ISBN : 978-0-385-68565-8 / Doubleday Canada / 240 Pages / Hardcover / $29.95
Poverty rarely bothers the uninflected. And so it persists amidst a general environment of abundance. Even here, in a country with one of the highest standards of living in the world.
And if you need the raw, humiliating evidence consider the passages of heart-breaking, Dickensian despair in Tom Wilson’s autobiography Beautiful Scars. As a small boy, he discovers his family are the mythical schoolyard “needy” when the Salvation Army arrives at the door with a food hamper one Christmas.
There’s much more, in this gritty, bare-knuckle book about how Wilson rose from the grim shadows of Hamilton, Ontario’s, steel mills and mafia culture to make hit records with the likes of Junkhouse and Blackie & the Rodeo Kings, become friends with Merle Haggard, sing with Buck Owens, and duet with Emmylou Harris and Lucinda Williams.
While Wilson’s initial hard-fought musical accomplishments were fuelled by drug and alcohol addiction, such carnage largely takes a back seat in a memoir dominated by his cryptic parents, George and Bunny Wilson. George, a blind, Second World War hero, and Bunny, a stay-at-home mum, are a mystery to Tom. They look nothing like him and are much older than his friends’ parents.
Asked why? “There are secrets about you I will take to my grave,” Bunny tells four-year-old Tom. And so it comes to pass after Bunny’s death, Tom, then 56, discovers his life-long tormented suspicions were well-founded. His real mother is whom he considered his cousin, Janie. She and her one-time suitor were both Mohawks from the Kahnawake reserve in Quebec. There, Wilson happily discovers remnants of a family he never knew existed.
A natural raconteur both in person and onstage, Wilson provides a gripping, revelatory, no-holds-barred account of a conflicted soul that searches a lifetime for answers to questions he can’t quite articulate.
Whatsmore, he offers a rare insight into an economically deprived, merciless, blue collar background with great sensitivity and no self-pity. That Beautiful Scars succeeds so magnificently is as much a testament to his undeniable talents as a writer as his indomitable spirit.