Music journalist John Milward’s The Beach Boys: Silver Anniversary is a coffee table book full of glossy photos which outnumber the pages of large-font text. Notwithstanding this, or the fact that he offers up no new raw material, it’s in the upper echelon of Beach Boys books because he’s managed to string together all the familiar quotes and anecdotes from previous publications with artful, personally invested prose. The mid-80s were a significant checkpoint for the Beach Boys: they turned 25; they had a hit single (“Getcha Back”); they bounced back from Secretary of the Interior James Watts’s 1983 refusal to allow them to play a concert on the Washington DC Mall by returning triumphantly the following year with full support of both the public and the president (Watts ended up losing his job); and a couple of crucial books about the group saw publication – David Leaf’s heartfelt 1985 revision of his Beach Boys and the California Myth and Steven Gaines’s leering tell-all, Heroes and Villains. Milward’s book appropriately walks the middle ground between the two and the result is a highly accessible relic from this era, not only in terms of readability but also availability on library shelves.
This isn’t to say that Milward doesn’t let his own discomfort with elements of the Beach Boys’ then-current state of affairs show. This is evident in the book’s appendices, in which he insists on mapping out his discographical essays according to the jumbled availability of the group’s recordings circa 1985. Even less happily, Milward reveals himself as a Brian cultist who’s more or less given up hope. “The Beach Boys devotee is innocent by nature,” he writes, “and is glad to grab at straws while imagining the band’s return to full glory.” He passes my own personal Friends and Love You tests with flying colors simply because he gives them their due, but he does so in an unmistakably bummed out, straw-grabbing manner. Friends: “A wholly likable record that has aged remarkably well; the seed of its amiability, however, is that it had nothing to do with ambition.” Love You: “Fans of Brian heard their old friend, and if he wasn’t the aural sophisticate he once was, there was a chilling charm to these simple songs.” (Dare you to try playing any of these “simple songs” at the campfire, Mr. Milward.) And I do have to take issue with his understandably Brian-cultist decision to dismiss the Carl and the Passions and Holland albums altogether as “abysmal.” Perhaps most revealing of his discouraged outlook, though, is the picture he paints in the book’s final paragraph, an almost macabre fantasy scenario in which a creatively spent Brian reunites with dead father Murry among monuments to glorious musical achievements of his which, although never to be forgotten, have long since passed. Recommended all the same.
posted by Kim Simpson