Early next week one of American music’s most beloved and longest running bands appears in two area concerts, as The Beach Boys perform at the Cape Cod Melody Tent in Hyannis on Tuesday, Aug. 23, and then move on to the South Shore Music Circus in Cohasset on Wednesday, Aug. 24. This version of the group is expected to be fronted by Mike Love, founding member, and lead singer and lyricist on the majority of the band’s biggest hits, and includes Bruce Johnston, whose role in the group goes back to 1964, making him one of its longest-tenured members.
Just about a month ago, another group singing similar tunes opened for Chicago at the Xfinity Center in Mansfield. That group included Brian Wilson, composer, arranger and studio innovator behind most of The Beach Boys’ hits, fellow founding member Al Jardine, and multi-instrumentalist Blondie Chaplin, whose ties to the band goes back to 1969. Playing double-bills with Chicago is also a long-standing Beach Boys tradition, although the trio of stalwarts could not use that name, since Love owns the exclusive rights to tour as The Beach Boys.
So, two separate groups touring, each of them able to claim two original, or as-close-as-possible to original members. Such a dichotomy, fuel for controversy, is part of The Beach Boys history. We went into a deep dive into that history this summer, reading three books about the band and its origins over the past month. Overall, it is a story with seemingly every element of the American musical dream, from scaling the heights to "too much, too soon" excess, to tragedy and rebirth. And above all it is about the power of the music to bring people together – even if the people playing the music were frequently at odds – and the sheer tenacity of people to keep moving forward, playing the music they loved or obsessively crafting new sounds.
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The Beach Boys did a 50th Anniversary Tour in 2012, with all the surviving original (or close to original) members, including Brian Wilson, Love, Jardine, Johnston and David Marks, the first Brian Wilson appearances with the band since 1996. There were plans for a 60th Anniversary Tour, but those seem to have faded away. In 2021, Capital Records released “Feel Flows: The Sunflower and Surf’s Up Sessions 1969-71,” a boxed set comprising music from two of the band’s latter period of experimenting with newer sounds and concepts.
The first book that got us going in this direction was Joel Selvin’s 2021 “Hollywood Eden: Electric Guitars, Fast Cars, and the Myth of the California Paradise.” Selvin’s concept was to focus on the incredibly talented 1958 class of University High in Los Angeles, which produced several of the pillars of the pop music California scene to come.
His focus is largely on Jan & Dean, the surf-rocking duo that preceded the Beach Boys. Jan Berry was an early studio wizard, developing many of the sonic concepts The Beach Boys would later use to even greater effect. Johnston was also in that class, and had worked with Jan & Dean, before joining The Beach Boys when Brian Wilson stopped doing live shows in 1964. (Johnston also provided a blurb for the book). But Selvin’s book excels at portraying the groundswell of creativity as these folks, many as teenagers, discovered and developed new vistas in music.
Selvin’s book is anecdotal, with each chapter a fascinating view of the scene and the people in it. The book has episodes with Nancy Sinatra, the Mamas and Papas, Barry McGuire, Sandy Nelson, Lou Adler, Herb Alpert and other pop luminaries of the time. It’s all engrossing, especially in the light of how primitive recording was in those days, and how many of these folks, including of course Brian Wilson and TheBeach Boys, were creating not just new sounds and techniques, but a whole new technology of recording. And there is a tragic ending, as a serious auto crash left Jan severely diminished.
'My Life as a Beach Boy'
Next, we read Love’s 2016 memoir, “Good Vibrations – My Life As a Beach Boy.” As most people know Love, now 81, is the most polarizing member. The original quintet at its 1961 founding was Brian Wilson, brothers Carl and Dennis Wilson, their cousin Mike Love and friend Al Jardine. The Wilsons’ father, Murry Wilson, a business owner with aspirations of being a songwriter, was a domineering figure who was especially harsh on Brian, even as the young band achieved early success. Love came from a more stable family unit, so his views of the way his cousins were bedeviled by their father, and their own sibling rivalries, is very interesting and often insightful.
A kind of recurring theme to Love’s book is that, as the natural turmoil in the Wilson family led to upheaval in the band, and later on, drug and alcohol abuse, he was the figure trying to keep the band together and working as a concert attraction. Brian Wilson stopped touring in ’64, but Johnston was a fine replacement, allowing Brian to concentrate on his studio magic. By the late ‘60s, Love had become an adherent of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and even as that mystic figure’s reputation declined over the years, Love has remained devoted to meditation. There’s plenty of detail about that, and a period spent in India, when the Beatles were also on retreat with the yogi. But the main result of Love’s TM devotion, is that he eschewed drugs and was thus able to maintain a consistent level of performance amid all the chaos and band changes, although his six marriages suggest he wasn’t always easy to get along with.
There’s a certain amount of ego in Love’s account, of course, but he makes some points that seem irrefutable. Claiming that the song publishing company helmed by Murry Wilson and Brian cheated him out of credits for lyrics to almost all the early hits, Love in 1994 did in fact win a court case on that matter, receiving $13 million in lost royalties. Brian Wilson’s ’92 book “Wouldn’t It be Nice,” cast Love in a negative light, but his defamation suit unearthed transcriptions that indicated Brian’s co-writer had exaggerated some issues, and Love was awarded $1.5 million. Incredibly, Carl Wilson, their mother, Audree Wilson, and the band’s corporate entity Brothers Records, also sued for defamation for that one book.
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Love is a controversial figure to many, and his owning the exclusive rights to the band’s name since ’98 is part of it. But as he points out, 17.5 percent of all concert income goes to Brothers Records, which is essentially the original band members and their heirs. Drummer Dennis Wilson drowned in 1983, and Carl Wilson, a heavy smoker, died of lung cancer in 1998. Brian disappeared from public life for years at a time, battled drugs and alcohol and extreme weight gain, and was either rescued or further mentally beat down by two stints with psychologist Eugene Landy. Brian’s late life return to performing and creating superb pop has made him a beloved, if childlike, character, as the recent PBS documentary shows. And Love may be criticized for leading concerts of greatest hits, but on the other hand that is what Beach Boys fans want to hear, and he can’t be faulted for being simply a good businessman.
Love does not come off as touchy-feely, but keeping things running despite all these issues was obviously not easy, and you can sympathize when Love states “For all those who think Brian walks on water, I will always be the anti-Christ.”
Tragedy and struggle
Finally we read Steven Gaines’ 1986 epic “Heroes and Villains – The True Story of the Beach Boys.” Gaines book opens with a finely detailed timeline of Dennis Wilson’s final binge, when he’d been fired and cut off from band money in November 1983 in an effort to get him into rehab. Dennis drank too much and did various drugs, and was also addicted to sex, all good reasons why none of his marriages or romances worked out for long. In his final days, Dennis left rehab right after Christmas to pop in on his most recent wife – Love’s illegitimate daughter – and was beaten up badly by her boyfriend. Basically homeless by then, he couch-surfed until he ended up at the marina where he’d once owned a sailing sloop. Supposedly diving for mementoes he’d previously tossed overboard, Dennis drowned on the morning of Dec. 28, with roughly three-times the legal limit of alcohol in his body, plus drugs. The tragedy of that ending is enhanced by the fact that Dennis’ solo debut album (“Pacific Ocean Blue”) had been well received and might have helped him emerge from the shadows of his brothers.
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The other shocking thing about the Gaines book is the details of Dennis’ ties to the Charles Manson family. Enticed by the orgies Manson orchestrated, in short order Dennis was not only boosting his music, but had most of the cult moving into his house. Eventually, amid all the drugs and STDs, it was too much for even Dennis, but his only solution was to move out and let the lease lapse, so that authorities evicted Manson.
The Gaines book also details Carl Wilson’s struggles with alcohol, and turmoil with his brothers. It also seems obvious Mike Love was not a source for Gaines, as he isn’t depicted sympathetically at all and his meditation work is almost scorned.
One quibble with Gaines’ book is when he refers to Dick Dale as having grown up in California. That will come as news to classmates who completed the 11th grade with the trumpet-playing former Richard Monsour in Quincy, before his family moved west. Not heavy on analysis, Gaines’ book is, however, a detailed, gossipy page-turner.
One incident from Selvin’s book encapsulates the mid-60’s scene so well, when The Beach Boys’ success and future seemed limitless. While Brian’s studio work delayed a new album, in 1965, the record company wanted product. The Beach Boys decided to record a live, ‘party album’ of mostly cover songs. Disgruntled after a dispute with Jan in the adjoining studio, Dean Torrance went next door to a Beach Boys session, where everyone was in mid-party. Trying to top off their album, The Beach Boys asked Torrance for suggestions, and he offered up an obscure 1961 cut from The Regents. With Torrance gleefully joining in (though uncredited for legal reasons), the Beach Boys’ joyous rendition of “Barbara Ann” became one of their biggest and best-loved hits.
Lady Gaga and Bill Burr at Fenway
It’s a big weekend for Fenway Park: Bad Bunny gets down on Thursday, Lady Gaga goes deep on Friday, Imagine Dragons rocks the ballpark on Saturday and Canton comic Bill Burr caps it off on Sunday. Thursday also has that ‘Wild Hearts’ tour, with stellar songwriters Sharon Von Etten, Angel Olsen and Julien Baker at Leader Bank Pavilion. The Brothers Osborne at the Music Circus on Friday is one of the season’s most significant shows as the country dudes are red-hot. Americana singer Kat Wright comes to the Spire Center on Friday while comedian Christine Hurley performs at the Plymouth venue on Saturday. It’s retro night at The Infinity Center Friday with Styx and REO Speedwagon. Jabbawaukee does a Red Hot Chili Peppers show at Soundcheck Studios on Friday. Songsmith David Gray headlines the Leader Bank Pavilion Friday and Saturday. The Pousette-Dart Band folk-rocks The Narrows Center on Friday. Xfinity Center’s Saturday bill is heavy on improvisation, with Dispatch and O.A.R. jamming. One Night of Queen is a cool tribute Saturday at the Music Circus. An odd listing, as British popster Calum Scott headlines The Paradise on Sunday and Wednesday. Look for Philly rockers Low Cut Connie on Aug. 25 at Soundcheck Studios.
The end for Ghost of Paul Revere
Finally, the word is that Maine's The Ghost of Paul Revere is disbanding after their performance at their own Ghostland Festival Sept. 3 in Portland. Anyone who caught their two-hour show before a near-sellout crowd at the Paradise last Saturday would urge the "holler-folk" quintet to reconsider. New songs like “In Deep” still deftly combine roots elements and rocking fervor, and their “Ballad of the 20th Maine” is always a gloriously inspiring moment for us fans of the Union Army.
See The Beach Boys
When: 7:30 p.m. Aug. 24
Where: South Shore Music Circus, 130 Sohier St., Cohasset
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This article originally appeared on The Patriot Ledger: Mike Love bringing Beach Boys to South Shore Music Circus in Cohasset