Review of The Words and Music of Brian Wilson
Christian Matijas-Mecca, Author
By Peter Reum
The Words and Music of Brian Wilson
By Christian Majitas-Mecca
The history of books covering biographic material regarding Brian Wilson has been hit and miss. Certain books have hit the target admirably, such as David Leaf's Beach Boys and the California Myth, Heroes and Villains by Steven Gaines, Timothy White's exceptional multi-generational book on the Wilson and Love families, Peter Carlin's biography of The Beach Boys and Brian Wilson, the excellent Jon Stebbins book on the life of Dennis Wilson, and Paul Williams' overview of the music of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys. The recent "assisted autobiographies" of Brian Wilson and Michael Love add irreplaceable first person recollections of two Beach Boys whose perspectives differ at times from each other. Also the coverage of the first years of The Beach Boys' career by James Murphy is a comprehensive book written about The Beach Boys' early career.
Books about Brian Wilson are always incomplete up to the time they are published, because Brian Wilson is still creating great music and playing concerts with his excellent band. The most recent biography of Brian Wilson is focused on his artistic output instead of the drama that usually accompanies any author's perspective on Brian's musical output. Christian Matijas-Mecca, a person whose career has been dedicated to music and dance both academically, and in performance is a native of the South Bay section of Los Angeles and is familiar with what the area's influence was for The Beach Boys, and the dramatic change in demographical composition that has taken place since The Beach Boys' exit from the area to other parts of California's Southland.
The best books addressing Brian Wilson's music have been those that skip the melodrama and get right to the music that Brian has created as a Beach Boy and a solo artist. For too many years, criticism of Brian's music has been filtered through an opaque filter that either shades it by giving him a free pass due to his mental health or by evoking some sort of savant theory. In the latter scenario, Brian is presented in a manner similar to someone with autism who can play any song on the piano that he is asked to play perfectly on his first try without delay.
Obviously, neither of these situations remotely present Brian in valued and important roles that he has demonstrated as a young man and as an adult who has been responsible for three families, his parents and brothers, his first wife and their two children, and the family he has currently with Melinda Wilson.
The approach taken by Mr. Majitas-Mecca has the luxury of writing about Brian and his music with nearly sixty years of perspective in looking backward. The ability to focus on the music is useful in that Brian spent roughly 25 years as a Beach Boy, and 30 years as an artist performing with a selection of accomplished musicians he hand selected. There is something refreshing about being able to look back without having to qualify one's criticism and not having to make explanations for any reason. Suffice to say, there are enough books about anything except the music Brian composed and produced. There will be arguments over the decades as to who was the finest songwriter, recording producer, arranger, lyricist, innovator, live performer, AND people...learned people, working folks, other musicians, and scholars will vigorously debate their strong opinions.
Mr. Majitas-Mecca has the advantaged position of being the latest scholar to tackle the complex story of Brian Wilson's life and music. Personally, I envy his timing. His outlook is the freshest, and he is one of those people who somehow understands Brian's music and life narrative. This is becoming a rare approach, as folks who like to read about men and women in a biographical light, often prefer People or US Magazine's gossipy content. This biography is one that is sympathetic but not fauning. It is very apparent that the author has listened closely to Brian's music and has done a thorough review of the literature spanning at least 45 years.
My criticisms of this volume are general, and not necessarily directed at Mr. Majitas-Mecca. Scholarly publishing houses like Praeger have thematic series which often have very structured formats with fairly strict guidelines as to length, illustrations, and source citation. It appears to me that Mr. Majitas-Mecca was under some contractual limitations regarding this book. There are no illustrations, with the emphasis centering on a thorough review of previous books and articles being the important research emphasis. This is evidence of an exhaustive literature review with excellent footnotes and clarifications throughout the book.
Finally, I would like to acknowledge the author's deep interest and affection for Brian Wilson and his music. In reading the book, it was apparent that Mr. Matijas-Mecca explained not only the details in Brian's life that impacted his music favorably or deleteriously, but what music of Brian's in his Beach Boys years and solo career was significant to him as the author critically. His book is a very welcome addition to my music library.
Copyright 2018 by Peter Reum- All Rights Reserved.