Love's optimism offset Wilson's melancholy
By Tom Weber
Mike Love had a prime-time role in the most exciting and creative period of rock music.
Love, the lead vocalist on several of the Beach Boys' biggest hits, also co-wrote some of those songs with his cousin, Brian Wilson. That alone makes him the envy of anyone who has danced and cried to the last four decades of popular music.
But Love was also a friend of the Beach Boys' British rivals, the Beatles, and shared with the late George Harrison an affinity for Eastern thought and religion.
All of this converges in concerts when Love, still on lead vocals for the Beach Boys, sings "Back in the USSR," the Beatles' loving tribute to the Beach Boys.
"It's fun to recreate it on stage," Love said during a recent interview. "It's perfect for the Beach Boys. Imagine that."
Actually, Love said, he was present at the creation of the song -- while staying in India with the Beatles in 1968.
"One morning, Paul (McCartney) came down to breakfast with his guitar, and played this new song, 'Back in the USSR,'" Love said.
The two bands had a rivalry that Love regarded as friendly, but which had a devastating effect on Wilson. It was his inability to keep up with the Beatles that helped drive Wilson to an emotional breakdown in the late '60s.
The more mellow Love, though, saw the relationship differently. "There was definitely a lot of mutual love and respect," he said. "Paul is a real gentleman and has always been really nice to Brian and me."
Other Beatles songs cropping up in Beach Boys concerts recently have included "I Saw Her Standing There," and George Harrison's "Here Comes the Sun."
"George just wasn't into the public part of it all," Love said of the guitarist often referred to as "the quiet Beatle." "He was a no-nonsense guy."
Asked about Wilson, who is now commonly regarded as one of the most important figures of the rock era, Love said their partnership was a complementary blend. "Brian, being a Gemini, writes through desperation," he said. "Being a Pisces, I write through inspiration."
Wilson's deep streak of melancholy was offset by Love's optimism in countless songs. Love said he even tried to add a note of hopefulness to "Warmth of the Sun," the song he and Wilson wrote on the night of President John F. Kennedy's assassination.
"Brian and I were living in a rented house, with mattresses on the floor and instruments in the living room -- your basic crash pad," Love said. "We went back there that night and that's how we wrote that song."
Love clearly hopes he and Wilson, who now tours as a solo artist, will someday work together again. "I'd like to do some new stuff," he said. "The main thing is Brian would have to dedicate some time to working with me."
If it doesn't happen, Love said, he's satisfied with the Beach Boys' legacy. "We really articulated life growing up in middle-class America," he said.