How must it feel to be relegated to the role of supporting player in your own biography? Indeed, throughout Kent Crowley’s Long Promised Road: Carl Wilson, Soul of the Beach Boys – The Biography, Carl only crops up occasionally and these instances offer little more insight than the type of guitar he favored at the time. “Carl always took immaculate care of his guitars…[and] would carefully wipe down his guitars’ strings and finish after each performance,” is about as insightful as Crowley gets about the youngest Wilson.

Instead, he focuses primarily on the contentious dynamic between Murry Wilson (his father) and Brian Wilson, the rise of the Beach Boys and an overview of the southern California music scene. It’s a scattershot approach that finds Crowley repeating himself, varying sentences only slightly and making overbroad proclamations and generalizations with regard to the significance of certain events (generally revolving around a guitar change).

In fact, the myriad guitars used by the Beach Boys and their session and touring musicians tend to get more attention than the human characters in the story. Crowley, himself a musician, often comes across as more enamored of the gear available at the time than those utilizing it. It’s an odd approach to a biographical narrative, one in which the writer seems to have abandoned the notion of a larger work and, given the dearth of books on the youngest Beach Boy, elected to slap his name on the title and make sure it cropped up every few pages or so to justify the title.

If this weren’t enough to make Long Promised Road one of the more confusing musical “biographies,” Crowley’s writing proves a hindrance. Interspersed among the short, often redundant sentences he seems to favor are words clearly gleaned from the thesaurus option on his word processor. These words sprinkled throughout often seem out of left field. In the book’s primarily simplistic text, they stick out as the sore thumbs. Coupled with multiple tangents and asides that rarely end up relating back to the overarching narrative, it makes for a frustrating read.

While a thorough examination of Carl Wilson would’ve been a welcome addition to the Beach Boy’s biographical canon, his brothers having been heavily documented elsewhere, Crowley’s text simply misses the mark, spending more time chronicling the band’s rise and fall than providing any sort of biographical details concerning Wilson. In terms of the information regarding the musical sphere in which the Beach Boys operated, it’s a mildly pleasant read, though the focus tends to be on material better covered elsewhere.

Throughout, citations and references to other publications causes the reader to believe that Crowley conducted no primary source interviews of any kind in compiling the narrative. It feels as though Crowley relied more on the work of others, compiling disparate sources and archival interviews with those who were there to create what essentially amounts to little more than an over-long, overly redundant research paper. In fairness, however, his thorough list of citations and source material does indicate several primary source interviews, though none with any of the narrative’s primary players.

When Crowley steps out of the studio or off the concert stage to take stock of where the band was in their growth and interpersonal development, Carl’s personal life remains on the periphery. Wives, ex-wives and children are mentioned in passing without a second thought. So focused is Crowley on the music and band, it comes at the expense of those creating the music of which he is clearly enamored. Calling this a biography of Carl Wilson is a complete misnomer. If anything, it’s a cursory overview of one of the most popular American bands of all time in which the purported protagonist, who constantly found himself operating within the shadow of his brothers and band mates, continues to do just that.

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One Comment

  1. T. Kinks Heiss

    February 5, 2018 at 3:40 pm

    I agree 100% on your review of this book. A very misleading title. I have seen the Real Beach Boys close to 30 times. I’ve read a few other bios of Brian Wilson and was really looking forward to this book. The best part of the book was the Introduction and after it goes down hill fast. I wish I would have seen this review before buying the book. I’d like to contact this so called author and ask for my money back. I scoured the internet but have not found a way to contact him.
    Thanks for your honest review of this book.


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