Steven Wilson (with Mick Wall), Limited Edition of One: How to Succeed in the Music Industry Without Being Part of the Mainstream, London: Constable (imprint of Little, Brown Book Group), 2022, 361 pages
Steven Wilson – the most famous contemporary artist that no one has ever heard of. Well, certainly the most talented. After many years of maintaining a veil of mystery between his public persona and his personal life, Wilson recently published a book (in the UK – it comes out in the US in July). I believe the audiobook and digital versions are both available for purchase in the US right now.
The book comes in three versions: regular hardback, special edition in a slipcase with 128 pages of additional material plus a 70-minute CD featuring music pulled from old cassettes made very early in his career, and an artist’s edition that has long since sold out of its limited 125 copies. Wilson also read the audiobook version, for those so inclined. I bought the hardback regular edition from Burning Shed in the UK and had it shipped to the US because I didn’t feel like waiting the extra few months. That was expensive enough. I would’ve liked the special edition with the additional written material and CD, especially now after having read and thoroughly enjoying the book. I’d love more material, but it just isn’t in the budget. Alas, the life of a non-profit employee early in his career, especially during the worst inflation in 40 years.
I hesitate to call Wilson’s book a memoir. While it contains a lot of passages one would include in a memoir, it is so much more than a memoir. It has chapters dedicated to Wilson’s pastime of creating lists of favorite music, books, movies, and even a list where he debunks common myths about himself. Since Wilson was aided by music journalist and author Mick Wall in writing Limited Edition of One, there are some interesting elements where Wilson “breaks the fourth wall” and includes the transcriptions of some of the conversations they had in the development of certain chapters. There are chapters of memories, in no particular order. He talks about his childhood, certain parts of his career, how his musical heroes influenced his musical development, how his dad’s electronic tinkering and making equipment for Steven influenced the development of the experimental side of his music… and so much more.
One of the primary themes of the book is the recurring idea of a struggling artist trying to make it big, but not quite getting to the level of which he initially dreamed. Arriving somewhere, but not here. While he can live comfortably on what he’s done, it hasn’t been easy. While most in the pop world hit it big, with help from the record labels, in their late teens (or even earlier!) or early 20s, but it’s all over by the time they’re 30. Wilson is 54, and he’s more famous now than he’s ever been. As such, this book is the story of an atypical musical career, which I think makes it much more fascinating than a “tell-all” memoir from a music legend from 40-50 years ago who has long since ceased innovating musically. I think Wilson’s struggles as a musician have helped fuel his driving spirit of innovation.
Perhaps had he been born 15 years earlier, Wilson could’ve been as big as his musical heroes. But then again, the Wilson we enjoy (or complain about) wouldn’t have been the same artist if he had been operating in the same musical milieu as his heroes rather than chewing on their sounds years later as he strives to create his own art. Music as a whole did progress, and Wilson saw to it that it did. Porcupine Tree took progressive music into uncharted territory, creating new soundscapes while still incorporating the best elements of the past. Sadly the public, or the media elites, wanted music that was easy, simple, that didn’t make you think too hard.
Anyone who’s heard any of Wilson’s diverse discography knows full well that “dumb” music isn’t part of his repertoire. Even when he “goes pop” as he started to on To the Bone and as he certainly did on The Future Bites, the end result asks much of the listener. I may have roasted The Future Bites, but I did so with upmost respect for Wilson as an artist. My critique came from a position where I don’t particularly like pop music or many of the varied artists that heavily influenced that side of Wilson’s work. I named my review “Steven Wilson Bites the Future… and the Fans?”, partly as a form of clickbait, but also because Wilson made a conscious decision to expand his audience, perhaps at the expense of an existing fan base, much of which would rather see Porcupine Tree be the main focus of Wilson’s career. He talks about this in the book, but he also sees it from the perspective of an artist having to make the music that excites him at that particular point in time. As such Wilson’s advice to other artists is to ultimately be true to yourself, your art, and what you want your art to say, even if people get upset about it.