The Beach Boys' Last Wave

After decades of acrimony and lawsuits, the surviving Beach Boys are onstage together

The Beach Boys
Robert Matheu
June 21, 2012

'Hey, Wilson," says Mike Love, placing his hand gently on Brian Wilson's forearm. "Hey, Love," says Wilson, brightly, as his cousin slides into the booth next to him. "You were great last night," Love says. "Animated. Ani-fuckin'-mated." Wilson beams. "Gracias, amigo. Our harmonies – we sound good together."

The Beach Boys' founding members, Brian Wilson, 69, and Mike Love, 71, are relaxing at a casino steakhouse in Hollywood, Florida. Dinner together is not an everyday thing for Love and Wilson. Or even an every-decade thing. The last holiday together Love remembers was Thanksgiving '99. "I invited him up," Love says. "He said, ‘Yeah, Mike. Family first.' " But it's usually not like that. The Southern California cousins have been estranged for much of the Beach Boys' career, their relationship fractured by disagreements over the group's musical direction and hard-fought lawsuits, mostly instigated by Love, over issues like songwriting credits and some of the pettiest financial squabbles imaginable. "Our family's been pretty screwed up," says Wilson, who himself has battled mental illness since the Sixties. "It's sad."

Despite all that, tonight the sole surviving family members in America's greatest family band actually seem to be enjoying each other's company. "We're cousins," Love tells me. "And we love each other."

It's a rare night off on the Beach Boys' week-old 50th-anniversary tour, a 73-date, 14-country trip that's possibly the most unlikely rock reunion ever mounted. In addition to Love and Wilson, who have spent about as much time in court as onstage together during the past three decades, the show also includes original Beach Boys Al Jardine and David Marks (the guitarist who played on the group's first five albums, before he clashed with Wilson's dad and quit); Bruce Johnston, who joined in 1965 after Wilson quit touring; and Jeffrey Foskett, who has sung some of the most challenging and beautiful parts in the Beach Boys and in Brian Wilson's solo band since 1980. Two key members are missing: Wilson's brothers, Dennis, who drowned in 1983, and Carl, who died of cancer in 1998.

It's hard to imagine two more different guys than Love and Wilson: Love is a swaggering, acerbic mix of wily businessman and hippie seeker – the guy who cuts corners on every possible tour expense, but is also a longtime vegetarian and student of Transcendental Meditation, who once hired an astrologer to choose optimal colors to wear onstage each night. (Suggested color schemes are still posted nightly in the band's dressing rooms.)

Wilson, on the other hand, is a bundle of nerves – halting, anxious, impulsive. When the waiter arrives to describe the specials, he interrupts. "You got prime rib?" he asks. "Medium-well?"

"Any way you want, sir."

"I'll have a rib-eye steak, medium rare. And Caesar salad." Then, to the rest of us: "What are you guys gonna have? You should get Caesar salad. Trust me."

"Bri," Love says after the waiter retreats, "remember when Dennis and I dropped trousers and raced across the stage and traded pants on the other side?"

"No way!" says Wilson. "That's a Mike Love kind of rock & roll thing." Then he adds, almost embarrassed, "We're not crazy. We're just a little loony. We're loony people. You should know that about us."

Later, Wilson asks, "Isn't Kokomo around here, Mike?" "Kokomo," from 1988, was the Beach Boys' last Number One single, and their only hit that Wilson had no involvement in. "Somewhere down around the Florida Keys, right? We should go there." He says it totally deadpan, so it's impossible to tell whether he's joking. Love chuckles and lets it go.

Wilson's steak comes; he picks it up to eat off the bone. "Sir! Sir!" he shouts. When the waiter comes, he says, "Never mind."

"What's up, Bri?" says Love.

"I was gonna get another beer, but I don't want to get drunk."

"You're not gonna get drunk, you're having a big meal," says Love. "What the fuck, it's your night off!"

Wilson is on his third Miller Lite by the time he brings up what's really on his mind: the set list for tomorrow's concert. "Oh, Michael," he says, faux-casually, shifting uncomfortably to face Love.

"Yes, sir?"

"I have feedback from my family," Wilson continues. "They want new songs."

Love grins, in a way that could be confused with a smirk. "Like what, cuz?"

"I was thinking ‘Marcella,' " Wilson blurts, referring to a great but obscure 1972 track he wrote about his favorite masseuse.

"Whaaaaat?" Love yells.

Wilson, never one to embrace conflict, bravely perseveres: " ‘Marcella' 's pretty cool, Mike." He sings the song's first lines, "Hey, hey, Marcella!"

Love: "What are we gonna cut?"

Wilson: "Well . . ."

Love: "Maybe we can alternate songs."

Wilson: "Yah, OK, all right, whatever."

Wilson lets it go, but soon he throws out another idea. " ‘Add Some Music' is a cool, cool song. We should do that one. You and I wrote that, you know." (He's referring to "Add Some Music to Your Day," a gorgeous gospel track from 1970's Sunflower.) "We wrote that in my Bel-Air house. You just said it one day, ‘Let's write a song called "Add Some Music to Your Day." ' "

Love: "I said that?"

Wilson: "You said that."

Love: "If he says I said it, I said it."

Wilson: "We put that song together in a half-hour!"

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