Bruce Johnson Interviewed
TC PALM Q. You’ve been creating music for 50 years. Is it strange to think of yourself as ... well, a nostalgia merchant?
A. You know, I hope I’m a nostalgia merchant. All these songs are important to people who pass them on to their kids and grandchildren. They’re important to me. And they’re still in the same key. Every part’s the same, and every part is written down. I would say that Disney World is a nostalgia merchant. And they do a great job. I hope we do as good a job as they do.
I think when Tony Bennett sings “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” it’s probably a new song to him every night, because it’s so well-written. And that’s what I think about Brian’s and Mike’s songs.
Q. Mike and Al just finished with another lawsuit, this over the use of the Beach Boys name. Do you have any interest in the lawsuits and the back-and-forth bickering that’s gone on for so many years?
A. Frankly, you can’t have the Beach Boys turning into the Ink Spots, or those guys from the ‘40s with about five bands using the name. It confuses the marketplace. I don’t know ... I’m semi-interested. I’m more interested in the music.
Q. Well, do you take any interest in Brian’s new music? The re-made “Smile” album?
A. I think as an exercise in keeping him occupied, it’s interesting. Here’s a guy that should have become John Williams, if you think about it. He should have many Academy Awards for scores he could have written. A lot of things could have happened, but they didn’t. And then they dust him off and roll him back out.
I talk to him every once in a while. But I’m never going to tell him that I’ll take “Pet Sounds” over what he’s doing now. Fate is very uncool. Fate gives Brian the wrong Grammy. Fate says to Brian and Mike, “I’m going to mess with your head, and I’m not going to give you a Grammy for anything while you’re hot. I’m going to wait till you re-visit something that was over 30 years old and give you a Grammy for a song that no one knows. A song about Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow.” Not cool. Brian and Mike and the band deserved a Grammy in prime time, and it never happened. So fate’s on my bad list.
Q. Do you ever think it’s a little weird to be in your ‘60s singing the old surfing and hot rod songs?
A. How can you get cooler than “I Get Around”? Listen to those harmonies! Buried under the youthful groove is an amazing amount of voicing. Just on that little thing about a car. Absolutely pocket-symphony brilliant. “Good Vibrations,” same thing. It’s kind of like “Doo-wop Part Two — at Lincoln Center.” It’s all about the vocals.
What about those people who are 300 years old and still go to their alma mater football games? You can’t tell me aging kills your spirit.
Q. But there’s so much more Beach Boys music in the catalogue.
A. And, my brother, we’re still spreadin’ the word. In England, we do 56 songs in our set instead of 32. That’s because in England they’re such rat-pack music collectors, they want to hear everything. They’re hardcore fans. But if we did our English show here in America, probably the majority of the people would walk out.
Q. Do you think Mike’s been given a bum rap?
A. Without Mike Love, the Beach Boys would have never gotten this far. Brian’s absolutely brilliant, no doubt about it, but Mike kind of kept the groove going. He put the commercial sauce on stuff. It’s like you buy a really cool car and have it delivered to the dealership, but they detail it before you get it.
Mike Love gets the baddest rap, next to Hitler, I’ve ever seen. Hitler deserves it. Mike doesn’t.
There are guys like (author) David Leaf, who’ve spent years trashing Mike, and they’re partially successful in the world of minutia. But as far as the big picture goes, there’s that guy struttin’ the stage, singing these nasal, wonderful leads to songs he wrote, all these years later ... take Brian solo, Al solo or me solo, it’s just not gonna happen. But put Mike out there with Beach Boy music — and me, or Al or somebody — and it’s gonna do really great.