When Beach Boy Mike Love Utterly Failed to Save the World

Mike Love was going to save the planet. At least, he was going to end world hunger and help restore the Statue of Liberty. And he had the perfect platform from which to do it: the July 4th “Sea to Shining Sea” concerts in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., headlined by Love’s band, the Beach Boys, and featuring an array of musical guests, from the Oak Ridge Boys and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts to Jimmy Page and (inexplicably) Mr. T.

In the months leading up to the 1985 concerts, the singer established the Mike Love Foundation to fulfill his vision. The organization worked with the two cities to stage the free concerts — which would play to a total of 1.5 million people in the two cities — lined up a host of corporate sponsors to help cover the costs and made all kinds of promises it wouldn’t keep.

It could have worked. According to a prospectus put together by the foundation in the run-up to the shows, the concerts would raise a nearly $4 million for the two causes by donating a share of the profits from official vendors selling ice cream, hot dogs and T-shirts. The roughly $540,000 cost of mounting the two shows would be covered by contributions from corporate sponsors.

But in the end, as the Philadelphia Daily News later reported, the concerts raised only about $890,000 from both vendors and sponsors, the latter including American Airlines, two Texas GMC Truck dealers, Ace Novelty of Seattle and Pepsi-Cola. And exactly none of that money went to saving the world.

How did things go so horribly wrong?

In an October 1986 article in the Daily News, writer Cynthia Burton detailed the comedy of errors that ultimately torpedoed the charity part of the charity event. Just a few of the many reasons for the shortfall, both during the event itself and in the months-long amateur hour that both preceded and followed it:

  • In the run-up to the shows, Love wanted to know whether the crime rate in Washington, D.C., might drop if enough people meditated during the concert there, so he flew six transcendental meditators from Iowa to New York City to talk about it.
  • At the same time, Love often skipped crucial planning sessions and meetings with potential sponsors so he could spend time in his hotel room in spiritual repose.
  • The success of the event depended on the Love Foundation receiving a share of the official vendors’ profits on the 4th. But no one took steps to curb the unsanctioned sellers who tend to come out of the woodwork at rock shows — and who tend to eat into the official vendors’ yield. Reportedly, during the concert in Philly, some 131 illicit peddlers showed up in a single block near the Art Museum steps. With so many others hawking T-shirts and foodstuffs, the official vendors claimed they didn’t make any money during the concert, and therefore had nothing to share.
  • Another part of the plan was to ask concertgoers to contribute “$4 for the 4th.” Metal barrels were placed all along the Parkway and Love was supposed to encourage people from the stage to drop money in the barrels. Presumably swept up in the moment, though, he failed entirely to do so. As a result, when organizers collected the barrels at the end of the day, they found a total of $25. And probably a lot of crushed beer cans.
  • Mr. T, who ostensibly played drums with the Beach Boys during the two shows, somehow missed his flight out of D.C. the next day, so the Foundation chartered a plane to get him home to California — to the tune of $17,000.

The article goes on to list a dizzying array of additional examples of cronyism and general mismanagement, with Love cast more as wide-eyed incompetent than as a nefarious villain. “In a nutshell: Mike Love is an impractical idealist,” a New York public relations specialist who arranged corporate sponsors for the concerts told Burton for the article. “He had these big visions of becoming the savior of the world … But the people around him didn’t catch Mike’s vision.”

Above: The Beach Boys perform in both Philadelphia (with Jimmy Page) and Washington, D.C., on July 4, 1985. In the photo at the top of the page: Mike Love and the Beach Boys play the Live Aid concert in Philadelphia nine days after the 4th of July fiasco.

In the end, Love didn’t stop world hunger. He didn’t even help the Statue of Liberty. But he did find himself holding a surprising number of IOUs. Creditors across the country claimed the foundation owed them $3 million. Among them was sponsor American Airlines, who had given $1.9 million to the cause, including $500,000 in free airline tickets. In March 1986, the company filed a lawsuit claiming that foundation representatives of the foundation knowingly misrepresented costs and alleging a “misuse of funds for the benefit of defendants or their associates and for purposes other than those relating to the production of the concert series.”

Similarly, Hyatt Hotels had donated 70 rooms at three Washington-area locations and 57 rooms at the Cherry Hill Hyatt, across the river from Philly. But when the company sent Love Foundation a $30,000 bill for additional expenses racked up during the stay, the organization shrugged it off. Hyatt turned the bill over to a collection agency.

The city of Philadelphia also filed a suit and won a judgment of $267,000. (Amazingly, in what amounted to a shakedown, the Love Foundation told city organizers the night before the show that the concert wouldn’t go on unless Philly immediately forked over an additional $150,000. City Representative Dianne Semingson agreed on the condition that money be paid back from the vendors’ profits. But, well…).  In attempting to collect the money, however, city officials found only $1,600 in the foundation’s California bank account. Failing to recoup the funds there, they went after other assets.

These turned out to be 4,000 copies of an LP of the concert, titled Fourth of July (A Rockin’ Celebration of America). The Love Foundation said it was planning to promote the records on WMMR, one of Philly’s major rock radio stations, and use the proceeds from the sales to pay off the money it owed the city. But city officials had little confidence the foundation wouldn’t stiff them again.

Unfortunately, due to an agreement between the foundation and the artists who appeared on the LP, the record couldn’t compete with the artists’ other recordings — so it couldn’t be sold in stores. The city was stuck with them. The 4,000 albums were dumped in a warehouse; for a time, several hundred copies also crowded Semingson’s office. The albums eventually made their way into the wild and are surely sought-after collectibles today.

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