Released: 2014, Simon & Schuster
When bands reach a certain level of fame and popularity (and a certain age) there is a point in their careers when, inevitably, the various members start to think about writing autobiographies. So far three of the five members of Aerosmith have written their life-story, Joe Perry being the latest.
ROCKS-My Life In And Out Of Aerosmith is the latest major rock star bio to hit the market. Close to 400 pages long, Perry follows the conventional timeline style and details the long career he has had. Despite some life-long addictions Perry seems to have a relatively stable life with the help of his long-time wife, who seems to have kept him in line to a large degree. His style is open and honest he admits to his issues, but there is an undercurrent of ego where he seems to quickly find blame for every problem in the band and his life. It’s always someone else, members, managers, lawyers, record company people who seem to be the problem. I’m sure the truth is somewhere in the middle. Sometimes in the past the band has rallied around Stephen vs. Joe and at times they rally around Joe vs. Stephen. It must like be like walking on eggshells for Tom, Brad and Joey, with the two walking/talking ticking time-bombs of Perry and Tyler. I suppose that explosive dynamic of the two delicate geniuses is responsible for so much of the magic of the bands virtually unparalleled 40+ year career at or near the top of the rock slagheap.
I got the sense that Perry is very frustrated with his long-time friend and writing partner, Stephen Tyler. Much of the book is about the behaviour of the flamboyant singer, mostly bad, some good points, but mostly bad. There are advantages and disadvantages of writing books about two people who constantly argue. If you write the first book, like Tyler did, you get to tell the story first. If you write you book second, like Perry did, you are almost forced by default to respond to any comments or accusations the other party made in their book. Unfortunately at times Perry comes across as bitter, very often complaining about Tyler and lays the blame for the mind-numbingly slow rate of productivity directly at the feet of Tyler.
Perry is also a guitar guy at heart and he has an extensive and detailed appendix about his guitars and gear on tours. He talks with great affection about various guitars he owns or has owned and gear fans will appreciate the detail. Many of these stories have been told before but Joe gets to put his own spin on them. I did enjoy hearing about the return to glory, and how the band started to work with outside songwriters as Joe describes the various personality quirks of various managers, producers, writers and guests who helped rebuild the band from scratch.
He also does talk about recent events, which is good. Like most bios is weighted heavily on the ‘good ol’ days’ but he does address current issues and recent albums. It does seem a bit thin towards the end but when your band only puts out three albums in twelve years, (and one was a covers album and all of them tanked by Aerosmith’s multi-platinum standards)… what is there to talk about? One thing I did really enjoy and learned a lot of new information was his time out of Aerosmith. Much of the Aerosmith stuff has been recounted time and again, but the info about his solo career, now five albums deep, was very interesting. He comments about touring with bands like Kiss and Ted Nugent were also really insightful.
Perry does seem a bit stuck in the past often lamenting that rock is moving away from it’s blues roots. He was surprised when he learned Metallica didn’t know the 1951 song ‘Train Kept a Rollin’, later covered by Aerosmith. Why would they? They are (were) young 80’s thrashers who cut their teeth on the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal and So-Cal punk, not delta-blues like Perry did. He seemed suspicious and critical of technology and the industry in general and pretty stuck in his ways.
I think ROCKS must have been very cathartic to write as Joe airs dirty laundry quite openly and this was his chance to get it all out in the open. I would have perhaps like a bit more of a positive context, but there are times when Perry does talk about just sitting quietly and enjoying his solitude, nature and music. People often interpret this aloofness or detachment as arrogance but I think deep down Perry is a quiet, gentle guy with a good upbringing in an upper-middle class lifestyle with pretty good values, who got caught up in the madness of the rock and roll meat grinder.
The Tyler/Perry story has been told from each side. Now I’d like to read what Tom Hamilton or Brad Whitford have to say about the pair of feuding front-men. Kiss was the first major band where all four key members wrote a book. Who will be next Motley Crue, Guns ‘n’ Roses or Aerosmith? Until then ROCKS adds another interesting perspective of the long and crazy history of Aerosmith and more importantly an insight into the life of Joe Perry.