Brian: hero, the rest: villains. Can it really be that simple?
Mike Love only agreed to be interviewed for this feature if Bill Holdship signed a declaration that he'd write nothing "negative" about Love. Holdship refused, saying it was his right to form any opinion he wished once he'd conducted the interview. So, to give us some idea of both sides of this convoluted California saga, here is an interview conducted in June 1993, a week before the court case between Mike Love and Brian Wilson was due to begin. Love was interviewed in the splendour of the Pacific Palisades health club overlooking the beach, Bruce Johnston at his Sarasito Home in the hills near Santa Barbara
BH: The commonly held view of the Beach Boys is that Brian is the sensitive, wayward genius while you are a talentless, greedy, egomaniac. You've said that it was being sick of hearing this that prompted you to sue Brian, rather than the money you stood to get from the return of the Sea of Tunes catalogue.
ML: Listen, I didn't really want to sue Brian at all because I knew he was sick and I've been very understanding because of that. The facts are that I wrote words to 79 songs for which I didn't receive a credit let alone royalties. Just one example , "Good Vibrations", the song that people associate with the Beach Boys more than any other. When Brian played his finished version to us we were all knocked out. It was incredible! It was like nothing anyone had ever heard before. I said, Brian this is really cool but it's a bit weird, don't you think it'll alienate our fans? Let's give people something they can hold onto while it's happening, something they recognize. I wrote this simple boy/girl thing, the "I'm picking up good vibrations/She's giving me excitations" part. When I didn't make it onto the label copy I was very upset. It's always been Brian Wilson this and Brian Wilson that. There was never any mention of Mike Love's contribution and I was sick of hearing it.
BJ: A lot of people are hurt by Brian's withdrawal from making great records and they blame us and Mike in particular. There's friction, sure, that's what happens in bands, but Mike did not cause Brian's condition. Mike was certainly more commercial than Brian but the two elements, Brian's creativity and Mike's commercial sense, gave us Good vibrations. I can sympathise with Mike's attitude. He'd had enough of reading the lies. I can't take it seriously though. You know what all these law suits are like to me? World Federation Wrestling or wax whisky bottles in the movies. I can see Mike's point in suing Brian, but it's still really about their family. As a Beach Boy myself I can honestly say I'm no closer to understanding what goes on between them than anyone else. I think Mike assumed that once Brian was able to make things right for Mike over the publishing he would. When Sea Of Tunes was returned to Brian, Mike saw that as the opportunity to make sure Brian put the record straight about who actually helped Brian write those songs. It's like McCartney not crediting Lennon or something.
BH: Will you ever work with Brian again?
ML: I'd work with Brian again tomorrow but he has a problem with me. He's totally paranoid and he feels guilty about what happened and he gets crazy. In his mind he thinks, uh oh, I didn't give Mike a credit therefore Mike's going to kill me! It's that crazy!
BH: You've always maintained that it wasn't Brian's madness but his lifestyle that drove you apart every time.
ML: I was never unhappy with Brian as an artist, I was, and still am, unhappy about the way he treated himself and others. He became an egomaniac, taking too much acid, smoking so much grass that he just couldn't focus any more, and he became a physical wreck. He kept telling us about the amazing music he was hearing in his head but he couldn't get it out, so what was the point? He went from being the most influential musician of his generation to being a paranoid wreck living in the chauffeur's quarter's like a dog. I wasn't prepared to let him drag us down with him. Am I supposed to be evil because I wanted to salvage my career and Al and Carl and Bruce's livelihoods? Am I unreasonable to try to make Brian act responsibly? He was a grown man who had been indulged, acting like an idiot kid and our reputations were all going down with him.
BJ: I disagree. To blame it on drugs is wrong. Brian would have paid the heavy price even if he hadn't taken drugs. Have you ever met a normal genius? Brian's music was the way it was because he was emotionally on the edge from birth. He's in perpetual torment. I think Brian's big problem was the need to succeed better than anyone else. Brian used to play Spector's Be My Baby to us over and over obsessively and we're going, Hey Brian we heard it already, so what? Spector should have been bowing down in front of Brian not the other way around.
BH: Did the fact that Brian's autobiography blamed you for his mental breakdown drive you to sue for defamation of character as well as the money?
ML: Look, the history of this band is like the history of Russia, it's been written under a regime that distorts the past. The reason I have resisted being forceful about things is because I felt sorry for Brian, I really did. Brian's book told lie s about me and when it came to the first deposition in the court, Brian admitted it was made up, phoney. He couldn't remember what happened to him back then and he was using other people's distorted version of events and calling it his own. I'm not responsible for Brian's condition. I have tried, the band have tried, we all made allowances for Brian but there comes a point where you can't do that any more.
BJ: We were trying hard to deal with it and I think Mike was trying to remind him that while he was a genius he was still part of the Beach Boys, that he still needed our input. Everyone pumped Brian's ego to the ceiling and he lapped it up because Murry had been such a shit to him and approval was what he craved. They told him all the time that he didn't need any of us any more, that we were just a drag. Some people still think that. They're forgetting that Carl took over when Brian bowed out in 1970 and he produced one of our greatest albums, Surf's Up. Dennis was starting to write too and his songs were great. Brian needed our voices, to meld them and sculpt with them. All the sycophants did was ensure that he thought he could do it all himself. Expectation destroyed Brian as much as anything else. Murry, Pet Sounds' failure in America, drugs, ego and expectation. That's what destroyed Brian.
BH: How do you react to the continued attention paid to "Smile"?
BJ: There's tracks on the box set that represent not a great lost album but the worst times we ever went through. I listen to them and I don't feel any joy, I feel uncomfortable, I can hear Brian disintegrating. The music was cool but it's always tinged with the reality of making it. Brian degraded us, made us lay down for hours and make barnyard noises, demoralised us, freaked out. I can't tell you a lot of it, it's really fucked up. He thought it was hilarious, he was stoned and laughing. We hated him then because we didn't really know what was happening to him.
ML: What's left of "Smile" is a shell. It would have been a great record but he just didn't have the will or the ability to finish it. See, a lot of the Brian bullshit rests around that album and it's nothing, it's just fragments. Who wants to hear about Brian's mental problems anyway? I mean, to call a record "Sweet Insanity", imagine that. A whole album of Brian's madness that no one wants to release and still everyone says he's a genius! I make "Kokomo", it goes to number one in the charts and I'm still the dumb, know-nothing, talentless Mike Love.
BH: Were you jealous of Brian's talents and the attention he got as the great genius mind behind the band?
ML: No, not jealous. It was more frustration than jealousy. It was about the way Brian was treating us and the reputation of the band. Up until 1967 it was no worries mate, as they say in Australia. Brian takes LSD and suddenly all of our livelihood s are in jeopardy. What would you do? Am I supposed to be ashamed of trying to save Brian from self-destruction? We tried the same with Dennis and to the outside world it looked like we didn't care and were being harsh because we threw him out of the band but it was the only way to try to get him to straighten out.
BH: Are the Beach Boys going to go on forever?
ML: Within the next five years I think I'll be doing something else. As a matter of fact a TM guru told me recently that I was destined to start a big world TM centre in Northern California and that my true vocation in life was that. He said the band was just a prelude to my spiritual destiny, my life as a teacher of TM.
BJ: In our present form the Beach Boys shouldn't be around at all. We're anachronistic, we're on that oldies but goldies vibe. What we have to do is bring a new dignity to our name and I see all this interest in our past and in Brian and Mike as a new beginning. California has changed. It isn't all cars and surf and good times. It's freeways, drive-bys and crack. It's time we started to reflect those changes and get contemporary.
ML: The Beach Boys have always been lovingly irrelevant. There's a great deal more complex concerns than cars and girls, there always was, but we wanted to make people have a good time, take them away for a while. There was always pollution and crime and starvation. Being the person I am now I find it difficult to be the carefree person I was in the 60's. People have always called us anachronistic and they're right! We want to say something important again.
interview by Cliff Jones