Craft

Bruce Johnston, right, with the Beach Boys seven years ago at Bloomington's U.S. Cellular Coliseum. 

Pantagraph file photo

Trying to get a grip on the sprawling Beach Boys saga in one easy interview is liking trying to distill all five seasons of "Breaking Bad" into a single paragraph.

Nigh impossible.

Today's GO! session with Mike Love is more upbeat and feel-good than ones we've conducted before, including a talk conducted some years back with Bruce Johnston, the Peoria native whose Peoria stay was fleeting at best (more about which shortly).

On this occasion, an ABC-TV movie called "Summer Dreams: The Story of the Beach Boys" was about to air again, much to Johnston's chagrin.

For drama, it focused heavily on family patriarch Murray Wilson's tyranny, Brian Wilson's retreat into a drug-induced fantasy world and Dennis Wilson's tragic early death by drowning.

"It's truly brilliant, for the first 12 minutes. Then it goes into the trash barrel. My take on it is, the young part of the Boys' life before the first hits, the high school thing, is fabulous. Then it goes sideways and south, and turns into tacky television," Johnston critiqued.

Anybody here remember the casting choices?

Bruce Greenwood, currently on screens in "Kingsman: The Golden Circle," played Dennis Wilson.

Greg Kean, an actor we've lost track of, played Brian W.

Casey Sander, best known as Mike Rostenkowski on "The Big Bang Theory,"  was an admitted dead ringer for Mike Love.

Bo Foxworth, encountered a year ago playing another real-life figure, Robert McNamara, in "All the Way," was Carl W.

Andrew Myler, who doesn't appear to have done much else, was Al Jardine.

And Johnston was played by another actor we don't remember from anything else, Robert Lee.

"They even had the people who play us wearing late-’60s beards that look like the kid of Lincoln beard you'd wear in an elementary school play. I kind of lost it after that. They had a chance to do us right, and they did us wrong."

The one biographical detail not covered by "Summer Dreams" was Johnston's origins, which began here in Central Illinois instead of there in sunny California.

"Here" was the former Florence Crittenton Home in Peoria, where he was born on June 29, 1942.

At the time, the home was a haven for unwed mothers, says Jeff Gress, CEO for its current incarnation as the Crittenton Center, a child welfare agency offering various family crisis services.

Johnston was soon adopted by what was described as a "wealthy" Chicago family, who later headed west to California, where Bruce grew up to be the "almost-Beach Boy," joining up full time on April 9, 1965, four years into the band's history.

For contractual reasons, he didn't receive any actual credit on an album until 1967's "Wild Honey" album, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and being so acknowledged on the "Wild Honey Tour" coming to Illinois State University's Braden Auditorium Tuesday night.

That gig came at age 23, after his start at a mere 15, playing backup for another rock legend, Ritchie Valens.

Johnston hasn't forgotten his fleeting Peoria roots over the years, according to Gress.

Around 20 years ago, he returned to the center on a quest for more information on his origins.

Johnston took it to heart, donating Beach Boys memorabilia to help raise funds for the center, and, as a result, was award the Charles Crittenton Distinguished Merit Award in 1997.

A year ago, when the Beach Boys played the Peoria Civic Center, Johnston "walked over after their sound check there to the center, which is nearby," says Gress.

The occasion: A desire to wish his first home, far afield of the sand and surf of sunny California, a happy anniversary on the occasion of its 125th.

Dan Craft is Pantagraph entertainment editor. He can be reached at 309-829-9000, Ext. 259 or via email at dcraft@pantagraph.com.

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