Joe Perry’s Rocks surprised me. The opening chapter of his memoir, explaining his longstanding appreciation of nature, is just beautifully written; I had to make sure I was reading the right book. The same goes for the perfunctory childhood/formative years bits; nothing really surprising, per se, but quite insightful with its directness, simplicity and honesty. Smart but unengaged kid fucks up at school, finds the guitar and his purpose, and his life is forever changed, for better or worse; it is the bedrock of the myth of rock and roll.
But the hard work ethic preached and instilled by his old man worked. Perry was relentless and single-minded, working his way through junior high school and high school bands until meeting a like-minded drummer named Steven Tallerico and a new band is formed. The drummer moves to singer, changes his name, and a legendary new American band is born.
It is a testament to those times that Aerosmith were originally brushed off by some, as Perry calls it, “an American version of English rock bands who were themselves Anglicized versions of American blues bands.” But their old-fashioned way of constant touring paid off, creating the so-called “Blue Army” of extremely loyal, (mostly male) denim-clad rock and rollers, particularly in the Northeast and Midwest working-class areas. The highly-influential Boston radio station WBCN was also an early backer. After “Dream On” is remixed, without the band’s knowledge, and a string section added, they had a hit on their hands; even greater success lie ahead. Perry lays it out chronologically, album by album and tour by tour. Money trouble, women trouble, and even more drug trouble also lie ahead and he’s honest about the bands personal and musical failures, and his reasons for leaving —and eventually returning — to the band.
At the heart of that story is, of course, manager Tim Collins, who gets Perry’s solo career on track and then is brought in by Perry (over Tyler's objections) for the Aerosmith reclamation project. Perry is quick with the compliments for Collins on the way up, but exposes and absolutely shreds him as a deceitful, divisive control freak once the band is back on top. It would be fascinating to hear Collins' side of that story.
But it is his relationship with Steven Tyler that is at the heart of this book. Generally speaking, I usually side with the guitar player in the bands that feature the combination of axeman and outrageous singer; Richards over Jagger, Izzy or Slash over Axl and Perry over Tyler. I read Steven Tyler’s Does The Noise In My Head Bother You? and enjoyed it quite a bit; I thought you could hear Tyler’s “voice” very clearly throughout the book. But I also noticed he seemed to take credit for almost everything Aerosmith did, and apparently I’m not the only one. That perspective is echoed throughout Perry’s book. The arrogance and petulance on display makes clear Tyler has a bad case of “LSD” — not the hallucinogen (although there’s no doubt that was ingested) — but rather what is often called “lead singer disease.” Still, I was surprised with how hard Perry went after Tyler, all the while espousing “we’re brothers“ and speaking of the love/hate relationship brothers have‚ especially competitive ones. I often wonder how bands ever get back together after a book like this or Keith Richards Life. So points for honesty, Joe.
A minor complaint is that, for the bluesman he swears he is at heart, Perry seems too comfortable and conversant with things like Aerosmith’s “brand.” And I hate the word “product” when referring to a record — doubly so when it’s the musician/creator who does that, and Perry does it a lot in the later stages of the band's career. Likewise, the glowing words for the songwriting partnerships with professional hit-makers (think "Cryin', "Crazy," and "Dude (Looks Like A Lady)" — admittedly all HUGE hits) rubs me and his “bluesman” notion the wrong way. But, I guess, that’s the music business in the 21st century and, if nothing else, the Aerosmith tale is one of survival. Hell, they sold their shitbox plane to Lynyrd Skynyrd and it cost that band mightily just a few weeks later; that easily could have been Aerosmith.
As an early 'Smith fan, who admittedy lost interest after seeing the disasterous, drug-ravaged Draw the Line tour, the second half of their career wasn't as interesting to me. But Perry's book is pretty damn good. Who would have thought one of the clearest-eyed and sober rock memoirs would have come from one of the so-called “Toxic Twins?”
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