The Beach Boys were a band that combined contrasts. Their image was clean-cut, wholesome, white-bread and sparkling. The reality, as the band rode the roller-coaster of fame up and then down again, involved a lot of personal conflicts and business problems. Heroes and Villains: The True Story of the Beach Boys, tells that story, and doesn’t whitewash the difficult times, but this is not just an expose or a sleaze story, either; Steven Gaines treats the protagonists with considerable sympathy and does a good job of examining and analyzing the songs themselves. The book doesn’t shy away from the turmoil that tempest-tossed the Beach Boys and the Wilson household. A lot of this was covered up, as it conflicted with the band’s image; there were punch-outs, marital infidelity, commercial weirdness, drug abuse, mental illness – a lot of this may surprise Beach Boys fans who know the music but haven’t delved so much into the people behind it.
Surfing on chaos and harmonizing amid dissonance
The Beach Boys began in 1961 and had a sound that, while unique, also fit well with the general milieu of the early 1960s. The uniqueness of it was a harmonic virtuosity that evoked the laid-back California lifestyle and the surfer ambience. But like just about all music of the period, it was upbeat and light, and lacked the gritty, status-quo-challenging bite of music that would come along a few years later. The Beach Boys, unlike some bands that made the transition (most obviously The Beatles), couldn’t quite go there, and by the 1980s they were mostly out of the limelight. The fame followed by the fall produced (or maybe just exacerbated) strains in the relationship among the members, the managers, and others involved in the music and the promotion. With inside information provided by such people as Marilyn Wilson, Heroes and Villains gives much of the inside story.