Beach Boys, TV and D.C.: A monumental combination


Each year, PBS' Memorial Day eve concert brings some talented -- and far-ranging -- people. The two stories I sent to papers involve people separated by a half-century: One (see previous blog) is Trent Harmon, 25; this one meets Mike Love, 75, and the Beach Boys:

By Mike Hughes

The Beach Boys will
be back in a familiar spot Sunday – singing to the masses (and to
TV viewers) in Washington.

“We have a huge
history with Washington, D.C.,” Mike Love said. “It's been
monumental – literally.”

That last part is a
pun about national monuments, but the first part is an
understatement: For a six-year stretch, Love says, the band had
Washington shows each 4th of July; once, they did two
cities.

Ctowd estimates are
fuzzy, but he was told the band drew 900,000 people in Philadelphia
that afternoon and almost as many in Washington. “They could only
hold 750,000; we got a standing ovation.”

This time, it's a
different holiday (Memorial Day eve) and the approach is varied. The
concert will range from country (Trace Adkins) to classical (Renee
Fleming, Alfie Boe), plus “American Idol” alumni Trent Harmon and
Katharine McPhee.

Harmon, 25, was born
shortly before the Beach Boys turned 30 and Love turned 50. “A few
years ago, I won radio tickets to see them play,” he said. “Man,
they put on a great show.”

They've survived
turmoil within the group – and from the outside world.

In 1983, Secretary
of the Interior James Watt announced that there would be no more rock
bands at the Capitol, because they attract “the wrong element.”
Without mentioning any group by name, he said: “We're not going to
encourage drug abuse and alcohol, as was done in the past.”

The uproar was
instant. “Nancy Reagan called and apologized,” Love said. “She
said, 'Ronny and I have always been big fans.'”

The Beach Boys
returned the next year. Meanwhile, the PBS telecasts, which had begun
in 1981, became ratings hits; in '89, PBS added the concerts on
Memorial Day eve.

Either event is
logical for the Beach Boys, Love said. “We've had letters from
Vietnam veterans, telling how much our music has meant to them.”

It's an American
sound – songs about fun and sun and blue-sky freedom. “It's the
same kind of music we used to sing at my cousin Brian's house, with
my sister Maureen,” Love said.

That's Brian Wilson,
whose brothers (Carl and Dennis) started joining in. Brian talked at
length about the harmonies of the Four Freshmen and the Everly
Brothers and more.

In 1961, the three
brothers became the Beach Boys, along with Love and Al Jardine,
Brian's former football teammate. Like the Beatles and the Rolling
Stones, this had two opposites at the core.'

“I both envied and
felt indimidated by my cousin Mike,” Brian wrote in “Wouldn't It
Be Nice” (HarperCoillins, 1991). “Tall and blond, he exuded
confidence and swagger. He had a big ego. He wasn't especially nice.
I looked at him and knew I couldn't measure up.”

Brian was the genius
at composing music and blending sounds. “I've never known anyone
who knew as much about vocal music,” Love said.

Love provided many
of the early lyrics. He didn't surf – only Dennis Wilson did –
but he knew the California life of convertibles, blondes and
sunshine. He became the guy who talked to audiences; by early 1965,
Brian had quit the road and focused on the studio, with Bruce
Johnston joining the group.

By the end of that
year, the Beach Boys had already had eight top-10 Billboard hits
including two (“I Get Around” and “Help Me Rhonda”) that
reached No. 1. The next year, “Good Vibrations” also was No. 1.
“I wrote the words to that on the way to the studio,” Love said.

That song turns 50
on Oct. 10; the classic “Pet Sounds” album turned 50 on May 16.
Love – married, with four ex-wives, nine children and decades of
transcendental meditation – seems vibrant at 75.

He and Johnston
bought the band and tour with it, with others – including John
Cowsill, former drummer of the Cowsills – filling the other slots.
“We did 172 concerts last year,” Love said. “That's not bad for
someone who was 74.”

-- “National
Memorial Day Concert,” 8 p.m. Sunday, PBS; repeats at 9:30 (check
local listings)

-- Beach Boys plan
to do five hits. Also performing: Trace Adkins, Katharine McPee,
Renee Fleming, the National Orchestra. Gary Sinise and Joe Mantegna
host; Trent Harmon sings the National Anthem.