Beach Boys lead singer Mike Love has been doing double-duty lately, touring with the band — as its sole original member — while simultaneously promoting an autobiography that covers the group's long, and at times tumultuous, history.
But the real takeaway message of his book Good Vibrations: My Life as a Beach Boy, he insists, is the value of a positive lifestyle, which he attributes to avoiding "the nefarious drugs that my cousins did."
The cousins he's referring to are, of course, Brian, Carl and Dennis Wilson, brothers who — together with Love and their friend Al Jardine — formed the consummate California group back in 1961. "I will say that during the '60s, I did my share of weed," Love acknowledges, "but once I learned to meditate, I gave up hard liquor and anything to do with drugs."
Love learned meditation back in 1967 from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi — the same spiritual guide who introduced meditation to the Beatles — and the singer says he still practices it twice a day. "If people go away from the book saying, 'Oh, here's a guy who didn't do all the hard drugs, here's a guy who chose to do meditation, here's a guy who's still doing it at 75 years old and feeling good and really focused on replicating those songs to the best degree possible,' I think those are some good takeaways."
There's no question that Love epitomizes the role of hard-working musician, with the group playing some 150 shows a year. He says the band typically plays two-hour-long sets with a 20-minute intermission. "We're blessed to have so many hit songs," he says. "And we like performing. It's not like somebody's putting a gun to our heads."
This year also represents a landmark for the Beach Boys. It was 50 years ago that the group — led by the groundbreaking musical vision of singer/keyboardist/songwriter/producer Brian Wilson — released its masterpiece album Pet Sounds and its wondrous single "Good Vibrations."
Not long after, Wilson famously suffered a breakdown while trying to complete Smile, the aborted album that was to follow Pet Sounds. He went on to deal with drug and mental health issues for decades to come.
Brian is currently doing his own extensive tour, celebrating the Pet Sounds milestone by performing the album in its entirety. Love and the Beach Boys, meanwhile, added a few numbers from the 1966 album to summer's shows.
"It's a big year for Brian, because he was the producer of Pet Sounds," Love says. "I wrote a few things on it and I sang on everything, but he did the lion's share of the work on that. But it is a Beach Boys project, and we all did work very hard on that."
Love's complex relationship with Brian Wilson alone could fill a book. The cousins were best friends growing up and later embraced California surfing culture with hits like "Surfin' U.S.A.," "Surfer Girl," "I Get Around," "Fun, Fun, Fun" and "Help Me, Rhonda." But the more adventurous Pet Sounds planted the seeds of a rift between the two cousins, even as it proved to be the high point of the group's career. Together with the Beatles' jaw-dropping Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, it raised pop music to a true art form.
Even after his breakdown, Wilson co-wrote several songs on the Beach Boys' underrated early-'70s albums. But he was essentially gone from the group after being put under the 24-hour care of psychotherapist Eugene Landy.
The Beach Boys would score one last hit with 1988's Jimmy Buffet-style "Kokomo." Four years later, Love brought a high-profile lawsuit against Brian Wilson, winning a sizable sum in royalties and writing credits on 35 early songs.
Through it all, Love kept the Beach Boys going as a successful touring act, and in 2012, the surviving members of the classic lineup — including Brian Wilson, Jardine and Bruce Johnston — reunited with Love for a 50th anniversary tour and a new Beach Boys album, That's Why God Made the Radio. The album had its worthy moments, but by June, Wilson was off the tour and the highly celebrated reunion was over.
Yet, despite appearances to the contrary, Love insists his relationship with Wilson would be fine if not for outside interference.
"Brian's life is controlled completely — it has been since Gene Landy, and it still is — and he's medicated," Love says. "[But] if he says something about Mike Love unsolicited, he'll say things like 'He's my favorite lyricist.' If and when we do see each other, we revert back to childhood, which is great. So if it were just he and I, I don't think there would be any problems. We would work through them. I know that for a fact. But that is not the way it is. So let's just leave it at that."
Even with the heartache and drama that has been part of the Beach Boys history, Love says he's still nothing but grateful for the group and the life it's enabled him to lead.
"I've been part of one of the more well-known groups in modern music. And the music will live on after us," he says. "So there's a lot more to be grateful and thankful for than to be regretful of."