‘The Beach Boys’ documentary is Mike Love propaganda

The Beach Boys’ immortal “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” tells of a fantasy of adult happiness imagined by two young lovers, a wholesome waking dream of an unsupervised and unmediated union; the word “you” appears nowhere in the lyrics, “I” is only used once and everything else is pure “we”, as dictated in unison despite the overlapping vocal parts in a complex way. The song takes a child’s perspective on adulthood, naive enough to see cohabitation as a never-ending sleepover rather than a delicate but rewarding program of negotiations and compromise. It’s the sound of the past projecting its idealized innocence onto the future, a curious conversation from the final scene of the new Disney+ documentary. The beach boys. Directors Frank Marshall and Thom Zimny ​​bring together the members of the seminal pop group for a staged mini-reunion set on the kind of Cali shoreline they sang about, and while we can’t hear what they’re saying, we We can see their mouths moving. They don’t seem offended by each other’s presence. Digitization would be perfect: Wouldn’t it be nice if we were younger, back when we could still get along?

This tableau of camaraderie adds a happy ending to a rosy tale of the turbulent history of America’s biggest band, summarized here as a rise, fall and rise again as they evolve from surfing prodigies to orchestral boundary pushers to ‘to a kitsch novelty. act and finally to the Deans Emeritus on their 50th anniversary reunion tour. The usual mix of talking head interviews and archival footage looks like any other nostalgia doc and suggests a simple, boilerplate enumeration of key points. What appears to be the basic synopsis of a well-covered musical saga, however, betrays a more pernicious trend in its omissions, more subtle emphases and selective framing. Although the telling of this story deliberately downplays the internecine tensions that could spell the Beach Boys’ undoing, its arrangement nonetheless channels and reignites conflicts that have left some members with obviously latent, if unspoken, resentments. To put it bluntly, this is Mike Love propaganda.

“To put it bluntly, this is Mike Love propaganda.”

The faithful know the story as well as the lyrics of “God Only Knows”: the Wilson brothers, Dennis, Carl and Brian, formed a quasi-family group with their cousin Love and their friend Al Jardine, their honeyed tinkling sound and their beauty sandy SoCal captured. In the youth zeitgeist of the early ’60s, they took a creative leap forward with complex compositions that earned the envy of the Beatles, an era of glory that ended with the leader’s psychological crisis orchestra Brian. As he descended into agoraphobia compounded by the malignant influence of therapist Eugene Landy, a zombie Beach Boys touring company continued on under the leadership of Love, who would portray himself as a traitor to fans by filing a lawsuit against Brian in 1977. 1992 for credit on songs he claimed to have co-written. (He didn’t help his reputation by illustrating his blithely vapid song to the deeply terrible “Kokomo” for the film’s soundtrack. Cocktail around the same time.) Always avoiding confrontation, Brian claimed on numerous occasions that everyone was copacetic, but their later years were marred by frequent infighting and ugly legal battles.

(L to R) Al Jardine, Mike Love, Dennis Wilson, Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson. around 1964. Photo: Disney

This tragic arc gives additional meaning to the music, its fragility and sensitivity made all the more poignant by knowing the extent to which the idyll of its creation would be shattered. In The beach boys, this downward turn lasts about twenty seconds, accompanied by a sound clip of Love muttering about having no other choice after the real villain, the Wilsons’ tyrannical and abusive father Murry, sold the rights to the group’s catalog without their consent. The extent of the harm Murry inflicts is not overstated, and yet he makes for a more convenient antagonist in the film’s reassessment of Brian and Love’s respective roles, both in the creative process and in the group’s success.

The narration identifies the initial seed of the Beach Boys in the four-part harmonies they sang as youngsters from the backseat of the family car, an early example of the film’s insistent emphasis on the collective effort between equal collaborators. The lion’s share of the running time is upbeat albums about babies and boards, construction gems belied by fluffy lyrics and cheesy matching outfits. This ditty register being closer to Love’s strong point, he manages to position himself as the brains of the outfit in the style of Brian, the joyful yin essential to his melancholic yang. (In the recurring parallels drawn between the Beach Boys and their friendly rivals the Beatles, Love is meant to be the Paul to Brian’s John.) Until the final moments, additional commentators like Janelle Monae and Lindsey Buckingham – who knows inside the ox group! — expressing admiration for the smoothness of the synthesis, the immaculate blend that resulted in a magnificent combination greater than the sum of its parts.

This revanchist effort to elevate the other band members would not be so reprehensible if not for its flip side of mild defamation against Brian, vilified here as a rich egoist whose self-styled “genius” was in any case, it wasn’t. is just a market construct) which has in fact dampened the brilliance of all the others. It is true that Brian has been overly mythologized by romantic-minded devotees, the belief that he was driven mad by the unbearable weight of his immense talent, dramatically arresting if irrelevant. But the doctor’s chair diagnoses confuse the chicken and the egg: Love presents Brian as a homebody devoid of his penchant for drugs, forgetting the fact that Brian only took the acid trips as a respite from the extreme anxiety and incipient schizophrenia that filled him with fear. for the world. His clarity of vision that required dozens of studio takes is transformed into a deceptive authority, his eventual need to pursue his muses alone a betrayal of their team. Meanwhile, Love strategically distances himself from the darker parts of the Beach Boys’ journey, making sure to mention that he I never hung out with Charlie Manson or became friends with Phil Spector.

This orientation is never more obvious than in the treatment of the gaze of Animal sounds, the crowning achievement of this group in particular and of Western music in general during the second half of the 20th century. The expected testimonies from high-level luminaries repeating such hyperbole never come, with transcendent vulnerability and immaculate orchestration seemingly considered matters of opinion. (Most telling is that the oft-repeated line about tracking “Good Vibrations” as Brian’s “pocket symphony for God” remains unspoken. Maybe some people are tired of hearing it.) The main ones things we learn about one of the greatest albums of all time. The facts are 1. that it’s really depressing, and 2. that it was a financial failure, nowhere near the depth of analysis or level of appreciation enjoyed by the sunnier early works. Love and Jardine both wrinkle their noses at the experimentation that came into full swing with the unfinished. Smile, which included a song about vegetables, for crying out loud. But this incurious skepticism of Brian’s stranger impulses, blamed as another factor in their decline, creates telling hypocrisies as the timeline reaches its Squaresville self-parody phase. Did they fall because Brian’s non-commercial self-indulgence ventured where no one could follow, or because tastes were changing and they were stuck in a hidden mode?

World premiere of
(L-R) Al Jardine, David Marks, Frank Marshall, Brian Wilson, Blondie Chaplin, Mike Love and Bruce Johnston attend the world premiere of Disney+ documentary “The Beach Boys” at TCL Chinese Theater in Hollywood, California on January 21 May 2024. Photo: Getty Images for Disney

At the documentary’s premiere at the TCL Chinese Theater in Los Angeles last month, where Love, Jardine and a few short-lived members were on hand to answer questions, Brian made a rare public appearance as a secret special guest – his first since he was mentally declared. incapacitated by a court and placed under guardianship in February. Brian, perhaps aware of where he is and what is happening but certainly aware that he is surrounded by people cheering, conjures up a faint half-smile before returning to his default expression of haunted emptiness . Calling it “elder abuse” would be flippant and perhaps inaccurate, but this demonstration brought the fundamental imbalance in the film into play right in front of our faces, showing that Love has the ability to speak for himself and that Brian doesn’t. . The friendly meeting that closes the film takes on a gruesome, exploitative quality in that, between the lines, there is a more capable man taking advantage of a vulnerable man to sharpen his axes. If the history books are truly written by the victors, then it would seem that in life, the victor is the last one with the presence of mind to hold a power of attorney.

Charles Bramesco (@intothecrevasse) is a film and television critic living in Brooklyn. In addition to Decider, his work has also appeared in the New York Times, the Guardian, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, Newsweek, Nylon, Vulture, The AV Club, Vox, and many other semi-reputable publications. His favorite movie is Boogie Nights.

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