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"Oh, really?," says a seemingly surprised Mike Love.

He's just been advised that his cousin Brian Wilson and old Beach Boys mate Al Jardine were in the area a week or so ago, preceding The Beach Boys themselves.

Love's own visit comes Tuesday night in Illinois State University's Braden Auditorium, where the current lineup of The Beach Boys (see accompanying roster) headlines at 7:30 p.m.

Wilson's solo show — featuring Jardine and another Beach Boys alum, Blondie Chapman — took place two weeks prior in Peoria.

Peoria, of course, is the birthplace of Bruce Johnston, who joined up with the Wilsons in 1965, four years into Beach Boys annals.

Johnston will be on stage with Love at ISU Tuesday night.

This near-crossing of Central Illinois paths is brought up since the two shows mark what had become a string of coincidental Wilson family visits hereabouts.

Until several weeks ago, there was another one in the offing: a BCPA concert by Pink Martini, the pop-jazz orchestra whose harp player is Maureen Love, Mike's kid sister. (Alas, the March show was postponed due to scheduling conflicts.)

Just to extend things a bit further: current Beach Boys drummer John Cowsill was in town a year ago this fall as part of the "Happy Together" oldies tour that played the BCPA.

The Wilson family tree has many far-reaching roots, branches and saplings.

Not to mention stamina: At 76, Mike Love not only will be the one authentic Beach Boy standing on Braden's stage Tuesday, he's also the eldest of all surviving founders.

"I still do my meditation quite a bit," notes the longtime advocate of transcendentalism.

It was a lifestyle first acquired in 1968, when Love accompanied the Beatles to India for a now-legendary meeting with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

Meditation aside, "We have an excellent crew who sets up and breaks us down the equipment. About all we have to do is get rest and live a sensible lifestyle," Love continues. 

"We learned very early on that if you're going to be a good vocal group, you can't live a lifestyle that's debilitating ... meaning, shall we say, that you can't stay up all night and drink to excess and all of that kind of thing. By trial and error you learn early on that you have to keep your voice in great shape. That's pretty fundamental."

Though various members of the original Beach Boys lineup, in fact, had their issues with debilitating lifestyle choices, including Wilson brothers Brian and Dennis, Love seems in full command of himself and his legacy.

"What we're doing now all started as a family hobby," he reminds us of the humble sing-alongs around the Wilson family piano in Hawthorne, Calif.

"The hobby became professional by virtue of the fact my cousin Brian and me wrote some songs together that people still love to this day."

Speaking of which: This interview is taking place just two days after the 51st anniversary of the most monumental Wilson-Love collaboration of them all: "Good Vibrations," the head-tripping vocal fantasia unleashed to an unsuspecting pop world on Oct. 10, 1966.

"Rolling Stone called it the single of the (20th) century," observes Love, lest we forget that significance.

"And somebody else, I forget who, said that it was the No. 6 single of all time."

Few would argue with those assessments.

"For its time, it was the most avant-garde single you could possibly imagine."

Cousin Brian's experiment in pushing the technology envelope of 1966 on behalf of an epic layering of vocal and instrumental elements took the better part of a year.

"He went to many studios before he finally settled on what became the single we performed on stage," recalls Love, who gets credit for the song's lyrics, including the immortal "I'm pickin' up good vibrations, she's giving me excitations."

"I wrote those words on the way to the studio," recalls Love of the then-impromptu, now-historic moment.

"As I was driving, I dictated the poem that became the lyrics to my ex-wife Suzanne, and she took it all down on a piece of scrap paper as I spoke. It was the poem that became the chorus."

Love begins informally singing/reciting the lines to cousin Brian's melody 51 Octobers later.

"She's giving me GOOD vibrations ..."

The voice is a bit less up in the air with the angels than it was when he was a 25-year-old.

But it's still pitch-perfect.

Some of the infamous Wilson clan contentiousness resurfaces, as Love reminds us that "cousin Carl sang the lead, but he wasn't the single lead singer on that song ... it was a true collaboration between Brian and all of us."

Fifty-one endless summers later, Love is in a bit of a renaissance mode: In addition to the ongoing Beach Boys phenomenon, which has endured long after its boys have become seniors, he's still basking in the afterglow of his well-received autobiography, "Good Vibrations: My Life As a Beach Boy," published a year ago this fall, and just recently reissued in a softcover edition.

"It took a couple years," he says of the book, co-authored with journalist James S. Hirsch.

"There were hard things for me to talk about and write about, from my cousin Carl's falling ill with lung cancer to my own sister Stephanie's death from cancer."

Harder for Love than writing the book was subsequently recording the audio version.

"It's one thing to write about something dispassionately, but to actually speak about it, reliving every emotion was so much harder," he says of an all-American success story packed with a hundred highs and as many lows.

On the highs front, Love's first solo project in 30 years, a double album called "Unleash the Love," will, as its title suggests, unharness some straight-up Love, including 13 previously unreleased songs and re-recordings of a dozen Beach Boys classics.

It arrives in November.

Despite the changes wrought to the Beach Boys by time, fate and other facts of a long life, Love thinks the current configuration is as solid as any to date, Wilson brothers or no.

"The vocal depth of this group now is just amazing," he says. "It's amazing how great everything sounds. Even doing a two-hour show, we have to curtail ourselves, because we can easily go on for three hours if we had our druthers."

At 76, says Love, the excitations are still coming his way.


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