The Beach Boys' Mike Love and Bruce Johnson: 'We’re never going to stop touring'

 (PR Handout)
(PR Handout)

“We started touring again back in the day and we’re never going to stop,” Mike Love told me last week. “Just last month we played a gig in front of over 80,000 people, and the feedback has never been better.”

His brother-from-another mother Bruce Johnson, eager to add his own feedback on the Beach Boys’ current success said, “And we play it all – the beach celebrations, the wistful ballads, the deep album cuts, and the American anthems.”

Which is why the Beach Boys remain America’s band. Mike Love (83) and Bruce Johnston (81) were in London to celebrate the publication of a brilliant new book on their history published by Genesis, and to launch the Beach Boys Disney+ documentary.

 (Getty Images for Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures UK)
(Getty Images for Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures UK)

I interviewed them on stage at the Iconic Images Gallery in St James, and they both behaved like a pair of over-excited puppies. Having met Brian Wilson over the years and become accustomed to his “beleaguered genius” status, it was something of a shock to find that both Love and Johnson are so imbued with the innate Beach Boys spirit.

They were both delightful company, still keen to espouse the group’s success, and still marvelling at their good fortune having become pop stars in the early Sixties with the likes of Surfin’ Safari, California Girls, and I Get Around.

“I can’t believe I’m still up there every night playing Brian’s wonderful creations in front of audiences who weren’t even born when we started,” said Love, referring to his cousin Brian Wilson. “It seems somehow magical.”

The fact he could have said this back in the Seventies makes it no less heartening.

Ten minutes into our talk – in front of a select band of invited guests, including the photographers Kevin Cummins and Tony McGee – Johnson interrupted proceedings to invite Bill Wyman on to the stage, the former Rolling Stone who now walks with a stick.

The three of them traded compliments until I mentioned an extraordinary concert they’d both appeared at back in 1964, featuring both the Stones and the Beach Boys along with James Brown and the Blue Flames, the Supremes and Chuck Berry.

“Now, that was competition,” said Johnson. “I know we needed to compete with the Stones.”

“All I remember is that we were headlining,” deadpanned Wyman.

Brian Wilson had the ability to mix euphoria and melancholia in the space of a single song, often the same melody, and occasionally the same note. Given his history of personal problems (an aggressive and belligerent father, a dysfunctional family, a fragile mental state, addictions, weight problems, and a long-standing over-bearing therapist), it’s hardly surprising that Wilson’s best music always had an innate sadness, a tender quality which can be found in such diverse Beach Boys songs as Our Prayer, Wind Chimes, The Lonely Sea, Melt Away, Caroline, No, Surf’s Up, The Warmth of the Sun (written in response to the JFK assassination), and his greatest triumph, Till I Die.

As legendary rock journalist Nick Kent has so eloquently expressed, Wilson wrote “harmonies so complex, so graceful they seemed to have more in common with a Catholic Mass than any cocktail acapella doo-wop.” Wilson called his work “rock church music”, while every one of his classic songs contains a “money chord”; Mark Rothko, eat your heart out.

 (PR Handout)
(PR Handout)

Wilson didn’t join Love and Johnson on their promotional trip as he tragically has dementia. A few weeks ago, a judge decided he should be in a court conservatorship to manage his personal and medical decisions because of what his doctor calls a “major neurocognitive disorder”.

At the hearing, the Los Angeles superior court judge Gus T May approved the petition filed by the 81-year-old Wilson’s family and inner circle after the death of his wife in January, Melinda Ledbetter Wilson, who handled most of his tasks and affairs. “I find from clear and convincing evidence that a conservatorship of the person is necessary,” May said at the hearing.

The judge said that evidence shows that Wilson consents to the arrangement and lacks the capacity to make healthcare decisions. Love said he hopes Brian will still be able to make music with the band but given his condition it seems unlikely.

For me, Mike Love was a revelation. Johnston I fell in love with after hearing his song Disney Girls for the first time (on the Surf’s Up album), but Love always seemed like an anomaly.

He was the Beach Boy who didn’t like the idea of Pet Sounds, who haggled for historical credits on some of Brian Wilson’s big Beach Boys hits, and the member who always appeared to be happy to present a reductive version of the band. But last week he was charm personified, a humble, sweet man and nothing like the bumptious Beach Boy I was expecting. More fool me.

 (PR Handout)
(PR Handout)

The new anthology itself is the first book to cover the band’s entire career from their own perspective. Asked why it has taken so long, Johnston said, “I don’t think anybody asked. But it’s all here, right from the very beginning. It’s also full of all this stuff that we’ve had for ages, for decades. These are our words. There’s nobody writing it apart from us. Brian is in there, along with material from Carl and Dennis [the two deceased Wilson brothers].”

When I asked them beforehand how they felt about seeing their lives displayed in this way, all in one place, Johnson was reflective. “I think the first thing I have to feel is astonishment that the Beach Boys still have relevance in 2024, but also I think we feel pride,” he said.

“That’s right,” said Love, without a hint of wistfulness. “Pride in being America’s band for whichever generation wants to come and see us play. Because I guarantee we will be playing!”

The Beach Boys comes to Disney+ on May 24; The Beach Boys by The Beach is available in bookstores now and at