Authors: Brian Wilson, Ben Greenman

Publisher: Da Capo Press; First Edition/First Printing edition (October 11, 2016)

ISBN-10: 0306823063

ISBN-13: 978-0306823060

Last fall, two Beach Boy autobiographies came out nearly simultaneously, I Am Brian Wilson and Good Vibrations: My Life as a Beach Boy by Mike Love. In November, I reviewed Love’s offering, saying it was a needed corrective to much of the mythology that surrounds his role in the group. I wonder now how much correction went on in that book.

Now that I’m finally getting around to reviewing I am Brian Wilson, I’m not thinking about comparing it to Love’s memoir but rather Wouldn’t It Be Nice: My Own Story, Wilson’s controversial 1991 first autobiography. Quickly following its publication, that book was damned on a number of fronts including charges of plagiarism and misrepresentations of facts, especially as presented in a lawsuit filed by Love. Some critics still claimed the book has very useful material even if the stories need to be filtered before being accepted. Wilson himself completely disowned the book.

I have vivid memories of reading Wouldn’t It Be Nice which I, at the time, felt was a very poignant and tragic account of the Brian Wilson saga. So, as I read I Am, comparisons quickly sprang to my mind. For one matter, father Murray Wilson came off as little more than a torturing, vicious monster in the first memoir; in the second book, Brian gives him a much more balanced treatment while admitting he still finds it difficult to write about his father. In Wouldn’t, Brian—or perhaps his collaborator—blasted then girlfriend or maybe just housemate Caroline saying she was taking advantage of him. In the new book, Brian simply says in one sentence that she was forced out of his life even though “she did nothing wrong.”

For me, the most noticeable difference was that the first account sang the praises of therapist Eugene Landy, with a vigorous defense of his extreme treatments. On the other hand, I Am is nearly a wall-to-wall damnation of Landy’s relentless domination of Brian which seems to have been far more damaging to Brian than all of Murry Wilson’s attempts to control his children.

When I reviewed Good Vibrations, I noted Mike Love had virtually nothing to say about fellow Beach Boy, Al Jardine. Well, Brian too talks mostly about himself and his brothers Carl and Dennis, with little about either Al or Mike. Reportedly, Love isn’t convinced anything Wilson said about him in the book necessarily came from Wilson himself. Apparently, as of last November, he hadn’t even read the book. Perhaps, with possible lawsuits in mind, Wilson opted to simply not talk about Love but rather made a point of tossing out songwriting credits to a number of other lyrical collaborators. Perhaps, this time, Love will leave Brian alone, that is, stay out of court for a change.

Whether or not you’ve read any previous Beach Boy books, by founding members or not, odds are the majority of any new revelations you’ll gain from I Am Brian Wilson will deal with Wilson’s solo projects from the past two decades. It’s an engaging read which gratefully doesn’t follow a strict, linear, chronological flow. As we go along, readers get detailed insights into the distant past as well as the more recent decades which means we do hear stories and perspectives not beaten to death in other books, interviews, or articles. Still, it helps to be a Beach Boy diehard to dive into this one—or perhaps this might be a interesting read if this is the first Beach Boy book you’ve ever read. Or, it might be a good update if all you’ve heard about is the history of the Beach Boys through the deaths of Carl and Dennis Wilson. In short, a decent but not indispensable read.