Beach Boys singer Mike Love has a reputation as one of the most-loathed people in the music business. On the other hand, his bandmate and cousin, Brian Wilson, is universally adored by fans. In their eyes, the troubled genius is both a victim (bingo!) and a survivor (ditto).
While Wilson was shy and awkward at the best of times. Love was ambitious and extroverted. The lead singer on “California Girls,” “I Get Around,” “Surfin’ Safari,” and, ahem, “Kokomo” gravitated to – some might say “hogged” – the spotlight. Wilson, 15 months his junior, recounted in his memoir, Wouldn’t It Be Nice, that he “both envied and felt intimidated by” Love when they were boys. “Tall and blond, he exuded confidence and swagger. He had a big ego. He wasn’t especially nice.”
Love says what’s on his mind, even if it’s not very nice. In 1988, the Beach Boys, the Beatles and Bob Dylan were among the inductees at the third annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony. Paul McCartney boycotted the event citing “business differences” with his former bandmates and Yoko Ono. Diana Ross was also a no-show for the Supremes’ induction. In his acceptance speech, Love said it was a “bummer” that McCartney and Ross were absent.
The applause from the $1,000-per-ticket black-tie crowd sent him off on a tangent. Love challenged A-listers like Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel to get on stage and play. He accused Mick Jagger of cowardice, claiming that the Rolling Stones frontman opted to stay in England rather than attend the event. “He’s always been too chickenshit to get on a stage with the Beach Boys!” (Jagger was seated about 20 feet away in the audience.) The applause turned into widespread booing, and Dylan got the biggest laugh of the night after he thanked Love “for not mentioning me.”
Love was one of my first major interviews after I got to America in the summer of 1992. Aged 51 at the time of our Halloween encounter, Love was staying with his fifth wife at a friend’s Benedict Canyon home, not far from the Sharon Tate murder house. We chatted for 90 minutes in the garden high above Los Angeles. Sporting his trademark baseball cap, he patiently gave lengthy answers to my impertinent questions and never displayed any discomfort as we ripped the scabs off old wounds.
Sure, Love was a tad kooky. But it wasn’t hard to muster up some sympathy for the old devil. He had been swindled by his own family and his integrity impugned. All the while, he had tried to keep his band together and entertain fans around the world.
Here is a very brief excerpt from the 10,000 word interview, which is reproduced in full in my memoir, Strange Days: The Adventures of a Grumpy Rock ‘n’ Roll Journalist in Los Angeles, available here.
Have you read (music industry exposé) Hit Men by Fredric Dannen?
It’s a pretty disgraceful book!
Yes, well. I once made a few remarks to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which I prefer to call the Rock and Roll Hall of Shame, because of some of the things you read in Hit Men. Every record company president presides over a company that inherently has a built-in bias against the artist because the artist is an expense. So they inadvertently steal from the artist. One way or another, they’ll steal from you. They do funny little calculations with the royalties. Maybe the royalties came in, but they don’t pay you those royalties for six months or a year. So they have the use of the interest. Just any way they can. That’s the subtlest and nicest form of thievery. There are nice personalities and nice people that we have met through the years and we liked through the years in the industry, but the industry itself is fraught with tons of problems.
It’s almost as if it would be a good industry if it weren’t for the musicians –
– Necessary evil.
Was that the same speech where you called Mick Jagger chickenshit –
– To get on stage with the Beach Boys. That just came because nobody wants to go on after the Beach Boys. In the old days, in the early ’60s, you’d have battles of the bands. But once you get into geriatric rock, people are very nervous about their franchise … I just think that the ego part of it and hiding behind your agent, hiding behind your manager, hiding behind your attorney … Attorneys cause such divisiveness, the Beatles being the biggest and best example of it.
When Paul McCartney refused to come to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that night to be with his mates who he started out with years ago, that, to me, was nauseating, because he’s the richest one of all of us. Why didn’t he come? Why? Because he had business differences with the other guys. What was it revolving about? Who knows? But you can be sure that his attorney and their attorneys are making a fortune by sustaining that antipathy. They’re not into compromising. They’re not into being creative and healing. They’re into divisiveness and billing. And so I know that, so I don’t particularly have any love for the attorneys in the music industry, except for the occasional decent person.
And I don’t particularly have any fondness for the whole way that the music industry’s set up. The artist is an expense and they’ll screw you any way they can. And all the record company presidents know that, and the artists when they start out, maybe they know it, maybe they don’t. But it’s kind of pitiful when a person gives everything they can creatively from their heart, and it just gets slaughtered by these psychopaths, these thieves that are the music industry mavens. That’s why I was a bad boy and I spoke out of turn at the Rock and Roll Hall of Shame. I’m so embarrassed! (laughs sarcastically)
Anyway, my ultimate point was that rather than have all this divisiveness, rather than have all this chicanery and thievery going on, wouldn’t it be nice – to quote a song! – if the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the entire music industry could stand for something more than just an egotistic, self-indulgent pit of thieves … I’d like to see a Mick Jagger and a Mike Love and a Bruce Springsteen do something that is real, to fix something, rather than just a photo opportunity like Live Aid which has no design to change anything. It was a great press opportunity, and maybe they shipped a few million dollars’ worth of something to the docks to be stolen by the people in Ethiopia.
So you old farts get together and do a song, what happens after that?
Nothing, usually, because it’s a nice emotional moment.
But you’re promoting this concept of you and Jagger and Springsteen getting together?
I said “what if” it were done in the context of something that would really do anything. Instead of just doing a photo opportunity, doing something good because your press agent says it’s a good thing to do.
Those black-tie rock ‘n’ roll events seem very fake
It is fake because they don’t think any further than the footlights. And I don’t like that, I’m not into that. I think black-tie benefits are great, but when they start losing money for the cause or they don’t address the issues with dynamic enough results, then it’s like a Pyrrhic thing. It doesn’t mean anything. So I have to do things with my life that mean something ultimately. And I’m not saying that we’ve all done that, we’ve been able to achieve that, but I’m just decrying the malaise of the planet, I guess. It’s symptomatic in our industry of what it is everywhere, I guess, about the planet that I really don’t like so much.
NOTE: This is an excerpt from my memoir, Strange Days: The Adventures of a Grumpy Rock ‘n’ Roll Journalist in Los Angeles, available here. For more info, go to strangedaysbook.com
Copyright © 1992, 2013 by Dean Goodman. PLEASE DO NOT CUT AND PASTE THE WHOLE THING