I was fortunate enough to see the Beach Boys perform in Australia in the 1970s. I grew up with their music, and recently saw the movie Love and Mercy based on some of Brian Wilson’s life. This film showed his musical brilliance, but was also a great love story. I wanted to find out more about him and his memoir I am Brian Wilson – The Genius Behind the Beach Boys gave me that.
In this candid, conversational book he is open about his struggle with mental illness. With an abusive father, he doesn’t know from exactly where or when it stemmed from. He does acknowledge his father’s own difficult upbringing, and the benefits and support he did provide. Of the highs and lows in his life he says ‘Some of those things shaped me. Others scarred me. Sometimes it was hard to tell the difference. … Have I stayed strong? I like to think so. But the only thing I know for sure is that I have stayed’.
When he was younger it was an issue he couldn’t discuss with his brothers, that was not how it was back then. When he tried to confide in his father he said ‘Don’t be a pussy. Don’t be a baby. Get in there and write some good songs’. The effect of his father was profound. ‘There were days with my dad that I wish had never happened, and not just a few of them. They added up to months and even years, and they had a big effect on almost everything that came later – every friendship, every decision I made about people, probably every decision people made about me’. The connections between creativity and mental illness are common. As in the song “The Like in I Love You” there is ‘The pain in painting The muse in music. And the pain in music, too’.
The book also talks about the musical world he was part of, with all the greats – the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and many more. I learned things I didn’t know like the song “You Are So Beautiful”, which most people know of from the version by Joe Cocker, was co-written by Brian’s brother Dennis.
He also talks about the woman who saved him, Melinda. She is an amazing woman, and the love they have for each other and their children shines through.
His honesty about his mental health can help others who are struggling with it, or know someone who is. As he says ‘It’s a part of my brain that doesn’t change, so what has to change is the way I deal with it. The voices won’t disappear, so I have to make sure that I don’t disappear because of them’. This is a memoir for lovers of music, but also so much more.