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Waves of Nostalgia

The Beach Boys' Mike Love remembers the band's early years.


Back in those silly 1960s, Frankie and Annette and Gidget and Moondoggie may have been nerds, but they were right about one thing--the beach in Southern California was the place to be.

Beginning in 1961, Hawthorne's Beach Boys provided the soundtrack for all that sun, surf and sand with a lengthy string of hit songs heard around the nation, convincing millions of people that it would be fun, fun, fun to move here. Although no longer boys by any stretch, the band, still led by Mike Love, will play lots of cool songs at a pair of Sunday shows at the Civic Arts Plaza in Thousand Oaks.

The guys have come a long way from the days when they used to play locally at the Roller Gardens in Wagon Wheel Junction or up in Santa Barbara at the Earl Warren Showgrounds, all sartorially splendid in those matching striped shirts. The Beach Boys--fueled by all those cool songs, the vast majority written by the incomparable Brian Wilson--have created a vast repertoire of three-minute pop gems with lyrics everyone still knows.

There were songs about waves ("Surfin' Safari"), cars ("409"), girls ("Wendy"), school ("Be True to Your School") and the coolness of being a kid on the beach in Southern California ("Fun, Fun Fun"). The Beach Boys have sold a zillion records, been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of fame and become American legends.

The Wilsons are gone now--Carl and Dennis have died and Brian is living in the Midwest--but front man Mike Love carries on the legacy, and he still has a few stories to tell.

What do you remember from the Wagon Wheel shows?

That was a long time ago. I remember we used to come up there in a station wagon with a U-Haul trailer. In those days, DJs would hold a dance called a hop and about a thousand kids would show up.

How did the band end up in those striped shirts?

We weren't very creative. In the photos on our first album we were actually wearing Pendletons with white T-shirts underneath and white jeans. Then we just stole the striped shirt idea from the Kingston Trio. They were wearing those same shirts, doing their folk music--that's where we got "Sloop John B"--we just picked up their laundry one day.

What was it like being a rock star in the early '60s?

I was just 20 years old and Carl was, I think, just 14. It was fun--we had a blast. Then things got kind of weird a few years later and we all grew our beards and went from striped shirts to paisley to whatever. It's kind of embarrassing to see those pictures now. That reminds me of a story. I was in Washington, D.C., at the Earth Day event on April 22 and someone mentioned Leonardo DiCaprio's name, and all these teenage girls started screaming. That reminded me of when the girls would all scream for us and the Beatles.

Is there anything the band hasn't done?

A symphonic tour. My cousin Brian is going to do something with a symphony, and I think some of our songs would be perfect with a symphony, especially the songs on "Pet Sounds." As far back as "California Girls," the beginning of that song was symphonic.

How do you survive on the road?

For me, personally, it's transcendental meditation. I went to India in 1967 when the Beatles were there. That's where they wrote "Back in the USSR," a Beach Boys-inspired Beatles song.

Who's left of the old guys?

It's myself and Bruce Johnston. Al Jardine is off doing his own thing. He was one of the original members but he quit to go to dental school because he didn't think the band was going anywhere.

What was your strangest gig?

Well, this wasn't strange, but definitely memorable. We played in Washington, D.C., in 1985 before a half-million people. That was phenomenal, huge.

You played a few inaugurations for non-surfing presidents--did anyone dance, sing along or what?

We did two Reagans and a Bush. Reagan was funny--he had a great sense of humor. He was the Great Communicator. We also have a video of Bush singing "Barbara Ann" to his wife Barbara. That one's totally priceless.

What do you think is the best Beach Boys song?

That's hard to say, but I guess I'd have to say "Good Vibrations." That was our biggest seller until "Kokomo" in 1987.

Why do all those songs still sound so good after all these years?

We'd stay in the studio until we got the vocals perfected. And Brian is a musical genius. Our strong suit is the harmonies like on the "Pet Sounds" album. My contribution was mostly lyrical.

Did everyone move to California because of Beach Boys songs about sun, surf, cars and girls?

I've heard that one before, but the beach can only hold so many people, and eventually those people are going to have to go back to L.A. or Chicago or wherever they came from. At the time we recorded all those songs, the California lifestyle was our reality. That's what we knew about so that's what we sang about. We don't do just love songs, but songs about cars, girls and surfing, and in a way, I find that very refreshing.


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