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A Very Beach Boys Christmas: Mike Love and Brian Wilson Launch Separate Holiday Tours

The two singers are blood relatives—but as they prove, a little family drama is an old Christmas tradition.

beach boys christmas

Illustration by Andrew McGregor for Rolling Stone

More than fifty years after the Beach Boys sang “Little Saint Nick,” they’ve got separate Christmas tours. Brian Wilson and Mike Love have both announced they’re doing holiday concerts, yet another strange chapter in rock’s longest-running dysfunctional family saga. Back in April, Wilson announced a month-long Yuletide tour, where he’s doing the Beach Boys’ 1964 Christmas Album in full, from “Blue Christmas” to “Frosty the Snowman.” But speaking of frosty, Mike Love is getting into the act with his competing tour, which he announced in September—a move that might not be all that surprising to longtime fans, who’ve seen sleighloads of Wilson/Love drama over the years.

“Music is something that always brought my family together, especially around Christmastime,” Love said—a bold statement from classic rock’s answer to the Grinch. These two cousins have been anything but together in recent years. The Beach Boys’ 50th reunion tour in 2012 crashed and burned when Love shocked his bandmates with an abrupt press release that he was ditching them. Wilson responded, “It sort of feels like we’re being fired.” Since then they’ve both kept on the road with their different bands. (Wilson has old Beach Boys buddies Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin; Love has Bruce Johnston.) They released competing memoirs in 2016, I Am Brian Wilson vs. Good Vibrations, giving wildly contradictory accounts of their many years together. When Brian announced his holiday run, any fan could tell it was only a matter of time before Love got busy hustling his own version—it was like waiting for Rudolph’s nose to turn red.

Love will do the Reason for the Season Tour with his iteration of the Beach Boys. (Love’s show, unlike Brian’s, will include the beloved Yuletide carol “Kokomo.”) It goes with his solo album, also titled Reason for the Season, which includes “Away in a Manger,” “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” and “Finally It’s Christmas,” featuring Hanson. Love explained his album is “celebrating an event that took place in the little town of Bethlehem over 2000 years ago, the birth of Jesus.” It also has a remake of “Little Saint Nick.” (Brian did one of those on his 2005 solo album What I Really Want For Christmas.)

Wilson has spent the past two years on the road performing the full-scale Pet Sounds. (Will he ever do a tour dedicated to Wild Honey or Today? How about Surf’s Up? Sunflower?) Even though he originally quit touring in the band’s heyday—too much the introspective composer to feel at home onstage—he’s become a legendary live performer. Love, on the other hand, has always thrived on the spotlight, even more than he enjoys being in court. (His Good Vibrations must have more lawsuits per page than any rock memoir in history.) And he’s been working harder than usual to live up to his ornery reputation, stopping by the White House to give a bizarre speech about how Donald Trump tried to save Whitney Houston’s life. “You’ve always been a big supporter of some of the best music America has ever made,” Love told the President. “I remember you tried your best to get Whitney Houston into some kind of shape.”

Wilson and Love might be blood relatives—but as they prove, a little family drama is an old Christmas tradition. That’s part of why we obsess over the Beach Boys—the idea that these two opposite personalities, born into the same Southern California tribe, could spend so many years making each other miserable, with nothing except the music in common. The shy, tormented boy genius who wrote “California Girls” and the cocky frontman who sang it—it’s some kind of cosmic prank they were doomed to grow up side by side, making music together that neither one could ever escape. In a way, it’s an American myth as timeless as the story about the manger in Bethlehem. Let’s face it, the holiday season means two things you can always count on: (1) agonizing over the obnoxious cousin who drives you insane, and (2) hearing “Jingle Bell Rock.” For a Beach Boys fan, it means both at the same time. As for believing the holidays are a time for peace, harmony, bringing the family together—wouldn’t it be nice?

 

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