God only knows where pop music would be without Brian Wilson. The genius writer of many of The Beach Boys greatest hits has had a profound effect on popular culture. I Am Brian Wilson (his second autobiography; his first was published in the nineties) is a complex and forthright account of his life in music.
This book is written by Wilson along with Ben Greenman. It’s a story they claim is about music, family, love and mental illness. Wilson is often quite candid about his troubles whether it be his former drug-taking, the schizophrenic voices he hears in his head, the panic attack he experienced before a plane ride in 1964 or the major depressive episodes he has experienced over the years and the “treatment” he received by a domineering, quack psychologist by the name of Eugene Landy.
I Am Brian Wilson jumps around in time and it is by no means a comprehensive or linear account of his life. Instead, thoughts and ideas are weaved together based on themes, and it doesn’t matter to Wilson that one event may have taken place in the sixties and the next memory may have taken place today. In this respect it’s an honest and chaotically-human piece. You also get the sense that you could imagine Uncle Brian in his armchair (a place he calls “the command centre”) recounting all of this to you. Or you could imagine Wilson sitting on a psychiatrist’s couch and doing the same thing. This is all deeply personal and often quite heart-wrenching stuff.
Wilson’s prose has a very gentle and familiar quality that often feels quite childlike too. He describes the famous people he knows rather casually and often with little introduction (for example: Paul McCartney is referred to as “Pablo” while Bob Dylan is met in an emergency department). I Am Wilson goes into some detail about the artist’s upbringing with his late brothers and bandmates Carl and Dennis Wilson and the abuse they experienced at the hands of their abusive and authoritarian father, Murry. Friend, Al Jardine and cousin, Mike Love (the other original members of The Beach Boys) are also described but the latter is painted as a stubborn, opinionated and litigious bad guy who had his own idea about what The Beach Boys should be and this was often incongruous to what Wilson believed.
Some of the anecdotes in this autobiography are worth the price of admission alone. Wilson’s description of meeting The Eagles’ Don Henley is particularly hilarious. There’s also the fact that Wilson once asked Bono for a diet coke, which proves pretty funny. But I Am Wilson is not just about silly little throwaway moments, this book also has real heart. Wilson describes his first marriage to Marilyn Rovell and the births of his biological daughters, Carnie and Wendy. Wilson acknowledges that he was an absent father but this is not the case with his current wife Melinda Ledbetter and their five adopted kids. Wilson gets rather misty-eyed when talking about Melinda because he claims she saved him from self-destruction (and this story is one that is told in the film, Love & Mercy).
This book also includes an in-depth look at Wilson’s song-writing and lots of his views and reflections on music. Wilson admits to being influenced by Phil Spector and The Beatles and is honoured that McCartney counts “God Only Knows” as one of his favourite songs. This memoir is ultimately a forthright look at music-making with Wilson describing his bands past and present as well as his work with session musicians, The Wrecking Crew. All of these things mean that this autobiography is essential reading for fans of The Beach Boys and Mr Wilson in particular.
I Am Brian Wilson is a multi-faceted look at the troubled virtuoso artist and Beach Boy. This memoir is also released at around the same time as Wilson’s cousin, Mile Love releases his own autobiography. The two will have different views on their lives as California boys singing about cars, surfing, girls and the sun but one things for certain, Brian’s Wilson’s brutal honesty ensures that his story has a modest and sensitive charm. This ultimately means that Wilson’s autobiography is a brilliant read and one that should make you stop and smile.
I Am Brian Wilson is available now through Hachette Australia.