This blog was originally published 01/01/2013 in the Viewpoint.
This week I was reminded of something I knew but that you always have to be vigilant about. That something is that you can't believe everything you hear, read or see. No source is totally accurate. Not newspapers, radio, TV, Internet, movies, books, friends, email or gossip can be totally trusted nor totally dismissed. You have to check stuff. You should first give it a brain check. Does it even make sense? Even if it does, find another source or two to verify or debunk the information.
Why am I bringing this up now? It is because I just read a book that I found was mostly a fabrication. During the holidays I've been reading biographies. I've read about Willie Mays, Jay Leno, Paul Shaffer, Ed McMahon and Brian Wilson. Baseball, late night TV and music are three of my favorite subjects. Willie was and still is my favorite baseball player, Ed McMahon was the sidekick of the best ever late night TV host (Johnny Carson), Jay Leno inherited the the Tonight Show from Johnny (a terrible mistake), Paul Shaffer is band leader and sidekick for David Letterman on The Late Show and Brian Wilson was the founder and creative force of the Beach Boys. His were the songs of my youth. So you see, I had a good reason to read all those books. With the exception of the Mays and Shaffer books, the others are 10 or 20 years old. There's a reason for that. I frequently shop at a place called Half Price Books. It's mostly a used book store that sells a few new books plus used magazines, CDs, DVDs, VHS tapes and vinyl records. In other words, it is a great place. The Mays biography is “authorized” but not co-written. The other three are supposedly autobiographies but have co-writers too.
I've read several articles and books about Willie Mays and Johnny Carson. I also was around when they were still plying their trade so I have some first hand knowledge of their greatness. I grew up in the 60's in Florida so of course I know about Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys. If I'm not busy I usually watch Letterman. I never was a Jay Leno fan and his autobiography confirmed why. To me, he's not funny or interesting.
Nowadays the biggest source for both information and misinformation is the Internet. TV runs a close second with the competition to be first with the information among the numerous news and fake news outlets. If I see a friend on Facebook or email spreading a myth or falsehood, I'll point it out. I hope to do it tactfully but I'm sure I fail sometimes. I'm pretty sure I'll continue to do that and I hope my friends will correct any misinformation I disseminate.
One of my signals to check a story is when it contains a bunch of superlative adjectives and adverbs. When there are many biggest, most, worst, least, first, last, lowest, fastest, greatest type words in the story, my radar lights up. This may surprise you, but some things are just average. They are not the most or least, biggest or smallest, best or worst. Other clues are when what looks like a huge story comes my way via an email or FB post but failed to show up in the newspaper or TV news. I know the established media is not completely objective and they miss, delay or suppress some stories but if it's really big and important someone will report it. Check the date of the original source too. I've seen chain emails that portend to be current cutting edge but contain information that is years old and has been debunked multiple times.
Based on my experience and knowledge I think the Willie, Ed, Paul and Jay books are relatively true. I'm sure some incidents are embellished and some suppressed. If you write a book or a blog, you get to express your viewpoint, emphasize the positive, and reduce the negative. Conversely, the Brian Wilson book appears to be a complete fabrication. Too bad, I would like to know the story of one of our true musical geniuses. One who came to prominence when I was a teen surfer in Florida. Everyone I hung out with was a Beach Boys fan. We had the surfer bangs (now impossible for me), surf boards, baggy shorts and absolutely no woodies (the cars, not the ones in our pants).
Here's the deal. I read all 390 pages of “Wouldn't It Be Nice, My Own Story” by Brian Wilson with Todd Gold. I have read and heard a million stories about the Beach Boys over the years. I've seen them perform live over a half dozen times. I read stuff about them as it was happening. Now, years later I found this book at a used book store. After sitting on my shelf for a few months, it percolated to the top of the stack this month.
It's a tough book to read for those that remember the fun music of the Beach Boys. From 1962 until 1966 there was no bigger musical group. Between '62 and '65 they produced 10 albums. Then Brian Wilson burned out and went nuts. Drugs, sex and rock & roll took over. So, here's the review.
The book “Wouldn't It Be Nice” was published in 1991. It was pawned off as an autobiography by Brian Wilson. The first half is a review of his life and the Beach Boys from the early '60s through the early '70s. Brian is an amazing musical force who produced a whole new sound that some of us grew up with. He also had a tough childhood with an impossible father. The second half of the book became a tribute to his psychologist, Dr. Eugene Landy. I knew Brian was a mess and I knew about Dr. Landy. As I read the book, I wondered about several things. I wondered why nobody called a lawyer when it seemed appropriate. I wondered why Dr. Landy gave up his license to practice rather than fight the charges. The book said it was because Brian was too fragile to testify on Landy's behalf. I wondered why everyone who was related or close to Brian hated Dr. Landy. Why they chose to go to court to extricate Landy from Brian's life. Still, it was an alleged autobiography by Brian. When I finished reading it, Brian was cured and Dr. Landry was a saint. Carl Wilson (his brother), Mike Love (his cousin) and Al Jardine (original Beach Boy) were demons. His ex-wife and children were either glossed over, ignored or also in the enemy camp. The next time the litigation got going, Landy again acquiesced and disappeared.
It seems Dr. Landy might have been a charlatan.
I don't often question books like I do newspapers, TV or Internet stuff. This time I did because the book was so one-sided and didn't jibe with my memory. I also thought that the recent 50thanniversary reunion of the Beach Boys could not possibly have happened if the book was true. There was just too much bad blood among the Beach Boy members. After I finished reading the book, I did some research. It turns out that the book was a PR publication by Dr. Landy. The book was copyrighted by Brains and Genius, a company owned by Landy and Wilson, not by the purported author, Brian Wilson.
One statement I found in my research:
Landy's depiction in glowing terms in the second half of Wilson's autobiography Wouldn't It Be Nice: My Own Story, published that year, would, were it a legitimate autobiography, indicate Wilson's approval of his methods; in an unrelated court case, however, Wilson testified that he had never even read the final draft of the manuscript, much less written any of it.
While reading, I did wonder how a stoned Brian could remember some of the facts in the book. I also wondered how some of the doctor/patient stuff could be published. I think all the Wilson stuff published was revealed in supposedly private sessions.
I don't doubt that Landy helped Brian. For the money he charged and full control, most anybody could have helped. Brian was a mess. He needed intervention. Landy charged $35,000 a month plus expenses.
So the point is be cautious. There is lots of flotsam and jetsam out there. Believe what you want but maybe verify first. It's tempting to pick up stray Internet stuff to support your position. It's even more important to verify stuff you agree with. Anybody with a keyboard and an Internet connection can post stuff as “fact”. Some of it might even be true.
BTW, I'm still a Willie Mays and Brian Wilson fan. I always will be. They are far from perfect, but so am I. They both rose to the pinnacle of their chosen field at a time I was an impressionable youth.
Be careful, be vigilant and try not to spread false info. You never know where the BS will come from. Every word in this blog post is accurate and absolutely true, I swear.