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Al Jardine Tells All About the Beach Boys’ New Movie and Their First Book

Including how Charles Manson wrote some music for them

spinner image Al Jardine, Mike Love, Dennis Wilson, Brian Wilson and Carl Wilson of The Beach Boys pose for a portrait in 1964
(Left to right) Al Jardine, Mike Love, Dennis Wilson, Brian Wilson and Carl Wilson of The Beach Boys.
Courtesy: Disney+, Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Sixty years after their breakthrough smash “I Get Around,” the Beach Boys’ remarkable, rocky career is the subject of a new documentary, The Beach Boys (streaming on Disney+ starting May 24, with a soundtrack album, The Beach Boys: Music From The Documentary). The group also published their first official book, The Beach Boys by the Beach Boys (Genesis, $65), chronicling them from the start, when the Wilson brothers — Brian, now 81, and the late Dennis and Carl — were kids harmonizing in the back seat of their parents’ car and at annual Christmas carol events at the home of cousin Mike Love, now 83. Brian’s high school football teammate Al Jardine, now 81, completed the band.

The film and book tell a dramatic tale full of heavenly harmony and infernal discord. The Wilsons’ father, Murry, beat and abused them like a horror movie monster but also in some ways protected them as manager of the teenage stars until they grew up and fired him. They were at first humiliated, then inspired by the Beatles, and vice versa — Mike Love got Paul McCartney to add a line extolling Russian girls in his Beach Boys pastiche “Back in the U.S.S.R.” It wasn’t all fun, fun, fun. The Beach Boys survived fights, addictions and involvement with Charles Manson, yet evolved artistically, sold more than 100 million records and outlasted almost every other early rock band.

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The Beach Boys by The Beach Boys is the ideal companion to the career-capstone documentary. It has 408 pages of rare photos and ephemera and draws on 25 years’ worth of interviews with the original five players, as well as Bruce Johnston, 81, who joined in 1965 to fill in for Brian on the road after his first replacement, Glen Campbell, left to go solo. Johnston still tours in the Beach Boys with Mike, the sole remaining original member. The Beach Boys by The Beach Boys gives you a sense of their interacting personalities — creative, wild Dennis, the only one who surfed (and sometimes preferred it to recording), and secretive baby brother Carl, whose emotional diplomacy mitigated strife and whom Brian often trusted to finish the production on his tunes. On the road, Carl was in charge.

Al Jardine continues performing with his solo band. He remains close to Brian, who has dementia and recently was placed under conservatorship. He tells AARP about his life with the Beach Boys from his ranch in Big Sur.

Is the documentary an accurate portrayal of the Beach Boys?

It’s great! It’s not complete by any means. We’ve been around for six decades. It’s pretty hard to catch in one go-round.

The Beach Boys were pigeonholed as a surf act, but didn’t you really pave paths to power pop, alternative and psychedelia?

We recorded things from rock to blues, even folk music. We were panned when we tried to pull off a disco song. It was a real disaster. But that’s the only thing we really failed to do. We’ve survived generations of changes.

How much did timing have to do with success?

It was the end of an era at Capitol Records for the Four Preps and the Kingston Trio. They were all sung out, maybe. We jumped in at just the right time with that young sound. We basically took over from the Four Freshmen — our biggest influence — who were winding down, and the Kingston Trio. Holy mackerel. They had a magnificent blend. We joined that continuum of wonderful singing bands. On our 40th anniversary box set, there’s a disc with voices only, and it rivals any vocal recording out there.

What was your impression of the Wilson brothers’ overbearing father, Murry?

It’s never good to have a father for a manager. It just doesn’t work. It was always contentious. He saw us as a bunch of lazy bums who never earned a living other than sitting around the piano room singing together. He came from a blue-collar background and was a frustrated songwriter, so when he saw Brian having success with his very first song, he resented it.

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Was the happiest period when you had that astonishing string of hits — “Help Me, Rhonda,” “Fun, Fun, Fun,” “Be True to Your School,” “Barbara Ann”?

Yeah. There were no clunkers. But there was always a little tension, like in any other band. Dennis and Mike were competitive. We all seemed to make it work.

Yet not everyone in the band shared the vision behind Brian’s groundbreaking Pet Sounds.

I don’t know if anybody understood his vision quite as much as the Wrecking Crew [Glen Campbell, Leon Russell, Carol Kaye and Hal Blaine], the top-flight musicians who helped him make the album. We were the touring band. When we came from home from Japan, Brian introduced us to it. I heard it as a Brian Wilson album. It could have, should have been. But Brian wasn’t going to promote his own album. He didn’t have the desire, so it stayed in the Beach Boys family. It was a tough sell. People wanted to hear the happy, uplifting stuff. It took a while for people to appreciate it. It did influence the Beatles to make Sgt. Pepper.

Did you have any discomfort adjusting to the shift on Pet Sounds?

My issue was the cover. On the back, we’re in Japanese garb, and on the front, we’re feeding animals. The artwork doesn’t work at all in describing what’s in the album. Capitol dropped the ball on that one.

When the Beach Boys formed, four were family and you were the friend. Did you ever feel like an outsider?

I was always embraced. If anybody felt like an outsider, it would be David Marks [now 75], who subbed for me while I was away. He was a gear in the machine. Dave had a big falling out with Murry and got fired. He was awfully young, maybe 13 or 14, and it was unpleasant.

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When Dennis struck up a friendship with Charles Manson, who contributed to the Beach Boys’ “Never Learn Not to Love,” was it a low point?

No kidding. Of all the people to run across in L.A., what are the odds? “Never Learn Not to Love.” Can you believe that? A double negative? Charlie put in a little melody line: “La da da.” There was no way to get rid of Charlie. He was determined to make his mark in the music business. He even recorded in our studio at Brian’s house. He’s got an unreleased album that’s still there somewhere in the vault. He was pernicious. He stole one of my beautiful Martin guitars. But I’m glad I didn’t give Charlie any crap about it.

How did Dennis’ and Carl’s deaths change the course of the Beach Boys?

When Dennis died, we still had a consensus on what direction we wanted to go. After Carl died, it was decided that Mike Love would be the Beach Boys. He has the exclusive license to tour as the Beach Boys. That didn’t feel so good because I had to reinvent myself.

How have you coped with the friction and lawsuits?

It’s harder on the wives. We seem to go back to our childhoods when we see each other. We automatically think musically instead of politically or financially. I know Mike goes out there and makes millions more than I do, but it doesn’t seem to matter. You just move on and enjoy the ride. I am restricted from using the Beach Boys name, which does still rankle. I am a Beach Boy. Somehow it’s not an issue when we get together. We can still make a documentary or a book.

How often do you see Brian?

I don’t see him on a regular basis, because I live in Big Sur and it’s hard to get in and out because of the weather [and consequent landslides]. He’s a great friend and mentor, a regular guy who happens to be a genius.

Since 2006, you’ve joined Brian for nearly all his shows, and you’ve had a busy solo career. What’s ahead?

I may actually revive Brian’s band and bring it out on the road, if it’s feasible without Brian. I have written a follow-up to “Kokomo” called “Islands in the Sun.” I think it’s as good or better than “Kokomo,” and when you’ve done this as long as I have, you know a hit when you hear it. It’s Harry Belafonte meets the Beach Boys. It’s got a lovely Caribbean rhythm. I also recorded a song with Neil Young about a young man going off to war, called “My Plane Leaves Tomorrow.” Pretty heavy, especially now. And I’ll keep touring. When I go out on my own, it’s fantastic. You can’t help but get a great review singing some of the best songs ever written. My voice is getting down into the baritone range. It’s kind of fun singing Mike Love’s parts now.

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