TIDES OF TIME HAVE CHANGED THE BEACH BOYS, BUT THE BAND PLAYS ON
By Barry Gilbert
Of the Post-Dispatch
June 4, 2000
For fans, the current slate of Beach Boys bands on the road might be confusing.
But for Mike Love, it's all a matter of simple evolution.
"People are unrealistic if they assume things aren't going to change over 40 years' time," says Love, lead singer and co-founder of the Beach Boys.
"You have to accept things. There can be trauma and hurt and pain and all that, and then you have to accept it and move on."
And despite the sunny singles that made the Beach Boys "America's Band," there has been plenty of trauma, hurt and pain, from the emotional breakdown in the '60s of creative force Brian Wilson to the deaths of Brian's brothers -- drummer Dennis in 1983 and singer-guitarist Carl in 1998.
Carl Wilson was the glue that kept the often-battling members of the Beach Boys on track and on tour. After Wilson's death from cancer, the fifth original member, guitarist Al Jardine, left. Now, almost 40 years after "Surfin' " was a regional hit in California, three acts are on the road performing Beach Boys music, each with a founding member:
Brian Wilson, the musical genius behind the Beach Boys, has recovered from years of mental illness and dependence of various kinds and is appearing this summer with symphony orchestras, performing his masterwork "Pet Sounds." Wilson stopped touring regularly with the Beach Boys in 1965 and has recorded sporadically with the band since the early 1970s.
Al Jardine's Family and Friends Beach Band, so-called because Brother Records International, the corporate entity that is the Beach Boys, secured an injunction preventing Jardine from calling the band Beach Boys Family and Friends. The band includes Jardine's sons Matt and Adam, veterans of the Beach Boys tour band; Brian Wilson's daughters Carnie and Wendy, late of the group Wilson-Phillips; and Owen Elliott, daughter of the late "Mama" Cass Elliott.
And the official Beach Boys, sarcastically referred to by fans on the Internet as Mike Love's Beach Boys. With Love is Bruce Johnston, on keyboards and vocals. Johnston replaced Brian Wilson on tours in 1965, first sang on "California Girls" and, except for a five-year break in the '70s, has been a member ever since. During that break, Barry Manilow had a big hit with "I Write the Songs," which he didn't write; Johnston did. This is the band that will be at Riverport Amphitheatre Sunday.
Love, a cousin of the Wilsons, has heard it all before: It's not really the Beach Boys without Brian, or Carl, or now Al. It has been frustrating for Love. From the day Brian left the stage 35 years ago, each Beach Boys tour or album has been accompanied by the Brian questions: Will he tour? Did he write any songs? Is he on the album?
In the mid-'70s, Love even wrote a song called "Brian's Back" ("I never knew that he was gone") during a Brian's Back campaign orchestrated by Capitol Records. The song finally turned up on the soundtrack to "Endless Harmony," an ironically titled TV documentary from 1998.
Brian's shadow over the band in general and Love in particular has been huge. But the constant through all the years has been Love, who sang lead on a big percentage of the hits and co-wrote many of them with Brian. Even so, he had to sue to get that credit, which added to his reputation as a bad guy.
"I wrote the words to 'California Girls,' but I was never given credit," Love said recently by phone while waiting for a plane in Dallas. "'I Get Around' -- the original words were quite different than those on the single, but I was never given credit.
Uncle Murry cheated me, and Brian was in no kind of shape mentally and physically to stand up to his dad," Love said of the Wilsons' father. That relationship and Murry Wilson's well-documented abusive behavior toward his sons was starkly told in "The Beach Boys: An American Family" miniseries on ABC earlier this year.
Love said that Brian eventually tried to make it morally - and financially - right. By then, however, his affairs were being handled by a conservator, "and the attorney running his estate disallowed him from doing that, saying the statute of limitations had passed." So Love sued Brian, and the price of vindication was more bad vibrations from fans.
"The public has gotten a disproportionate view of who contributed what to the Beach Boys' music," Love said. "That's not to be disparaging toward Brian Wilson in any way. At one time, he was the most talented guy in the music business. In terms of music and harmonies, there was nobody more creative. 'Good Vibrations' is the most unique song in pop music, period.
"But I would always come up with the bass lines and the hooks - 'round round get around,' and 'Aruba, Jamaica' (from the later hit 'Kokomo') - I wrote those hooky kinds of things. But that was not reflected in the label copy; it said Brian Wilson, not Brian Wilson and Mike Love."
It should be noted that Love's assertions are doubted and even ridiculed by many fans and music historians. "Yeah, 'Brian Wilson is God and he's the Beach Boys and anything else doesn't qualify,'" said Love. "But that belies the fact that we've played thousands of concerts since 1965, when Brian left the tour group.
"Al was there in the beginning, for sure. Then he quit to go to dental school, and so David Marks came in. Then a couple of years later, Al came back; then Brian left. Then we had Glen Campbell. Bruce joined in '65 to permanently replace Brian. We had the Captain and Tennille, Blondie (Chaplin) and Ricky (Fataar), when Bruce left. Then Bruce came back and they left. There's been a continuing flux within the Beach Boys touring band."
Today, Love, at 59, continues to practice meditation and ayurveda, an "indigenous health care system of ancient India. My hobby is health."
"I went for an insurance (physical) exam a few months ago. My blood pressure was really low, everything was great. They gave me a break for my age and category. The actuaries said I'd live to 115," he laughed. "So whatever I'm doing is obviously working. Therefore, I don't feel that I can do this for only another year or two."
Love's plans for the band include returning to the studio after the summer tour ends. Incredibly, the Beach Boys don't have a recording contract, and Love said he's eager to show the record companies that "we still have our chops."
He's also thinking about opening a restaurant and nightclub, like House of Blues, that would be named after the band's last big hit, in 1988: Club Kokomo.
But, inevitably, looking forward conjures up the past. Love said: "Brian told me when he came to visit the year before last Thanksgiving - that ought to come as a shock to people who hate my guts - he said, 'Let's tour together.' Brian just spontaneously said that. I said that'd be great. I'm sure it'll happen (when their schedules allow it)."
As for the current Beach Boys, Love said: "If you close your eyes, it sounds like the Beach Boys never changed. If you open them, obviously there are physical (and personnel) changes. You don't not change when people die. That's part of life - loss - and you change, it's part of evolution. It's one of the laws of nature."
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