Book Review: “Good Vibrations” by Mike Love (Blue Rider Press)

I am not sure if the Guinness Book of World Records can confirm this but my guess is that Mike Love, the lead singer of the Beach Boys, has probably given more concerts than any other performer in rock history. Love was an original member of the Beach Boys as he and his cousins Brian, Carl, and Dennis Wilson, along with a friend of Brian’s, Al Jardine, formed the band in 1961. 55 years later Love is still belting out “Fun, Fun, Fun,” “California Girls,” “Surfin’ USA,” “Good Vibrations,” and the countless other hits from the Beach Boys catalog to grateful audiences.

Yet for all of the pop star glory that Mike Love has enjoyed, and frankly deserved over the years, he has endured a lot of derision from rock music snobs. Their general thinking has been that Brian Wilson was the genius and that Mike Love was always trying to stifle his creativity starting with 1966’s masterpiece album, “Pet Sounds,” because it deviated from the formula that made the Beach Boys popular in the first place; namely songs about surfing, cars, and girls. That old trope was revived in 2012 when in the midst of the Beach Boys’ 50th anniversary tour reports surfaced that Mike, who has the license to use the Beach Boys name, fired Brian. Love claims that the story was inaccurate.

It’s clear that setting the record straight once and for all was the motivation for Mike Love to publish his memoir, “Good Vibrations,” a title that is both apropos since he wrote the lyrics to that #1 classic, and ironic since a lot of the behind the scenes world of the Beach Boys was far from anything resembling positive vibes.

Yes, the up and down relationship with Brian Wilson is the centerpiece of the book. Mike fondly recalls the joyous times that they collaborated on songs with Brian handling the melodies while he acted as the wordsmith. Unfortunately because malevolent Murry Wilson, the father of Brian, Carl, and Dennis, also served as the Beach Boys manager, he more often than not submitted the songs that Mike worked on to Sea of Tunes, the Beach Boys’ music publisher, with only Brian’s name on it. Brian kept assuring Mike that the error would be corrected but it never was. Love, trying to preserve harmony, delayed suing Brian Wilson until the mid 1990s.

Brian Wilson’s mental demons and his little-regulated drug has been well documented and was even made into a film last year called “Love & Mercy” that starred Paul Dano as a young Wilson in the 1960s and John Cusack as the middle-aged version in the 1980s. Paul Giamatti however steals the film as his Svengali therapist, Dr. Eugene Landy, and Mike has plenty to say here about him. What is most noteworthy is that Mike accuses the late Beach Boys guitarist Carl Wilson of both being a drug addict and acting as a dope dealer to his vulnerable older brother Brian.

The general thinking was that Mike Love was always envious of the late Beach Boys drummer and the band’s unquestionable wild child, Dennis Wilson. In their 1960s heyday, Mike and Dennis competed on stage for the title of Beach Boys sex symbol, and frankly that wasn’t much of a contest. Dennis was the quintessential blond-haired California surfer while Mike, despite great stage presence, was fighting a losing battle against male pattern baldness from a very early age. Surprisingly, Mike only devotes a single page to his thinning hairline as he concedes that is the reason why he has long worn hats but he doesn’t say that it hurt his self-esteem. Perhaps it is the nearly 33 years that have passed since Dennis Wilson drowned in Marina Del Rey but Mike has only positive things to say about his late cousin.

Love, who has been married five times, admits that he is embarrassed by that stat, and the fact that he doesn’t get a lot of time to spend with his kids because of his vocation.

Countless books have been written about the Beach Boys and it is understandable if even the biggest Beach Boys fan feels fatigue and doubts that they’ll learn anything new from yet another book about America’s rock band. To his credit, Love is not ashamed to expose a lot of warts including his own shortcomings. “Good Vibrations” is a lengthy but a very compelling read.

Coincidentally, Brian Wilson is scheduled to release his autobiography this month that is simply titled “I Am Brian Wilson” (Da Capo Press). It will be interesting to see whether Brian corroborates or disputes a lot of what Mike has written here.

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