On the beach
It’s my first trip to Los Angeles and I wander round the record companies in the hot sunshine wearing a Journey T-shirt -- cool design but know nothing of the band and never will. I set up a few things. I’m hot to trot.
I stay for two and a half weeks downgrading the paid-for hotels as the interviews start to dwindle, finally ending up on the sofa in the front room of a beachside apartment belonging to ex-Fleet Street photographer Laurence Cottrell. Unfortunately, I leave the window open to his apartment one morning and all his photographic equipment is stolen.
Capitol records fly me out to Las Vegas to spend the night, take in a Glen Campbell show and interview him backstage. Isn’t that a great sentence?
Then I get a call that turns me into Alice in boogie Wonderland. On a scale of one to ten, how cool is this question?
‘Can you have lunch with the Beach Boys at a restaurant on Santa Monica beach tomorrow?’
‘No, sorry, I’m busy.’
‘Oh.’ No fucking sense of humour, these guys.
‘Only joking. I’d love to have lunch with the Beach Boys tomorrow or the next day or any day over the next fifty years.’
And that’s how I find myself sitting around a table with the Beach Boys in a beach restaurant. Brian Wilson is opposite me. He doesn’t speak much and when I try to strike up a conversation I don’t quite understand what he’s saying, the restaurant’s too noisy and, besides, the blue litmus paper obviously turned red a long time ago and he’s living the dream.
I’m not interviewing the band. This is an off-the-record get-together. Mike Love is sitting next to me (can you believe all this?) and it’s easier to talk to him. After three years of speaker-grinding noise, my drums are snared and, if I’m more than a foot away from a person in a place with a lot of background noise, I sometimes can’t hear a thing.
So I talk to Mike for a while and he’s a really nice guy and he invites me to see the band perform their new single, ‘Sumahama’, the follow up to Lady Linda, on the first show of the new series of American Bandstand in Hollywood the next day, hosted by the legendary Dick Clarke.
The Beach Boys know my name. Look up the number. It’s like winning an award.
After the show I shake Dick’s hand (doesn’t sound right) and Mike takes me to one side. ‘I understand you’d like to do an interview, Barry.’
There! He says it again.
‘Well, why don’t you come out and see my home in Santa Barbara? You and I can do the interview and you can spend a little time there.’
‘Great. Make it the day after tomorrow, around midday. You can meet the family. Is that good for you?’
‘Okay. I’ve got a little map here. It’s easy to find when you know how. Look forward to it.’
‘We’ve got to go now. Nice seeing you again, Barry.’
‘That’s a result,’ says Laurence.
Okay, I might seem like a gormless dick to you, but christ, hanging out with a Beach Boy at his house in California? And with his family.
In 1965 California was the place to be. The real deal. They even told you so on The Beverly Hillbillies every Sunday night. The American dream. And the Beach Boys conveyed it all in three-minute pristine pop perfection. They were an enclave in the British charts surrounded by the dockyard rock of a million moptops. After all, the only thing that really bugged them was driving up and down the same old strip while here the kids were ferrying across the Mersey trying desperately to get out of this place.
They made you want to be a beach boy, to be blond and slim and get sand in my shoes and ride up and down that strip instead of getting a tube to Whitechapel every Saturday night looking for adventure and whatever came my way, though it never did.
Mike Love stretches out on a lounger three hundred feet above the Pacific Ocean at his Santa Barbara home and not a cotton field in sight . The 38 year-old Beach Boy (one of these days they’re gonna have to change that name − Beach Men or better still Beach Big Boys) looks good as he sips a chocolate malt.
The demise of the Beach Boys coincided with the demise of America. Both went to pot, pieces and polyurethane. Brian Wilson − in the top three pop-genius category − appeared to crack and spent years in a wilderness inhabited by strange dreams and love letters in the sand.
But now, says Mike, ‘We intend to be better than we’ve ever been before. Those people that have slagged us in the past are the ultra trendies who have lost sight of the fact that some things are timeless and universal − like your basic Beach Boy. Our music will be played throughout history like Beethoven, Bach and Brahms. We are into the future, we are into the now. Those who call us over the hill don’t realise we are immortal. What they say doesn’t mean shit to a tree.’
The chocolate malt gasps in the bottom of the carton as Mike Love sucks hard. He’s telling the truth by the way. At least, that’s what I think as a band of naked revellers frolics in the autumn mist near Mike’s private beach directly below.
Interviewing a Beach Boy by the ocean is like interviewing a Beatle in The Cavern or Rod Stewart in bed or a Sex Pistol in the toilet. It’s relevant. His home is at a spot he calls Asoleado, Spanish for a place in the sun. Like Page Three. It’s little short of paradise. Like Page Three.
After a series of indifferent albums, the band released L.A. (Light Album) earlier this year. It proved beyond question that the Beach Boys were still getting around, still capable of a little subtle soul seduction, still holding on to those honeydew harmonies with the less fattening centres that melt in your mouth, not in your hand.
The single ‘Lady Lynda’ promptly scored and ‘Sumahama’, although not exactly a surfin’ safari of a hit, is still there among the Jags and Tourists of this world.
So why the long gap before making music again?
‘Just things, y’know.’ He stretches again. ‘Like Carl put on a lot of weight and Dennis started drinking too much and Al had his ranch and horses and Brian went through a highly emotional state in both his mind and body and was smoking way too much. He’s a sensitive, brilliant musician and pressures can sometimes manifest themselves in bad ways in people like that. We were not as cohesive as we might have been for quite some time. But now we’re gonna run the group like a team again. We’ve been living apart for far too long.’
To get the band back on their feet, Mike has masterminded the ‘Total Fitness Programme’.
‘We just want to be healthier and fitter than we’ve ever been before. I think it’s the only way we can maintain a close relationship. There’s too much acid in the systems and not enough vitamins. Now we regularly go to a training camp in the mountains by the sea to work out.’ Jogging like bluebirds, no doubt.
Another project in the bag is a movie, California Beach, which I must admit sounds great. ‘It’s about four girls from various parts of the States who meet out here on the beach. There’s a Midwest farmer’s daughter, an East Coast girl, a southern girl and a northern girl.’
Sounds familiar. ‘It’s just a series of sociological vignettes played out here day after day against a backdrop of Beach Boys music. Kind of like an Endless Summer.’
To launch the movie, the band intends to hold the world’s biggest beach party next spring and they’ll also undertake a ‘California Beach’ tour. After each show there will be a party, organised by the Playboy Club and oozing with pretty girls. ‘Should keep the press interested,’ smiles Mike.
So, two shots in the arm. But what of the man himself? The cousin of the Wilson brothers from clean-cut LA., Mike has lived in Asoleado for the last eight years.
‘Oh, sure, I used to have a place in Beverly Hills and one in Malibu. But I got tired of all that. When I moved here I became involved in transcendental meditation and eventually became a teacher.’
‘Too many people in this business dwell on the insubstantial aspects of life − having the right car, going to the right parties, wearing the right clothes. I’ve just been concerned with my life, with its depth and dimension, more than my career in show business.’
Mike has his own meditation room in the building complex at Santa Barbara, which also houses his publishing company, Love Songs, and the people in his employ. ‘It’s very difficult to go on tour when you live here. When you look down at the sea through stained-glass windows, when the sunlight breaks through, it’s so tranquil yet so energising. Who needs a hotel room?’
But Mike won’t be living in his paradise home for much longer. Asoleado will shortly be transformed into the Love Foundation Holistic Health Centre. ‘It’s costing a million dollars to turn this place into a centre where people can come to get healthy. To diet, exercise, even be examined by a resident MD. A lot of people get interested in health and longevity when they reach a certain age.’
Wonder what age that might be. Not thirty-eight, perchance?
Mike has just bought a two-million-dollar mansion set in twenty acres at Lake Tahoe. He’ll be moving in with his four daughters and one son from three previous marriages, and his Japanese girlfriend, ex-air hostess Sumako. One of his ex-wives lives in a chalet at Asoleado. ‘I’m not gonna get married again for at least two years simply because I’ve got so much to do in terms of my career − the movie, the records, my philanthropic endeavours.’
I wonder what his favourite periods in Beach Boys history were.
‘Mm. The nostalgic ones, like all of a sudden being able to take a plane to Hawaii for a few days and not having to worry about the money. But the current period is the most pleasant of all because we’re more aware of what we’re doing. After all these years my plans and dreams are finally coming true.
‘There was that bad patch when we decided to rest up awhile but we got back together again through a certain amount of pride and ego and strength and stubbornness, which are part of the characters of all of us and which have enabled us to steer a course through the shaky times and come out on top.’
God only knows what I feel about that.
© Barry Cain 2014
Check out Barry’s novel, Wet Dreams Dry Lives http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00H0IM2CY