God Only Knows: The Story of Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys and the California Myth
by David Leaf
published by Omnibus Press
June 23rd, 2022
"There's a continuum that goes: George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Richard Rogers, Burt Bacharach... Brian Wilson"
Elvis Costello - 'Beautiful Dreamer: Brian Wilson and the Story of SMiLE' (2004).
It now feels a little absurd that there may have been a time when this wasn't a widely held belief, that there was a period when Brian Wilson was not recognised as one of the most significant and influential artists of the last century.
When David Leaf released the first edition of 'God Only Knows: The Story of Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys and the California Myth' in 1978, the Beach Boys seemed a long way from their 60s heyday and, furthermore, Wilson was no longer their commanding force. We know the story now, we know that trying to make 'SMiLE' in 66-67 took its toll on him, how the project was abandoned and how he drifted for so very long.
What Leaf's book managed to do was take an intimate look at Wilson’s rollercoaster life and career as told through the eyes of those who were present at some of the Beach Boys most legendary productions including Pet Sounds, Good Vibrations, and the aforementioned SMiLE. Leaf's book may have been the key to our renewed understanding of the genius (I'm not going to use a lesser term), of Brian Wilson.
Leaf has been an ongoing chronicler of Wilson and it was his 'Beautiful Dreamer' documentary in 2004 on SMiLE that Wilson acknowledged as a major help in his decision to complete his own version of the long-lost album. To hear Brian complete and perform 'SMiLE' still amazes me. Look at fans in the 'Beautiful Dreamer' documentary who had traveled across the globe to see him premier it at the Royal Festival Hall and see how life altering it felt for them.
Explaining his decision to update 'God Only Knows...' David Leaf explained:
“When I wrote the original I was ...on a mission to uncover the truth about Brian Wilson’s life. In the wake of the publication, I became Brian’s friend and ultimately his partner on numerous landmark projects..."
“...What makes this book unique is that it’s the only one written by somebody who began writing about Brian as an ‘outsider’ and who is now an ‘insider'"
Thanks to this painstakingly updated edition, we are able to celebrate Wilson's 'creative renaissance' in eight of the new chapters that have been added to the book. This book is a labour of love and an absolute must!
God Only Knows: The Story of Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys and the California Myth by David Leaf is published by Omnibus Press on 23rd June. Preorder from the Bear Bookshop HERE
Jay Lewis is a Birmingham based music, movie and arts obsessive. Jay's encyclopedic knowledge of 80s/90s Arts films is a debt to his embedded status in the Triangle Arts Centre trenches back then.
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