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NONFICTION : HEROES AND VILLAINS: THE TRUE STORY OF THE BEACH BOYS by Steven Gaines (New American Library: $17.95; 374 pp., black-and-white photographs).

December 28, 1986|Don Waller

Five Hawthorne teen-agers who sang of surfing, hot rods and the California promise, the Beach Boys racked up more than a dozen hits between 1962 and 1966, after which the group began a long slow slide into drugs, financial mismanagement, artistic burnout and death. Drawing equally upon a vast number of interviews with most of the principals and a 1978 work by David Leaf, author Steven Gaines chronicles the dissolution of the three Wilson brothers (Brian, Carl and the late Dennis), cousin Mike Love and high school buddy Al Jardine in typical sin-sational show-biz style, making no effort to place the tale in a wider social context.

Unfortunately, Gaines' concern for documenting the group's rather well-known excesses comes at the expense of the Beach Boys' music--much of which remains deservedly popular today--as evidenced by the volume's lack not only of a discography but also any meaningful, original or even critical insight into the only reason anyone cares about these people in the first place.

Instead, Gaines chooses to inform his readers that families are capable of inflicting untold horrors upon one another, that the mantle of genius may turn out to be a crown of thorns, that too much freedom can be hazardous to one's health and that, in general, rock 'n' roll stardom is a fate you wouldn't wish upon your worst enemy. Gaines' purpose may be venial, but at least most of the time he gets his facts straight. (The proper names of several incidentals are misspelled throughout.) And leave it to an East Coaster to miss the joy in all this unconcealed revelry. Surf's up, Steve-o!

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