I Am Brian Wilson | Penguin Random House Canada

I Am Brian Wilson

Publisher: Vintage Canada
For the first time in his own words, the legendary musical genius of The Beach Boys reflects on his tumultuous life and astonishing 21st-century comeback to live performance and renewed creativity.

Brian Wilson was the driving creative force behind The Beach Boys, a band that defined an era and charted nine consecutive gold albums and hit after unstoppable hit. But he was derailed in the 1970s by mental illness, drug use, and the shifting fortunes of the band he'd helped to create. Amazingly, he persisted. With the right support network, including his second wife, Melinda, the right doctors and the right medication, Wilson found his way back to the foundation of his creativity. In the 2000s, he was able to emerge as a solo performance artist, and complete
Smile, the unfinished Beach Boys record that had become both the symbol of his genius and of his destabilization.

I Am Brian Wilson is the story of Brian Wilson's life, told by an older, calmer Brian Wilson. He reflects on his difficulties, his extraordinary accomplishments and forgiveness for the people who complicated those accomplishments, and his life. Wiser, more measured, though still possessed of the youthful spark that helped him rise to the top of the rock-and-roll world, Wilson relates his life with emotional honesty: "Telling my story honestly means remembering things I sometimes prefer to forget. I would like people to get to know what I've gone through, and I hope that my story will give them strength."


My life has been written about over and over again, and that’s mostly okay with me. Other people can talk about my life. Sometimes they’ll get it right and sometimes they’ll get it wrong. For me, when I think back across my own life, there are so many things that are painful. Sometimes I don’t like...
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“Few figures in music have achieved anything close to the founding Beach Boy’s sonic originality, technical innovation and sheer influence (the writer Jules Siegel surmised that Wilson had inspired the Beatles more than they had him). . . . Perhaps Wilson’s finest music was conceived in the raging, roiling waves of intoxication and inner turmoil. But for me, the best moments of I Am Brian Wilsonthe ones that more brightly illuminated that singular mindwere the wistful reflections on his late father and brothers, and the fascinating, yet wholly sober, attempts to understand the mysteries of creativity. . . . [W]e are lucky when Brian Wilson invites us to hear the music inside his head.” —National Post 

The new book pulls no punches: Wilson openly discusses his five decades of mental issues, his struggles with an abusive father, drugs, alcohol and weight, his debilitating fears and his failures (and successes) as a husband, dad and bandmate. Principally he focuses on the creative juices that have proven his lifeblood, enabling him to prevail against towering odds. If there’s a sad endnote, it’s that Wilson has yet to fully accept the magnitude of his genius.” —Maclean’s

“[A]nyone who has seen [Wilson’s] spectacular solo shows or seen him interviewed will recognise the voice immediately: vulnerable, faltering, pained, unexpectedly funny. . . . There’s a lot of pain here. . . . Yet there is a candour and even a childlike openness to how he describes the battling voices in his head and the self-doubt and self-imposed pressure that led to him abandoning the ambitious, visionary Smile project. . . . Wilson’s memoir has a . . . beautiful mellowness and a real poignancy that shines through the acrimony and wasted years. One cannot help but be moved as he describes the redemptive, celebratory mood of his latter-day return to the live sphere and his view of creativity as something hallowed and elusive.” —The Sydney Morning Herald

I Am Brian Wilson is worth it. Buy it if you are a Beach Boys fan or interested in mental illness, creativity, music and American pop culture. It’s a fascinating story . . . a rare treat. . . . It feels as if Wilson is sitting at his favourite diner, or a chair at home recounting stories to his friends as he tries to explain what’s going on inside his head. . . . One of the pleasures of reading a musician’s biography is revisiting the music while you’re reading about its creation. . . . Wilson talks about the making of these classics and you realise his musical genius. . . . I Am Brian Wilson is a sprawling memoir but succeeds in painting a detailed picture of what it’s like to be the genius, tortured man, singer, producer, family member and visionary. It’s a worthy addition to the growing corpus of literature on The Beach Boys.” —Daily Review (AU)

“I immediately began voraciously reading, and reading, and reading. . . . The book is kind of like his music—gentle, spiritual, lyrical—and provides the expansive commentary that Brian does not usually provide in interviews. . . . It’s also funny as hell in placesfull of the ‘Brianisms’ (slightly off the wall statements)that his fans comment on in Beach Boys forums. I won’t spoil the fun of revealing any. It’s an altogether lovely read. . . . [A] must rea[d] for Beach Boys fans.” —Joel Goldenberg, The Suburban

“Brian Wilson’s memoir is an unconventional but fascinating read. . . . [O]ne gets a terrific feel for Brian Wilson as a person and how he both thinks about and is affected by music. This is one true joy of the book. . . . In all, I Am Brian Wilson is as interesting a book as you’d want it to be. It’s not a linear history. It’s not a juicy tell-all. But it is a beautiful view into the brilliant and sometimes troubled mind of a true genius of American music.” —Under the Radar

“Brian Wilson’s I Am Brian Wilson tells his story in all its guts and glory in a voice intimate enough to suggest you might be reading his diary. . . . [I]n I Am Brian Wilson, the erstwhile Beach Boy’s personality shines through with conversational ease. . . . [H]ere we get a taste of Wilson as a headstrong survivor, a damaged musical genius who overcame insurmountable odds. . . . [H]is candor is . . . refreshing.” —The Boston Globe

“This is not a quick, nor easy read; it is meant to be savoured and read over a few days to get the full impact of this great man’s life. Fans will love this book and if you are not a fan, you soon will be. So settle back with a cup of tea, or maybe a beer or a glass of your favourite wine and have Brian Wilson talk to you about his life, his successes, his failures, but most of all of his music.” —Starts at 60 

It’s a piercing look into the mind of one of the greatest composers of twentieth-century American music, and it’s as self-reflective and self-aware as possible, walking a tightrope between sorrowful remembrances and enlightened wisdom. In three hundred pages Brian Wilson tells a tale that’s as fascinating as any of his American sagas, a book that reads as much as a confessional as it does an act of catharsis.” —Phoenix New Times

“As the progenitors of rock music look back on their last fifty years, we are proffered a bounty of autobiographies. Some of the best . . . ring true to the voice we have heard in our head. . . . In the case of I Am Brian Wilson . . . his voice definitely comes through. From his earliest memories . . . to his current fiftieth anniversary tour of Pet Sounds he reveals the pain, beauty and wonder of his musical career. Like many autobiographies, Wilson follows a generally linear approach, but he often skips around a straight chronological approach. This works well, as his mind connects sounds and visions across decades. . . . Hearing about the creation of such timeless music from his voice makes the music that much richer. . . . Ben Greenman is provided a ‘with’ credit on the cover of Wilson’s autobiography. Greenman did similarly great work capturing George Clinton’s voice in his memoir Brothers Yo, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard on You?. . . Reading Wilson’s description of creating ‘Good Vibrations’ could have gone on for many more pages without effort. . . . I Am Brian Wilson is being published . . . almost exactly fifty years after the release of ‘Good Vibrations.’ It is a wonderful insight into a troubled genius; he is one of America’s greatest songwriters.” —Forbes

“Wilson is less into dirt-dishing [than former Beach Boy Mike Love]. He tries to make sense of the breakdown at twenty-five that left him hearing voices . . . for the rest of his life. Greenman relays it simply, with a detached melancholy. . . . Wilson’s book has more sadness . . . and more moments of magic [than Love’s memoir]: the youthful ecstasy that came with writing ‘Good Vibrations’ and the joy of stepping back into the ocean after forty years, and at least a decade after his brother Dennis drowned.” —The Telegraph (four stars) 

I Am Brian Wilson is soulful and earnest—like spending quality time with a gentle sage. . . . Wilson is heartbreakingly blunt about his mental breakdowns and suffering at the hands of his father. He has startling insights into the music.” —Rob Sheffield, Rolling Stone 

“In this tell-almost-all memoir, Brian Wilson candidly reflects on his struggles . . . illness and digs deep into the inspiration and meaning behind his music. It’s a must-read for any fan of The Beach Boys—or the ’60s pop scene, in general—with big-name music icons of the era . . . featuring in many of the stories.” —Canadian Living 

I Am Brian Wilson . . . is as plain-spoken as its title. Here the band’s presiding genius wanders over the terrain of his life as a son, father, husband and supremely gifted musician, describing what he remembers in a childlike tone. . . . [It] tell[s] us much that we didn’t know; and . . . suggest[s] how we might best view the artistic life—any life, really. . . . Part of the charm of his account is the way he drops little moments into the story with no preamble.” —The Wall Street Journal 

“[E]ssential for any Beach Boys fan.” —Kirkus Review

“Wilson gives a thoughtful overview on his life.” —NME