BY JONATHAN VALANIA In the psychedelic American fairy tale that is The Beach Boys —
who play Camden on Saturday as part of a tour celebrating 50 years of endless summer — Mike Love is invariably cast as the villain. The pre-maturely balding Philistine. The counter-revolutionary company man. The sexist greed head who saw the band as little more than a singing ATM machine. The one who blanched at any and all attempts to move the band past past the well-trod thematic terrain of hot dogs, hot rods and surfboards. The one who killed Smile because it was ‘too weird and druggy” (read: not commercial enough). The one who sued Brian Wilson for co-songwriting credits and milked his cousin for $13 million. The one who brought John Stamos and his congas on board the good ship Beach Boys. All true, to a certain extent. But let it be said that Mr. Love lived up to his surname when he called Phawker last week from the Green Room at Leno for a pre-arranged phone interview. He was charming, well-spoken and completely candid — to his credit he never shied away from even the hardest questions that were asked of him. Discussed: Killing Smile, LSD, Brian’s mental illness, Pet Sounds, Charles Manson, going to India with the Beatles, Van Dyke Parks, Transcendental Meditation, yogic flying, Ronald Reagan and the ghosts of Fourth of Julys past in Philly.
MIKE LOVE: Hello, this is Mike Love.
PHAWKER: I have been waiting 30 years for you to call.
MIKE LOVE: [laughs]
PHAWKER: Can you just say hello again so I can get a [recording] level?
MIKE LOVE: Sure. This is Mike Love calling Jonathan Valania.
MIKE LOVE: I guess people are making me call you or you’re forced to talk to me because we are playing in Camden. Am I right?
PHAWKER: Correct. First things first, congratulations on the new record and 50 years being The Beach Boys. It’s good to hear you guys making music together again. But I wanted to go back and ask some things I always wanted to ask over the years. First thing is “Good Vibrations” lyrics. I’ve recently come to the conclusion that “Good Vibrations” is the greatest song of the 1960s out of all of them, and enduringly so. It still blows my mind when I hear it come on the radio, and my mind is not easily blown by things I hear on the radio. I wanted to ask you a little bit about writing the lyrics for it because the lyrics are really strong.
MIKE LOVE: I came up with the part ‘I’m picking up good vibrations/ Shes giving me excitations’ which kind of goes around with the bass line that Brian came up with. Brian did the track and I did the lyrics. But I came up with that musical line for the chorus. And I wrote the words because it was 1966 when I recorded that song. The psychedelic music was going on, the flower power thing was going on, and the Summer of Love was about to go on. That influence was really heavy in the West Coast, more so in San Francisco but still plenty of it in the LA area, particularly with musicians. So I wrote those words. Actually on the way to the studio I dictated a poem to my then wife Suzanne and we were driving down the road to the studio and I just dictated the words to her. Basically it was just a flowery poem. Kind of almost like ‘If you’re going to San Francisco be sure to wear flowers in your hair.’ So that was the influence at the time and the track that Brian came up with was so avant garde, so unique. I always say its non-derivative, meaning so many songs that you listen to or hear on the radio or whatever are what I call derivative. They sound like a compilation or something borrowed from this song or that song or the other song or this artist or that artist and they all sound like they’re just a recycled kind of something. You know what I mean? And there’s all different type of music of course but nonetheless there are so many pop songs that sound derivative, is the word I use. But with “Good Vibrations”, it’s so unique it doesn’t sound like anything ever before or since. People ask me what is my favorite song; I kind of got to say that “Good Vibrations” is my favorite in terms of its uniqueness, its creativity, and the fact that it was successful as well. You can be creative and unique and a commercial failure as well but in this particular instance “Good Vibrations” was our biggest hit of the 60s. We had some pretty big ones and it was so unique. I think someone at Rolling Stone magazine many years ago said it was the single of the century, so it kind of goes along with what you’re saying about it.
PHAWKER: I will go that far. I will go that far as well. It’s definitely in the top 2 or 3 moments of 20th century popular music if not number one.
MIKE LOVE: When we do it on stage, they’ll tell you with the audience coming and seeing us all together, it gets quite an ovation. Quite an extended amount of applause. It’s definitely got weight.
PHAWKER: I’m sure. Now I never understood this dispute about “Hang on to Your Ego”/“I Know There’s an Answer.” What was your objection to singing ‘hang on to your ego’ in the chorus? Can you explain to me what that was all about?
MIKE LOVE: “Hang On To Your Ego” has to do with LSD and its effect on the mind. And “I Know There’s An Answer” is a less LSD influenced lyric. That was my view.
PHAWKER: And you were anti LSD? Was that the thing?
MIKE LOVE: I was not into it. The thing that was most disturbing to me was that in 1966, ‘67 there were so many drugs being done not only by some of the group members but a lot of musicians, you know it was so cool and everything but the problem is just like with alcohol. Some people can drink and be fine but other people are alcoholics, they drink and it just destroys your life. Same with drugs. Some people can take LSD and function okay after it wore off; other people it pushes them into like a psychosis. I had an issue with too much LSD whether it be in lyrics or life.
PHAWKER: Do you think it was LSD that sort of pushed Brian over the ledge as it were?
MIKE LOVE: I know it was. Absolutely. He admits to it. He says that if there is one thing he wishes he hasn’t done it is take LSD.
PHAWKER: But what if he hadn’t taken LSD and there was never Pet Sounds and there was never “Good Vibrations”?
MIKE LOVE: Pet Sounds was pre that.
PHAWKER: I thought I read somewhere that he took it as early as ‘65 but maybe I’m wrong. [EDITOR’S NOTE: In November of 1966 Brian Wilson told journalist Tom Nolan “About a year ago I had what I consider to be a very religious experience. I took LSD, a full dose of LSD, and later, another time, I took a smaller dose. And I learned a lot of things, like patience, understanding. I can’t teach you, or tell you what I learned from taking it. But I consider it a very religious experience.” Pet Sounds recording sessions commenced in January of 1966.]
MIKE LOVE: Nonetheless. I don’t know, you can read whatever you want to read. I mean there’s a lot of stuff out there that’s not completely accurate either.
PHAWKER: Fair enough.
MIKE LOVE: People like to say that I didn’t like the Pet Sounds album. That’s a bunch of bullshit. I named it, worked on it, and presented it to Capitol Records. It’s Capitol Records that didn’t understand what to do with it.
PHAWKER: Sadly. Moving on a bit I wanted to ask you about going to India in ‘68 in Rishikesh. I’m wondering what you remember of that time and what was the controversy? Why did John Lennon and George wind up leaving?
MIKE LOVE: Well I think we all had things to do. I mean I left before they did because I had a tour to do. A tour to go on. So anyway.
PHAWKER: So you weren’t there.
MIKE LOVE: What I remember is really good stuff. Like Paul McCartney coming to the breakfast table playing “Back in the USSR” and them doing a birthday song “Happy Birthday Michael Love.” It was a song called the “Spiritual Regeneration Movement Foundation” and they made it in the Beach Boys style and it was very very cool. It was on my birthday, March 15th. George Harrison had his birthday late February so we both had our birthdays in India that year in ‘68, both Pisces. I remember only positive, cool stuff.
PHAWKER: Fair enough. Now you went on to study and immersed yourself quite significance into TM. I read somewhere that you have gotten some training in yogic flying. Is that true?
MIKE LOVE: What it is it’s called the TM-Sidhi, S-I-D-H-I, TM-Sidhi program. TM, Transcendental Meditation, is something that you practice twice a day. It involves the use of a mantra, a word or sound that has the effect of allowing the mind to go to deeper levels. And when it goes to deeper levels the body also goes to correspondingly deeper levels. So you take a lot of deep breaths and get relaxation through TM. But then the Sihis practice not mantras but sutras. Sutras are practice by Buddhist monks an Vedic scholars and the idea is that you can expand the powers of the mind to its supreme values. So what it means is there is a sutra for levitation. So that is what they call yogic flying.
PHAWKER: And you do do this, yes?
MIKE LOVE: Yea I practice it.
PHAWKER: Do you still do TM?
MIKE LOVE: Oh yeah. Every day. It’s meant to be twice a day, sometimes I do it more. It’s really beneficial, especially when you’re doing a huge amount of stuff like we’re doing right now with the record coming out and a tour on the way. So yeah.
PHAWKER: And there’s a lot of stress? Is that what you mean?
MIKE LOVE: Pardon?
PHAWKER: Because there’s a lot of stress when you’re touring a record and all that type of thing?
MIKE LOVE: Well its fatigue. It’s being a mortal. You get up and then after a few hours I start to get tired. So you sit down and you meditate in the afternoon or evening and you’re clearer and more well rested, relaxed, you have some energy to carry on through the evening concerts. In the morning you want to get up so I’ll meditate again. I do it about twice a day. I also meditate during this tour. I always meditate before I go on stage, about an hour and a half before I go on stage I’ll meditate.
PHAWKER: How long? About a half hour usually? Or an hour?
MIKE LOVE: I do more like an hour.
PHAWKER: So you just go in a quiet room, quiet your mind and keep repeating the mantra over?
MIKE LOVE: You don’t have to quiet your mind. You just practice this mental technique that you’re taught how to do and it’s automatic what happens.
PHAWKER: Moving on I wanted to ask you what recollection if any you have of Dennis’s involvement with Manson? Were you ever around at his place when Manson and the Family chicks came by or anything like that?
MIKE LOVE: Yea. I met Charlie and I met some of the girls and after meeting this guy I said “Well Dennis, you really got yourself a doozy of a roommate now.” So I met him. That fellow was completely out of his mind.
PHAWKER: I know you been asked this question a million times but I wanted to just give you a chance to tell your side of the story. What happened with Smile with Van Dyke Parks? Tell me what your side of that is.
MIKE LOVE: My deal with Smile and Van Dyke Parks is that I thought the lyrics were a bit obtuse for my taste because “Good Vibrations”, with my lyrics and my contribution musically, went to number one and I think “Heroes and Villains” didn’t do so well. Or as well, how ’bout that. I just didn’t understand the lyrics. I thought they were a bit, like they can be appreciated in a creative way like you can appreciate Lewis Carroll for the “Jabberwocky.”. To me it was a little, like I said earlier in this conversation; it was driven by a lot of drugs as well. I came up with a term for the lyrics called ‘acid alliteration.’ I even asked Van Dyke ‘what does this passage mean’ and he said ‘I haven’t a clue.’ So he was just doing this thing and it was under the influence and it just didn’t go over with me well and I voiced my opinion. Obviously if I have a certain opinion not everyone has to agree with it and sometimes my opinions have been misunderstood, as far as where I was coming from. So some people said I was responsible for shelving the album which is not true at all. It was Brian that decided not to pursue it any further. It stayed in the vaults for 40 years or so but it wasn’t my decision. And I loved the music, the tracks were amazing. What Brian was doing with his composing abilities at the time, I mean there was just some amazing things that happened with that album. “Wonderful” lives up to its name. I was just bummed by all the LSD and all that freaky crap that was going on at the time.
PHAWKER: So you never did LSD?
MIKE LOVE: That is correct.
PHAWKER: Well speaking of Smile, the first song on the new record kind of has that “Our Prayer” kind of template thing. Where it’s sort of Gregorian chant meets Beach Boys.
MIKE LOVE: Yup. There are a lot of albums on that new album. A little Pet Sounds, maybe a little Smile.
PHAWKER: Just a couple more questions here and I’ll let you go. You guys are waiting to go on to Leno? Is that what it is?
MIKE LOVE: Yea. We’re backstage at the “Tonight Show” right now.
PHAWKER: Awesome so you’ll be on tonight. Awesome, I’ll tune in.
MIKE LOVE: Don’t tune in until the last five minutes because we’re on in the last three minutes or so. We’re doing our song right at the end of the show.
PHAWKER: Which song are you doing?
MIKE LOVE: “That’s Why God Made the Radio.”
PHAWKER: That’s the single, right. I wanted to ask you — 50 years, that’s quite a milestone– if you could go back and change or undo anything you did or take back anything said or change anything that happened in that time, what will that be?
MIKE LOVE: Drugs. I will say the worst thing that ever happened to The Beach Boys as a group and as individuals, too, was the influence of drugs on the group. No question in my mind. That’s totally what comes to mind when that question is asked.
PHAWKER: So as not to end on such a bummer note, let me ask you what’s your most positive memory of your career? What’s the high point that comes to mind when you look back on it?
MIKE LOVE: There’s a recording one and personal appearance one as well. In 1985 we did Philadelphia in the afternoon — I think it was ‘85 — and DC in the evening. We played to over a million and a half people in one day in person on that July 4th. So that was a monumental personal appearance. From the stage in Washington DC you could see the south side of the White House and you’re looking up at the Washington Monument and there’s a sea of people who give us a standing ovation before we even played a note. It was pretty awesome. The other thing is “Good Vibrations”, as you mentioned, that is a pretty damn good song.
PHAWKER: What do you remember about that Philadelphia show?
MIKE LOVE: The stage was set at the steps of the…
PHAWKER: The Art Museum?
MIKE LOVE: Where they used to have the Rocky statue.
PHAWKER: The Art Museum, sure.
MIKE LOVE: Yea the art museum. The stage was set up there and people were coming in through the parkway there for a mile down the road. The newspapers at the time reported there were 900,000 people there at the concert. The economic impact was about $20 million dollars to the city.
PHAWKER: Last thing you mentioned the mall. I wanted to ask you about that incident with then-Secretary of the Interior James Watt saying that you guys didn’t represent wholesome American values and canceled your annual Fourth of July concert on the Mall and there was just great outrage and Ronald Reagan.
MIKE LOVE: Actually Reagan called and apologize.
MIKE LOVE: Oh yeah And he made a joke out of it which was funny. But what astounded us is there were over 40 thousand calls he told us to the, what do you call it?
PHAWKER: The White House?
MIKE LOVE: The Department of the Interior complaining. They messed up their phones for two or three days. But it demonstrated just how popular The Beach Boys were and what widespread popularity throughout the U.S. there was and how much people cared about our music. So even though it was a weird to have said and have happen it really reinforced positively how much Beach Boys music meant to people and how highly regarded we were. It really was dramatic. Like it really made us feel good that so many people voiced their opinion about that decision. But when that decision was made I think they had Wayne Newton come out and some military band. But we came back the next year and had a bigger show than ever.
PHAWKER: I will say if the Dallas Cowboys are America’s team then The Beach Boys are America’s Band.
MIKE LOVE: Yeah, that’s right. That’s cool.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This interview originally ran back in 2012, on the occasion of the Beach Boys 50th Anniversary which was marked by a summer-long reunion tour. Just a few weeks after this interview published, Mike Love, who for some reason legally owns the Beach Boys name, fired Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys. That’s right, Brian Wilson’s cousin fired him from his own band.