Beach Boys' Mike Love looks back over iconic, at times contentious career ahead of Amarillo concert
By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
Singing songs about the eternal summertime of youth helps Mike Love stay a Boy.
Love, a founding member of iconic 1960s pop band The Beach Boys, spoke last month about the band's enduring popularity and how that keeps him feeling youthful even at age 75.
"The thing is, what's energizing is the audience's response to our songs," Love said. "It's fantastic. It really is one of the better audience responses in music, I think. We don't have mosh pits or anything like that, but we see multiple generations jamming along and dancing.
"Those songs were crafted at an age and a time and in an environment (so that) they resonate with young people even to this day," Love said. "I met a 10-year-old girl a couple of years ago and asked her what her favorite (Beach Boys) song was, and she said '409.' That was made 40-something years before she was born.
"That's kind of miraculous."
The Beach Boys will return to Amarillo for a pair of concerts on Saturday — a 7:30 p.m. show that sold out fairly quickly, and a 3 p.m. show for which seats are still available. Both concerts will be held in the Amarillo Civic Center Complex Auditorium, 401 S. Buchanan St. Tickets are $35 to $65, plus fees.
Love remains intimately involved with the band, even knowing that they'd sold out one show already by the time we spoke.
That involvement comes at a price: His reputation has been battered over the years thanks to his contentious relationship with cousin and band co-founder Brian Wilson and occasional flare-ups of his temper. He's often called one of rock 'n' roll's biggest ... jerks, to put it mildly.
"That's been the popular opinion of him for several decades. He just can't seem to shake it," Erik Hedegaard wrote in Rolling Stone in February. "There are 'I Hate Mike Love' websites and a 'Mike Love Is a Douchebag' group on Facebook. He's been called a clown, the Devil, an evil, egotistical prick."
On the phone, in an interview that went well over the allotted 15 minutes, Love was nothing of the sort, though he did brush past questions about that reputation to focus more on the band's lasting legacy.
And why shouldn't he? Despite being slammed by critics and fans who give more credit to Brian Wilson for the band's success, despite (or sometimes because of) Wilson's troubled history with drugs and mental illness, Love (and Bruce Johnston, who joined the band in 1965 to fill in for Wilson on the road) has kept the band's name and legacy alive.
"Over the last 55 years, I've done literally thousands of shows, in front of literally millions of people," Love said. "The energy and the response of the audience to me is a great blessing, and it encourages us to keep on doing what we do because it makes so many people happy — including ourselves, because I had a hand in writing the songs that we're we're performing, many of them, if not most.
"It gives me a nice feeling to see that those songs are so wonderfully appreciated."
More than ever, Love's mind is on the past these days. His memoir, Good Vibrations: My Life as a Beach Boy, will be released Sept. 13, and writing it and recording the audiobook gave Love time to reflect on six decades of musicmaking.
"There's a lot of exploration of the career of the Beach Boys, a lot of the songwriting is documented in there," Love said. "I was primarily the lyricist that complimented my cousin Brian's gift as a person who could structure those harmonies and chord progressions like very few have done to that level of success. He was great in the studio. I've always been more focused on live performance."
Love traces the band's origin back to a previous generation — that of his mother, Emily Wilson, and her brother, Murry, the father of Brian, Dennis and Carl.
"The Wilson siblings came to California during the Dust Bowl from Kansas," Love said. "They were very poor. They camped on the beach in Southern California when they first got there — which is ironic, considering that, a generation later, I and my cousins would sing about that Southern Californian lifestyle.
"What had been the original home of my mother when she was just a little girl became the subject matter of our songs. Going from poverty to worldwide recognition is pretty amazing, I think."
Emily and Murry Wilson both were musically inclined — Murry had some success as a songwriter, even. (He would serve as the Beach Boys' first manager, whom they dropped in 1964, and his relationship with his sons is said to have been abusive.)
"If you add together the environment and our love of music, those were the original ingredients that gave rise to the Beach Boys," Love said. "I don't remember a time when there wasn't music. I can remember my cousin Brian singing 'Danny Boy' on my grandmother Wilson's lap. That was my first memory of him singing."
His memoir will touch on the deaths of Dennis and Carl Wilson, Love's meeting with Charlie Manson and Love's intense fascination with transcendental meditation, dating back to a trip to India with George Harrison in the 1960s.
"What that has given me is a mental technique to allow the mind to seek deeper levels of rest and relaxation, so it's rejuvenating," Love said. "I can sit and do transcendental meditation techniques and meditate for 20, 30 minutes and come out rested and clear and relaxed. ... It gives you clarity to undertake any kind of activity.
"On tour, I'll meditate in the morning before I go out, and inevitably before the show starts, I'll meditate again," Love said. "It has been a huge help for me. ... I used to drink quite a bit of hard liquor, but when I learned to meditate, I learned how to relax in a natural way."
Love can (and did) go on and on about the benefits of transcendental meditation, but he also had a lot to say about his upcoming book.
"I think it will be interesting for people who are interested in the story from my point of view," he said. "There have been hundreds of thousands of words written about the Beach Boys, but not my personal story and my role in the group. They're pretty well explored in the book."