Mike Love on New Quarantine Song ‘This Too Shall Pass,’ Beach Boys’ Future
For the Beach Boys, 2020 was supposed to be a busy year, packed with performances and meet-and-greets. “And then it came to a screeching halt,” Mike Love tells Rolling Stone. “I just look forward to the time when we can get out and do our live music again.”
While remaining isolated in Lake Tahoe, Love recently wrote “This Too Shall Pass,” a COVID-19–themed solo ditty. He enlisted frequent Beach Boys guest John Stamos to drum on the track. “He loves the Beach Boys, and has all his life,” Love says of Stamos. The singer talked about recording the song, how meditation has helped him in quarantine, and what’s next for the Beach Boys.
How has your time been in Lake Tahoe?
I’m high in the mountains overlooking this beautiful lake. It’s like Switzerland, only closer for Americans. It’s one of the nicer spots in the world. I’ve had this place since 1981. My parents used to bring me up here when I was a little kid. It’s so serene. So I’m sitting in my home studio, which looks like a little chapel. This is where I did my part in the recording of “This Too Shall Pass.”
What was it like recording “This Too Shall Pass” remotely?
We did it from seven different locations. First of all, I called our keyboard player, Tim Bonhomme, who lives in Vegas. We got the tempo and the key that I would be singing it in. Then we sent that on to Lakeland, Florida, which is where our musical director Scott Totten lives, and he did the basic track. Then he sent that to Nashville, where Brian Eichenberger sang the high part, and Randy Leago did the sax part. And then he sent it to Santa Barbara, where my son Christian sang his part, and back to Vegas to do a little bit more of a rock & roll piano deal. And then we sent it to John Stamos, after I did my lead in Lake Tahoe. So everybody had their own home studio setups and everything. It was really weird, but it sounds like we’re all together, and I think it came out great. I’m really happy about it, and people are loving it.
Walk me through writing the song.
I was thinking [that] so many people, we’re all going through stuff, so I sat down and started writing a poem about it. “We all remember when school is out was the cause for celebrations/Nobody ever even thought about closing down entire nations.” So we just wrote what’s going on, and I wanted to give a shout-out to the first responders and the people who are doctors and nurses who are working so hard these days.
And yet people are wondering how long it’ll last. This will pass, based on my six decades of touring and going through Vietnam and racial issues and different periods of time that are not so pleasant. But they somehow resolve or dissolve. I know I’m gonna be very appreciative of the fact that we can even step out on a stage again and perform no matter where we may be. We’ve all been affected. For some it’s a minor inconvenience, and for some it’s life-changing. I feel so sorry for the 30 million people on unemployment right now, and that’s why we’re donating all the proceeds to anybody who buys a copy of the record to Feeding America, which is a great organization and helps food banks stock their shelves all over the country. We hope that a lot of people will purchase this tune.
A lot of artists have released songs with the lyrics altered to reflect the pandemic, but you wrote an original.
That’s right, I did. And John Stamos remarked about that, I don’t know if you saw what he said.
I believe he said, “At 79 years old, he could be on a boat counting his royalty checks on the way to Kokomo, but not Mike.”
[Laughs] Talk about royalty checks, how about Full House reruns? He’s been a friend for so long. He came out when we did these huge crowds on July 4th in Washington D.C. in the Eighties. I think it was ’85, and he was Blackie [Parrish] on General Hospital. He was a drummer in a little three-piece band in Orange County before he became Uncle Jesse. America’s favorite uncle used to be Uncle Sam, but now it’s Uncle Jesse.
He’s really a great guy and he’s got a great family. He asked me if I’d be involved in his wedding. I pronounced them man and wife, can you believe that? People love it when he comes out and performs with us, and we back him up on a song called “Forever,” which was written by my cousin Dennis [Wilson]. We did it on an episode where Uncle Jesse got married. So it’s been a really nice relationship and couldn’t be more more grateful to John and his support and help on “This Too Shall Pass.”
You’ve been on the road almost continuously since 1962. A big part of your life revolves around touring.
Guilty as charged.
What are you doing with this unexpected time?
Not a lot. We’ll take a walk along the lake, I’ll walk the dog. I do my meditation, which I learned in December of ’67 from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. He taught us meditation and I still do it to this day. It’s been a big part of my life in that it’s a technique which you can do and it can lower your metabolism to a level of rest twice as deep as deep sleep. So it’s profoundly restful and relaxing and therefore helpful. It’s really good for you. A lot of people get heart disease and high blood pressure and all these kinds of things, but with this regular practice of transcendental meditation, you can avoid a lot of that stuff.
My wife and I have been spending a little more time together than we ordinarily do, and I’ve got a honey-do list here and there. I’m her driver. She says, “We got to go to Home Depot.” “OK!”
When you were performing your last few shows, did you feel the lockdown coming on?
We did, because places like New York and California were really coming down hard on trying to keep people from going anywhere. “Shelter-in-place” they call it. All these limitations. But if I go to the store, I wear my mask. I’m in that critical age group.
It might be two years before you get back on the road. Do you worry that not performing for that long at your age will make it hard to resume again?
No. I’m in pretty good shape, so that doesn’t bother me. Tony Bennett’s our idol. He’s like ninetysomething and he sounds great. It’s just about staying in shape and having the right attitude. I’ve always loved live music. The recording studio is great and it’s functional; it’s necessary if you’re going to be a recording artist. But I, personally, have always preferred the live part of it, because you see the effect that the music has on people. Multiple generations, too. They’ll sing along to “Kokomo” or they sing along to “Help Me, Rhonda,” or “Barbara Ann,” and have a great time. So it creates a lot of joy and happiness.
I don’t think we’ll be off for two years. In fact, we may be doing stuff this fall and winter. We’re already taking the postponed shows from this year in Europe in June, and putting them in the next year. So more things are postponed rather than canceled. We’re anxious to get out there and we will be grateful to be able to do what we do live because we all love it so much.
Every musician on our stage, they’re dedicated, lifelong musicians and that’s what they love to do. John Cowsill started drumming when he was around five years old. His family [the Cowsills] had some pretty big hits back in the late Sixties and early Seventies. Scott went to Berklee School of Music, and he’s a phenomenal guitar player. We just have a great group of people, including my son, Christian, who sings “God Only Knows” and get standing ovations. It’s such a beautiful song and he does it so well. So we’re very blessed, very fortunate to take a family tradition of music and be able to do it for six decades. It’s pretty awesome.
Do you feel comfortable performing before a vaccine has been distributed?
Yeah, I do, but I’m very healthy. If I’m gonna be meeting people face to face, I’ll wear a mask. I think they have some pretty good treatments and there will be a vaccine at some point. But we’re not gonna put ourselves in harm’s way. We’d be discreet and careful. We might curtail some of the things we might normally do — like meet-and-greets, we might cut that out for a while. Just being sensible and practical.
I heard about a surfer being handcuffed on the beach in Southern California. Now there’s nothing healthier than going surfing; that’s social distancing at its finest. And with the sunlight and the saltwater, no virus is gonna live through that. So I think it’s just overreacting in that way. I look forward to getting back to more normalcy and rationality.
Are you working on new music at all?
Oh, yeah. I want to do an album that is basically vocals and harmonies, emphasizing that. Everybody is producing records with whatever the sound of the day is. Where we came from, we studied the Four Freshmen and the Everly Brothers, their great songs and their great blend, and that inspired us to come up with our sound, which is how we sound when we sang together. So I want to do something that takes full advantage of the vocal aspect of our career. So I have some ideas on that, but it’s a little early. We have some time off now, so we can get done in the next couple of months.
I look forward to hearing it. Is there anything you want to say to your fans right now?
Be careful, be safe, do what’s advised to do. We love what we do and we’re so eager to come back and do our concerts and see everybody in person and celebrate music. Have some fun, fun, fun, and disseminate those good vibrations.