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tv   Overheard With Evan Smith  PBS  November 26, 2016 4:30pm-5:01pm PST

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- [announcer] funding for overheard with evan smith is provided in part by the alice kleberg reynolds foundation and hillco partners, a texas government affairs consultancy and by klru's producer's circle, ensuring local programming that reflects the character and interests of the great austin texas community. - i'm evan smith. he's a rock and roll hall of famer and grammy lifetime achievement award winner, who co-founded the beach boys 55 years ago. his best selling memoir good vibrations, my life as a beach boy has just been published. he's mike love, this is overheard. (overheard opening theme)
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mike love, welcome. - oh, it's great to be here. - an honor to meet you, sir. congratulations on the book. - thank you very much. - what took you so long? i can't believe this is the first time that you have told your story. it's 55 years with the beach boys. you've been at this as long as you have. everybody knows you, they think they know you. what took you so long? - one problem is, i know what i've done. now there's been a lot of versions of what has been done by the beach boys. - [evan] others have told-- - yeah, others have told, there've been millions of words written but this is the first time i've ever you know, taken the opportunity and the time to do a book. so, when i got to thinking, my father passed away a couple of years ago and i was thinking there are a lot of questions i'd still like to ask him or my grandparents so i'm thinking that i should-- - right.
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- [mike] put my story of the beach boys experience, which has been such a phenomenal experience, in my words and so family members, you know, children, grandchildren, friends and fans who might be interested in hearing from one of the beach boys who was actually there, co-creating songs. - and has been there from the beginning. - yes and done over 5000 concerts. - so there's a historical record now. - yes, it is. and because i'm part of a group that means we had to tell some of the story of the other members as well. - well, it's very comprehensive. it covers the origins of the band, it cover the origins of mike love and i want to come to that in a little while. your family story as a way that it feeds into this. you mention that others have told versions of this story, there are different motivations to write a book like this. sometimes you know there's a blank screen that people are projecting their own versions of the story on, including some people who may not have your interests at heart.
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in some ways, you're not only writing the story for yourself but you are correcting a record, right? whether you're doing it implicitly or not. because others have told the story that you're not happy or not satisfied with. - well, there are certain things that have been said, attributed to me, which i never said. - [evan] yeah. - so now if i say "i never said that", then some people say "oh yeah, he did!" because they've heard it, it's become something. - well, you know, it becomes part of the lore, right? - kind of but all that stuff, you know, there's so much animosity in the world. - [evan] yeah. - so i don't expect that any book was gonna rectify all of human nature. - [evan] yeah. - but it is, in my words, my account of the part i played and what we did as a group. starting, like as you mentioned, before the beach boys. starting with my parents generation and my grandparents, that's where the beach boys started.
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yeah, because the music comes from a family tradition that goes back, you know, a century or so. and so i thought it would be, like for instance, my grandfather loves that california is the ultimate. he came from shreveport louisiana or outside of shreveport. in 1909 he came to california and started working in the sheet metal industry and became very successful. my mother's family came from kansas, in dust bowl conditions, very poor and when they got to california they didn't have money to get a house so they camped on the beach. which i find very ironic that a generation later we're singing about california-- - singing about the beaches. - the lifestyle and being world famous. - well, let's acknowledge that the unacknowledged or unappreciated but maybe most important member of the beach boys was the state of california. (laughs) right, i mean, if you think about it, california was as important to the success of the beach boys as any individual member, as any individual song, as any individual record.
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- i think you're right. initially, yes. and that and cars. - and cars! (laughter) you know what sometimes the simple, that's it! - the song i get around, how ya gonna get around unless you have a car? - unless you have a car, that's right. so the book is called good vibrations, which of course is a great book name, but in fact the timing of the release of the book is tied to the fact that we are now 50 years, 50 years since good vibrations. - this month, 50 years ago good vibrations was released and went to number one all over the world. - and the lyrics of good vibrations, if i understand the story, are your lyrics, right? you wrote the lyrics to good vibrations. - i came up with the, what's called the hook, "i'm pickin' up good vibrations, she's givin' me the excitations." i came up with that. the chorus bond with the bass line in the chorus that my cousin brian did this brilliant track on. and then i wrote the words on the way to the studio because i was, i have to admit to have been procrastinating.
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- [evan] were you? okay. - and all the guys are sitting in the studio waiting for me and i dictated the lyrics while i'm driving to my ex-wife. - my understanding is this song was written, the lyrics were written in some short 20 minutes, some span of time, the myth is-- - probably a half hour on the way to the columbia studios. - one of the most famous songs in the history of music. - well, yes, but just the words. the track was done. - but still, but you understand, i mean, the accomplishment of that alone is amazing. that just in a half hour you were able to write. - yeah. - yeah, it's great. - yeah, it was. see, i was envisioning a girl who was into peace and love and flower power. that was going on in 1966 in the fall and so i just wanted to, there were so many things going on in society but i wanted to focus on something positive. someone who was into peace and love and she's really a great girl.
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so, that's what inspired the poem. - do you think people think of that song in the way that you think of it? in other words, i remember growing up listening to the beach boys and to that song. i, frankly, remember as you said the lyrics, "excitations. does he mean former citations? what does he mean?" i didn't understand it. (laughs) do you think people when they hear good vibrations think this is about a hippie girl? - well, when the temptations of mo-town heard "the excitations" they almost changed their name. (laughs) just kidding! - but do you think people have the same sense of what the song is about or does it mean something different to everybody who hears it? - i think it communicated a couple things. one is the time in which we created that song. it was a very unique time, the beginning of the psychedelic type of artists and songs and so on like that. and so the track was definitely psychedelic, i mean it was very unique with the theremin
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and just the chord progressions and all the harmonies and stuff. and i think the lyrics fit the mood, some of the mood of the time. not the anti-anything but the peace and love aspect. - but it holds up as a song, if it doesn't necessarily hold up as a message all these years later. - that's because everybody understands the attraction between people. "i'm pickin' up good vibrations. she's givin' me the excitations." that was the emotional and mental hook that-- - [evan] universal. - yes, universal and although there were a lot of things going on in the world that one can be in utter dismay over, love is one thing that transcends all that. - it persists. you said good vibrations was a number one hit. - [mike] it was. - i'm interested in going back now, in preparation for sitting down with you to go back and look at the record of the beach boys. it's really amazing and i don't know that people
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fully appreciate everything that the band accomplished in terms of, you know, sold $100,000,000 in record sales, which is significant. you know it's been eclipsed. fine. but it's still a huge accomplishment. a huge benchmark. but 55 top 100 hits, 36 top 40 hits, more than any american rock and roll band ever. no one has eclipsed that. but only four number ones. and i say "only" because i would've assumed it was many more. right it's i get around, it's help me, rhonda, it's good vibrations and it's cocomo. those are your four number one hits. so i'm looking at this list and i'm going "barbra ann is not a number one? only got to number two!" right? surfin' usa is not a number one. it only got to number three. but these are hugely significant songs and if you think about the soundtrack of all of our lives over these generations, these songs are all absolutely at the top of the list. and that's the part that's so amazing to me to consider the accomplishment. you must step back from it even now, all these years later
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and think "look at the body of work", right? - rolling stone magazine has a coffee table book, i have one, and it says "the 500 best rock albums of all times" and number one is sargent peppers and number two is pet sounds. - do you take issue with that? - i want a recount! - you do? (laughs) well sargent pepper is a pretty good record. - it's very good record. - those nice boys, they put out a pretty good record. - they're nice lads, they really are. - yes, they were. - but that's pretty good company, you have to admit. - it's amazing company to be in. - the number one and number two, right up there in the top. - and as you talk about misperceptions about the story of the beach boys and the story of mike love, one of the misperceptions, actually, that you deal with in this book, is that somehow you're hostile to pet sounds. - there's no way! first of all i named the album because there's, at the end of the album pet sounds, if you haven't hear it, there's this sound of a train going by and a dog barking on the train so i was listening to this,
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it's being played back while we're in the hallway of the studio and i said "what about pet sounds?" because a dog barking, it could be a pet and then sounds that we just finished working on. and these are some of our favorite sounds so pet sounds became the name. my cousin brian was talking about using our freaky friends for the title so pet sounds won. anyway and not only did we work very hard, all of us, on the vocals and everything, i took the album along with brian to capitol records and played it for the fellow who was the a and r person there, a very nice guy named carl ingham and he listened to it and when they played it for their marketing people, they didn't know what to do with it. because it was such a departure, pet sounds was such a departure from like california girls and i get around and fun, fun, fun and surfin' usa as you mentioned. - yeah, all those. well, then so you're emotionally invested in it then and emotionally invested in it still.
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- well, once people say that i didn't, they say "don't f with the formula." well i never said that! - f stands for fun, fun, fun, didn't it? - yeah, exactly! (laughs) i did say that. - i'm just checking. okay, good. this is a big existential question for which there's probably a lot of answers. but let me put it me to you, why do you think the beach boys have been so successful? why do you think that the beach boys have endured? really, as i go back over these years, it's kinda you and the beatles. right? it's beach boys and the beatles. i mean, a lot of other very successful bands that are so iconic and are so important and have sold more records or maybe charted more songs. but really, i think about on parallel tracks, the beach boys and the beatles, why? what is it? - love. - not capital l love? - not me, necessarily. - maybe some! (laughs) but love as an essential thematic piece. - what happens is, i mentioned my mom and her family, they were so into music, not as much on my dad's side.
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i mean, my dad sang a couple of like country songs and and stuff, but my mom's side was unbelievably musical. my mom sang in the 1930s, she sang on the radio and she sang light opera in madame butterfly. i grew up in a family that that's originally all they had, was music. they didn't have money but they had music. and that was kind of the thing that brought everybody together. every family holiday, christmas, thanksgiving, birthdays, you name it, there was always music. and so there was nothing more precious about those things than getting together and harmonizing. now, the older generation, the parents generation, would sing their standards, their classic songs. we would get together and sing everly brothers and do-wap songs. - so the music of the times really spoke to you? - it did, it did. but the essential ingredient in the beach boys music,
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if you listen to it, is harmony. and getting together and creating those harmonies was what we loved to do. so it didn't have anything to do with chart records or money or fame or any of that. it had to do with getting together and creating that sound together, that harmony together. and i think that's the essential ingredient. - it appealed to you and it appealed to us. - yeah, well it resonated. and it transcends borders and boundaries and ethnic groups and you name it. i mean, we had fan letters from russia and china. all over the place. - now you've referred a couple times to your cousin brian. - oh yeah. - this is a complicated relationship. - between he and i it's pretty simple, you know. if there's a piano in the room, we'll go and write a song. - but if only there were a piano in the room all the time, the relationship might not be as complicated as it is. - well there's a choice in lifestyles that took place in the mid to late-60s and that caused some havoc with the group. i mean, my cousins got into a lot of drug use and stuff
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and i learned meditation, transcendental meditation, and chose to stay with that as a way of relaxation and, you know, expanding the mind and all that. so there's a different choice of lifestyles which led to somewhat of a schism or division in the group. - but the division happened and then, as you tell the story, there were moments when you were divided and then came back together and then divided and then came back together and even in recent years. came back together and now as i understand it, you're at a place where you're divided. - the thing is, when we did the 50th anniversary reunion tour together in 2012. - [evan] i was gonna say, it'd be about four or five years ago. - and it was contracted to be 50 and then it expanded to be 73 and at the end of that i'm obligated under my agreement i have with
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the corporation that owns the name the beach boys to continue touring as i have been doing for many years. and so, actually, i'm the only one in the group that's been with the group since the beginning. - the only continuous member. - yeah and so that was well known by all of us and my partners, in particular brian and allen jardin, said that i fired them and that was just not true. i can't fire them. fire them from what? it came to the end of an agreed upon contract and some people wanted to keep going but there was a whole lot of complications in the way things were done that were not agreed upon. - [evan] business. - yeah, well, yeah, business is one way to say it. anyway. - do you bear your cousin brian any ill will as we sit here? - no, no absolutely not. my cousin brian needs somebody in his life
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to help take care of him because, for instance, i go into the book and why wasn't i credited with doing the words to california girls, i get around, help me, rhonda, be true to your school a bunch of songs? - [evan] that you contributed to. - that i wrote the words to. and came up with some of the hooks, you know? like "round, round, get around, i get around", that's mike love saying "hey, how about let's do it that way?" but my uncle murray took advantage of my cousin brian and my cousin brian in the late 60s was, he had a conservatorship, he had to be taken care of. and so i'm sympathetic that he has some mental illness. and so he actually wanted to rectify the omission of my contribution. but he was unable to because he was in a conservatorship. - it certainly doesn't sound like you feel badly about him or feel toward him. - no, i feel more sympathy than anything else. - than anything else.
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so we didn't actually get to the, we kinda came to the end before we went to the beginning. can you tell, in short form, how the beach boys came together as a band? what is the log cabin story? - my cousins brian, dennis and carl were the sons of murray wilson who's my mother emily glee wilson, they're brother and sister so they're first cousins. so we've known each other all our lives. so that's how it came to be. - so it was nothing more complicated than they were family and you all would sing together and that suddenly became-- - right. - was the beach boys always the name that you thought you were gonna have? - no. - people love the trivia aspect of this and i love it as much as anybody. - no, we were numbered among a group of people called surfers. it was a little group of people in southern california who dressed a certain way, who talked a certain way, had a certain lifestyle and attitude and one of the things we wore was the pendleton mills
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plaid woolen shirts over your t-shirt and your jeans. and if you're at the beach and it's kind of cold at night, you know, those shirts kept you warm. and they were worn by thousands of surfers. so the pendleton mills, from oregon, was the maker of it and so we called our pendle-tones. - pendle-tones. (laughs) - it was not rocket science and it wasn't, you know, a huge bunch of research done on it but market research didn't exist. but when our first record was called surfin', was about surfing as a way of life, in fact it goes "surfin' is the only life, the way for me, now surf with me". so being that our first song was called surfin', a record promotion man in southern california said, his name is russ regan by the way, he said "well how about the beach boys?" and we said "well that's better than what we got!"
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- sure beats the pendle-tones! - and it resonated and stuck with us. - but what's funny about that, of course, is that we only think of you in those terms and it feels like something that must've been right from the very beginning. and, in fact, it was a process. russ? russ? his name is russ? - regan. - russ regan! lost to history. but responsible for one of the greatest. i mentioned the beatles. beach boys and beatles going along on a similar path. you actually, you eluded to your embrace of transcendental meditation over the years. you made a famous trip to india to see the maharishi, maharishi yogi with members of the beatles. with donovan, - they all were there. - mia farrow, - exactly. - and mia farrow's daughter, no mia farrow's sister! prudence! who is the prudence in dear prudence. so you made that, you're a part of that great trip. that great experience. and your life was changed. is it fair to say forever? - it was a huge influence. i learned meditation, transcendental meditation from maharishi along with several other
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group members in paris in december of 67 and by february i was in india for a couple of months. - amazing. - and george harrison and i both had our birthdays that year, 1968, in rishikesh india. the ganges river comes out of the himalayas, a mystical spot, fascinating. - memorable, nothing ever like it sense, right? - exactly because there's meditation, there's lectures, there's music and, you know, paul mccartney coming to the breakfast table singing back in the ussr. i told him "we gotta talk about all the girls in russia there." i was attempting to confine the beatles to russia, but it didn't work. - didn't work! yeah, i get it. so we have just a couple minutes left, i wanna ask you to talk about your life today. so, you're 75 years old, is that right? - yes i am. - i'm so admiring of your continued commitment to your art and to putting your art in front of people. you toured this year, as we get to the end of this calendar year, more than 150 dates on the road?
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- well, last year we did 172 performances. - 172 performances. - that's last year. this year i believe we're close to 160, 161. - i mean, that's an extraordinary amount for anybody. it's an extraordinary amount especially for somebody who's been doing it for as long as you have. you're not obligated to keep doing it, you can decide "i'm done" or "i wanna slow down". but you've continued and the crowds turn out. these are sold out shows and they wanna hear and you go back and you do the back catalog, right? you do everything. - oh we do, we try. - never disappoint. - we try to incorporate all aspects of our career and all different tastes musically. i mean, we continually get requests to do specific songs. - how do you feel about that? - i think it's wonderful. because what happens when you step on a stage and you see multiple generations, an entire family can turn out and i'm talking about senior citizens to children and everybody in between.
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- [evan] for whom this music is relevant no matter where you interacted with it. - yeah and people, i mean a whole family can listen to the beach boys and that's not always the case. everybody's divided in their musical tastes and what they want to listen to but the beach boys seem to be, i mean, i've been told enumerable times, "hey, we go on a road trip to florida or something, we play the beach boys." - it's the great unifier. - it is and when you, kinda like it was in our family, not the beach boys music but just singing itself. but i think it's wonderful when you can generate something that's so positive and people love so much and so for me, as a co-creator of the songs, whether it was writing or singing or performing them, it's a really great feeling. and we've been able to go all around the world and go to places where we probably would've never been able to go to. - right, well, the world is so different today from the time that all were in your prime
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as a band, back when you were with your cousins, that opportunities to get the music in front of people exist that just didn't exist back then. - that is true. that is true. - methods of distribution but also just places you probably can go that you couldn't go before. and you're not putting out really, you're not doing records in the same way that you might've done records as a band before. the tour is really the thing, the tour doesn't exist to promote records or records don't exist to promote tours. the tour, is the tour, is the tour, that's the purpose. - yeah, i think it's a whole activity in itself and it's very rewarding because it's immediate gratification. you get out and you perform and you get, you know, all this positive feedback and it's really, really great. and so we try to concentrate them in a series of shows, just so it's routed properly, there's a whole art to it. - there is a whole art to it and people don't fully understand, all they see is the band come onstage. - and promotion, calling radio stations, doing interviews to promote the tour.
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- what's left for you to do? what have you not accomplished that you wanna accomplish still? - well, i liked to do more symphonic shows. i would like to do a a story of the beach boys like a broadway play. - well you know, that really is the carole king, the success of the carole king play, tells me that this is not an accident and that there might, in fact, be a great play. - and the jersey boys. - jersey boys, right, yeah. - because there's so much to be told of the good things that brought the beach boys together and the great things that we accomplished together. - right, well, it's a hell of a legacy. i mean, what an honor it is to hear you tell the story in your own words and to meet you. - thank you. - after all this time. your voice has been ringing in my ears as long as i've been alive. - oh my goodness! - mike love, thank you very much. - thank you. - great to see you, sir. (applause) - [evan voiceover] we'd love to have you join us in the studio. visit our website at
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to find invitations to interviews, q and a's with our audience and guests and an archive of past episodes. - there is some truth in some of the things that have been said. you know, you could say that brian is a troubled genius and carl was a nice guy and dennis was a wild man. so, i mean, those things don't exist for no reason at all. - [announcer] funding for overheard with evan smith is provided in part by the alice kleberg reynolds foundation and hillco partners, a texas government affairs consultancy. and by klru's producer's circle, ensuring local programming that reflects the character and interests of the greater austin texas community.
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