Review: Beautiful Scars: Steeltown Secrets, Mohawk Skywalkers and the Road Home by Tom Wilson

Close-up of Tom Wilson at an autograph session

I truly love two songs in particular by the Hamilton rock band Junkhouse. One is Out of My Head, a hit from their 1993 breakout album, Strays. The other is Shine, and I’d put it in my top 20 of all time. Junkhouse appealed to my love for raw, filthy rock and roll that sounds live off the floor. (My all-time fave rocker: Humble Pie’s 30 Days in the Hole. It doesn’t get much filthier!)It’s been a long time since Tom Wilson fronted Junkhouse. He’s been with Blackie and the Rodeo Kings for more than two decades now. But it’s his Hamilton roots and the birth of Junkhouse that propelled me to purchase his new autobiography. Beautiful Scars: Steeltown Secrets, Mohawk Skywalkers and the Road Home isn’t like any rock auto-bio I’ve ever read – and I’ve read a lot of them.

Five musicians arm in arm at the end of a 2016 concert. Tom Wilson is in the middle with a yellow guitar.
Blackie and the Rodeo Kings 2016 by SpudGun67 via Flickr

Tom grew up on Hamilton mountain (don’t argue with me – when you’re from Steeltown, it’s a mountain!), the son of a blind war vet and his doting wife, Bunny. Something always felt off. His folks were older than his friends’ parents. Baby pictures of him didn’t exist. Bunny even told him there were secrets about him she would take to her grave.

Young Tom found a creative way to acquire a guitar when the family couldn’t possibly afford one and that’s how this whole music thing began. His writing is rich and poetic. It’s beautiful and tough and easy and painful and so worth reading. Wilson takes us through the burst of fame his band enjoyed and the excesses he indulged in. Coked-up and drunk, he wrecked relationships and nearly wrecked himself. The discoveries about his life, coming late as they did, put the pieces together and answered nagging questions.┬áHe was over 50-years-old before he found out the truth about his real parents and his heritage.

I loved this book for its great writing and its authenticity. Wilson tears open the aching heart of his life without self-pity. As a former Hamiltonian, familiar street and store references took me back to the mountain. Admittedly, I’m a bit of a gossip hound – come by it honestly through my work – and I always wondered what happened to his relationship with Cathy Jones. This is a five-star read.

And now, a stripped-down version of Wilson’s exquisite song, Shine.

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