Reflections: Mike Love
Mike Love is well aware of his reputation. As the only original member of The Beach Boys still touring under that name— and the outspoken alpha-yang to his cousin Brian Wilson’s introspective-yin—the tall, tan, 77-year-old singer knows that he has come to personify the family-friendly showmanship that often eclipses the band’s ‘60s artistic critical peak. But, as Love’s never-ending sum- mer tour with The Beach Boys nears its 60th year, he prefers to focus on those enduring harmonies.
“There’s been a lot written about The Beach Boys and the imperfections that we all have on this lavatory of planet earth,” Love says. “Too much has been made out of that kind of thing. I do everything I can to think positively and, in other words, regenerate and recreate good vibrations rather than negative ones. I leave it to other people to dissect who did what to whom because that misses the overarching, overruling positivity, happiness, comfort and joy that our music has given so many millions of people all over the world.”
It’s been 20 years since the band’s longtime lynchpin Carl Wilson succumbed to cancer and the surviving original Beach Boys split into their own camps. With the exception of a high-profile 2012 anniversary run that reunited the band’s classic members for a new album and tour, Love has been the sole founding member to tour under The Beach Boys name through a licensing agreement with the band’s Brothers Records.
As he explains in his candid 2016 memoir Good Vibrations, his tours—which also include longtime core member Bruce Johnston—have helped the label stay afloat while bringing The Beach Boys’ name to new generations, thanks to hit-filled shows in theaters, fairgrounds and casinos around the world. (In 2017, the group’s schedule topped the staggering 175-show mark.) His later years haven’t been without their controversies either—from legal scuffles to the 2012 tour’s acrimonious end to conflicting thoughts on the current band’s nostalgic setlists.
“I’m not the type of person to do all the songs from our new album and forget all our hits when we do a show,” Love says. “I love our classic songs. I love the way they sound on the records as well as our live performances of them and how much energy and good vibrations they generate with people. There’s nothing wrong with what we’re known for. We’re focused on recreating the songs as authentically as possible.”
Late last year, Love did step outside The Beach Boys for his first solo album since 1981— Unleash the Love, a double-disc LP that mixes Love originals and reworked versions of “Beach Men” catalog material. The members of the current Beach Boys touring ensemble appear throughout the set; Love’s children, Full House star John Stamos, Sugar Ray singer Mark McGrath and producer Paul Fauerso (a veteran of the 1970s Beach Boys side-project Celebration) also lent a hand.
“Before he became an actor, he was a drummer in a little three-piece band in Orange County,” Love says of Stamos, who he credits with being one of the group’s greatest apostles. “He would drive by my parents’ house on his bicycle and look at the gold albums on the wall through the window because he lived nearby.”
Unleash the Love’s late-2017 release also coincided with the 50th anniversary of Love’s life-changing December 1967 meeting with Transcendental Meditation guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Tracks like “Only One Earth,” “Ram Raj,” “Make Love Not War” and “The Earth Could Use an Evolutionary Advance” are loaded with nods to the ancient scriptures and spiritual teachings he’s learned through his years of TM.
“I’d never felt so relaxed in my life, once he gave me the technique,” Love says while reflecting on the equally transformative 1968 trip he took to India to visit the Maharishi with The Beatles, Prudence Farrow and others that produced “Dear Prudence.”
“I heard Maharishi say, ‘You need a cool head and a warm heart.’ It’s so simple, but so profound and true. Life on planet earth can be so stressful; it’s absolutely horrible for millions of people. Transcendental Meditation gives you the tools to be able to not only cope with the issues and problems everyone faces, but to also perhaps exceed and excel.”
Love has practiced TM regularly since then and credits it with keeping him balanced throughout the ensuing decades; he has regretted his public decisions on the rare days he’s skipped TM during the past half-century.
“When you practice TM, your metabolism goes down to a level of rest twice as deep as deep sleep. It’s profoundly relaxing, profoundly restful and it gives you the energy, clarity and ability to go into life and not have it grip and destroy you with all the tension and negativity that can overwhelm people. Your biochemistry— your brain chemistry—actually changes when you do a creative meditation, and the deep relaxation allows your mind to become clear so you can experience a bit more of an expanded awareness. There are three major states of consciousness: waking, dreaming and deep sleep. But this touches on a fourth state of consciousness, which Maharishi called Transcendental Consciousness. It gives you so much energy, clarity and creativity, and it gives you the energy to be able to do things that you might not have been able to do otherwise.”
Instead of launching a solo tour in support of Unleash the Love, Love has started to weave a few of the LP’s cuts into his Beach Boys setlists. “I’ve been the lead singer since we began with the song ‘Surfin’’ in 1961 and I wrote ‘Surfin’ Safari’ with my cousin Brian,” he says. “And then I wrote ‘Surfin’ U.S.A.’ but was not credited. I don’t see any reason to not travel with The Beach Boys.”
He’s also tweaked The Beach Boys live band in recent years, bringing in Brian Wilson’s longtime musical director Jeffrey Foskett—who clocked in time with The Beach Boys in the ‘80s—to handle “the low parts and high parts on the original recordings done by cousin Brian that he no longer does.” Stamos continues to sit in with the group frequently, too.
In terms of his own endurance on the road, Love chalks it up to both nature and nurture. His family is full of athletes—his brother Stan played in the NBA and his nephew Kevin is a power forward/center for the Cleveland Cavaliers, while Love himself is a long distance runner. And that discipline clearly impacts his own music. “The combination of music and the athletics in the Love family gene pool have contributed to my longevity and musicality,” he says. “My father was an athlete, but I grew up in a home with a grand piano, organ and harp so my mom also set the stage for what was to come. She even hosted parties for my uncle Murray—who was Brian, Dennis and Carl’s father—to help expose his music.”
In between dates with The Beach Boys, Love mentions that he would like to participate in some “intellectual, spiritual experiences” in lecture halls or colleges—he quips that he is, after all, the author of “Be True to Your School”—and continues to casually lay down tracks at his home studio in Lake Tahoe. The chapel-like space houses an old recording console that once belonged to the Grand Ole Opry. Yet, the band remains his primary focus.
“The Beach Boys is such an iconic thing—we have people who are 8-80 at our shows,” he says. “I’m lucky that my family tradition became a profession.”
This article originally appears in the June 2018 issue of Relix. For more features, interviews, album reviews and more, subscribe here.