Beach Boys Keep Putting out Good Vibrations

By Steven Libowitz   |   September 20, 2018

Nobody who lives and breathes and can hear music needs an introduction to the Beach Boys, the band of brothers and cousins that more or less put Southern California on the musical map with a surfeit of surf hits followed by pop songs and, later, Pet Sounds, perhaps the greatest pop album of all time. Fifty-seven years after they formed, the Beach Boys are still going strong, albeit with lead singer Mike Love the only remaining original member. We’ve seen them at the Santa Barbara Bowl, down at the Ventura County Fair, over at the Arlington, and – this Friday, September 21, at the Granada, the glitzy jewel of downtown.

Love, who lived on the Mesa for almost 20 years starting in the mid-1970s, talked about the Beach Boys and the lifestyle over the phone from the road – where else would he be? – earlier this week.

Q. What is it that makes this tour different from all the rest, save for the special one that reunited you with Brian Wilson? Do they blur into each other over the years?

A. Not really, especially recently. The anniversaries make them special. Last year, it was the Wild Honey anniversary, and we did 185 performances. This year, we’re lazy bums, only doing 165. But no matter what, we continually upgrade and update the show. We’re releasing a Christmas album, and it’s got a lot of my family on it. My son Christian – who tours with us – sang on it, and three of my other kids, and they did an amazing job on those Christmas carols.

Speaking of Christian, how is it to have him in the band with you all year? I know him from volleyball at the beach.

It’s really great. He was with us for a while but then he decided he wanted to stay in town and play volleyball at East Beach. Now he still competes, but he’s been touring with us for years. He sings lead on “God Only Knows” and gets a standing ovation almost every night. It always feels like my cousin Carl is with us when we do that song.

You guys have survived the death of both Dennis and Carl, and it seems like you’re just as strong as ever. Why do you think the Beach Boys have been so enduring?

Honestly, it’s back to the basics. We started as a family of singers. The Wilsons on my mom’s side were way into music. I grew up in a household where you couldn’t escape if it you wanted to. Brian and I would get together and sing Everly Brothers songs together. And that was the beginning of the basis of everything we do, which is the love of harmony. It creates such a wonderful warm feeling, especially when you combine it with the songs that Brian and I wrote together. The subject matter, the beautiful chord progressions, and that harmony through it all. 

We didn’t do it to be famous or rich – nobody paid us originally. We’d just be singing in the living room or the car or the locker room at school. I believe it’s that love of harmonizing that transcends time and appeals to multiple generations. It’s the secret ingredient of Beach Boys music that has made it last for so long. I imagine 100 years from now, our songs will still be played. Some of them will always be part of our culture. 

How does what you just said land on you – that songs you created will actually live on for centuries?

I don’t think about it when we’re doing it. But we’ve always tried to write lyrics that accentuate the positive. Even if something negative happens – like in “The Warmth of the Sun”, where someone you love doesn’t feel the same way – it’s a drag and a big disappointment. But at least you felt something, which was like the warmth of the sun. I wrote those words to the haunting melody from Brian. Same with “In My Room” and “Surfer Girl”, but we also had the flat-out fun songs, too. All of them strike a chord and people can relate on whatever level.

How about for you? How do you related to these songs after more than half a century? What keeps you going?

When you’ve had a hand in creating the songs, and then get to re-create them night after night, what could be better? What keeps us on our toes is that the chord progressions and harmonies are complex, and you have to be engaged to do them. There is a real art to harmonizing together the way we do and you have to pay attention, which keeps it interesting artistically. And emotionally it’s wonderful to see how the music you’ve done originally just as a family hobby continues to be enjoyed by people and makes them feel good. So, it’s really a blessing.

Earlier this month, the choreographer that did DANCEworks here in town used several snippets from “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” mashed up with other music as part of the soundtrack for a new piece he created in town. To me, it’s great that other creators realize the brilliance of some of your music, how much went into those songs.

Yeah, I remember we did 25 takes of just this one section on that song when we were recording it. I started calling Brian “The Stalin of the Studio” because he was really something.

Are you guys getting along okay these days?

Yeah. There’s been a lot of myth and inaccuracies and mischaracterizations over the years about the band, but I put a lot of those to rest in the book I wrote last year, Good Vibrations: My Life as a Beach Boy. And at some point, there will be a documentary on my life and I’ll be able to accurately depict what was going on, so there’s no conjecture and falsehoods. But Brian chose to leave the touring band back in 1964, so the die was cast back then. That’s when Glen Campbell was with us for six months until we got Bruce Johnston (who lives in Montecito). So, we’ve gone our separate ways for decades.

Now that you mention it, I have to go back to touring. You mentioned you do more than 150 shows a year. Even bands in their 20s get tired of the road. How the heck do you handle it?

It’s the hardest part of what we do, but it’s about lifestyle choices. We don’t do anything to harm our voices. And I’ve been doing transcedental meditation (TM) since I learned it from the Maharishi back in the 1970s. He stayed at my old house on the Mesa one time back then too. It gives me the energy and clarity and positivity to keep going, and I put it to use in the performance. That’s been my secret. If i didn’t do it twice a day, i would not be able to do what I do.

Speaking of which, you put out a solo album last year, Unleash the Love, with references to TM. Do you get a chance to sing any of those in the concerts?

Yeah, we’re doing “Unleash the Love” and also “Getcha Back” on this tour. You’ll hear them at the Granada.

New Play for Cart-Carrying Members

Bill Waxman’s The Sorrow Cart was supposed to have its world premier last winter at the Center Stage Theatre. But the Thomas Fire and Montecito mudslide scuttled those plans, as actors had to evacuate their homes and Santa Barbara turned into a ghost town. By the time things cleared, some of the actors had moved on, and other issues arose, so the original musical had to wait nine months to make its debut.

But those troubles are nothing compared to those suffered by the subject of the work – America’s homeless population, which continues to soar amid tough economic times.

The original inspiration for creating the play grew out of Hurricane Katrina, explained Waxman, who lives in Simi Valley but has been associated with Santa Barbara’s DIJO Productions as an actor, director, and playwright. He helped displaced people from New Orleans get settled in California as a homeless liaison in the schools.

“That really opened my eyes about the issue,” he said. “And since then, it’s only become more of an epidemic. There are over half a million homeless people in the U.S., nearly the population of North Dakota. I wanted to do something where I could make a difference, that would make people aware of the plight and difficulties through their eyes and words.”

So, Waxman wrote the The Sorrow Cart – the name comes from the shopping carts favored by many street people – including the book, music, and lyrics – as a series of vignettes. each highlighting a different aspect of the plight of the homeless.

“I’d get an idea for story that needed to be told, created the character, and then come up with a song,” he recalled, adding that it took about 18 months to complete the project. “They’re a combination of stories ripped from headlines, plus things I observed myself and others from people I talked to. It all coalesced in my head to tell the whole story.”

Among the topics addressed are hunger (with the song “Cheesburger and Fries”), the “failure of society to acknowledge their existence” (“Don’t Notice”), and writing home to tell the parents to explain this is where life has lead (“Dear Mom and Dad”). A story about finding love on the streets came just as Waxman was finishing the script. 

The conceit tying the stories together is that they’re being told as part of a TV news report about homeless roundups and other efforts to help them. “The play shows the dichotomy between the reporting on the situation and how it actually is,” Waxman said. 

That’s where members of the cast comes in, as Waxman has landed K-LITE radio personality Catherine Remak to join DIJO regular Ed Giron, an actor who is also the host of the radio show Community Matters on KZSB Los Angeles, as the reporters. Santa Barbara actors George Coe, Richard Lonsbury, Phil Moreno, Van Riker, and Waxman’s daughter, Alison, plus Heather Terbell, Claudia Kashin, and Audrey Brecher are among those portraying the homeless folks sharing their stories.

“It has not been an easy road (since the fire),” Waxman said. “But now, we have a group of actors who are committed and ready to grow with the show.”

Step 1 is on Friday, September 21, at 8 pm, when The Sorrow Cart premieres at the Center Stage Theater, when all proceeds from the show – tickets are $20 general, $15 students, $10 military – will benefit The Soldiers Project to assist in aiding homeless veterans. “I’m just mostly wanting to raise awareness,” Waxman said. “I hope this is as affecting and engaging as I intend it to be. We’ll know if it resonates after the show, and maybe we can take it someplace else.”


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