Catch a Wave: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson
Or, yet another retelling of the Beach Boys saga just in case you’ve never heard it

Sitting
in front of a computer screen typing out a review for a book about the Beach
Boys is both a blessing and a curse. The curse: yet another retelling of the
Beach Boys' fortunes and failures. The blessings are plentiful: Catch a Wave
has inspired me to break out a wealth of Beach Boys classics, including a
bootlegged version of Smile made years before Brian Wilson's recent
revival of the material. The bootleg was made with care by a good friend of mine
whose love for the Beach Boys' harmonies and the Wilson brothers' genius was
unmatched in a 100-mile radius. The pleasure of "Heroes and Villains," the
majesty of "Cabin Essence," and the quirk of "Vega-Tables"; it warms me up once
more.

Too bad the warmth of Smile (and the underappreciated latter-day Beach
Boys albums Sunflower, Surf's Up, and Holland) doesn't last
through the entirety of Peter Ames Carlin's take on the Brian Wilson legacy.
Mostly chronological, Catch a Wave retells the story of the Beach Boys
once more for those unfamiliar with the few ups and many downs of the Wilson's
extended family. Apparently Carlin doesn't know his audience — anyone taking the
time to read his crude biography is already intimate with the most savory
details dissected within the pages of his ode to the Beach Boys. I use the words
Beach Boys instead of the name Brian Wilson, as Catch a Wave rarely
isolates on its intended subject.

When Catch a Wave does take the time to single out Brian's battles with
Murry (the patriarch), the band, record execs, and Eugene Landy, it presents
these battles in less than digestible forms. If you're a Beach Boys fan —
obsessive or casual — it's a guarantee that you're already armed with most of
the knowledge Carlin presents throughout his 300+ pages of fandom. The rare
occasions Carlin shifts focus, trying to view Brian through the eyes of Carl,
Dennis and Mike Love, he concedes defeat and chooses to focus on the distinct
personalities of each subject. We're already acquainted with Dennis' excesses,
Carl's bitter indecisiveness, and Mike's magnanimous douchebaggery (though
Carlin does his best not to paint Love in a negative light, Love's quotes more
than do that trick all on their own).

Catch a Wave also fails to jump at the opportunity to focus on Brian's
life in the 80s and 90s. Other than the dissolution between himself and the
Beach Boys and the evil psychiatric business practices of Eugene Landy, very
little information and insight is given into Brian Wilson's blossoming solo
career and renewed artistic freedom. When Carlin does decide to write about
Brian's solo work and collaborations, he glosses over Imagination,
Getting' In Over My Head
, and Orange Crate Art (Wilson's first work
with Van Dyke Parks since the original sessions for Smile). Carlin
chooses to focus too many words on dissecting the work of the Beach Boys, even
while Brian's presence in the band is nothing more than a name and constant
rejection. It's a pleasure to read about the increasing influence of Dennis and
Carl Wilson as Brian fights his own demons and avoids the Beach Boys plight
during most of the 70s, but the beauty of "Forever" or the slapdash of the Carl
and the Passions album have little to do with Brian other than his noticeable
absence and influence. Carlin continues to bury Brian's story — the focus of the
book — to chase the stories of the Beach Boys. Using the history of the band to
prop the woes in Brian's life would be fantastic as long as the storytelling
didn't neglect Brian so much.

If you've never read a piece of literature pertaining to the rise and fall of
the Beach Boys, I couldn't recommend a better primer than Catch a Wave. It's
insightful, clever, fair-minded, and focused on giving as much pocket history as
possible. But the book fails to capture its true subject. Aside from the Wilson
family history pre-dating the Beach Boys (and the births of Brian, Dennis and
Carl) and Carlin's undying focus on Smile's original sessions and Brian's
eventual completion of the album sans Beach Boys, there's a large hole where
Brian's story should be. Hell, Mike Love and John Stamos' bastardized
mini-series painted Brian's '70s and '80s in a clearer light than Carlin's
Catch a Wave
. It's impossible to get into the head of Brian Wilson during
those eras, especially since those days will always haunt Brian in a way most
will never comprehend, but to graze over Brian's renewed artistic enthusiasm as
well as his work away from the Beach Boys during the '90s is shameful. It's easy
to focus on the early surf and car hits, Pet Sounds- and Smile-era
Brian, but the challenge in presenting a book full of information so readily
available to anyone who spends the littlest energy searching for it is to give a
new and unique perspective into territories never explored. I can't trash
Carlin's writing style — it's refreshing and conversational, making Catch a
Wave
a quick and enjoyable read; I can't bury Carlin's interest in the Beach
Boys recording legacy during the Brian-less years — every album is dissected to
the smallest detail. The only strike, but it's a big one, is that a book so
enthralled with covering Brian Wilson's sad saga deals with its subject on such
a miniscule scale. Carlin loses focus of his central theme, turning a book with
promise into just another Beach Boys chronicle.