There are already many books (and movies and magazine articles) about Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, all of them strangely incomplete – not just in the way that any biography of a still-living figure tends to be unfinished, but in a larger sense, as if the subject escaping from the writer. Wilson’s ghost-written but highly readable autobiography Wouldn’t It Be Nice?” suggested a newly revived hero – the subject is healthier than he’s ever been and, more importantly, is even recording again – but it’s now largely discredited due to the influence of the Svengali-like therapist Eugene Landy, who controlled Wilson’s every waking moment and even forcing himself as co-writer on his songs. Most other accounts seem to love sight of Wilson and the other band members somewhere around the 1976 “Brian is Back” campaign, summarizing the subsequent years through well known public events (lawsuits, etc. ) and chart all corporation selling nostalgia and the California dream to an increasingly complacent audience of Baby Boomers. With fewer traces of the original group remaining (Brian is the last surviving Wilson brother, Al Jardine left the group and tours with a Beach Boys cover-band called Family and Friends; the act currently performing as The Beach Boys has only one original member, Mike Love, along with frequent collaborator Bruce Johnston), Carlin has a better grasp of the business decisions and economic issues that have shaped most of their output in the last 30 years.
It’s not always a very pretty story, but Carlin is lucky to have come in when he did. With the release of “Smile”, the great mystery in the Brian Wilson story, the gap in every previous account, has been solved – and turns out to have been worth the wait. Though the composer is still obviously a very troubled man – see the excellent documentary “Beautiful Dreamer” for evidence – he has surprised many by becoming a successful live performer with a touring band which he regularly – and accurately – describes as far superior to his former co-players. After having been swallowed up by fame, fortune and his own musical legacy, Wilson has miraculously come out on top, giving Carlin’s book something that previous biographers would never have imagined: a happy ending.