The Beach Boys' Last Wave

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Wilson closes his eyes and folds his hands across his chest. Then, a moment later, he bounces his hulking frame out of the chair, exits the control booth and walks out the front door to his car. He does not return to the studio until the next day. "Waves of Love" is not included on the final album.

Mike Love is under the gun. He's got to write final lyrics for "Isn't It Time" tonight and sing them tomorrow, the final day of recording. He doesn't seem anxious about the deadline, reminding Wilson how he wrote the lyrics for "California Girls" in the hallway right before he sang them. After staring at a blank legal pad for a while, Love suggests a dinner break. So we hop into his growling blue Bentley and zigzag through Hollywood to El Cholo, an old-school Mexican joint where he's eaten with his family and the Wilson clan since he was a kid.

Love is wearing a loud patterned shirt, a Caesars Palace cap and three massive jeweled gold rings on his right hand. More gold dangles inside his shirt. Over Pacificos and Sonora Style Nachos (his favorite, and vegetarian), he tells jokes, shares stories and exudes a vibe that is somehow mellow and edgy at the same time.

Though all the Beach Boys dabbled in TM, Love and Jardine stuck with it after they spent two weeks in 1968 studying with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India, along with the Beatles and Donovan. "It was the most fascinating experience I ever had," Love says.

"Prior to learning to meditate," he continues, "I drank a fair amount of alcohol. I'm a Pis­ces, a water sign, and Pisces are notorious for being drug addicts or alcoholics. Back then, I wouldn't have one drink; I'd drink half of a fifth of vodka with orange juice, smoke a fair amount of marijuana or hashish. Once I learned to meditate, I stopped all of that, because I found myself feeling energetic and good, versus feeling groggy and hungover. It was a no-brainer."

Love meditates twice daily, once in the morning and once before showtime. "If I were to not have meditated this morning, I'd be irritable right now," he says. "All my thoughts and actions would be influenced by that irritability, but if I am able to meditate very regularly, I feel great."

Love is aware of his reputation – "big, bad Mike Love," he calls himself, with a laugh. In truth, he says, "I've got different things going on – part spiritualist, part humanitarian, part brat."

I ask Love if he's nervous about being back on the road with Wilson after all these years. "There's no doubt the talent's there," he says. "I wonder about his health. He's overweight and out of shape, and he doesn't seem to pay much attention. . . . It's tough, when you've seen the Brian Wilson you grew up with and the Brian Wilson that's going to be onstage nowadays."

Love says he'd like to help get Wilson on a diet-and-exercise regimen. "My grandmother Wilson died of diabetes-related stuff, and his father, Murry, passed away about two years after having several yards of his intestines taken out for diverticulosis. So there's a history of health issues. . . . As you get older you either become proactive about staying in shape and taking care of yourself or, you know, time has its effect on you."

"When we were younger," Love continues, "no one really knew what was wrong with Brian. Nobody knew about mental illness. We just had no clue about that as kids, as cousins and brothers, growing up. . . . I think there's probably a tad bit more compassion that goes into our being together now. And I think there's sensitivity to the fact that there's only a limited amount of time left for this cast of characters to do what they do. There's a lifespan involved here."

Beach Boys Play Their Classics: Legends perform in Rolling Stone studio

The biggest miracle of the Beach Boys' 50th-anniversary tour might be that they make it to the stage every night. The logistics of transporting five senior-citizen rock stars, plus a 10-member band, 25 crew members, and assorted wives and families, on a tour with as many as five shows a week, is a feat in itself. (And not without casualties: The first tour manager quit for "personal reasons" after five shows.)

Complicating things further is the fact that Wilson and Love operate very differently. On his tours, Love travels lean and mean, what his bandmate Bruce Johnston calls "the Walmart frame of mind," flying coach, renting equipment in each city, carrying only four crew members. Wilson, on the other hand, tours with state-of-the-art equipment and rides in his own deluxe tour bus. "He can hide whenever he wants," says Love.

For the Beach Boys' tour, they're essentially combining these approaches – running two tours out of one. During the Florida shows in May, Brian travels on his own bus, while everyone else piles into a rented coach – 25 people driving gig to gig. "Mike's attitude is it's, like, four hours between gigs," says tour manager Michael Swift. "If they can't sit up in a bus for four hours, let 'em take a taxi."

Another issue: iPhones. Rather than printing each day's itinerary for the band, everything on the tour is communicated via an app called Master Tour Mobile. The app is updated with itineraries, flight information and daily schedules. The only problem is, most of the guys don't really know how to use their iPhones.

"Is it iBooks? Wait, I don't have it," says Al Jardine, fumbling with his phone in line at the breakfast buffet at the Tampa Airport Marriott. "Oh, I do. Here it is here. Now what do I do with it?"

(Jardine is often a little lost. On the plane from Tampa to New York, he couldn't figure out how to flush the toilet, so he had to ask the stewardess. "Oh, that one!" he said. "I'm not very good at computers, either.")

Jardine is a warm, thoughtful guy who spends most of his time with his family on their ranch in Big Sur. His voice has remarkably maintained the same youthfulness and punch it had when he sang the lead on "Help Me Rhonda" 47 years ago – perhaps more than anyone, he makes it sound like the Beach Boys up there. Off-stage, however, Jardine is struggling to find his place. "We don't discourse," he says over breakfast with his wife, Mary Ann, and their twins, Drew and Robbie, 26. "You've got the Love band, who've been together for years and have developed a style. Brian's band has been going for a long time, too – so we've been coming from three different places. Our managers assume I know what they know. And I don't."

The other night, in Georgia, as soon as the show ended, Jardine ran offstage and onto the bus – just like the Beach Boys did in the old days. "I thought we were leaving," he says. "The old Beach Boys – prior to Love's Beach Boys, the last-millennium Beach Boys – that's the way we did it. After the show, boom – we were gone. So I'm sitting in the bus for a half-hour and no one came. I fell asleep. I didn't know where the hell I was. I thought, ‘Where is everybody?' "

Asked how his bandmates have changed, Jardine says, "Mike has taken it upon himself to carry the flag for the group. Come hell or high water, he's gonna be the last man standing. It's his purpose in life just to be there. Brian's given him this wonderful, amazing opportunity. The lead singer always has the power, in any organization. He develops this condition we call LSD – lead-singer disease." He says this with a laugh, not with resentment. "Mike never played any instruments other than the little bit on the saxophone, so out of necessity he invented himself. He created himself as the lead singer."

Jardine says his main concern is how Wilson will handle the stress of this tour. "He needs his creature comforts," he says. "He's so delicate – he's like a GPS machine or something; all the guidance features have to be calibrated perfectly. Otherwise, he can veer off somewhere. I don't want anything to happen to him. He's our leader – he's our center."

If Jardine gets lost in the chaos, Bruce Johnston thrives on it. At 69, the man is a ball of energy, bouncing off the walls of the backstage area in Tampa in white shorts, a T-shirt and Stan Smiths, talking to anyone he passes in the halls. Johnston, who got his start playing with Phil Spector as a teenager, joined the Beach Boys in 1965, after Brian quit the road. He won a Grammy in 1976 for composing "I Write the Songs" (a fact he will frequently remind you of), and he also wrote some fine tunes for the Beach Boys, including "Deirdre," from Sunflower, and "Disney Girls," which he performs on this tour.

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