, and yet there are few actual questions raised and discussed. Instead, Jon Stebbins has opted for a collection of essays, each based on some aspect of the Beach Boys’ career." Stebbins didn't OPT for anything other than to adhere the same well established FAQ book format that all the others have in this well received series. Cassidy has no business criticizing Stebbins for just doing his job, and doing it very well in this reader's opinion.
Cassidy states..."The Beach Boys FAQ' is subtitled “All that’s left to know about America’s band,” a bold claim indeed considering..." Wait a minute Andy...ALL the books in the series have that "All That's Left To Know" subtitle...Stebbins didn't choose that. Geez.
Cassidy then states..."As someone who has read a great deal about the Beach Boys, I found practically no new information in the book – to me, it was simply too heavy on anecdotes and personal opinion and too light on hard facts." Then he turns around and criticizes Stebbins for lists of facts that he deems useless...like who played what on the Beach Boys records...is he serious? Stebbins has been the first author to feature a book with this kind of detailed info which has been a dream of so many beach Boys fans. Without going on too much about, needless to say the book has TONS of previously unpublished info and facts about the Beach Boys and Stebbins is one of the best at writing it in a way that is both entertaining and enlightening. Cassidy on the other hand has missed the point, poor guy.
Another Cassidy gem is..."One of the strangest “facts” in the book comes in chapter six, where it describes the Beach Boys’ “golden years” as 1963-1965. I found this odd – surely their most celebrated album, 1966’s 'Pet Sounds', and the truly remarkable single 'Good Vibrations 'would have some place in this particular catalogue of success?"...Although Stebbins clearly states, and beautifully describes his reason for calling this stretch "golden" with the whole california mystique and sun, fun and beach culture themes(which Pet Sounds veered from)...again Cassidy is left with no clue what just happened. he complains Pet Sounds is not mentioned in an essay in which albums are only given a half page or so of writing...and then turns around and complains that Stebbins has only devoted a five page chapter to...Pet Sounds. Huh?
"its production, its reception, and its genius fills a mere five and a half pages...an essay on 'Good Vibrations' (similarly described as “the greatest pop/rock single ever”), also fills five and half pages." ...But wait you said you wanted them in the other...shorter... section. Makes no sense dude.
And finally this nugget from our reviewer.."Much of the information is utterly irrelevant, and speculation and personal opinion are rife throughout."
Followed by... "Jon Stebbins is clearly knowledgeable about the Beach Boys (his resume includes writing and producing shows on the group for the BBC and he is the author of books on Dennis Wilson and David Marks). Sadly very little of his insight is included in this book."...Okay so "personal opinion and speculation" are not the author drawing from his decades of insight, access, experience and perspective on a subject that Cassidy has only read about...while Stebbins was writing books, interviewing everyone involved, making TV shows about the band...and learning more about them than any outsider ever would be able to. I guess Cassidy knows more than Stebbins right? This review is a joke. Get the book. Its one of the best ever written about the Beach Boys. You'll love it.
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