We can probably start here: Everyone knows Mike Love is a huge asshole, right?
In case you need a recap: Mike Love is the second lead singer and, even more unfortunately, sole rights licensee of The Beach Boys. He’s in the news this week because he’s reportedly firing both of the other surviving original members of the band — Al Jardine and Brian Wilson — effective after the last show of their massive 50th anniversary tour.
It seems crazy. Who would fire Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys? But Mike Love has a long history of doing crazy asshole things, and this is just the latest. It’s not even the first time he’s fired Brian from the Beach Boys (that would be 1982). Some of the highlights from his Crazy Asshole CV:
His constant badgering of Brian Wilson, the band’s bassist, first lead singer, primary songwriter, visionary genius, resident virtuoso, and acid casualty drove Wilson literally crazy right around 1968. Wilson had composed and performed almost every note of the band’s critically adored, times-changing 1966 album Pet Sounds in solitude while the rest of the Beach Boys played concerts on the road; Brian worked insane hours to create an even grander follow-up, a double album called Smile, and the first fruit of those sessions, “Good Vibrations,” promised another huge sonic leap forward.
But when Mike Love came in to add his nasal baritone to the new songs he made a huge deal about the weird lyrics and browbeat Wilson — who by this time had already begun to invent Eccentric Rock Stardom as a thing by turning his thousand-square-foot living room into a sandbox with his grand piano at the center — until Wilson had a nervous breakdown, shelved the entire album, and spent the next 20 years in his bedroom a shell of his former self, never coming anywhere near the twin highs of Pet Sounds and “Good Vibrations.”
(Tangent: I recently acquired a 45 of “Good Vibrations” and it sounds amazing. 45s sound amazing, especially the well-recorded ones. If you see one, buy it, unless you hate music that sounds amazing.)
Love’s concern was apparently that the band — the biggest-selling American band for several years to that point — would sell fewer records if it strayed from its cars/girls/fun-in-the-sun lyrical formula. The artistic strides Brian was making, and the unanimous admiration of their peers for Pet Sounds, appear not to have persuaded Love in the least, and the world was robbed of an enormous potential legacy. Imagine if Brian Wilson had been a functional human being at the same time that Stevie Wonder took control of his own work in the ’70s? Wilson was always competitive, and saw Pet Sounds as a direct response to the Beatles’ Rubber Soul. What would his response to Innervisions have been like? Songs In The Key Of Life? What if they got in a room together and stared each other down over matching ARP keyboards? It boggles the mind. We can only imagine, and for that we can blame Mike Love.
Ironically, around the same time as he was psychically terrorizing his cousin, bandmate, writing partner, and meal ticket, he was also discovering Trancendental Meditation and heading off to India to study at the knee of the Maharishi alongside the Beatles. This kind of striving for inner peace would seem to preclude the kind of meanspirited, wantonly antagonistic, pathologically litigious outbursts he’d dedicate the next 30 years to, but that would only be if you didn’t know Mike Love. (For his part, John Lennon was quoted as calling Love a jerk.) It seems more like he’s an asshole, he knows he’s an asshole, and he periodically tries to be (or at least make it appear that he’s) less of an asshole. He’s also widely rumored to be a wife-beater, but even the internet can’t seem to substantiate that.
(Here I have to acknowledge that the Beach Boys’ history is possibly the most bizarre in all of rock, including as it does a prolonged close encounter with the Manson Family, the ongoing antipathy between Love and middle brother and drummer Dennis Wilson, Brian Wilson’s breakdown, and on and on and on… but we’re focusing here on Mike Love, so I will do my best not to digress into the many tempting byways in the Beach Boys’ saga.)
(Okay, just one Fun Fact: Love had an illegitimate daughter named Shawn, and his bandmate Dennis Wilson made her his fifth wife in 1983, after she’d already borne him a son at age 19. I’m not saying this reflects well on Dennis Wilson, but even an asshole wouldn’t do that to a relative and bandmate unless that relative and bandmate was a much, much bigger asshole.)
Wife-beater or no, Mike Love never goes anywhere without a stupid baseball hat, obviously to hide the fact that he’s bald as a volleyball under it, and even worse he favors the naval kind with the gold laurels on the brim. I really think this is just as bad as a combover, and it speaks to deep psychological flaws within the man.
But don’t take my word for it! If you want to know just how big an asshole Mike Love really is, look no further than his speech at the 1988 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, when the Beach Boys were inducted along with the Beatles. It just so happens that I have seen this video, and I encourage you to do the same:
First up we have Brian, who despite reading his speech to the audience like a 10-year-old giving a book report still comes off much better than anyone in the room probably expected, as his personal struggles were common scuttlebutt at the time. Interesting that he’s totally wearing Coke-bottle grandpa glasses here, considering he was still in his forties. He gets his words out reasonably well despite clearly being petrified, and who is there to step in and rattle him further but Mike Love, who of course is wearing a Naval-style baseball cap with his tuxedo.
As Brian gets a cheer for calling “Be My Baby” his favorite wake-up record, and visibly begins to feel a connection to the audience, Mike Love steps forward and adjusts Brian’s microphone stand, and Brian stumbles a little; then Love takes the mic and says “You’re taller than most of these executives in the record business. You’re a — He’s a giant!” And Brian completely loses all flow, his mouth moves and no sound comes out, then he stammers for like ten seconds while Love drapes an arm around him and beams at the crowd.
After a painful pause, Brian pulls it together and starts reading again, the crowd makes an encouraging noise, and Mike Love slinks around to the other side of him, and stares at the side of his face like a kid trying to start a fight. He’s actually, literally upstaging Brian. You can’t let Brian Wilson have his moment? Dude has been locked in his bedroom for 20 years. He’s the Howard Hughes of rock n’ roll in 1988. Everyone there is hanging on his every word, and Mike Love is tapping on his shoulder to say “may I cut in?” Brian finishes his very sweet remarks by noting that “in 27 years I hope we can come back and get reinducted all over again.” This is only the first of the many comments in this video that will seem especially sad in retrospect and in light of the band’s recent history.
Then comes Carl Wilson, baby brother to Brian and Dennis, who played guitar and led the band onstage, sang a lot of harmonies, wrote and produced most of their ’70s records while Brian was out of it, and most memorably gave one of the best lead vocal performances in the entire rock canon on “God Only Knows.” (Weird how nobody knows that. Or even probably that there was a third Wilson brother. He died of cancer in 1998.) He begins his Tweet-length remarks with an odd formulation: “I’ve been asked to say a few words on behalf of our beloved Dennis, who’s gone.” (Dennis died diving off a friend’s boat in 1983 despite being a very strong swimmer — I told you this band has a weird history!) “This would have thrilled him beyond belief, so from Dennis Wilson I thank you.” I include the full remarks only because they are so brief, and so puzzling: doesn’t Carl want to say thanks on behalf of himself? Why was he *asked to* say a few words on Dennis’ behalf? They were brothers! Wait, I said I was going to stick to Mike Love and that’s what I’m gonna do.
Mike’s speech begins abruptly. Is there an edit here? It really seems like it. I have to wonder if Love began with a preamble even more horrifying than the following remarks. Did he say something about reparations or deny the Holocaust? What could he have said to warrant a flagrant tape splice? I guess we’ll never know.
“You heard from cousin Brian the reason that we started making music and the reason that keeps us going. And it sounds corny, but you can hear it in the harmonies. Those of you who are musicians. And the reason why people like the Beach Boys is because we love harmony. We love music and we love harmony. And we love all people, too.”
Oh wow. Any other member of this band would be credible using the band’s trademark vocal harmonies as a metaphor for getting along and goodwill toward men. But not the (alleged) wifebeater. Not the one who took out a restraining order against his own drummer. Not the one who crushed a fragile creative genius’ spirit to sell a couple more records.
After a couple more halfhearted nods to the Beach Boys’ musical influences, Love decides it’s time to settle some old scores.
“And I think it’s wonderful to be here tonight, but I also think it’s sad that there are other people who aren’t here tonight. And those are the people who have passed away, those are the obvious ones. But the other not-so-obvious ones are people like Paul McCartney, who couldn’t be here tonight because he’s in a lawsuit with Ringo and Yoko. That’s what he sent a telegram to some, uh, high priced attorney in this room, you know. Now that’s a bummer, because we’re talking about harmony, right, and the world.”
Here is where I’d like to point out that Mike Love sued Brian Wilson more than once. He sued for writing credit on all the band’s early songs in 1994 and won $13 million. He sued Brian again with less success in 2005, arguing that a promo CD included free in a newspaper and featuring tunes from Wilson’s re-recorded 2004 Smile album — a project that Mike Love had absolutely nothing to do with and in fact actively obstructed and ultimately killed — “misappropriated Mike Love’s songs, likeness, and the Beach Boys trademark, as well as the Smile album itself.” The suit was scornfully thrown out of court.
Am I the only one who sees the irony here? Love goes on to also call out Diana Ross for skipping the ceremony (she was also involved in lawsuits with the other Supremes). I don’t know about you, but if I had made remarks like this to an assembly of the entire rock and roll industry and the entire rock and roll press, I would hesitate to so flagrantly contradict myself by suing my bandmate. But I guess Mike Love didn’t see YouTube coming.
“The Beach Boys have continued to do, about, we did about 180 performances last year. I’d like to see the moptops match that!” Here of course he’s calling out The Beatles, who he might have known could not do 180 performances in that or any year after 1980, when their most famous member was shot in the back. Kind of insensitive, right?
“I’d like to see Mick Jagger get out on this stage and do ‘I Get Around’ versus ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash,’ any day now.” Wait, is he suggesting that “I Get Around” is better than “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”? Or is he just suggesting that he, Mike Love, would outperform Mick Jagger head-to-head? Actually it doesn’t matter because either suggestion is totally ridiculous.
Now Love makes a weird left turn, says a few sentences with little relation to each other, and then with alarming hostility calls out Muhammad Ali from the stage. By the time he demands that Ali give an “Alaikam a-salaam” to Love’s “A salaam alaikam” his jaw is set and there’s an evil, angry gleam in his eye that makes me wonder if this speech wasn’t the whole basis of Bryan Cranston’s performance on Breaking Bad.
Love follows that up with some incredibly ugly, dismissive remarks about Woody Guthrie — inarguably one of the two or three fathers of modern music — that then fade into a recitation of his family’s immigrant, bootstrapper bona fides, and then a weirdly hostile appeal to One World unity in the form of a jam session.
“And I’d like to see some people kick out the jams, and I challenge the Boss to get up on stage and jam.” Here the house band, who if I’m not mistaken was Paul Shaffer’s band from the Letterman show for all these early RNRHOF inductions (if indeed they’re not to this day), tries to play Love off, like it’s the Oscars — Shaffer plays the theremin line from “Good Vibrations.” So Love goes into his closing remarks.
“I wanna see Billy Joel, see if he can still tickle ivories. Let me see. I know Mick Jagger won’t be here tonight, he’s gonna have to stay in England.” (Mick Jagger was in fact there, to induct the Beatles.) “But I’d like to see us in the Coliseum and he at Wembley Stadium because he’s always been chickenshit to get on stage with the Beach Boys.”
Here again, I have to point out a couple of things. One: The Rolling Stones shared a stage with The Beach Boys for The T.A.M.I. Show, a black-and-white concert film from 1964 most famous for James Brown’s performance. And two, the Beach Boys’ set was great but the Rolling Stones generated an energy and an edge, even with that pre-“Satisfaction” material (“It’s All Over Now” in particular) that the Beach Boys just couldn’t match. So what is this taunt all about? It’s just weird. And three: this is not a voicemail that Mike Love left for his agent that was then released without his consent. He said this from a podium to the entire world music press. He put on a tuxedo (and a Naval hat), squared his shoulders to the crowd and set his jaw and called the single biggest rock star of all time, whose accomplishments dwarfed his own by any standard, “chickenshit.”
And, what exactly are we supposed to imagine Mike Love might contribute to a jam session with Mick Jagger, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, and the surviving Beatles? Some rewritten Chuck Berry lyrics? It doesn’t sound to me like Mike Love can even sing in more than one key. You know all those soaring high harmonies that the Beach Boys are known for? That’s all the other Beach Boys. It’s really surreal that the band’s least talented member would step up and talk this kind of smack.
So yeah, Mike Love is an asshole. I knew we’d agree on that eventually. So it shouldn’t be all that surprising that he’s firing Brian Wilson. Because, to be fair, it can’t have been easy to deal with Brian Wilson for the last 50 years. Can you imagine having to depend on a guy who wore only a bathrobe for 12 years to make your living? Can you imagine having to go into a living room sandbox and beg a man who won’t stop listening to the same record over and over and over again to write some more tunes, or come out on the road, or do something to generate fresh interest in the Beach Boys (other than die)? That must have sucked. And it can’t be a whole lot better now. Imagine trying to get Brian Wilson out of a hotel, into a car, then onto a plane, then into another hotel, then onto a stage. It sounds awful.
You know what? I changed my mind. Mike Love has made some mistakes but he was driven to them by his half-wit cousin. I know I can get a little frazzled when my 5-year-old doesn’t want to put his shoes on. Imagine dealing with someone like that for 50 years! All is forgiven, Mike Love! You did what you had to do. A Salaam Alaikam!
(Just kidding. Mike Love’s an asshole. Whatever you do, don’t pay money to see “The Beach Boys!”)