I Am Brian Wilson: A Memoir
Brian Wilson shares his life story and the history of the band that began as the Pendletones in a garage in Hawthorne, California in 1961. He tells it his way, and that makes it better than any history I’ve read of the Beach Boys to date. His no-holds-barred admissions of his mistakes and triumphs are revealing and engaging. Many of the expected subjects are there, like his relationships with this father, Murray Wilson, and brothers Dennis and Carl. For years, Murray was a driving force behind the band. His understanding of music and experience with songwriting most likely added to the band’s early success, but he also added an element of toughness. The book seems to take pains to present a balanced and fair assessment of Murray, despite his hard-edged personality. Wilson also discusses his closeness with Dennis and Carl, and the pain he has experienced in being the lone survivor of the brothers.
Equally expected are his comments on his relationship with his cousin, Mike Love. He admits Love was an asset in many ways to the Beach Boys, but they have had their differences, and it is easy to see how Wilson could hold a grudge, yet he doesn’t. He lives the theme of one of his more recent compositions, “Love and Mercy.”
The last time the group known as the Beach Boys worked together was during the 1990s. Since then, Mike Love has used the name for his band, which continues to tour under that name. Subsequently, Wilson assembled a group of top-notch musicians who continue to support his music today. They have been his band on his albums of Christmas music, Disney music, and Gershwin music.
The book is also peppered with surprises. Wilson once owned a health food store for about a year, first met Bob Dylan in a Malibu emergency room, and calls Paul McCartney “Pablo.” In 2004, McCartney recorded a song with Wilson on Wilson’s Getting In Over My Head album. Wilson has collaborated and performed on stage with a multitude of musical luminaries, yet he is modest for someone who has been awarded the Kennedy Center Award.
One of his happiest accomplishments was the completion and release of his album titled Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE. The album was started in the 60’s, scrapped in 1967, and eventually successfully completed and released in 2004. This fifty-year journey encompassed a time when he faced personal challenges that he openly discusses. A recurring theme in the book is determination and the ability to survive. Wilson lost hearing in his right ear in an accident when he was young, but he has also been hearing voices most of his life. This seemingly contradictory phenomenon has not impaired his knack for composing some of the most complex and beautiful music of his generation. Thankfully, he found a way to work through his mental illness and shares the ways he has learned to live with it. A connection between anxiety and creativity is discussed. To understand his own dilemma, dealing with the voices with destructive messages, he has learned to harmoniously blend anxiety and creativity. The result is the creation of over fifty years of amazing songs. When he says, “Maybe limits help you focus, in a way,” I believe him.
Da Capo Press