30 Years Ago: Mike Love Hurls Insults at Beach Boys Hall of Fame Induction
It was the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's third annual induction ceremony, and the Beach Boys were center stage, accepting some well-earned kudos. Most acceptance speeches are filled with colorful history, personal stories and insights; singer Mike Love's was also unforgettable — but for entirely different reasons.
At the induction ceremony in New York on Jan. 20, 1988, Love's cousin, bandmate and universally recognized Beach Boys genius Brian Wilson spoke first. Wilson had only recently begun to get his life back in order following years of substance abuse and untreated mental illness. Sounding a bit unsteady and reading from a prepared speech, he spoke of the respect he had for everyone in the room. Love awkwardly paced around him, from side to side, reading over his shoulder and interrupting. He grabbed and readjusted the microphone several times to make mindless quips, leaving Wilson increasingly frazzled.
When it came Love's turn to speak, he began quietly, almost bashfully, remembering when he and Wilson first started writing songs. He spoke of the Beach Boys' love for harmony, in music and in life. "We love harmony, and we love all people too," he said. But within a minute of that serene introduction, his speech took a turn when he started hurling a series of bombs at fellow musicians, beginning with a lament for Paul McCartney's absence at the Beatles' induction that evening, due to an ongoing lawsuit against Ringo Starr and Yoko Ono.
And from there it just steamrolled.
"The Beach Boys did about 180 performances last year," he said. "I'd like to see the Mop Tops match that! I'd like to see Mick Jagger get out on this stage and do 'I Get Around' versus 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' any day now. And I'd like to see some people kick out the jams, and I challenge the Boss to get up onstage and jam."
He wasn't done. "I wanna see Billy Joel, see if he can still tickle ivories," he said. "I know Mick Jagger won't be here tonight -- he's gonna have to stay in England. But I'd like to see us in the Coliseum and he at Wembley Stadium because he's always been chickens--- to get onstage with the Beach Boys." (Jagger was actually at the induction ceremony that night.)
Ostensibly, Love was issuing a challenge, but he also later joked that he never got to the punchline. He went on to state the obvious. "I don't care what anybody in this room thinks," he said. " A lot of people are going to go out of this room thinking Mike Love is crazy."
Paul Shaffer, who was leading the house band that night, tried to play Love offstage at one point, but it didn't work. Meanwhile, the rest of the Beach Boys were steamed. "Carl Wilson came up to me afterward. He handed me his award and said, 'Our career is over,'" Shaffer recalled.
Later that evening, Bob Dylan famously responded to Love in his own induction speech, saying, "I want to thank Mike Love for not mentioning me. I play a lot of dates every year too. Peace, love and harmony is greatly important indeed, but so is forgiveness, and we gotta have that too."
But Love wasn't ready to forgive Wilson or his cousin's father, Murry, the Beach Boys' first manager, for all the damage Love said he caused over the years. Despite Love's indignation about the lawsuits that prevented various artists from attending the ceremony, he had repeatedly sued and threatened to sue Wilson over royalties, copyrights and defamation. And despite winning some of these suits, and finally receiving $2 million in back royalties and writing credits for 35 songs that were initially attributed exclusively to Wilson, he remained the black sheep of the Beach Boys family.
"What did I do? Why am I the villain? How did it get to this?" he has asked his wife, according to a 2016 Rolling Stone article, in which he also claimed many of the comments attributed to him over the years are false -- like how his comments purportedly caused Wilson to shelve the Smile LP for decades or how he asked Wilson during the recording of their classic 1966 album Pet Sounds, "Who's gonna hear this s---? The ears of a dog?"
"The fable is that I'm such an a--hole, but a lot of that stuff is skewed by the crazies," he said. "I never said half the s--- that's attributed to me. I mean, I must be pretty prolific in a--hole-type things to say, like, I get up in the morning thinking, 'I've got a job to do. How can I be a total jerk today?'"
But given ample opportunities to apologize for and explain his behavior at the Rock Hall induction over the years, he opted not to, saying only that he had skipped his meditation session that morning -- part of a twice-daily practice he's kept for more than 50 years, after first learning it directly from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. "It was so funny," he explained. "Someone said to me: 'Hey Mike. You're either meditating too much or not enough!'"
In 2016, Love again joked about his meditation practice, pointing out that it's not safe for him to skip it. "I need to meditate," he said. "Well, let's put it this way. It's not good for me to miss meditation. And not good for others too."
Even asked, point blank, whether he had regrets from that fateful ceremony, he told Rolling Stone the only thing he would have done differently was to mediate that morning. But just eight months later, and after nearly three decades, he saw it differently. In a talk on civility at Stamford's Ferguson Library, Love showed the remorse that had been missing from his public comments since his Hall of Fame speech. "If I could take it back, I would," he said to an audience of fans. "I’m just so grateful. I wish I would have been able to say all that in 1988. But all I can do is express my gratitude tonight and every day forward ... better late than never."