Reading I Am Brian Wilson is like having a conversation with Brian Wilson.
In fact, it's more like having a conversation with Brian Wilson than having an actual conversation with him. This is the discussion that every music enthusiast and admirer of the man would want to have with Brian Wilson that would never be possible over the phone or face to face.
The entire book reads in Wilson's voice and the very nature of how he talks. How he tells stories is embedded in every sentence. Through its pages, he tells the tale of more than 50 years of making music, falling in love, facing countless losses, and wrestling with severe mental illness. The conversational style of the book makes it a quick
There is the sheer childlike charm to I Am Brian Wilson, which is again reflective of the man himself as well as a credit to ghostwriter Ben Greenman for assisting in capturing Wilson's character in book form. After just finishing it, the impression of his existence is overwhelming. Not only is Brian Wilson not made for these times, I'm not sure if he was made for this planet in an era. He's a humble genius whose biggest struggle has been with himself and those he trusted the most, a man who has only wanted harmony his entire life, a man whose life has been dedicated to making musical mythology, whose life, in turn, has
"I have said how hard it is for me to talk about my dad, and that’s partly because I want to get it right. ... I don’t like making the discussion all about how terrible my dad was," Wilson writes as he presents both the horribly abusive side of Murry Wilson as well as the loving side.
The structure of the memoir is another fascinating aspect of the book. It's vaguely in linear order, but on six different timelines that continually intersect. Many of the chapters are started from his favorite chair in his LA home as he talks about his modern-day routine, which leads to a memory. This again lends to the idea that he is telling you this entire story from that chair. The memories have memories inside of them, and it becomes clear what the milestones in his life were from his perspective.
There are two camps of Beach Boys fans: There are those who simply love the surf and car tunes from the first 10 albums and love the goofball antics of Mike Love, and then there is the Church of Wilson. This is definitely a book for the latter group, as well as a book for music geeks in general. But on another level, this is about persevering through mental illness and never giving up.
"I want people to know what I went through and want people to understand," Wilson said when I spoke to him. "I felt liberated, and it was good telling the honest truth."
His story hinges around all that happened to him in 1964 with the beginning of his mental collapse as well as the appearance of his genius. It hinges on Pet Sounds, on
"Most fans of the band don't like those records. Some fans don't even know about them. There are only a few songs on those records that I like ... but mostly they aren't worth thinking about too hard," he says.
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There are also harrowing tales of insanity, drug abuse, and admitted failings as a husband and a father. It's impressive that Wilson completely owns up to his own madness and is genuinely regretful over bad decisions in the past, while wildly forgiving to someone like Mike Love, who gets about a sum total of two paragraphs in the entire book. You can tell it's another mixed bag of emotions for Wilson,
It is also an open love letter to Wilson's supportive wife, Melinda, who saved him from Landy and got him back on track for his third act. This is the story of a hero as well as an artist, a genius, and a musician. He frankly portrays his mental illness from the beginning to his lowest depths to the heights he's at today. He gets into the darkest territory of his mind, but he was committed to presenting the truth as he saw it.
"I was scared of some of the memories," Wilson says about his commitment to the book. "I don't know how I did it. I don't know how."
Famous people from the music world make appearances. Phil Spector, the Beatles, Frank Sinatra, George Gershwin, the Rolling Stones, and a litany of people he clearly admires like Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney all have cameos. Songs that guide his life appear throughout — The Ronettes' "Be My Baby," the jazz standard "Tenderly," Gershwin's "Rhapsody In Blue," and the Animotion song "My Obsession" — and each of those songs provides