Composing the book you’ve always wanted to read is probably one of the better reasons to start a writing project, but not everyone has the ability to do the job right. I’m ashamed to admit I chuckled when I saw that the sole credit in James B Murphy’s author bio on the back of Becoming the Beach Boys, 1961-1963 was “veterinarian.” I shut up when I started reading his book. Murphy is a very good writer, and the book he always wanted to read was definitely worth writing.
The main goal of Becoming the Beach Boys is to examine the band’s earliest years to clear up the multitudinous misconceptions about that era. Murphy’s research is almost absurdly thorough. He lets no detail go un-checked. Brian Wilson claimed it was raining when The Beach Boys recorded “Surfer Girl”, so Murphy checked the local weather records to confirm that memory. The author goes to tremendous lengths to find out how the group’s long-lost first recordings were found and settle the circumstances behind the band’s first song, “Surfin’”. According to legend, Wilson patriarch Murry and matriarch Audree were on vacation in Europe when their sons used their food money to rent instruments to learn the song. Murphy consults period documents, such as Murry Wilson’s passport records, and utilizes his own powers of deduction to chisel out the most likely version of this oft-told tale.
Murphy’s work is particularly necessary since The Beach Boys story stars so many unreliable narrators intent on telling the most self-serving versions of the tale (Murry, for example) or suffering patchy memories (Brian). The relatively minor players fascinate Murphy too, so we get extended bios of the band’s associates and collaborators during this period. Admittedly, the information digging can get a bit excessive, and only serious Beach Boys scholars won’t skim Murphy’s minutia about the guys who started Candix records or serial numbers on record labels or the dimensions of the handbills used to promote concerts. Consequently, Becoming the Beach Boys is not always a fun read, but it is an important historical document through and through. James B. Murphy definitely possesses the attention to detail I want from the dude who’s either writing a book about my favorite American band or diagnosing why my cat keeps throwing up all over the place.
Get Becoming the Beach Boys, 1961-1963 on Amazon.com here: