“I entered adulthood unsure of who I was, where I belonged or where I came from, so I made up my story as I went along, and in that, music was my answer to everything. Rather than having the world tell me who I was, on stage, through my songs, I could tell the world. I was free there. No teachers to tell me how to do it. No cops to tell me not to. Just my own wits and guts to lead me. The path forward wasn’t always an easy or straight one, but I was willing to do anything to find my way.”
-Tom Wilson (from Beautiful Scars)
I have read countless rock and roll biographies (both auto and otherwise) and truth be known most of them were interchangeable: Struggle against the odds, success despite obstacles, trips to rehab, banging groupies three at a time, drugs, greedy managers, etc., the book is named after the subject’s biggest hit song, whether it has anything to do with the story inside or not (something usually done for marketing rather than artistic reasons), and has all the depth of a sidewalk puddle after a light rain. We’ve seen it all before. That was why I was a little reluctant to pick up Beautiful Scars by Tom Wilson (not the Washington Capitals forward or the guy that played Biff in the Back to the Future movies, but rather the journeyman Canadian musician and artist best known for being the driving force behind the bands Junkhouse and Blackie and the Rodeo Kings).
One of the things that differentiates Beautiful Scars from most of the other aforementioned books, besides that is was not ghost-written, is that it is ultimately not a rock and roll autobiography; it is the story of a Canadian family; it is not the tale of a legendary rock god but the story of a poor boy from The Hammer where the protagonist happens to be a musician; an accessible yarn of one person’s lifelong search for identity and truth; a tale of a man in crisis, a hidden secret, a fall and recovery, and redemption. (Don’t misunderstand what I said earlier: Wilson does go through addiction and rehabilitation, partying and all the other fare that comes with being a musician on the road, and the book is named after a song by his current band, Lee Harvey Osmond, but in Beautiful Scars it is all handled in more of a matter-of-fact, background way rather than as a central plot point.)
The book is divided in three sections: Secrets, Lies and Truth. Wilson’s writing style, typical of someone more used to writing songs, flows smoothly with a lyrical cadence that makes it readable; and it is effective despite his use of uncomplicated words and brief sentences. He narrates his story like a gritty Raymond Chandler detective, and instead of boring us with every little breezy, redundant detail, Beautiful Scars is a series of vignettes where we fill in the spaces between. Despite being short on details, it still has more soul than some books I’ve read that were twice as long.
While one of the “Secrets” turned out to be something I saw coming up St. Laurent Boulevard (I don’t understand how Wilson himself didn’t figure it out decades earlier), and the author’s life story is coincidentally similar to Robbie Robertson’s (his book Testimony being another rock auto bio I recommend), there is still enough emotion, unforeseen twists, and interesting anecdotes to make it well worth reading, even if one were not a fan of the author’s music.
*Please Note: This review is of an advance, uncorrected proof of Beautiful Scars. The Final published version may differ*