A long-buried release, possible Beach Boys reunion give reasons to Smile
By Ryan Snyder
There`s a 1971 Beach Boys recording from a Fillmore East show with the Grateful Dead where Carl Wilson, having just concluded “Good Vibrations” to uproarious applause, sends his gratitude to the song’s authors. “It sure was nice of Mike and Brian to write that song,” he said. The Mike in question was lead vocalist Mike Love and the Brian, of course, was the band’s mercurial mastermind Brian Wilson. The band was but 10 years old at that point, but had already endured myriad internal problems, and the show with Jerry Garcia and company was to serve as rehabilitation for the sagging hipness. Another 40 years later and the Beach Boys may be primed for another shot of cool.
It’s true that the peachy keen, aw-shucks demeanor that Carl Wilson espoused in innocent stage banter typified the Beach Boys then as much as their infallible harmonies and revolutionary lyricism did. At the same time, the growing ideological rift between the militantly teetotaling Love and the psychedelically curious Brian Wilson came to be the band’s albatross. Through numerous legal, professional and interpersonal complications, The Beach Boys are on the verge of two historic milestones: a potential 50th anniversary reunion and the definitive release of the Smile recordings, the creative work said to be the tipping point for the band’s creative differences.
While the album that’s come to be known as The Smile Sessions is finally seeing the light of day after several excruciating misfires over the decades, plans for a 50 th anniversary reunion of the surviving band members are a little less evident. Brian Wilson, the only living Wilson brother, has offered contradictory quotes as to his potential involvement in a reunion over the past two weeks. The first, more encouraging statement came in a piece published on May 16 by BBC 6 Music where he said simply, “I’m considering it. I don’t know yet, but I am considering it.” He followed that in a teaser published 10 days later by the Village Voice, referencing the same report published by BBC 6 and rollingstone.com, “I don’t know anything about that. I don’t really [have a relationship with the other members] right now, and I’m not really interested in them.”
In a recent interview with YES! Weekly as the Beach Boys prepare to make the inaugural performance at Greensboro’s new White Oak Ampitheatre, Love expressed confusion over the conflicting reports before striking a similarly guarded, but more conciliatory tone.
“I heard of an interview where he said I’m retiring the Brian Wilson thing and next year I’m going to be a Beach Boy. Who knows?” Love said. “I can’t speak to what he said because I wasn’t there, but I think we’re all open to doing stuff together again.”
In regards to the anniversary, there are a couple of formative events worthy of observation according to Love. One being the release of their first single “Surfin’” in the late fall of 1961, and the other being their first time promoted as the Beach Boys, which occurred on Dec. 31 of the same year. As for his ideal observation for the Beach Boys’ golden anniversary would be, Love could only express his support for a performance involving the surviving members.
“It makes a lot of sense.
There’s a lot of interest in that,” Love said. “I can only say that I’d be open to it and it could be fun, fun, fun.”
Those surviving members, of course, are Love, Wilson, rhythm guitarist Al Jardine and Bruce Johnston, who joined the band in 1965 as an onstage replacement for Wilson. Johnston currently tours with Love as a member of the Beach Boys, while Jardine has found success fronting his own solo band. Jardine made a brief return to the Beach Boys earlier this year, signifying that animosities resulting from suits brought against him by Love and the estate of Carl Wilson over the touring usage of the Beach Boys’ name may have quelled.
As for Love, he’s charioted the Beach Boys since the 1998 death of Carl Wilson despite sharing corporate ownership with Brian Wilson, who otherwise became preoccupied with work outside the band. While Love made scattered attempts at a solo career that ultimately proved less fruitful, he believes a reunion would still be a part of the conversation had he opted in favor of his own work.
“Its possible, I don’t think anyone would have thought that the Buffalo Springfield would be out touring today, that’s for sure, especially after taking about 35 years off,” Love said. “Anything’s possible in music, as long as you have your health and your chops, and you haven’t overdone it with drugs or alcohol.”
Long the spearhead of the clean-and-sober faction within the band, Love has almost gone out of his way in the past to project an image of temperance and mildness. He brought his friend John Stamos on as a drummer during the actor’s peak years as Uncle Jessie on “Full House” in the 1980s, and still references him as “America’s Favorite Uncle” in conversation. While he says he was disapproving of the drug use that began to consume Wilson during the Pet Sounds era and increased during the recording of Smile, Love acknowledges that Wilson was always the most important member of the band. At the same time, however, he expressed his hesitance in joining him artistically as his unbridled creativity was capable of taking the band off into places for which he wasn’t prepared.
“The only exception I took was that I wasn’t involved in the lyrical part of it, and the lyrics are a little far-fetched and obtuse for me because I have a different style of writing and a different thought process,” Love stressed. “But that’s been misconstrued by some as to say that I didn’t like the Smile album — and that’s absolutely not true. I never said that, but I did take exception to some of the lyrics. What I took exception to was the insanity of that time, all the drugs and everything like that. As far as the music is concerned, that part of it is incredible.”
This obviously isn’t the first time Love has said he was only opposed to the lyrics — which Smile co-writer Van Dyke Parks has called “revisionism” — Love remains adamant about his stance. Some evidence suggests that it may simply be time that has softened Love’s stance on the band’s more psychedelic music. He spoke glowingly of the Carl Wilson song “Feel Flows”, a song from the album Surf’s Up which itself was salvaged from the Smile recordings.
“My son went away to school a while back and he said one of his friends heard ‘Feel Flows’ with a solo by Charles Lloyd,” Love said. “This friend of his comes back and says that ‘Feel Flows’ is the best song he’s ever heard. It’s not really well known, but it’s a phenomenal recording.”
He says he hasn’t heard what the project as it will be released on Aug. 9 sounds like, but he also doesn’t see it as a weight is about to be lifted from the band’s collective shoulders. He says that “Wonderful” shows Brian Wilson singing at his best, with the rest of the band offering some of the most complex harmonies of that period, and described “Heroes and Villains” as simply “dynamic.”
“I think people will listen to it, and some will get their mind’s blown and others will think it’s too far out there for them,” Love said. “But I think everyone will find something they’re going to like on it.”