The book cover of Joe Perry’s new autobiography is perfect: He looks like a true rock god but you get the impression this legend doesn’t say a lot. His music has always done all the talking and why not? With a flamboyant mouthpiece like Steven Tyler fronting his band, he had the luxury of just sitting back and cutting some iconic riffs that are still worshiped today. But even at almost four hundred pages, Perry doesn’t spend a lot of time dwelling on things. He tells you what he thinks and feels and moves on.
“I wonder how that nine year old kid, whose burning passion in life was to become a marine biologist and whose idol was Jacques Cousteau turned into a guitarist,” Perry writes at the beginning of Rocks. “I’m puzzled by how someone who grew up in the upper middle-class New England suburbs – born into a family with virtually no interest in music or art – wound up riding the tidal wave of rock & roll.” Although this may have been his original quest for taking the time to tell his tale, it’s one that ended up being more a story of friendship and love. Since the Aerosmith chronicles have already been brought to vivid life in the band’s Walk This Way, it left Perry room to contemplate things from a deeper core inside of himself, as he wasn’t having to be a piece of a five man talking puzzle. This was his story and his story alone.
But Perry is never really alone, no matter how many times he talks about wandering the woods or swimming into the depths of the lake. His bonds are tight and whether it is his father, his bandmate or his wife, Perry does not exist as a loner. He appears to have been, for the most part, a typical boy in a typical town. He fell in love with the guitar. He grew his hair long and quit school instead of cutting it. He worked, played in a band, moved to Boston. But we know this. So why should we fork over the money to read this? Because we want to know what we did not see.
Like the Stones and Zeppelin before them, Aerosmith has all the scandalous rumors and urban legends floating around their history: the fights, the drugs, the women, the music. Perry does not hold back his feelings but you can tell he has controlled very carefully how he wanted to say what he wants to say, especially when it concerns his Toxic Twin. Tyler has irritated him to no end on many occasions: “His talking has a rhythm and rhyme all its own. But in the end his talking wears your ass out. He sucks up all your energy,” Perry writes in the chapter about living at 1325 Commonwealth. He didn’t like the way Tyler constantly hounded Joey Kramer about his drumming: “I just wanted Steven to stop badgering him and let him do his thing. But Steven’s harping never stopped,” Perry exclaimed with so much emotion you can feel it seeping off the page. And don’t even get him started on Brand Tyler. But in the end, “He is my brother.”
In his foreword, Johnny Depp proclaims: “The way he uses musical notes is as personal and unique as any conversation you could ever have with the man. It’s how he communicates. He is a master of feel.” And Perry does spend a good portion of his words discussing the songs that brought the band to where they are today. He talks about writing “Walk This Way” at a soundcheck in Honolulu and “Back In The Saddle” in his bedroom, “flat on my back, fucked up on heroin.” How Night In The Ruts was a pain in the ass to finish: “We were still waiting for Steven to do his job – write the lyrics and sing them. I couldn’t comprehend why Steven was taking so fuckin’ long,” he writes with apparent irritation, felt still to this day. And how starting what would become Draw The Line was like “trying to squeeze toothpaste out of an empty tube.”
But Perry has more to say than rehashing song origins. He takes us to his idyllic time on Block Island waiting for his career to begin but finding only laid back band members content on getting high and picking flowers; through his fiery relationship with first wife Elyssa before meeting his beloved Billie; manager dirty dealings that pit band members against each other; his reluctant departure from and back to Aerosmith; filming Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and various videos; Slash giving him back a precious guitar he had to sell off years ago; his undying admiration for early band supporter Frank Connelly; and how his parents wanted him to be someone great but not necessarily discouraging his final musical pursuits.
And then there were the drugs. Sebastian Bach practically begged Perry to get high with him when Skid Row opened on their Pump tour, as if it was a rite of passage, but Perry was adamant that that wasn’t going to happen. Aerosmith had been “a band of addicts” and it took Perry a long time before he realized what the damage could honestly be. “It was the easiest thing in the world for me to look at the dying Dolls and say, ‘That’ll never happen to us.’” Perry recalls thinking after watching the New York Dolls self-destructing before his eyes. “We’re rocking harder than ever, and all the drugs are doing are putting more fuel in our tanks,” he continued. “Besides, waving a bottle of Jack Daniels guarantees a huge response from our fans.”
Having your head in the sand can only work for so long before you have to come up for air in the real world. Perry got clean, as did his bandmates, and Aerosmith continues performing to this day. “When I decided to write this book, I had no idea what it would take out of me,” Perry summed up at the end. But what it gives to his fans is a rare look into the psyche of a man who always heard the music and let the music do the talking.