Beach Boys’ Mike Love still feeling ‘Good Vibrations’ despite rough surf

BY MIKE COTE
NEW HAMPSHIRE UNION LEADER |November 2, 2016 

Create a Beach Boys-themed station on Pandora and the first song to stream likely will come from “Endless Summer,” the 1974 compilation of the band’s Capitol recordings that became an instant best-seller at a time when the Beach Boys were drifting apart and putting out records that didn’t sell.

Songs like “I Get Around,” “Surfin’ Safari” and “California Girls” — packaged in a psychedelic cartoon cover with band members sporting beards — struck a nerve with teens in the years following the social upheaval of the late ‘60s.

“The music was discovered by an entire new generation,” singer Mike Love recalls. “The thing about the Beach Boys is that the songs are 95 percent positive.”

Love looks at it as just one of the cyclical resurgences that have happened for a band that has sustained a career that spans more than 50 years, just like the one that happened in 1988 when “Kokomo,” a song he co-wrote, earned the Beach Boys their first No. 1 hit in 22 years.

Love brings the current version of the Beach Boys to the Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord on Saturday. Love says to expect a show that puts the spotlight on the band’s hits, the kind of show he’s championed since gaining the exclusive rights to tour as the Beach Boys, while fellow founding member Brian Wilson tours under his own name.

“We love to come to New Hampshire and usually play at the (Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom), which always sells out,” Love said from his home in Lake Tahoe. “But we love to play theaters. We like to do ‘evening with’ shows, where we come out for an hour, take a 20-minute break and come back for another hour.”

The tour celebrates the 50th anniversary of the song “Good Vibrations,” a song Love co-wrote with Wilson. It’s also the name of Love’s new autobiography, subtitled “My Life as a Beach Boy.”

During a 45-minute conversation last week, Love talked at length about some of the episodes in the book, which explores dark themes that have long haunted the Beach Boys. The tales of excess included heavy drug use among the band members and incidents connected to convicted serial murderer Charles Manson and his gang — one of them once babysat Love’s children without him knowing. Not the sunny image fans connect with the Beach Boys.

Among the hardest memories for Love to revisit was the death of Beach Boys guitarist Carl Wilson, who died of cancer in 1996. Wilson was the lead singer on brother Brian Wilson’s song, “God Only Knows,” a highlight of the band’s most famous album “Pet Sounds.”

“I remember the last time Carl played with the band. He was suffering from lung cancer and was in a wheelchair,” Love said. “It was heartbreaking.”

Love has long had a reputation of being combative with the remaining Beach Boys, with whom he’s been engaged in legal battles for years, primarily for the song-writing credits he was initially denied on many of the band’s songs, including some of its biggest hits.

Spend some time talking with him, though, and you get a much different perspective. Love has been meditating since the late ‘60s and projects an aura, even over a long-distance call, of someone with an inner calm.

In 1967, Love met Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Paris and agreed to travel to India the following year to study with him, not knowing he would be joining an entourage that included actress Mia Farrow, Donovan and all four members of the Beach Boys’ most famous rivals.

“I arrive and there were John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr,” Love said.

Among the Beatles, Harrison was the only one who became deeply spiritual after the episode in India. Love paid tribute to him in 2014 by recording “Pisces Brothers,” a song inspired by the trip and one he is performing during the current Beach Boys tour.

Meditation has been a large part of Love’s life and anchors his outlook.

“It makes you wonder how great the world would be if everyone practiced transcendental meditation,” said Love, who meditates daily.

While Love talks about some of the episodes that fueled the book, he describes them with the calm of someone who has a seriousness of purpose but doesn’t sound angry, which is surprising considering how many times he has filed lawsuits to right the wrongs he believes he has suffered, including at the hands of his uncle, Murray Wilson, father to Brian, Carl and Beach Boys drummer Dennis (who drowned in 1983.)

In the late ’60s, Murray Wilson engineered the sale of the band’s song publishing for $700,000 — a catalog that was reportedly worth $30 million several years later. At the time, the Wilson brothers were all battling their demons, especially Brian, who suffered from mental illness blamed in large part on drug use. The band’s commercial fortunes were in decline.

“I think (Murray) saw this as the last chance,” Love said.

Despite the legal entanglements, Love reunited in 2012 with Wilson and fellow founding members Al Jardine and David Marks as well as long-time member Bruce Johnston (who regularly tours with Love).

The 50th reunion tour included a well-received album, “That’s Why God Made the Radio,” and a high-profile tour. But after it ended, Love chose to revert to the version of the Beach Boys he’s been leading for years.

Love disputes the notion that he fired Wilson, Jardine and Marks. In his mind, he and the rest of the band members completed the contracted number of reunion shows. He said they were expensive to produce and that some of them didn’t break even, limiting what markets the Beach Boys could play.

While the reunited lineup played about 50 shows on that tour, Love’s version of the group hit a record last year for his tenure at the helm, playing 172 dates.

“We had said 175,” Love says, when reminded of the figure that appears on the band’s press materials. “But my wife reminded me that it was only 172.”

Endless summer indeed.

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  1. Do It Again Mike Love w/Mark McGrath & John Stamos 2:46
  2. Good Vibrations The Beach Boys 3:39
  3. Golden Medley The Beach Boys 3:09