For more than half a century the Beach Boys have reigned as America’s ebullient surf music kings. Their four-part harmonies evoke the sounds of an eternal summer with classic hits including California Girls, Surfin’ USA, I Get Around and Help Me, Rhonda.
But lead singer Mike Love, in his new memoir Good Vibrations, reveals a band often at war, torn by booze, drugs and betrayal, their musical genius tormented by madness – and members haunted by the homicidal Manson family. “There were dark times and questionable behaviour,” Love tells the Daily Express with heavy understatement.
“But being a Beach Boy was something special. For all the strife and turmoil the music has bonded us together.” Yet good vibrations were often hard to find in the band, which comprised brothers Brian, Dennis and Carl Wilson, their cousin Mike Love and schoolmate Al Jardine.
Brian was the band’s musical mastermind and Love wrote the lyrics to many of their greatest hits but LSD use unleashed Brian’s inner demons. “When Brian went off the deep end it was like losing my best friend,” says Love. “Brian’s confidence waned, the paranoia set in and the unravelling began.”
Brian confesses: “It ruined me… caused permanent damage. I’d take some psychedelic drugs and then about a week after that I started hearing voices… all day, every day – and I can’t get them out. Every few minutes the voices say something derogatory to me.” The voices haunt him still but in the 1960s he sought respite by diving deeper into drugs.
Love explains: “Doctors would diagnose Brian with a variety of mental illnesses, including depression, paranoid schizophrenia, auditory hallucinations and organic personality disorder.” His weight ballooned to over 21 stone and his behaviour became increasingly erratic.
He trucked eight tons of sand into his living room “allowing Brian to feel as if he were writing music at the beach which was strange because Brian didn’t like the beach”, says Love. He drained his pool so they could sing at the bottom.
Dennis Wilson was also lured into drugs and forged a dangerous friendship with future massmurdering cult leader Charles Manson. “Manson’s blending of psychedelics, sexual servants, rock music and new-age rhetoric was too much for Dennis to resist,” says Love. Dennis had picked up two female hitchhikers who turned out to be part of the Manson “family”.
“Dennis’ appetite for sex was insatiable,” says Love. “Too much was never enough.” The girls moved into Dennis’ mansion in 1968, bringing Charles Manson with them, using the Beach Boy’s credit cards, taking his clothes, eating his food, even driving his Mercedes.
A convicted armed robber and car thief, Manson was also an aspiring rock star. He wrote songs with Dennis and even had one recorded by the Beach Boys. Love recalls a dinner where Manson introduced his female followers – all naked. “He started passing out LSD tabs and orchestrating sex partners. I love the female form but this was too much even for me.”
Love went to take a shower and in with him stepped Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme who was later jailed for attempting to shoot president Gerald Ford. Love is still “horrified” that he allowed Manson follower Susan Atkins to babysit his children, weeks before she stabbed pregnant actress Sharon Tate to death and wrote “PIG” in Tate’s blood on her front door.
Too much was never enough
Valium, cocaine and alcohol were found in his blood. “I felt sadness but not surprise,” says Love. Carl died of lung cancer in 1998, aged 51. Brian also fell under the spell of Svengali-like therapist Dr Eugene Landy, who cut the musician off from family and friends, controlled his fortune and became his manager. A lawsuit by the band exposed Landy, who “left him in worse shape than when he found him”, says Love.
Yet Landy was just another dominating father-figure for Brian. When the Beach Boys formed in 1961 they were under the sadistic thumb of their manager, family patriarch Murry Wilson, a frustrated musician who regularly beat his sons. Murry forbade drugs and alcohol, fined the boys $200 for swearing, imposed curfews, produced their records and controlled their money, says Love.
After three abusive years the band fired Murry as manager. Brian took over as producer but proved a harsh taskmaster. Love admits: “I named Brian ‘the Stalin of the studio’.” Love wrote the lyrics for Good Vibrations in the 20 minutes it took him to drive to the recording studio but the song took 22 recording sessions for perfectionist Brian.
“At the time it was certainly the most expensive single ever produced,” says Love. Though Love co-wrote more than half the Beach Boys songs he received credit on barely a handful, despite Brian’s repeated promises to correct the mistake. “It cost me millions of dollars in lost royalties,” says Love. “It was a tragedy.” He sued in 1992 and under oath Brian admitted that Love was his frequent writing partner.
Love could have been awarded up to $342million in damages but settled for just $5million from Brian. “Before the trial I was receiving about $75,000 a year in songwriter royalties. After the trial the amount jumped to over $1million a year.” Amid the group’s debauchery Love found peace studying transcendental meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, travelling to his ashram in India where he found himself alongside The Beatles, Donovan and Mia Farrow.
Love and Brian remained friends despite their lawsuits and even performed together for the Beach Boys’ 50th anniversary tour in 2011. But after a falling out Love hasn’t seen him since and admits: “I don’t know if Brian and I will ever play together in another concert or share a meal together or even have a conversation.”
Love laments their estrangement, saying: “If Brian and I could just be left alone in a room with a piano that would be great – but others always intervene. Could we get together again? I never say never. I miss him.” Yet a revamped Beach Boys continue to thrive without Brian.
Love says: “The band has never been in greater demand – for each invitation we accept we turn down two to three.” Last year the band played 175 concerts in eight countries, including two sold-out shows at London’s Royal Albert Hall. Their music catalogue today is worth about £76million. And Love isn’t ready to quit yet.
Though he’s 75 with four grandchildren he says: “The music itself never gets old.”
• To pre-order Good Vibrations, by Mike Love (published September 15 by Faber & Faber, £20) call the Express Bookshop with card details on 01872 562310. Or send a cheque made out to Express Bookshop to Mike Love Offer, PO Box 200, Falmouth, Cornwall TR11 4WJ or visit expressbookshop.com UK delivery is free.