BOOK REVIEW: I Am Brian Wilson by Brian Wilson
Reviewed by Shane Pinnegar
There’s a tendency to think of Brian Wilson as a space cadet off with the fairies thanks to copious drug abuse and the mental illness that it triggered, but I Am Brian Wilson (ghosted by Ben Greenwood, who never detracts from Wilson’s own frail, vulnerable but hopeful voice) proves he has excellent recall for all manner of details from childhood to now.
Wilson writes with an innocent, child-like quality – snatches of memories are linked almost scatalogically in this decidedly non-linear narrative, which at times feels like he’s telling his story filtered through an incredibly intense dream, jumping from scene to scene. Initially this makes it tricky to fully immerse into, but it’s worth perservering for those first few chapters to get to the heart of the man and his story.
And then – like Wilson’s most intricate and layered compositions – once you’ve taken a few steps back to admire the whole thing, it makes all the sense in the world.
It is a sad story though – and Wilson’s telling of it brings tears to the eyes. Whether it’s detailing abuse/tough love by his father; missing his late brothers; bullying within The Beach Boys; time lost to mental illness, drugs or over-medication; or the years he spent a virtual prisoner of his psychotherapist, his telling of his story is undeniably moving, unconventional and fascinating.
There is fascinating insight into the creation of The Beach Boys’ music, the machinations of the band, and Wilson’s personal life, and also a much-needed exploration of creative genius versus mental illness.
Coming so soon after bandmate and cousin Mike Love’s own book, Good Vibrations – My Life As A Beach Boy, Wilson shows more dignity in dealing with the issues between the two. Where Love devotes whole chapters to accusations that Wilson of cheating him out of millions due to improperly apportioning songwriting credits, and of his more high-brow work being “Brian’s ego music,” Wilson barely mentions Love after the initial success of the band, commenting only that their relationship was difficult, and that Love initiated a handful of legal action against him.
I Am Brian Wilson is Wilson’s chance to set the record straight – he made mistakes, and suffered at the hands of others, but here he is, still touring, still sharp, with a loving family and very aware of both his legacy and modern life. He just sees things differently to most of us – that’s how he was able to see and make the music that continues to move millions.
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