Review: I Am Brian Wilson

**** (4 stars out of 6)

In case you’re wondering what to put on your Christmas wish list, you could consider adding the two Beach Boys-related autobiographies that have come out; ’I am Brian Wilson’ by, you guessed it, Brian Wilson and ’Good Vibrations – my Life as a Beach Boy’ by Mike Love.

books
‘Battle of the books!’ – Cousin Mike and Brother Brian compete at telling the story of the Beach Boys.
I’ve had both books for about a month but have so far only completed Brian’s book. I reckon I’ve read one third of Mike’s book as of writing this blog post.

I’m sure that both books would be of interest to most Spector fans seeing that there are many ties between the Beach Boys and Spector. Both competed for chart placings during the 60s, were based in LA and as such utilized the same Wrecking Crew musicians and recorded at Gold Star. (Though Western was Brian’s preferred studio.)

Famously, Brian Wilson only really found his feet as a producer in the modern sense of the word after hearing Spector’s initial Philles releases and picking up the inspiration. ‘Be my Baby’ remains Brian’s favorite song ever and listening to his early to mid-60s output, notably the productions he made on the side for Glen Campbell and Sharon Marie, it’s clear how much he enamored the wall of sound.

PetProjectsTheBrianW
A few collections have come out gathering the few outside productions Brian Wilson worked on during the 60s.
The releationship between Brian Wilson and Phil Spector was complex. Did they respect each other? Were they friends even? Or did they look at each other as foes, both wanting to outdo the other in the studio and get the next no. 1 on the charts? All of these probably applied in equal measure, really, and to this day Brian seems to have conflicting feelings about Spector. Here’s a revealing excerpt from his book where he talks about the voices he still hears in his head from time to time:

“I hear Phil Spector, who did all those great records in the ‘50s and early ‘60s. Phil’s voice is scary, always challenging me, always reminding me that he came first. “Wilson,” I hear him saying in my head, “you’re never going to top ‘You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling’ or ‘Be my Baby’, so don’t even try.” But maybe he wants me to try. Nothing is ever simple with him, not when he’s in my head. Simple isn’t what he’s about. People say that we named Pet Sounds partly as a tribute to him: check the initials. “

Phil Spector In The Studio
Brian Wilson at a Spector session in 1965 – others present are Mike Love from the Beach Boys, Righteous Brother Bobby Hatfield and in the background with Shades, Jack ‘Specs’ Nitzsche.
Pet Sounds, 1966. Always near the top or indeed topping the lists for best ever album. As far as I’m concerned, by 1966 Brian Wilson had eclipsed Spector as the world’s most original producer.

‘I am Brian Wilson’ is an easygoing account of Brian’s incredible career told in a way that seems really true to the way Brian comes across most of the time. Quirky, childlike and aloof – and as such this book is a very welcome replacement for Brian’s notorious ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ 1991 autobiography. It has long been established that this book was written by hired writer Todd Gold without in-depth collaboration by Brian Wilson. The book also whitewashed Brian’s therapist Dr. Eugene Landy who at that point had all but brainwashed his client, keeping him under heavy and, according to some sources, damaging medication as well as isolating him from his family and former Beach Boys bandmates.

As much as I love the music of Phil Spector and associated acts, the Beach Boys remain my favorite act ever and through the years I have tracked down almost all books on the subject. I know all the stories, – I’ve read them all a gazillion times. And even though Brian’s book offers a few new and refreshing perspectives, I was a little disappointed after finishing reading it.

brian pet sounds
Brian during the sessions for Pet Sounds.
For hardcore fans like myself ‘I am Brian Wilson’ is a nice read, though without much new information. For new fans, i.e. general music lovers who’d like to know more about the main Beach Boy, the book must seem pretty tame and only touching on the surface. A lot of the times, I thought the various highs and lows in the career of the Beach Boys was told in such a way as to imply that Brian and his people assume that only knowledgeable fans who know all the facts already will read along.

In the book, Brian sidesteps really giving his take on the inner dynamics of the group and his account of his years recording with his brothers, Mike Love, Al Jardine and Bruce Johnston therefore feels somewhat one-dimensional and sparse. You certainly don’t get a deep understanding of the personalities within the group. It’s as if Brian hasn’t felt the need to go into much detail on the matter – which is ok, I guess. For me this fact definately made the reading experience less exciting than it could have been.

Mike’s book seems to also be constructed a bit along these lines but so far I feel he reaches more out to the casual fan with more detailed descriptions and personal takes on why things happened like they did along the way.

BB don't worry
Don’t Worry Baby / I Get Around – how’s that for a killer single?
Anyways, all this shouldn’t keep you from seeking out both books if you’re as much into the Beach Boys as I am. The best book on the subject though remains Peter Ames Carlin’s ‘Catch a Wave – The Rise, Fall and Redemption of the Beach Boys.’

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3 thoughts on “Review: I Am Brian Wilson”

    1. Yeah, and he also didn’t have nice things to say about him when Mick Brown interviewed him. You can read his thoughts in Brown’s ‘Tearing Down the Wall of Sound’ which I think is the definitive Spector biography. If anything I think it just underlines the fact that Spector fans would be wise to separate his beautiful productions from his less than sympathetic personality. But it’s not just Brian Wilson; I doubt Spector, the megolomaniac that he is, would consider any producer his equal… Deep down he probably feels that some are just as good or even better than him but to admit this? No way!…

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Hello, fellow Beach Boys fan! I read Wilson’s autobiography twice, and filled in the gaps with videos from clips and docs on YouTube and articles from various sources. Would love to find a good book about Carl, since there is not much written about his brilliant musicianship, and the ability to keep the band moving in spite of Brian’s retreat into reclusiveness. Wilson as a producer was sheer genius, light years beyond Spector’s formula. I have no interest in Mike Love as a member of the BBs. To me, he constantly squashed Brian’s creativity. If they play at DT’s inauguration, I will be very disappointed. In the meantime, I’ll continue to rediscover The Beach Boys previous music and enjoy “discovering” their evolvement from the early 60’s to the time of Carl’s demise. Thanks for your great blog! .

    Like

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