Over the years, the legend of Brian Wilson’s personal struggles has threatened to overshadow the groundbreaking work he did with the Beach Boys. In I Am Brian Wilson (Da Capo, $26.99) the musician, with writer Ben Greenman, finally gets a chance to tell his story from his own perspective. In many ways, this book is an antidote to his earlier memoir, Wouldn’t It Be Nice: My Own Story, ghostwritten by Wilson’s domineering therapist Eugene Landy. In this update, Wilson freely admits that his memory is spotty, and the book often reads as Wilson’s attempt to make sense of his recollections, both good and bad. The narrative often succumbs to melancholy, as when Wilson reflects on his tyrannical father, his mental breakdown at age twenty-five, his struggles with drugs, his therapist Landy, and his own inadequacies as a father. However, Wilson also shares his musical inspirations, insights into his creative process, his joy at making music, and his artistic comeback in the 2000s. I Am Brian Wilson is ultimately a rewarding read, as the author invites us to help him comb through his life story and find the one thing that always came so easily to him in his music: harmony.
Mo Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove is as much a treatise on postmodern aesthetics as it is a memoir of Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson (virtuoso DJ + drummer of legendary hip-hop band, The Roots). With the assistance of Ben Greenleaf, Questlove spins a yarn of entertaining anecdotes and favorite album lists. Ahmir's musings reveal formative moments of his creative passion, as well as those that sparked the Roots' fake-it-til-you-make-it grind to transform into an internationally revered act. Some of the most provocative passages of Mo Meta Blues occur within its footnotes scribed by the Roots' co-manager, Rich Nichols, who provides a clairvoyant counterpoint for this atypical music memoir.
Hyden balances anecdotes with phenomenal music criticism, and does more than I was expecting when I opened this book. Instead of merely a surveys course on pop's great rivalries, he digs deeper to discover what type of person takes which side, and why it both does and doesn't matter. Music fans both intense and casual will delight just the same in seeing petty disagreements about The Beatles vs. the Stones (#TeamBeatles), Taylor Swift vs. Kanye West (#TeamKanye), and Jimi Hendrix vs. Eric Clapton (#TeamHendrix) validated both intellectually and philosophically.