After decades of mental breakdowns and bitter lawsuits and raging streaks of jealousy, Beach Boys Brian Wilson and Mike Love are once again sharing a rock band, a legacy. And, much to my surprise, a phone line. • "My emotions are stable," Wilson, 69, tells me. He last appeared with the band in 1996, and basically stopped touring with them in 1965 due to mental and emotional distress. "But I have to say I'm a little bit in awe of the group and their ability."
Wilson is regarded, along with the McCartneys and Lennons of the pop world, as one of music's true geniuses. He is also, to be honest, one of its true man-child headcases. He built the Beach Boys, imagining lush, teen-angel harmonies that reinvented radio. For all intents and purposes, he also ended their magic run.
Love, 71, never really stopped touring with the surf-pop pioneers, and yet he is often blamed for snuffing out the creative spirit of the band, diffusing its genius in lieu of wheezing nostalgia tours and, even worse, Kokomo.
Love has filed lawsuits in the name of who-wrote-what. A victim of drug use and various psychoses, Wilson has increasingly become more comatose, his still-heavenly vocal the only lasting sign of the vitality inside him.
And yet, the Boys, along with Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston and David Marks, are back anyway. On Saturday, they'll bring their 50th anniversary tour (even though they formed in 1961 in Hawthorne, Calif.) and all those hang-ten hits — Good Vibrations, God Only Knows, Wouldn't It Be Nice, Sloop John B, Surfin' U.S.A. — to Tampa's Straz Center for the Performing Arts.
Previous shows on the tour have lasted some two-and-a-half hours. My phone call with Wilson and Love, however, is much, much shorter, rife with more awkward pauses than actual chatter. Wilson is the more "talkative" of the two icons, and yet that is a strictly relative term.
When I ask Wilson how he feels about reuniting with a group that has caused so much pleasure and pain, he snaps, "Just what I said! I'm in awe of the power of the Beach Boys!"
My conversation with Wilson and Love occurred before the tour started, before a setlist even existed. In a curious twist — and perhaps a bit of showmanship in the face of skeptics — Wilson is the one in favor of sticking to the hits during the show, even though he's responsible for the band's more avant-garde spins, such as 1966 album Pet Sounds.
Love, who was often perceived as being jealous of Wilson and routinely toured on the strength of the obvious jukebox numbers, says he prefers to dive deeper into the band's songbook this time out, especially since the Boys will be using Wilson's touring band — a young, versatile outfit — to back them up.
"They're all young guys," Wilson says of his band. "And they're all tremendous players. We'll definitely do all of the classics."
"I'd like to get retro at the beginning of the show, some surfers, some cars," says Love. "But then I want to get mellow, maybe do some Pet Sounds, maybe Heroes and Villains. It's going to be power-packed, I know that."
"One song comes to mind, one song that I'd like to do: The Little Girl I Once Knew," says Wilson.
"Really," Love chuckles, as if he hadn't thought of that song in ages. "Wow."
"Yeah," Wilson adds. "That's a helluva record."
The Beach Boys reunion essentially kicked off at the Grammy Awards in February, when the group was joined by young acts Maroon 5 and Foster the People, who proved, to various degrees of discomfort, how tough it can be to re-create those seemingly simple Beach Boys harmonies.
"The harmonies are a trademark of the Beach Boys," Love says. "You work on the harmonies to the extent of realizing what your strengths are. For instance, I like to do the bass parts. Bruce [Johnston] likes the really high parts. It's natural with us. It falls back into place when we get back together."
During the show, the Boys will honor such fallen past members as Carl and Dennis Wilson.
"God Only Knows will be in Carl's honor," says Wilson.
I then ask about another past member, Glen Campbell, who cut his teeth as a guitar-for-hire with the Beach Boys and even played on Pet Sounds. The Rhinestone Cowboy was also honored at that same Grammys show.
"Glen was fantastic for us," says Wilson. "A really great singer and a very good guitar player. He was one of the Wrecking Crew!"
I ask Wilson and Love if they were aware of Campbell's battle with Alzheimer's disease.
Wilson, with all the innocence in the world, asks, "What's Alzheimer's?"
No one says much of anything after that.
The chat is pretty much over.
"Thank you for your time, and thank you for the interview," says Wilson and hangs up the phone.
Sean Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.