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The year is 2013, on a grey London evening, and Brian Wilson is sitting alone in the auditorium of the Royal Festival Hall, enjoying a quiet moment to himself before the doors are opened to the public, and the evenings performance gets under way. As he sits quietly, Brian reminisces on the many events, people and experiences he has known that brought him to this evening’s show.
This really is an extraordinary book, as Brian’s memories drift across the years, in whatever order they enter his head, and he revisits old friends, gigs, songs and associates, both good and bad. It makes for a very engaging and compelling experience for the listener, and feels almost like having a private conversation with the man.
Brian has had more than his share of demons, and he pulls no punches as he recalls the pressures of being the principal songwriter for a world-famous pop group. The constant need to develop new material whilst simultaneously touring and performing to support the existing catalogue and keep the band profile current. Then there were tensions within the band, especially with his father Murray Wilson who acted as both manager and producer for the band during their initial stages of success, and which eventually led to Murray’s dismissal. Something had to give, and on a flight from Dallas to LA Brian finally snapped and announced that, whilst he would continue to write new songs, he would not tour with the band any longer.
This arrangement actually worked well for a while, with Brian free to stay at home and write songs about the beach and endless Californian summer, whilst the rest of the band hit the road for an almost non-stop touring schedule around the world. But as time went by Brian became increasingly insular and distant, and that’s when the voices started. First of all it was the imagined voices of his brothers and band-mates complaining about the quality of his new songs, then he could hear his father telling him he was weak for not being with his brothers on the road, both of which were complete figments of his over-active imagination. But then, following an experiment with LSD, came the Other Voices; the threatening, vicious whisperings telling Brian he was worthless, that he should quit writing as he was washed up, and how the voices would kill him in his sleep if he didn’t obey.
This led eventually to the infamous Eugene Landy, the therapist who was assigned to help Brian with his demons, but who only succeeded in creating new and bigger ones, all the while draining Brian’s bank account, until the Wilson family finally intervened and put an end to the nightmare.
A special mention needs to be made of the narrator Fred Berman, who does an absolutely first-class job here. His delivery is clear and precise, and keeps the listener engaged and interested throughout.
I should probably confess that I am a huge Beach Boys fan, with ‘Surf’s Up’ being probably my favourite song of all time, and so I approached this book with more than a degree of anticipation.
I was not disappointed. A remarkable and highly recommended title.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
This book is as close as anyone could get to sitting in a room with Brian Wilson talking openly about his incredible life. There is a naivety about his story, the way he tells it, that is simple yet profoundly honest. He addresses his life long struggle with ‘the voices in his head’ and mental illness. His relationship with a loving yet abusive father mirrored by his relationship with his unloving and abusive therapist. He describes his creative process and talks about the great songs and albums. The narrator is easy to listen to and overall this is a must listen or read for any Brian Wilson fan or music fan. Five stars.