I do not think that there can ever be enough books about anything and I say that knowing that some of them are going to be about Pilates.The more knowledge the better seems like a solid rule of thumb, even though I have watched enough science fiction films to accept that humanity’s unchecked pursuit of learning will end with robots taking over the world.-Sarah Vowell

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Rocks: My Life In and Out of Aerosmith by Joe Perry with David Ritz


You do not have to be a part of Aerosmith's "blue army" to enjoy this autobiography of one of the greatest guitar players of all time, Joe Perry.  Perry is a rather interesting person.  His mother got a master degree and taught P.E. in the 1950s, when most married women did not work outside the home, especially if they did not have to.  His father got his master's in accounting and went to work for the local cotton mill in Hopedale, Massachusetts.  Perry was an undiagnosed kid with ADHD and school was a constant struggle.  On top of that he wanted to make his parents proud of him and he knew doing well in school would accomplish that, but he was unable to do so. 

At a young age Perry discovered music and fell in love with the guitar and began begging his parents for one.  When he was ten, the people who lived on the other side of the duplex played electric guitars and a whole new world opened up for him.  Eventually his parents would relent and give him a beginners acoustic guitar. Not quite what he wanted, he wanted something to play loudly.  Perry, left-handed, picked up the guitar and began to try to play it left-handed, but when he put on the instructional record, it corrected the way he held the guitar and he learned to play right-handed. 

Another love for Perry was nature.  His parents would take him to Lake Sunapee, New Hampshire every summer where he would practically live in the water and take long walks in the woods enjoying nature in a very Thoreau-like way.  He at one time wanted to be Jacques Cousteau, but his grades in school made him give up that dream.  It was at Lake Sunapee that he would meet Tom Hamilton, the bass player of Aerosmith and form a local band that would play at the lake during the summer.  Steven Tyler, Aerosmith's lead singer, also spent a lot of time there, but it would be a while before their paths would cross.

Perry drops out of school and goes to work for the mill, until he saves up enough money to move to Boston with Tom to look into starting a band.  They move into the now famous 1325 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston apartment.  They interview Joey Kramer for the part of drummer, then go back to Lake Sunapee and ask Steven, a talented drummer, to join and play drums if he wants.  Steven agrees to join, but only as lead singer.  They then meet Brad Whitford there and all go back to live in the apartment.  It turns out that Steven and Joey already knew each other. 

Frank Connelly, a local promoter, signs on to be their manager and they start playing in clubs and small venues.  Soon, a managing partnership, Loeb and Krebs, sign on Aerosmith to a contract to do an album for Columbia.  Even though one of their most famous songs, "Dream On" is on the first album, sales do not go well, for that album or the next.  They are about to be dropped.  Their third album, "Toys in the Attic" would make them stars. 

One of the people who would help out the band, Elyssa, a sharp-tongued girl with expensive tastes, would catch Perry's eye.  She had been friends with Steven since childhood, but for years would only remain friends with Perry.  Eventually she would come around, and while, by this point, Joe was beginning to have his doubts about the relationship, his father was dying of cancer and he wanted his father to see him get married and he could not let go of his old feelings for her.  This marriage would be a rather large mistake. 

At this time, Aerosmith is riding high with the success of "Rocks" and is constantly touring.  Unfortunately, with the album "A Night in the Ruts", Perry has had it with Steven's inability to write song lyrics to the music tracks that the band has already put down.  The band is going through a very emotional time with tempers riding high.  Steven always severely criticizes Joey's playing and always feels the need to make every possible thing on the album absolutely perfect.  Joe wants to capture their live sound, the "balls to the wall" rock and roll that has made them great and Steven has other ideas. 

Perry, long suspicious of Loeb and Krebs and the deal they have with them, tries to bring in a lawyer for one of their contract negotiations, but the lawyer does not know entertainment law and is easily bamboozled.  When Perry finds out the band is not only broke, but he is in an enormous amount of debt, owes back taxes, and his house is about to be foreclosed on, he has had it with Aerosmith and leaves the band to start up a solo project called  The Joe Perry Project in order to try to pay his bills.  His wife, whom he has only stayed with because they now have a son together, is driving limos to the grocery store because she does not have a license.  When Joe leaves she will sell his guitars and buy a BMW.  She continues to buy things and since they are still married, he has to pay for it.  It will take three years for the divorce to be finalized and in the process, she will try to keep Joe from seeing his son.

Perry hires a new guy on the scene, Tom Collins to help fix his finances and get his life back together.  When Perry meets Billie, who would become the great love of his life and also help get his life on the right track, he was still married.  They took it slow, becoming friends first and then getting married.  By this time, Perry was not really taking drugs anymore, since he could not afford them, but he was still drinking.  Billie gave him an ultimatum: quit drinking or leave.  She had a son of her own to raise.  Perry became sober.  Billie encourages Joe to go back to Aerosmith.  Soon, he begins talks with the guys of Aerosmith and they agree to try to make a comeback.  Collins comes on as their manager and forces them to all go into rehab and go to twelve step meetings to stay clean.

Collins, however would become a problem.  He would find ways to control the band and keep it in constant disarray between the members so that he could be the one to save the band again.  These were rough years for Aerosmith, even though their careers were seeing a resurgence with such albums as Permanent Vacation, Pump, and Get a Grip.  Steven, always having problems with writing songs, would invite other writers to help him and eventually the albums would get done, even though it would take years to do so.  Things would only get worse during the 90s and from the 2000s to today.  Joe would not only have problems with Steven, but also his wife, as his sobriety is threatened when he goes on pain medication for his completely messed up knee.  Steven would go through the same thing with his injuries and try to get Joe to fall off the wagon with him.

Joe and Steven would consider themselves as close as brothers and as brothers are want to do, they can have extreme problems.  They both love nature and often take vacations together, and when its just the two of them, everything is great.  However, Joe is an introvert and Steven is beyond being an extrovert into being an incredible drama queen.  They are two sides of the same coin. 

This book is an absolutely fascinating look behind the curtain of one of greatest rock bands and its founding member, Joe Perry, a complicated man who overcame difficulties in this life, such as addiction, but who never got into the groupie scene and never cheated on any woman he dated or married, and is a deeply devoted family man who helped raise four sons in a difficult world with the woman he loved.  But more importantly, this is a book about a man whose love of music knows no bounds and his obsession with it, whether playing in front of thirty people or thirty thousand, has kept him going all his life.

Link to Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Rocks-My-Life-out-Aerosmith/dp/1476714541/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1468329071&sr=1-1&keywords=rocks+my+life+in+and+out+of+aerosmith

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