A Deeper Look at the Call to Boycott the Beach Boys (Or, At Least Don’t Play for People Who Hunt People, Like Sting)

Tim Sommer moves beyond the Internet Freakout over the Safari International event with an exclusive comment from Love himself

Mike Love (Art: Ron Hart)

Earlier this month, the Beach Boys performed at the Safari Club International Convention in Reno, Nevada. In reaction to this, Beach Boy co-founder Brian Wilson (who no longer performs with the group) has released a statement addressed to Beach Boy manager Elliott Lott, urging fans to boycott the Beach Boys and stage protests at their concerts. 

Like so many of us, I despise game hunting, which Safari Club International supports (though, for the record, SCI also provide significant support for multiple conservation and wildlife groups). For many, the story ends there. Hunting, bad. People who play concerts for hunters, bad. 

But that’s enormously simplistic thinking. 

Private gigs – i.e., shows the general public cannot buy a ticket for — are a filthy secret of the music industry. I absolutely guarantee that your favorite musical artist has played an invite-only show for some organization, charity, convention or Dr. Evil-like despot. 

A few years ago, Sting made a couple of million bucks playing for the brutal dictator of Uzbekistan. A couple of decades back, 50 Cent, Beyoncé, and Mariah Carey all made serious bank playing at SEPARATE events for the Kaddafi family (yes, “THE” Kaddafi family). In 2013, Kanye West made “at least” three million American greenback dollars playing a private show for the acutely repressive leader of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev (bizarrely, Nursultan Nazarbayev is my drag name). In other words, Sting, Kanye etc. played concerts for PEOPLE WHO HUNT PEOPLE. Also, it’s well known that back in the 20th century (you remember the 20th Century, it’s that era portrayed so vividly in Sex and the City) Queen, who are virtually fucking saints, played the Sun City resort in Apartheid South Africa, in violation of the United Nations boycott of S.A. In fact, so did Linda Ronstadt, Cher, and kindly old Oscar winner Elton John. In fact, Queen even signed off on letting Sun City use their music in their commercials.

 

VIDEO: Audience footage of Beyonce playing a part for the son of Mommar Kaddafi

See, it’s simple math: Every band is for sale. Every band. Every band has a standard fee. Most bands (and by “bands”, I mean the entire executive infrastructure, including management and booking agents) do not care who pays that fee. It can be paid by a promoter who puts the group into the Pomona Purina Dog Chow EnormoDome and charges Max Q. Punter $175 to sit in the nosebleed seats; or it can be paid by the eyeball-gouging dictator of The Republic of Wadiya who wants the act to play a private party to celebrate the reversal of his oldest son’s circumcision. Likely, most bands barely check to see what the gig is. The road manager just says, “Tonight we are doing a private event tonight in Lompoc, pick up is at the Four Seasons at 2:30. Tomorrow we are at Whiskey Pete’s in Stateline, Nevada. Oddly, our opening act is a balloon ascensionist.”

You and I, sitting at home eating Pringles and listening to Roth-era Van Halen on Spotify, can make a great fuss about why a band has decided to play such-and-such private gig. But we are not in that business, and a band is a business. There is a payroll, there are health plans, there are accountants, lawyers, etcetera. We aren’t the people who have to pay a twelve-person crew, the caterer, an ornery horn player, or the driver who gets paid whether he drives or not. When you start to think of it that way, filling those open spots on your tour itinerary is pretty essential. A night off is pure loss. If you are managing an artist, would you rather they sit at the Sheraton in Windsor running up the payroll, or would you prefer they make a five or six figure payday playing at the Raccoon Convention in Minneapolis? Does it matter that the Raccoons encourage husbands to lie to their wives? (I saw a TV show about that). None of this is an excuse; but all of this explains that it’s all a bit more complicated than it might appear. 

So when I heard the Beach Boys, one of my absolute all-time favorite bands, were pissing people off with a private gig at the Safari Club International Convention, my first thought was, well, every band plays embarrassing private gigs, you just don’t hear about them. Every artist you can name has played a gig that would raise someone’s eyebrows. Every one. Ask your favorite band to provide you with a list of their private gigs. They’ll say no, which will tell you a lot. But if you can get a hold of that list, I absolutely promise you there will be something on that list that pisses you off in a major way. NO ROCK BAND IS PERFECT. THAT IS WHY THEY ARE ROCK BANDS AND NOT HANDING OUT ANTIBIOTICS IN GHANA OR SPENDING THEIR DAYS MAKING MACARONI ART WITH INNER CITY CHILDREN.

I do not approve of the choice the Beach Boys made when they opted to play the Safari International event; but it was not my choice to make. The Beach Boys organization had a reason for making this decision, and knowing a little about the way the Beach Boys do their business, the odds are it was a very pragmatic decision. See, being a Beach Boy – or being a member of the Beach Boys band or the crew – isn’t just some lark; it is their fucking JOB. It is the way they support their families, it is the way they put money into college funds and 401Ks, it is even the way that they set aside a little money so they can justify playing a benefit every now for a legitimately worthy cause. 

 

VIDEO: AP coverage of the current Beach Boys controversy

Mike Love has given me a statement regarding Brian Wilson’s suggestion that fans boycott the Beach Boys. Here’s Mike Love:

“The word that comes to mind is gratitude. I am so grateful to be the co-founder and co-creator of a catalogue of music that unites many people and fans of various different cultures, beliefs, religions, and lifestyles. I practice non-judgmental civility and respect for all my fellow humans. Although I might not share the same belief as others, I have the space in my heart and spirit to be respectful of differences of opinions. It’s really important to focus on what unites us. The love of our family, our friends, our country, music and gratitude for the blessings that so many of us enjoy. Three words come to mind, civility, respect, and also LOVE.”

A lot of you have heard some pretty shitty things about Mike Love. Some of these may be true, but the most common and offensive stories about him are not. For instance, the myth of him disliking Pet Sounds and/or slowing the completion of SMiLE are near-total fiction, traceable to one single inaccurate story published by Rolling Stone in the late 1960s. As for the other stuff, without going into great detail (I have researched this subject pretty closely) let me simplify by saying this: Carl, Dennis, and Brian Wilson were not the only victims of Murry Wilson’s profound abuse. Mike Love was a victim, too. Due to a long-standing grudge with the Love family (who were his in-laws), when Murry was managing the Beach Boys he systematically sought to rob Mike Love of his rightfully earned (and previously agreed on) publishing share as a co-writer of many classic Beach Boys songs. Love then spent decades re-addressing this wrong; in doing so, he found himself very publicly pitted against one of the saints of pop history (and one of Love’s closest friends), Brian Wilson (do some digging on this – you will find that Brian Wilson actually testified FOR Mike Love when the two were in court, presumably on opposite sides, in 1992). Likewise, everything you have heard about what happened after the 2012 reunion tour has been one-sided and full of powerful omissions; Love in no way, shape, or form fired Al Jardine and Brian Wilson. That is a canard (and a rather ornate one – explaining it would take a couple of thousand words, and seriously distract from the matter at hand). 

The Beach Boys 2020

Try to have an open mind when you read this next paragraph, okay? Consistently, Mike Love’s greatest sin has been not being Brian Wilson. Mike Love’s greatest sin has been having to keep a business, a band, and a touring legacy alive when that band’s most identifiable figure is mentally ill and has a long, long history of being easily led and badly advised. Mike Love is like the pragmatic son who has to keep the family business healthy and profitable after the legendary founder has gone off to Boca.  Everyone’s going to say, “Well, you’re not half the man your dad was!”, but it’s the son who keeps the lights on and pays for grandma’s home care aide.

Mike Love, Bruce Johnston and the outstanding Beach Boys live band (some of whom have been playing with the group since the last century) are just the public front for the Beach Boys partnership, which Brian Wilson is still very much part of. In fact, Brian Wilson, Al Jardine and the estate of Carl Wilson get a piece of every ticket sold for the Beach Boys; they even get a share of the money from these controversial private gigs. If Brian Wilson is demanding a boycott, I challenge him to donate his share from the Beach Boys live performances to charity. Got it? 

Let’s talk about your job. I guarantee you, I absolutely fucking guaran-fucking-tee you, that someone you work for does something awful, votes for someone awful, gives money to some horrible organization. But you had to show up to your job today, didn’t you? It is absolutely not my place to take a big steaming shit on your ability to set aside a few dollars for extra classy ramen or a toaster or a Prius or that trip to the San Diego Zoo or whatever it is that makes you look the other way when you find out your company did something awful. Only children, college students, those being supported by their parents or those who have a trust fund have the ability to make perfect fucking politically correct choices. 

What did your favorite musician do today to change the world, to defeat imminent fascism, to defend a woman’s right to choose, to help register voters? And no, tweets do not count. What did they actually do to move the second hand on the clock back from disaster, dictatorship, ruin of the environment, or the health and educational system? Get back to me on that, and then you can criticize the Beach Boys.

Oṃ āḥ hūṃ vajra guru padma siddhi hūṃ, Sommer out. 

 

 

Tim Sommer

Tim Sommer is a musician, record producer, former Atlantic Records A&R representative, WNYO DJ, MTV News correspondent, VH1 VJ, and founding member of the band Hugo Largo. He has written for publications such as Trouser Press, the Observer and The Village Voice. Follow him on Twitter @Timmysommer.

8 thoughts on “A Deeper Look at the Call to Boycott the Beach Boys (Or, At Least Don’t Play for People Who Hunt People, Like Sting)

  • February 19, 2020 at 3:36 pm
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    but they have performed for Donald Trump’s fundraisers, so there’s that. Mike Loves affinity for him is well known and of course, you are allowed to vote for anyone you want. But it says a whole lot.

    And Fugazi never played a corporate show. Doubt that the Dead Kennedys ever did either…

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    • February 19, 2020 at 8:27 pm
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      Tim,
      You authored a well-composed and – reasonably 🙂 – objective report on the side of the “story” virtually no one bothered to consider.
      I have been Mike’s genuine friend and sometime companion for nearly 50 years.
      We still see each other when our schedules permit.
      FWIW, I might have advised him to substitute another “private” for this one given the growing backlash in America vis a vis any and all things related to animal cruelty.
      Yet, as Mike pointed out, being an American still bestows certain unalienable rights.
      Like, the Club’s right to ask Mike’s band to perform and Mike’s right to agree.
      I’m on the inside looking out at this.
      Brian was, once again, a not-entirely innocent victim of his “long, long history of being easily led and badly advised.”
      Those of us close to Mike know exactly where this came from.
      Mike chose to react to hate with… what else? Love.
      That’s the high road to good vibrations.
      I’m proud of him.

      PS One fact-check for you: Sadly, Dennis’ estate does not participate in the proceeds of the corporation. He owed it so much at one point they forgave the debts in exchange for his shares.
      There are four participants now: Michael, Brian, Carl’s estate and Alan Jardine.

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      • February 20, 2020 at 8:46 pm
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        First of all, I want to thank you for The Beach Boys article I recently read. It was so very well written and very true. It seems that people who do not know the business have so much to say. They don’t understand the process of how these situations work. As someone who is close to the band, I can agree that this happens with ALL bands. People need to understand what these private gigs are and what they represent versus what the members of the band think. If you work for a boss, I can guarantee you don’t “Love” everything they do. You do what you have to do to keep your job, you smile and do your best.
        As part of the organization, when I get questioned (which is A LOT) I refer them to your article. I know others within the organization do as well.
        So, thanks for explaining the process. Maybe some will be able to understand.
        Thanks,
        Joni

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  • February 19, 2020 at 10:53 pm
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    Dennis Wilson’s estate does not receive profits from BB touring. Al Jardine does however.

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  • February 20, 2020 at 10:59 am
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    This piece made me recognize how quickly I demonize people (Mike Love) based on shaky evidence and black or white thinking. Thank you for that. Your point about the private gig revenue stream almost every music star collects is also relevant. Still, I understand Brian Wilson’s distress and the fact that he didn’t also point out the many dictator-loving bands and artists is a missed opportunity. However it’s within his rights to condemn a repulsive organization as it is Mike Love’s right to perform for them. Boycotting American organizations that advocate “hunting every game species anywhere in the world” is still a good thing.

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  • February 20, 2020 at 2:23 pm
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    That was a generally fair Op Ed piece. However, fans who value the work of the artist should not be castigated for encouraging the artist to move consistently, ethically in their career.

    My only difference with it is this: Tim wrote, “Only children, college students, those being supported by their parents or those who have a trust fund have the ability to make perfect…politically correct choices.” I disagree. We all can do as much as possible to lead lives of integrity. If I see (recent) videos of hog farmers beating up and torturing pigs, I may not ever buy a Hormel product again. And I may tell my friends what I do and why. I’m an adult, no longer a student, and certainly have no trust fund.

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  • February 21, 2020 at 12:32 am
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    Fantastic! Nice Max Q reference!

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  • February 23, 2020 at 12:04 pm
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    What a thoughtful and informative article. I truly hope that it will be “food for thought” for those who say horrible things about Mike Love. Since 1964, when at 13 I saw my first of dozens of Beach Boys concerts, I have loved ALL of the guys, no matter what configuration the band took. I dislike hunting of all types – even deer and small game – but I will not let that get in the way of my entertainment. I am a live-and-let-live person and as my Mom always said: “that’s what makes the world go ’round”. PEACE!!

    Reply

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