Second only to the Beatles in terms of the number of books detailing the histories of the two respective bands, The Beach Boys have been explored from nearly every possible angle. It might seem a memoir from Mike Love might be redundant, but it’s instead a needed corrective to many a previous volume.
That’s largely due to articles and books that started in the ‘70s that created the myth of Brian Wilson being the single tortured “Genius” of the band with the other members mere chess-pieces to his brilliance. Worse, it was then the stories began that if he had had more support and less obstruction from the other Beach Boys, Brian’s projects, especially the legendary Smile, would have been given to a hungry fan base eager for whatever Brian came up with. While Brian’s father Murray is justly the most vilified figure in the saga, Mike Love has been reviled for decades for supposedly being the Beach Boy who opposed Brian’s creative evolution.
In Good Vibrations, Love builds a very convincing case of self-defense. For one matter, he details his own contributions to the band’s catalogue of hits, especially their lyrics. As with many a previous chronicler of the music of the Beach Boys, he discusses the turmoils of the troubled Brian Wilson and shows how it was drug abuse and mental issues that derailed Wilson’s creativity, not squabbles with his bandmates.
Song by song, album by album, Love traces the output of the band highlighting the contributions of everyone in the band, with a noticeable lack of anything positive to say about Al Jardine. He acknowledges the early dominance of Brian in the studio and Love’s leadership of the band on the road. He credits Carl and Dennis Wilson for their input over the years and sadly repeats the stories of their declines due to drug abuse. All the Beach Boys are seen, warts and all, as being a dysfunctional batch of boys not especially good in their romantic relationships. No surprises here.
Naturally, his discussion of the court case that finally validated his songwriting claims doesn’t put Brian in a very favorable light. The duels continued through the 50th reunion tour, but Love asserts interference from non-band members and legal obligations is what led to the tour’s sad end, not some personal ego trip on his part.
I personally think Love’s memories of his time with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Rikikesh is the best description of the Maharishi’s ashram I’ve read to date. I too have long thought Love’s involvement with presidents Reagan and Bush put him in the Republican camp, but he claims to be apolitical and the issues he worked on such as environmental concerns were more liberal than conservative. The story of the Beach Boys, of course, includes many sad chapters including Dennis Wilson’s involvement with Charles Manson and the control Eugene Levy wielded over Brian. It’s amazing the group maintained any life at all over the last 30 years.
True, no one should take the book as the unvarnished truth, as Mark Twain would put it, and Love is sometimes rather thin on explanations especially discussing his disastrous Rock and Roll Hall of Fame speech. It’s impossible to argue with his conclusion that it remains the music, the “sonic oasis” as he calls it, that made Beach Boy music so universal, long-lasting, and meaningful to listeners over four generations.
If you’re among those who have seen Brian as the victimized hero and Mike Love as the vainglorious villain in the Beach Boys epic, Good Vibrations will contain many revelations and surprising perspectives. If you’re a Beach Boy fan and are willing to put your preconceptions aside, Good Vibrations is an indispensable read. Let me suggest reading the audio edition, read by Love himself. You get a hint of his personality with all his short laughs punctuating some of his observations. I’m very glad to have spent this time with one of the most important lyricists and rock stars of my generation. There’s no reason to be in either the Brian or Mike camps of supporters—we should be grateful we had them both, along with Carl, Dennis, Al, and Bruce Johnson.
This review first appeared at BookPleasures.com on Nov. 4, 2016 at: