Mike Love sets the record straight on Brian Wilson’s ‘firing’
It’s the last show of the Beach Boys’ 50th anniversary tour, at the tail end of our triumphant stand in London, first at Royal Albert Hall and then Wembley Arena, and we’re in the final moments of “Fun, Fun, Fun…"
Looking at the beaming faces, I’m filled with an enormous sense of pride for my bandmates and our fans. We didn’t just show up for this tour like some museum act. We sang well. We played well. We moved people and we touched a lot of hearts. And it was beautiful. That’s not easy for any band, let alone one with our history.
Then I get on the plane buzzing with excitement, and I start reading a lot of nasty gossip and I’m heartbroken. I didn’t want the divisive and ugly rumors of the last week to tarnish the experience of fans and the high note we ended the tour on. So, this is my attempt to set the record straight on the recent stories regarding the family I love and the music that has been my life for 50 years.
Let me get right to it: I did not fire Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys. I cannot fire Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys. I am not his employer. I do not have such authority. And even if I did, I would never fire Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys. I love Brian Wilson. We are partners. He’s my cousin by birth and my brother in music.
We grew up together. We sang Everly Brothers’ songs together at Aunt Audrey’s piano. We played football together. We formed a band together. We wrote songs together that have been woven into the fabric of this nation.
Our songs are in the DNA of America. Our imagery of the coast, surfing, cars and teenage freedom helped make our country the envy of the world.
There’s a tremendous amount of personal history between Brian and me… family gatherings, holidays, birthdays, graduation trips, and most importantly, a deep, shared love of the music we created together.
Brian composed, arranged, structured and sang harmonies that will be studied, analyzed, copied and revered hundreds of years from now. Writing songs with Brian and performing them with Al Jardine, Dennis Wilson, Carl Wilson, David Marks, Bruce Johnston and many other brilliant musicians over the years is my legacy, and something of which I am very proud and protective.
If you ask any couple who have been married 50 years or longer, they will tell you they’ve experienced it all. The same is true of the Beach Boys. We caught a romantic wave of success, the likes of which few have ever known. And since that time, we have collectively experienced profound joy, love, heartbreak, betrayal, anger, bitterness, pride and eventually resolve.
And it is that resolve (and some prodding from Capitol Records) that brought us all back together for the 50th anniversary concert tour and the release of our first album in 16 years, “That’s Why God Made the Radio.”
What began as three brothers, a cousin and a friend jamming in a living room in Hawthorne, is now a major enterprise, complete with lawyers, managers, agents, children and wives ironing out every little last detail, months before we hit the road.
This tour was always envisioned as a limited run. None of us wanted to do a 50th anniversary tour that lasted 10 years. It was meant to be special. In fact, very early on, Brian was just going to join the tour for a few dates in big cities. We finally settled on 50 dates in 50 major markets.
Brian, Al and I signed an agreement outlining the beginning and end of the tour. Then, thanks to glowing reviews, the support of our loyal fans (and the prodding of promoters), we amended our agreement to add 25 more dates. As the year went on, Brian and Al wanted to keep the 50th anniversary tour going beyond the 75 dates.
Like any good party, no one wanted it to end. However, that was impossible, given that we had already set up shows in smaller cities with a different configuration of the band -- the configuration that had been touring together every year for the last 13 years. Brian and Al would not be joining for these small market dates, as was long agreed upon.
It is not feasible, both logistically and economically, for the 50th anniversary tour to play these markets. It’s vitally important for the smaller markets to experience our live shows, as this is how we’ve maintained a loyal fan base for 50 years. You can’t sustain a fan base on a great catalog alone. You must take your music directly to the people.
Initially, there was to be plenty of space between the two tours, but then we added 25 more dates and the two tours bumped up against each other. To avoid public confusion, and at the request of Brian’s representative, we had a press release sent out detailing the differences between the two Beach Boys tours and its varying lineups. I was surprised that Brian and Al said they were surprised by this announcement. Some media outlets interpreted all of this as me firing the band.
The plan was always to go back to our respective lives post the 50th anniversary run. Brian is writing a new album. Al often tours with his band -- they are terrific. And my job hasn’t changed in 50 years. I’m the lead singer of the Beach Boys and an ambassador of this amazing music that touched a generation. I’ve made it my mission to bring these marvelous harmonies to absolutely every corner of the globe, where people, no matter who they are, how much money they make and where they come from, are united in the pursuit of happiness and good vibrations.
This approach is not new for our band. Brian first stopped touring with the Beach Boys in 1964. Over the years, he’d sporadically join us on the road when he could. In ’65, Brian left our tour and went on to write and compose one of the greatest albums ever known to mankind, “Pet Sounds.” And to clarify another misconception, I was enormously proud of “Pet Sounds” back in ’66, and I am even prouder of it today. I sang on “Pet Sounds,” I wrote songs for the album and I even named it. I personally walked the album up to Capitol Records with Brian to encourage the A&R; guys to get behind it. They didn’t know what to do with it at the time and asked us to write some more songs about cars and girls…
In the 40 or so years since “Pet Sounds,” many different incarnations of The Beach Boys played for crowds big and small— averaging 150+ shows a year. Stadiums, arenas, amphitheaters, county fairs: You name it, we’ve played it. We did a Fourth of July show at the Washington D.C. mall in front of 750,000 people, and in a week we’re doing a couple nights at the 1,500 seat Beau Rivage Theater in Biloxi. Regardless of the venue or the size of the crowd, the mission of the band remains the same: to move you to a joyous warm place somewhere just east of the sun.
The name “The Beach Boys” is controlled by Brother Records Inc., which was founded by the original members of the Beach Boys and whose sole shareholders voted over a decade ago to grant me an exclusive license to tour as “The Beach Boys.” With it, I’ve felt a great responsibility to uphold, honor and further our legacy. For better or worse, I’ve been a constant link to the history of the Beach Boys through every live performance -- bar none. And during the lean years, when the world had moved on from the sounds of the California surf, we kept playing.
And every night, I always remembered why I was on that stage -- because a group of guys (my family) got together to form a band. Despite all the baggage that comes with harmonizing with family members for 50 years, I carry these gifted artists and their remarkable contributions in my heart every time I draw a breath to sing.
During this last anniversary year, I’ve experienced many magical moments. Night after night, I’d marvel at Al Jardine’s fantastic voice as he sang “Help Me, Rhonda” with all the fervor he did in the 1960s. We got to honor and “reunite” with Carl and Dennis, in a moving tribute as we performed under footage of them singing. But the most rewarding part about getting back together was standing in the studio, listening to playbacks of the new album and hearing all of our voices together. And Brian said it best: “Wow, it sounds like 1965 all over again.”
The great thing about getting older is that you get a chance to tell the people in your life who matter what they mean to you. Throughout the course of the tour, Brian said some really kind things to me about how my early songs gave him the freedom to go deeper musically. His words meant so much to me and I returned the praise every chance I could.
Near the end of the very last show in London, right as Brian started singing “Summer’s Gone” off the new album, I started thinking about our journey together. I’m wondering if we’ll all get to do this again or if this is it. I’m standing proud that we came together, put our differences aside and made this tour happen. I listen:
Summer’s gone away…
Old friends have gone
They’ve gone their separate ways
Our dreams hold on
For those who still have more to say
And at the end of the song, I have an epiphany: The Beach Boys are bigger than those who created it. When all of us remaining founders have turned to dust, the band will live on in the hearts of those who relish the sounds of summer. So you see, summer’s never really gone. And neither are the Beach Boys.
Mike Love is a founding member of the Beach Boys.
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