I Am Brian Wilson

A Memoir


By Brian Wilson

With Ben Greenman

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They say there are no second acts in American lives, and third acts are almost unheard of. That’s part of what makes Brian Wilson’s story so astonishing.

As a cofounding member of the Beach Boys in the 1960s, Wilson created some of the most groundbreaking and timeless popular music ever recorded. With intricate harmonies, symphonic structures, and wide-eyed lyrics that explored life’s most transcendent joys and deepest sorrows, songs like “In My Room,” “God Only Knows,” and “Good Vibrations” forever expanded the possibilities of pop songwriting. Derailed in the 1970s by mental illness, drug use, and the shifting fortunes of the band, Wilson came back again and again over the next few decades, surviving and-finally-thriving. Now, for the first time, he weighs in on the sources of his creative inspiration and on his struggles, the exhilarating highs and the debilitating lows.

I Am Brian Wilson reveals as never before the man who fought his way back to stability and creative relevance, who became a mesmerizing live artist, who forced himself to reckon with his own complex legacy, and who finally completed Smile, the legendary unfinished Beach Boys record that had become synonymous with both his genius and its destabilization. Today Brian Wilson is older, calmer, and filled with perspective and forgiveness. Whether he’s talking about his childhood, his bandmates, or his own inner demons, Wilson’s story, told in his own voice and in his own way, unforgettably illuminates the man behind the music, working through the turbulence and discord to achieve, at last, a new harmony.




        There’s a world where I can go and tell my secrets to

        In my room, in my room

        In this world I lock out all my worries and my fears

        In my room, in my room

             —“In My Room”

Mornings start at different times. In summer I wake up pretty early, sometimes as early as seven. It’s later in the winter—when the days are shorter, I sleep longer. I might not get up until eleven. Maybe that happens to everyone. It used to be worse. I used to have real trouble getting up in the winter, and even when I did, I might stay in bed for hours. These days it’s a little easier to start the day, no matter what the season.

When I wake up these days here in my house in Beverly Hills, I head down the back staircase to the den. That’s where the TV is, and also my chair. It’s a navy-blue print chair that’s been there forever. It used to be red. It’s been covered and recovered because I have a habit of picking at the upholstery. That chair is where I go when I come down from the bedroom. It’s my command center. I can sit there and watch TV, even though the set is at a little bit of a weird angle. I love watching Eyewitness News. The content is not very good, but the newscasters are pleasant to watch. They have nice personalities. They also give you the weather. I like game shows, but I am getting tired of watching Jeopardy! It’s the same bullshit every day. I like Wheel of Fortune. I like sports, too, mostly baseball, though I’ll also watch basketball and football. I get more interested toward the playoffs.

But the TV isn’t the only thing I can see from my chair. I can see into the kitchen and almost everywhere else. I can turn and look out the window and see into the backyard, which has a view of Benedict Canyon. The whole city’s stretched out there if you go and look. And there’s a touch-tone phone right next to the chair so I can call whoever I want. I don’t use a cell phone. I have had a few over the years, but I don’t like them. I love being in the chair. If I’m in Los Angeles, I’ll end up there 100 percent of the days. If I come into the room and someone else is sitting in it, I just stand nearby until they clear out. When I go on the road, I take another chair with me, a black leather recliner, so that I can have the feel of home. I have them set it up on the wings of the stage and I sit there instead of in the dressing room.

Some people reach for coffee first thing in the morning. I don’t. I’m not a coffee drinker. That doesn’t mean that I’m alert on my own all the time, though. My nighttime medications make me drowsy, and it’s hard to get started. There’s a little hangover from the pills. When I get to the chair, I’ll sit there for half an hour or so. Then I’ll go out to the deli for breakfast. Breakfast has changed over the years. When I was less concerned about my weight, it might be two bowls of cereal, eggs, and a chicken patty. These days it’s a veggie patty and fruit salad or a dish of blueberries. Most mornings Melinda will come into the room, and she only has to take one glance to tell what kind of mood I’m in. She’s been with me long enough to know what the good moods look like, and what the other moods look like.

She doesn’t say anything in the mornings usually. She lets me sit. If the mood lasts until afternoon or evening, she’ll ask me about it. “What’s bothering you?” she’ll say. Usually it’s that I really miss my brothers. Both of them are gone—Carl for almost twenty years, Dennis for more than thirty. I can get into a space where I think about it too much. I wonder why the two of them went away, and where they went, and I think about how hard it is to understand the biggest questions about life and death. It’s worse around the holidays. I can really get lost in it. When it gets bad, Melinda sits near me and goes through the reality of the situation. She might remind me that Carl’s been gone for a while, and that even when he was alive, we didn’t spend so much time together. Toward the end of his life, we saw each other maybe once a year or so. “Of course you miss your brothers,” she’ll say. “But you don’t want to miss them so much that it puts you on a bummer.” And she’s right. I don’t.

Other times it’s something else. Maybe it’s the voices in my head. Maybe it’s one of those days when they’re telling me terrible and scary things. If it’s one of those days, Melinda goes through the reality of that, too. “The voices have been saying they’re going to kill you for years,” she says, “and they haven’t done it yet. They’re not real, even if they seem real to you.” She’s right about that, too. On days when Melinda’s not here to talk to me, I try to remind myself of what she might say. I always remember to take a walk. That clears my head. I can usually get myself calm with a good walk.

Today, in the chair, I’m in a pretty good place. Things don’t seem so heavy and nothing’s getting me down. There’s a special event coming up. There’s a screening of a movie. It’s called Love and Mercy, and it’s a movie about my life. Not my whole life; it doesn’t go as far as this chair or this book. It’s a movie about my life and my music and my struggles with mental illness, both in the ’60s and later on. The movie covers thousands of days. Some of them were good days. Some were great. And good days grew out of bad, which is one of the main points of this movie and my life—much of it is about the love story between me and Melinda, and how she got the ball rolling to get me out of the hellhole that Dr. Landy had created for me. Melinda and I had been working on the movie for years, off and on, trying to get one made that told as much of the truth as possible. It took almost twenty years to finally get it done. Can you believe it?

The screening for the movie isn’t today. It’s soon. But today is a regular day. I’m going to get cleaned up, comb my hair, and go out for breakfast. There’s a stoplight on the way to the deli that stays red forever, almost nine minutes. Later I might go see my son Dylan play basketball. He’s eleven, and he’s a great little player. I used to see more of his games; it’s gotten harder since I had back surgery. Dylan also plays the drums a little bit. That helps him get tension off his chest. It might be a good idea for me to teach him piano.

When I wake up in my house in 2015, I am happy to be here. When I woke up in my house more than two decades earlier, I wasn’t sure how I felt. The doctor had just gone out the door. The doctor was Eugene Landy. The patient was me. “I am leaving because I lost my license,” he said. “Bye, Brian.”

I didn’t say anything. I was glad to see him go. His back, moving away from me, was like a tide going out. Dr. Landy’s leaving was my freedom. Through history there are stories about tyrants who control entire countries. Dr. Landy was a tyrant who controlled one person, and that person was me. He controlled where I went and what I did and who I saw and what I ate. He controlled it by spying on me. He controlled it by having other people spy on me. He controlled it by screaming at me. He controlled it by stuffing me full of drugs that confused me. If you help a person to get better by erasing that person, what kind of job have you done? I don’t know for sure, but he really did a job on me.

Sometimes memories come back to me when I least expect them. Maybe that’s the only way it works when you’ve lived the life I’ve lived: starting a band with my brothers, my cousin, and my high school buddy that was managed by my father; watching my father become difficult and then impossible; watching myself become difficult and then impossible; watching women I loved come and go; watching children come into the world; watching my brothers get older; watching them pass out of the world. Some of those things shaped me. Others scarred me. Sometimes it was hard to tell the difference. When I watched my father fly into a rage and take a swing at me, was that shaping or scarring? When I heard voices in my head and realized that they weren’t going to go away anytime soon, was that shaping or scarring?

When I sit in the chair in my house, I try to watch everything. I have always been that way. I try to listen to everything also. I have always listened to sounds in the studio and sounds in the world, to the voices in my band and the voices in my head. I couldn’t stop myself from taking all those things in, but once they were in me, I couldn’t always handle them. That was one of the reasons I made music. Music is a beautiful thing. Songs help me with my pain, and they also move through the world and help other people, which helps me, too. I don’t know if that’s the whole story, but it’s part of it. The struggles I have faced—from the way my dad was, to the arguments in the band, to the mental health issues that have been around as long as I can remember—are all things I have tried to deal with in my own way. Have I stayed strong? I like to think so. But the only thing I know for sure is that I have stayed.

I’m thinking of a picture. It’s a picture of a picture, actually—me in the early ’70s, lying in bed, looking at the cover photo of the Beach Boys’ Sunflower album, which came out in 1970. The album’s photo of the band—of me; my brothers, Dennis and Carl; my cousin Mike Love; Al Jardine; and Bruce Johnston. It’s the whole band, but not just the band. My daughter Wendy is there, too. Mike’s kids Hayleigh and Christian are there. Carl’s son Jonah is there. Al’s son Matt is there.

The photo was taken at Hidden Valley Ranch, which was Dean Martin’s place near Thousand Oaks. We were all out on the golf course, goofing around. Ricci Martin, Dean’s son, was the photographer. He was a cool guy, and good friends with my brother Carl. Eventually Carl produced an album for him called Beached. It was a really nice record. Dennis drummed on it. There’s a beautiful song on it that Carl wrote called “Everybody Knows My Name.”

For the cover photo of Sunflower, we dressed mostly in red, white, and blue, and over the photograph there was a banner with the group’s name and then the title of the album in a rainbow. I was all in white: white shirt, white pants, white shoes. I was looking down, partly because Wendy was in my lap, wearing pink. I was in pretty good shape at that time. My weight was good. I look calm. Maybe not happy, but sitting right in the middle of everything. Sunflower was the first record the Beach Boys made for Brother/Reprise Records, after recording for Capitol Records for a decade.

Photographs can be misleading, and the cover photo of Sunflower sure is. I was the center of the band in the photo, but by the time that record came out, I wasn’t at the center of the band anymore. Some people will say that I pulled away from the center. Some people will say that I was pushed away. Maybe it was a little bit of both. I’m not sure. What I’m sure of is that all the guys in the band had different ideas about what kind of music to release, how to go onstage and perform our songs, when we should repeat ourselves and when we should try new things. Because Sunflower was our first Reprise record, I wanted to go all the way with being new. I even had the idea that we should change the group’s name to the Beach, because we weren’t boys anymore. I told the rest of the guys that and they didn’t like the idea. They thought it would confuse the people who bought our records. We had careers to protect, which meant we had sales to protect.

Not only wasn’t I completely in control of the group, but I wasn’t completely in control of myself. How do you know when a problem starts? Did it start in 1964 on an airplane to Houston, when I freaked out and decided that I couldn’t tour with the band anymore? Did it start in the ’40s when my father whacked me because he didn’t like how I was acting? Did it start in the ’70s with drugs or long before that with the beginnings of mental illness that no one knew how to handle? What did it matter when it started? What mattered was that for a while it wouldn’t end. I was scared at the time Sunflower came out. I felt like the band was slipping away from me. I felt like I was slipping away from myself. The time in my life when I had complete control and confidence in the studio was behind me, and I didn’t know what was ahead. I didn’t know how to get that control and confidence back. I once called it “ego death.” I didn’t know if anything would ever come back to life.

I couldn’t have known that almost fifty years later I’d be in a mostly stable and happy place, still dealing with those things but having learned so much about how to do it. I also couldn’t have known that before things would get better, they would get worse. A few years after Sunflower it was much worse. I was worse. My body was filled with drugs and alcohol, and my brain was filled with bad ideas. The bad ideas came from the rest of it and caused it, too. Back then, like I said, mental illness wasn’t treated in a straightforward way. People wouldn’t even admit that it existed. There was shame in saying what it was and strange ideas about how to deal with it. Back then, I wasn’t going anywhere most days, and when I was in the house I didn’t even move around much. I felt stuck because I was depressed, and that caused me to gain weight, and then I felt stuck because I had gained weight. I got up to over 300 pounds. I wasn’t going onstage with the group. I could write songs, but I did it less and less. I needed help desperately, and people close to me were desperate to get it for me.

And so the doctor came. My wife at the time, Marilyn, called for him. It was right around the United States Bicentennial and everything was red, white, and blue like the Sunflower album cover. It felt like Independence Day all year. But Dr. Landy didn’t believe in independence. He wanted me to get the weight off and develop healthier habits, and the way he decided to do that was to put himself in the middle of everything in my life. He called it twenty-four-hour therapy. There weren’t any more hours in the day. When friends came to see me, Dr. Landy interviewed them to make sure they passed his inspection. When I was allowed to see friends, it was never on my own. Dr. Landy always sent someone to monitor me, sometimes more than one guy. He wanted to make sure that the people weren’t bringing me drugs or anything else unhealthy.

It would be a lie to say that he didn’t get results. He took the 300 pounds and brought them down to about 185, which is the weight I should have been. I was a football quarterback in high school and that was what I weighed back then. I hadn’t appeared with the band onstage in about a decade, except for a few shows—I did a pair in Hawaii in 1967, one at the Whisky in LA in 1970, and a few shows in Seattle a little after that. But mostly I just couldn’t get on the stage. In 1976, after a few months with Landy, I managed to come on for a few songs in Oakland and then did a whole night in Anaheim for a show being taped for TV. I only sang lead on one song, “Back Home,” which was coming out on an album we were just about to release, 15 Big Ones. That was the message: back home.

Dr. Landy’s stay with me was pretty brief in 1976. He got some results, but then he went too far. He was getting too involved, and then I found out what he was charging. I confronted him about it. I was pretty angry. No one was happy to be talking. I threw a punch and he threw one back and that was the end of it—that time, at least.

Things were better when he left. We put out some pretty good records, not only 15 Big Ones but also Love You in 1977. But then there were bad years again. The worst of them, 1978, was one of the worst years of my life. I went into a mental hospital in San Diego and then called Marilyn and asked for a divorce. I couldn’t control my thoughts and I couldn’t control my body. It wasn’t the first time I had felt like that, but in some ways it was the worst because of what I did to deal with it. I drank Bali Hai wine and did cocaine and smoked cigarettes and my weight went higher than ever; at one point I tipped the scales at 311 pounds.

There were so many costs. One of them was the music. Record labels kept asking us for new albums. Maybe “asking” is a polite word. They expected them, and didn’t expect anything but yes for an answer. So we ended up making records, but they were records that showed how the band was being pulled in many different directions at once, albums like M.I.U. Album in 1978, L.A. (Light Album) in 1979, and Keepin’ the Summer Alive in 1980. Most fans of the band don’t like those records. Some fans don’t even know about them. There are only a few songs on those records that I like when I think about them, like “Good Timin’” and “Goin’ On,” but mostly they aren’t worth thinking about too hard. I didn’t do much on those albums. I wasn’t in any shape to do much. The same was true onstage. In March of 1979, a day or so after I got out of the mental hospital, I flew into New York for a concert at Radio City Music Hall. I was about as unprepared as possible in every way. I lasted for one song, “California Girls,” and then split to the side of the stage. On one tour I was playing bass, and I spent almost the entire concert back there perched on an amp. The amount of singing shrank and shrank until it was just the middle eight of “Surfer Girl” (“We could ride the surf together”), the first verse of “Sloop John B,” and not much more than that.

There’s one show I remember from 1982. It was at the Westbury Music Theatre in New York, and there was a stage that circled around like a lazy Susan. We were playing “Do It Again” and all of a sudden I started laughing. I couldn’t stop. I had cigarettes on top of the piano and I managed to grab them. We took intermission, and then I came back and perched on the corner of the stage as it rotated and I smoked. I was laughing, but nothing was funny. I was coughing, and I couldn’t come up for air. A few weeks later I was given a letter that told me I was out of money and fired from the band. The first part wasn’t true. The second part was, in a way. Everyone’s patience for the Bali Hai and the drugs and the cigarettes and the giggling had come to an end.

This time it was the Beach Boys who called Dr. Landy. It was a group decision, except for Dennis. I don’t think they knew what else to do. At first Landy took me right to Hawaii. When we were there, he started me on an exercise regime, no more drugs, no nothing. I had to kick it all. It took me about a week, but I did it. That week cleaned me up, but it was hard. I was rolling around in bed. I was screaming, clutching at the sheets. I never felt so fucked up.

When Dr. Landy came back, he had the same idea as the first time around, which was that the people near me were part of the problem. That meant that everyone had to go. Caroline, my girlfriend at the time, was one of the people who had to go, even though she was doing nothing wrong. It was sad. But soon I was pumped so full of what Dr. Landy was giving me that my memories of her just faded away.

The first time through, Dr. Landy had succeeded a little bit. His method was never perfect, but it gave me relief. The second time through, there was no relief. Relief would have been a kind of freedom, and he didn’t believe in freedom. He gave me more and more pills and called them vitamins. He sent girls to keep me company. He played games with me where he put his hand on my leg to see if I had feelings for anyone. He had barbecues at my house, but instead of inviting my friends or family, he invited his family and other doctors. He made big plans, like going back to Hawaii and then to London, but then the plans disappeared without explanation. He let me have a margarita every once in a while. He screamed so loud it made me cry.

Sometimes I worked up the courage to confront Dr. Landy just a little bit. “Gene,” I would say, “why are you here?” He wouldn’t answer me. Instead he would ask a question back: “Did you eat at the wrong time?” or “Why aren’t you clean?” I didn’t know why I wasn’t. There was food on my clothes. I wasn’t cutting my nails regularly, and no one else was either. I couldn’t focus because of the medication, but I also didn’t want to focus because I was ashamed and afraid. So many days during that time were just a waiting game from sunrise to sunset, to the moment they would end. I must have run into old friends or talked to people in my family who thought they weren’t getting any real part of me, and they were right.

Gene didn’t want any other people around me. He wanted me to depend on him for everything. His methods could be violent. Sometimes that reminded me of my dad, which seemed wrong. It was wrong for him to feel like a father when he was worse in every way. He was angrier. He was more unfair. I had no idea if there was any love to go along with the anger. With dads, you struggle to get independent. You push against them and sometimes they push back. With Gene, it seemed like he never wanted me to push. He hired a woman named Gloria Ramos to make me food. Gene told me about Gloria before she came. He told me that she was working for him. He told me that she was going to cook for me and buy some groceries. There had been another woman before her named Deirdre, but she didn’t stay long.

I wasn’t sure about Gloria at first because she was working for Gene. That made me afraid. But I watched her and decided that she wasn’t like his other people.

Gloria didn’t speak much English, but I spoke a little Spanish so I could talk to her. There was a song called “¿Cuando Calienta el Sol?,” which means “How hot is the sun?” I would sing that and also play some piano for her. For a while, she was my only friend. I loved eating frozen yogurt but Gene wouldn’t let me, so Gloria would order it for herself and share it with me. Other times she watched TV with me, and still other times I didn’t feel like watching TV so I asked her to close the drapes and blinds and just leave me there in the dark. She wouldn’t do it. She said she had to leave the door open. I wanted it closed for lots of reasons. I told her one: mosquitos could get in, and they could make you sick. She told me that they had medicine for that kind of thing, but I didn’t know if medicine would work.

Sometimes I would explain the whole picture to her, as a way of explaining it to myself. I would tell her that I was famous because of the Beach Boys, and that I had made things that people loved, and that I was worried I wouldn’t be able to do that anymore. She would say that no one cared about that. Not in a bad way. She wasn’t saying that people didn’t like my music. She was saying that no one cared about that when they weren’t around me, and that being a healthy person was just as important. That made me cry. She asked me what I wanted her to do and I just didn’t know. I wanted her to stay because I felt safe.

Finally Gene left. There were lots of reasons why he left. But the final straw was when I started seeing Melinda and she got enough looks into my life to see what Gene was doing, and that even if he had helped me once, he wasn’t helping me anymore. Thanks to Melinda calling my mom and brother and helping them get the goods on Landy, Carl and his lawyers started working on freeing me from the situation and I started feeling more courage. Still, even after people figured out that Gene was doing nothing good for me, he was around for a while. He got into my music. I remember one real fight with him. He had started out charging me something like $25,000 a month for treatment. I don’t remember the exact number. But there were so many other expenses. He was living in my Pacific Palisades house and remodeling it with my money. He was taking his family to Hawaii for a month and sending me the bill. And the monthly expense kept increasing. In the late ’80s I looked once and it was $30,000. In the early ’90s I looked again and it was $35,000. I couldn’t stay silent. “What is this bill here?” I said to him. He looked at me like he didn’t understand the question, but he understood it fine. “I thought I’d charge a bit more,” he finally said. I lost my temper with him. That helped me see that his days were numbered.

When Gene finally left that second time, I tried to get back on my feet. In some ways, I was happy. It felt like a tremendous weight was gone from my shoulders. My steps were easier. Still, there were days when I was too depressed to do anything. I couldn’t go to a restaurant or to the movies. I could deal with it by getting angry, but I wasn’t sure what was making me angry. I could throw a can in the air or kick something, but that didn’t solve the problem really. I slowly got back to being me. It took me a while. After all, it was nine years of bullshit.

Or was it thirty years of bullshit? I said that I don’t know how far back to draw the line that led to Landy, but I do know one point the line passed through. That was in 1964, at Christmastime. I was with the band on an airplane going to Houston to play a show at the Music Hall there. Just a few days before, we had returned to Los Angeles from Tulsa, where we played their new arena. In the airport I started to feel like I was slipping away a bit. At first I thought it was about my marriage. Just a few weeks before, I had married Marilyn. I was a young husband, only twenty-two, and she was an even younger wife, just sixteen. I was happy we were married, but I was worried, too. My thoughts about love and romance were all confused. How do you ever know if you’re the right person for someone or if someone is the right person for you? A few months


  • Chicago Tribune, 10/11/16
    “Wilson's book documents scattered memories and streamlines them into a series of impressions and anecdotes…Offer[s] valuable if unsettling insights into the personal dynamics inside an American band.”

    AXS, 10/13/16
    “Wilson goes beach-combing through the past, panning the sands of time for the socio-psychological seashells that gave rise to America's most successful singing group—and launched Wilson's lifetime bout with mental illness…Here Wilson recounts the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful in the straightforward conversational tone of a mature, experienced man reclining in his Lay-Z-Boy, albeit tempered with his boyish enthusiasm (and melancholy).”

    Dallas Morning News, 10/14/16
    “An unflinching portrait.”

    New York Journal of Books, 10/11/16
    “Immediate, informal, and confessional…Behind the wholesome image of shy boys and cute girls in a world of eternal sunshine, the Beach Boys inhabited a much darker reality. Brian Wilson nails it in his latest memoir.”

    The LA Beat, 10/13/16
    “One of the most honest and forthcoming autobiographies ever written by a musician…As you start to read, you really feel less an observer, and more of a participant in [Wilson's] journey…If you only read one book this year, it should be Brian's book.”
  • Publishers Weekly, 9/12/16
    “[A] charming and powerfully written memoir that will engage a readership beyond the multitude of Beach Boys fans…Despite his fame and success, Wilson comes off as a genuinely modest and gentle soul…Wilson's emotional authenticity is beguiling as he takes readers deeply into his mind, voices and all, to describe his unique manifestation of musical genius.”

    No Depression, 9/16/16
    “Wilson's memoir offers a more sober glance at the spiritual and physical forces that haunt artists and that often drive them to produce the beautiful, sad, and relentlessly affecting music we often embrace…Wilson's memoir eventually grabs us at a deeper level than Love's. If you're looking for fun, fun, fun, pick up Love, but if you're searching for a more introspective, in my room, experience, pick Wilson.”

    Canadian Living, 9/22/16
    “In this tell-almost-all memoir, Brian Wilson candidly reflects on his struggles with family, substance abuse and mental 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 (Phil Spector, Carole King, Paul McCartney) featuring in many of the stories.”
  • Record Collector, Issue 459
    “His recollections of the abuse he suffered at the hands of life-coach Eugene Landy and his father are told with such blunt economy that they are quite crushing. Wilson's equally candid and plainspoken about his work…There's a good deal of myth-busting.”

    Goldmine, November 2016
    “Wilson's memoir is streaked with melancholy…Wilson fans will find it a compelling book.”

    Huffington Post, 10/12/16
    “Wilson takes you on a journey into the life of a creative genius, exploring his turbulent life and creative influences and how, regardless of his inner and outer demons, there is always hope…I Am Brian Wilson: A Memoir isn't the kind of book you can read in a day. Like a summer vacation, you want it to last forever…As a memoir, honest and insightful. But it's very much a memoir of a musician. From reading this book, you'll gain a deeper appreciation for the man behind some of the world's greatest hits and for music in general.”

    Forbes.com, 10/11/16
    “Wilson sets the record straight…His voice definitely comes through…It is a wonderful insight into a troubled genius.”
  • Rolling Stone, 9/27/16
    “Excellent…I Am Brian Wilson is soulful and earnest—like spending quality time with a gentle sage with an endearingly erratic attention span…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

    Time magazine, 9/29/16
    “Disarmingly personal.”

    Minneapolis Star Tribune, 9/29/16
    “When you read his new memoir…you'll get an even deeper exploration into the mental illness and the rebound, the villains and heroes in his life.”

    Wall Street Journal, 9/30/16
    “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…Tell[s] us much that we didn't know…Suggest[s] how we might best view the artistic life—any life, really.”

    Loud and Quiet, October 2016
    “In I Am Brian Wilson, Wilson is unflinching in his rendering of the euphoric highs and chaotic lows that have made up the last seven decades. His and the Beach Boys' story has been told many times before and is one we may think we know already, but it has never before been voiced with the clarity, honesty and insight on offer here.”
  • A New York Times, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly Best Seller!

    Vanity Fair, September 2016
    I Am Brian Wilson slipstreams through the past like a message in a bottle…It has moments of personal testimony that are poignant and indelible.”

    New York Post, 8/11/16
    “1960s Beach Boy on mental illness, sorrow, drugs, destabilization, demons, turbulence and discord.”

    Booklist, 9/1/16
    “Music journalist Greenman helps keep this meandering memoir coherent and poignant.”

    CNN.com, 8/24/16
    “Plenty of authors have written about this Beach Boy and now he'll get his say.”

    Rolling Stone, 9/8/16
    “Wilson tells his own story: his battles with his abusive father, the pressure to score hits in the Sixties, and his long struggle with mental illness.”

    Billboard, 9/3/16
    “Wilson delves into his battle with mental illness and how he created the band's pioneering sound.”
  • The Scotsman, 10/15/16
    “As much about Wilson's reclusive existence in the 1970s and '80s as it is about the heyday of his band…This is no misery memoir, however—the tone throughout is almost breezy; difficult subjects are dealt with honestly, but never in such detail as to become uncomfortable…I Am Brian Wilson succeeds in shedding new light on Wilson's remarkable life.”

    Herald Scotland, 10/14/16
    “This autobiography of one of the most creative minds in 20th century popular music is clearly worth the reading, but the fact that it turns out to be an eloquent witness for a 21st century approach to mental illness may ultimately be its greater value.”

    St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 10/14/16
    “[An] essential read for Beach Boys fans.”

    Foreword Reviews, 10/20/16
    “With the release of his memoir, I Am Brian Wilson, those who love the music and wonder about the man are afforded access into his thoughts and insights. In nonlinear and candid prose, Wilson discusses his music, yes, but also his battles with mental illness, his career highs and lows, and sprinkles these accounts with peeks into his fascinating worldview. The work is empathetic and raw; there is humility here, and ingenuity as well.”
  • Esquire.com, 10/11/16
    “A fascinating peek into the life and creative process of one of the 20th Century's most lauded songwriters and record producers…[An] intriguing glimpse into what makes one of rock's true legends tick.”

    Parade.com, 10/10/16
    “[Wilson] bares his heart and soul…He recalls the many personal and professional highs and the plentiful painful lows of his life and career.”

    Publishers Weekly, 10/10/16
    “In I Am Brian Wilson: A Memoir, the founder of the Beach Boys speaks candidly about his musical inspirations and mental illness…A wonderful gift to [his] fans.”

    Houston Chronicle, 10/9/16
    “In this honest and nonlinear memoir, one of rock ‘n' roll's greatest composers talks honestly about both his musical triumphs and his struggles with mental illness and substance abuse…For fans of the music, Wilson does dig deep into the inspirations and recording of albums.”

    Psychology Today, 10/11/16
    “[Wilson's] extraordinary journey is intimately described in his new memoir.”

    Library Journal, 10/6/16
    “Wilson's memoir digs deep, with fierce honesty from the opening pages.”
  • The Arts Desk, 10/16/16
    “It's intriguing to get a Wilson's-eye view of his own legend—it's one of the great tales of the music business, after all…All the key elements of Brian's life are here…Where the book really lights up is when Wilson talks in detail about music. There are fascinating descriptions of the recording of "God Only Knows", the Pet Sounds, Surf's Up and Holland albums and the difficulties he had with the SMiLE material…When he analyses the influence of the Beatles, the Stones and Phil Spector, it evokes the extraordinary intensity of the mid-Sixties musical eruption that the Beach Boys were caught up in.”

    Toronto Star, 10/15/16
    “The book jumps through time, the drugs, the mental illness, the music, the love and the pain. It has charming asides.”

    Maclean's, 10/16/16
    “[The] 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.”
  • The Arts Fuse, 10/11/16
    “Pleasures await the Wilson/Beach Boys fan, as Wilson recounts the making of the Beach Boys album (Pet Sounds) and song (‘Good Vibrations') he's proudest of and enthuses over his favorite non-Beach Boys album (the Beatles' Rubber Soul) and song (‘Be My Baby,' produced by Phil Spector), his favorite classical composer (Bach), and his influences…Wilson speaks at length about his mental illness, how it robbed him of the joy and optimism his music provided for so many people.”

    ABC News Radio, 10/11/16
    “Wilson talks candidly about his struggles with mental illness and drugs, while giving fascinating insight into the creation of many of The Beach Boys' beautiful, catchy and complex songs.”

    New York Magazine's Vulture, 10/11/16
    “The Beach Boys leader's story is well told by now, but reading his often blunt retelling is harrowing, especially as he describes years swaddled in drugs and alcohol, and controlled by the notorious Dr. Landy. But as much as the book delves behind the so-called madman, it also gets behind the genius. Wilson and writer Ben Greenman lay the story out simply and with limited sensationalism, including fascinating sections where Wilson recounts his creative process and the work behind so many classic songs.”
  • The Australian, 10/22/16
    “Freakishly, genre-transcendingly good: a rock memoir of genius, if ever there was one…Brilliantly unusual, like Wilson himself…It gets his unique inner world on to the page intact…It's also illuminated, along the way, by sudden lightning-flashes of insight into the world of mental illness.”

    National Post, 10/18/16
    “The book's voice [is] plainspoken, earnest, prone to both anxieties and boyish excitement…[and] true to the man.”

    The Guardian, 10/16/16
    “A beguilingly honest account of what it is to be Wilson.”

    Phoenix New Times, 10/17/16
    “Reading I Am Brian Wilson is like having a conversation with Brian Wilson…It feels authentic…It's imperfectly flawless…This is the story of a hero as well as an artist, a genius, and a musician. He frankly portrays his mental illness from the beginning to his lowest depths to the heights he's at today…Famous people from the music world make appearances…In 300 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.”

    VICE's Noisey, 10/16/16
    “Tells the harrowing, heartbreaking story of the life of Brian.”
  • "Fascinating and intensely personal...The utter lack of pretense in the prose captures that familiar slightly flat, slightly sad, often rhapsodic voice with true authenticity...I Am Brian Wilson would fail as the Brian Wilson story if it did not deal with the darker corners of his life, and Wilson wanders through these areas fearlessly...Love, music, and an immensely sincere man's true voice are what you should expect and what I Am Brian Wilson delivers."—Psychobabble, 10/21/16
  • "An unconventional but fascinating read...One 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, 10/25/16
  • "Candid and tragic, yet in the end exquisitely triumphant and love affirming, I am Brian Wilson is the last (and only) word on Brian's all-too-written-about and over-analyzed past."—Elmore, 10/25/16
  • "A book almost the opposite of Love's: forgiving, chaotically associative."—New York Review of Books, 10/26/16
  • "A candid, heartfelt autobiography about a pop-music icon who managed to overcome dark influences that might have defeated someone less resilient."—New York Times Syndicate, 10/11/16
  • "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 places...An altogether lovely read."—The Suburban, 10/29/16
  • "He has worked with a ghostwriter, but anyone who has seen his spectacular solo shows or seen him interviewed will recognise the voice immediately: vulnerable, faltering, pained, unexpectedly funny...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...Wilson's memoir has a weepily beautiful mellowness and a real poignancy that shines through the acrimony and wasted years."—Sydney Morning Herald, 11/5/16
  • "The enigmatic Wilson documents the poetic lyricism, inspiration and creativity behind his vast discography while at the same time showing a man who is over-time coming to terms with his past...Extremely candid...You aren't going to find any other story like that of Brian Wilson's. Very rarely if ever will you find a person with Brian's notoriety be as truthful and forth coming as he is in this book."—Media Mikes, 11/1/16
  • "Join the genius behind The Beach Boys as he takes a stroll down memory lane, revealing never-before-heard details about his upbringing with brothers Carl and Dennis, as well as his struggle with mental illness, drug use and more. In I Am Brian Wilson, the legendary surf rocker discusses how these hardships shaped the man he is today, and how he's learnt to forgive those who wronged him."—Over Sixty, 11/3/16
  • "A frank and revealing portrait of a troubled and popular music pioneer...Worth reading if you are a fan of the Beach Boys, or enjoy reading about how even extreme mental difficulties can be faced, and if not overcome, at least lived with."
    Portland Book Review, 11/2/16
  • "The Beach Boys frontman has a fascinating story...He recounts the ups and downs of his life with candor."

    InStyle.com, 11/1/16
  • "[An] alternatingly sad and inspiring memoir."
    Downtown Magazine, 11/17/16
  • "Beach Boys fans finally get the scoop from the man himself...Provide[s] a crucial blueprint of the rise and fall of one of America's most interesting pop musicians. Wilson carefully answers questions that many die-hard fans have been wondering for years and doesn't shy away from exploring the darker, less glamorous side of being in one of the most famous American bands of all time."—Memphis Flyer, 11/17/16
  • "The 312-page book...convey[s] Brian Wilson's way of thinking-mostly gentle, conciliatory, a little disjointed and tinged with resignation."—Stockton Record, 11/17/16
  • "The Beach Boys legend once thought he just wasn't made for these times, but in his new memoir, he reflects on his brilliant career and his successful struggle against his personal demons."

    Los Angeles Times
  • "[Wilson] depicts mental illness candidly."—Austin Chronicle
  • "In this candid testament, Wilson examines sources of his creative inspiration and reveals his mental and spiritual struggles, his highs and lows."

  • "Filled with perspective and wisdom."—Music Is My Sanctuary, Top 10 Music Books of 2016
  • "A patchwork of memories covering childhood through stardom with The Beach Boys, dark years of mental illness and the comeback he has enjoyed in recent years."

    Milwaukee Shepherd Express
  • "[Wilson] tells it his way, and that makes it better than any history I've read of the Beach Boys to date. His no-holds-barred admissions of his mistakes and triumphs are revealing and engaging...The book is also peppered with surprises."

    San Francisco Book Review
  • "[Wilson] weighs in on his extreme highs and lows."

    SouthCoast Today
  • undefined—iHeartRadio
  • "A strange kind of surfing through the Beach Boy's interior life."—The Guardian
  • "[Wilson] tell[s] his story in his own way...For Wilson admirers it's a gift from Brian, that, more than anything reveals a sweet, mentally troubled man for whom making music is like breathing for the rest of us."

    Lincoln Journal Star
  • "A page turner...If you're at all a fan, you need this book."
    Vintage Guitar
  • "Offer[s] some fascinating glimpses under the hood."—New York Times Book Review
  • "[A] must-read for any Beach Boys fan, packed with never-before-seen personal photos and incredible anecdotes."

    Over Sixty
  • "[Wilson] tells his story with incredible intensity, candidness, and humor...It is as if we are having an extended and intimate conversation with Wilson...There has been a veritable avalanche of autobiographies and memoirs from aging rockers in recent years as they begin to contemplate their place in rock history. I Am Brian Wilson takes its hard-earned place in the front of these books. It is not to be missed."

    Washington Independent Review of Books
  • "Touchingly modest...From the start you know you're in for something special...Honest and affecting."

    The Spectator (UK)
  • "A fascinating story of one of the greatest music icons. Wilson tells his story of his life and music in a most gripping way. He gives background to many of iconic songs and shines light on the people he worked with. It is veritably the story of his songs. Music lovers will not be able to put it down once they start reading it."

    Washington Book Review
  • "Disarming...Co-author Ben Greenman has captured Wilson's voice so well every paragraph feels leavened by Wilson's sophisticated naiveté." —TruthDig
  • "Astonishingly honest...A fascinating glimpse into the mind of one of the greatest songwriters who ever lived...This is a terrific book and will lay to rest all the untruths ever told about Brian Wilson...This is his story as he lived it. Any fan of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys needs to read this."
    Curled Up with a Good Book
  • "If you're interested in pop music and the Beach Boys' place in music history, or you just love a good story of triumph and tragedy and surprising rebirth, you'll love this autobiography...It's a heck of a tale...The musical origins of [Wilson's] pop pocket symphonies run through these pages, as does his candid, guileless telling of damaged relationships and artistic failure...Highly recommended."—Pacific Rim Review of Books

On Sale
Oct 11, 2016
Page Count
336 pages
Da Capo Press

Brian Wilson

About the Author

Brian Wilson, best known for his work with the Beach Boys, is one of popular music’s most revered figures. The main creative force behind some of the most cherished recordings in rock history and one of the most influential composers of the last century, Wilson became a Kennedy Center Honoree in 2007. A father of seven, he lives with his wife in Beverly Hills, California.


Ben Greenman is a contributing writer to the New Yorker and a New York Times bestselling author. He collaborated with Questlove on his hip-hop memoir Mo’ Meta Blues and cowrote George Clinton’s memoir. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two children.

Learn more about this author