A Memoir Pick by Jean-Louis
Doubleday Canada, 2017
“I have unchained all the prisoners from my basement and freed the ghosts from my attic.
I was the guy who ended up holding the keys to their freedom.
It was me who let them out.
It’s a job that no one else could do and one that comes with great consequence because these ghosts and prisoners are standing around me now all day, all night long.
I told my truth the way I heard it and the way I remembered it and that’s all I have. Everything else is bullshit.” Tom Wilson
I discovered Tom Wilson through his work with Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, which started as a one-off tribute band to the works of Willie P. Bennett. In the continuing evolution of BARK, each of the three singers (Colin Linden, Stephen Fearing, and Wilson) takes turns penning songs and together they make wonderful albums. The Tom Wilson songs have a wildness and energy to them that is distinct and attractive. I was curious to learn more about this unique Canadian artist.
In this book, Wilson takes us to Hamilton, Ontario where he was raised by Bunny and George Wilson, a blind veteran of WWII. As young Tom enters school he discovers that he is among the “needy” and the poor–the kids in the neighborhood and in his school make him aware that he belongs in this category. Others have defined him. Young Tom realizes that Bunny and George are not like all the other parents in the neighborhood and despite Tom asking, Bunny steadfastly refuses to let him in on family secrets. Balance within the Wilson family is precarious and Tom learns to not rock the boat lest their world fall to pieces.
As with many musicians, Tom Wilson’s teen years are formative. He tells us the surprising strategy he puts in place to get his hands on his first guitar and to get his first bands in place. Trying to make music in a tough steel town like Hamilton takes work and has many challenges but ultimately Wilson finds his way.
Overall the book is about Tom Wilson the man and how he comes to learn about who he is, why he is, and how he got to today. There are many twists and turns in his life you are better to read the book than to learn his secrets and insights from his words than from my blog post. Wilson is a talented songwriter and his poetic writing abilities shine through in this book about a genuine Canadian artist you must discover.