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1974: On the Road With The Beach Boys

MFM Productions, 2011
Starring: Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Al Jardine, Mike Love, Blondie Chaplin, and Ricky Fataar
Directed by: Billy Hinsche

The plot: In 1974, The Beach Boys were at a low ebb. In the seven years after “Pet Sounds,” Brian Wilson went from certified genius to morbidly obese, drunk, drugged out and unwilling to leave his huge bed in Bel Air. Their record sales bottoming out and desperate for income, The Beach Boys hit the road. Family friend and musician Billy Hinsche (of the ’60s singing group Billy, Dino and Desi) conned UCLA into letting him film a documentary about the tour on grainy, black-and-white videotape with a cumbersome Camcorder for his master’s thesis. The result is a fascinating time capsule that had been buried for 37 years.

Why it’s good: After peaking with phenomenal popularity, The Beach Boys never expected to be asked to leave the party. But they passed on headlining Monterey Pop, Brian Wilson was useless, they were saddled with a messy acquaintanceship with Charles Manson, and released a trickle of mundane albums. By 1972, the band was washed up. They played high school auditoriums and struggled to sell tickets. At the same time, their desperation resulted in other band members stepping up as composers, resulting in some truly marvelous songs. Their early ’70s LPs “Surf’s Up” and “Holland” were high water marks, and they took this body of work on the road with Ricky Fataar on drums and Blondie Chaplin on bass and showed whoever cared to notice what an excellent act they were. The ’72 and ’73 tours resulted in a wonderful double-LP, “The Beach Boys in Concert.” James Guercio paired them with Chicago for a tour, including a gig at Carnegie Hall. They performed with the Grateful Dead. Nobody cared. Hinsche’s slipshod, amateurish film shows them dealing with the indignity of transitioning from stars to has-beens, creating beautiful music that nobody cared to hear.

The legacy: This is an elaborate, sloppy home movie, and why not? Dennis and Carl Wilson are seen in truculent conversation with their road manager when they haven’t got a pot to piss in. A bearded, eccentric Mike Love eats a banana while his nemesis Dennis commandeers the camera and insists he go on record about how much he hates their inspired but pathological manager, Jack Rieley. Love is bemused and amusing. What comes through is a group of still young men doing the best they can in a bad situation. There’s something heroic about the proceedings, a stoic dignity that all ended soon after: Capitol Records re-issued the band’s earlier hits in a double LP, “Endless Summer,” in the spring of 1975, and it went double-platinum. The next year, they were upstaging Elton John for 100,000 fans at Wembley Stadium. Money rolled in again, they pulled Brian out of bed to be an on-stage dancing bear, and all creative innovation came to a screeching, tragic halt. They became a money-making Vegas act and milked it dry, even through the deaths of brothers Dennis in 1983 (drowning drunk) and Carl in 1997 (lung cancer). Love and Wilson rallied one last time in 2012 for the exquisite LP “And That’s Why God Made the Radio” and its accompanying tour. Hinsche’s crude DVD is available on Amazon.