GOOD VIBRATIONS "We've been doing it since childhood," says Beach Boy Mike Love (third from left, here with Bruce Johnston, Brian Wilson, Al Jardine, and singer/guitarist David Marks). "It sounds incredibly hard, but it's not really."
For the past 50 years, the Beach Boys have been selling myths, and we've been buying them. Only one of them, Dennis Wilson, knew how to surf. And despite the gorgeous vocals produced by America's most storied musical family, they were never much ones for inter-personal harmony.
Although the Beach Boys continued to tour well after they lost Brian Wilson's interest and critical viability (their last great album, Love You, came out 35 years ago), the loss of spiritual anchor Carl Wilson to cancer in 1998 threw the group into a state of chaos that even eclipsed the tragic drowning of brother Dennis in 1983. As the band became factionalized, guitarist Al Jardine was allegedly sacked, and lead singer Mike Love and singer/keyboardist Bruce Johnston turned the Beach Boys into the full-on state fair nostalgia act that they've been for the past 15 years. Meanwhile, Brian Wilson — bolstered by the support of handlers, such as one-time psychiatrist/music partner Dr. Eugene Landy — emerged from years of isolation to start a solo career in 1988.
As another generation of music fans grew to be obsessed with the Beach Boys (from Weezer to Sonic Youth, Stereolab, the Jesus and Mary Chain, etc.), the myth machine started to crank harder. In the late '90s, a group of geeky sound-alikes called the Wondermints abandoned their own career to become Wilson's backing band. Almost immediately, Wilson was touring the music of his 1966 pop-masterpiece Pet Sounds for the first time, not only absolving himself of decades of mediocre material, but also kicking Mike Love's ass at the box office. Then in 2003, the unthinkable happened: Wilson recorded a new, finished, hugely profitable version of the lost, unreleased 1967 Smile LP — a feast for fans and accountants alike (a fact not lost on Mike Love). As the reinvigorated Wilson continued to work with Beach Boys–obsessed collaborators on new music, songs like 2008's "Midnight's Another Day" sounded more like Pet Sounds than Wilson's own solo music.
The fact that the surviving original Beach Boys are back together again for their first album in 20 years, That's Why God Made the Radio (Brother), and a 50th-anniversary greatest-hits tour (which stops at the Pavilion on June 26) isn't a miracle. It's just business. "There is no way that you could not do a 50th anniversary, it just wouldn't be professional," says Bruce Johnston from his studio. Very much like the aforementioned Wondermints, Johnston himself was a Beach Boys sound-alike who’d had a 1964 hit with the Rip Chords’ “Hey Little Cobra” before joining the band.
"Everybody has been filling in the blanks. You know, we'll do an album, and here is how we'll do it with a tour," says Johnston, musing about the casual expectations of the affair. It's a reunion inspired not because of any renewed interest or great new songs to share, but rather because, well, the old calendar turned another year. "It's a little like taking your first step into Tony Bennett–land: you've gone from art to an art treasure."