“I gotta think he’s at least skimmed through it,” Joe Perry says of the band’s frontman
Joe Perry is ready to talk. The laid-back Aerosmith guitarist forged a career writing iconic riffs — think: “Walk This Way,” “Love in an Elevator” — that fueled worldwide sales of over 150 million records and spawned 21 U.S. Top 40 hits and four Grammy Awards. Aerosmith also earned a spot in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.
For most of Perry’s career, he has been content to share the spotlight but let the music do the talking for him. Now, with his memoir, ROCKS: My Life in and Out of Aerosmith (Simon & Schuster), he is taking center stage. Co-written with David Ritz, ROCKS entered the New York Times Best-Seller list at No. 8 and remained in the Top Ten at No. 10 in its second week. Perry also has recorded an audiobook and has been promoting the book on chat shows and interviews.
Perry spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about ROCKS and opened up about the difficulties of confronting his past. He also talked about Aerosmith’s plans for next year, Steven Tyler’s reaction to his book, his love of spicy food and why his story would make a great movie.
Why did you decide to write the book after all this time?
At this point, a bunch of things were becoming signposts. The band was hitting its 40th anniversary; we were finishing an album for Sony; and there were a couple of small things that happened to the band but 40 years was the main thing. There were things going on in my life: My youngest son graduated from [Boston University] this year and all the kids have left the nest, so it felt like a good time. We’re also seeing the end of an era as far as the music business goes. So I just felt like it was a good time to settle down and do it.
You’re now the third member of the band to pen a memoir.
I just felt ready and it was time. There’ll always be…there’ll be a paperback that I’m going to put additions on, so it’s not like the end. I used to think that doing an autobiography was what you did when you retired and it doesn’t feel like that’s gonna happen. I don’t know when it’ll stop or when Aerosmith is gonna do their last gig, but I do know that there is a feeling in the band that we’re gonna keep on going until we can’t deliver it anymore. That’s it.
What was the hardest thing to write about?
There’s the obvious stuff, the ex-wives and the deaths of my parents…but my responsibility in the band breaking up and my responsibility for some of the stuff that made it hard being in the band. I have to take my share of the responsibility. The hardest part being the time we were with [Tim] Collins, our manager. Watching him go from being a visionary and having faith that we could get back together, get clean and have a career and then seeing him turn into this control monster and finally having to get rid of him. I look back and read those pages and wonder how I could have made a decision like that and let him get away with it for so long.
The chapters with Collins are harrowing to read at times. He helped you guys get clean then started using that as a tool to control the band.
The only way I can justify that is: anybody else other than the other four guys really didn’t know what we went through in the ’70s and how successful we were. My wife Billie didn’t know, she didn’t know the band, didn’t know how big the band had been and all that. All she knew about me was from playing in The Joe Perry Project. So she was like, “Well why don’t you play with those guys?” But then after we got going I thought I might upset the apple cart by calling Collins out on his shit and I would decide, “Well, I’ll let it go this time…” and then the next time and the next time, which is something I never would have done in the ’70s. I was thinking in terms of the big picture. I had a lot of responsibilities: a wife, family, kids that have to go to college, and so we put up with this guy’s bullshit for a little bit longer…so it was just a really hard time to write that and relive it.
If there’s a villain in the book, it’s him.
It was a really hard time. We were enjoying incredible success and we were working with great people but in those last four years he basically totally lost it. This was when going to rehab was fashionable and people who had bands with drug problems would call him up left and right. There were politicians calling him. The Kennedys called him. They called him and said, “You know, one of our nephews needs help: what do we do?” So he organized this dinner so we could meet [the late senator] Edward Kennedy — Ted — and some of the family. He got so high on the power but he never dealt with his own shit. The short answer is that he got sicker and we got healthier.
When you started the book, did you contact anyone to let them know you were doing this?
No. Actually I didn’t contact anybody. I just told the guys [in Aerosmith] that I was writing a book and to keep their heads down. I called Tom [Hamilton] up once or twice to ask him about a couple of things in the early, early days, but other than that I didn’t really talk to the other guys about the book. They met my co-author [Ritz] when he came out on the road with us for a month, so they knew I was writing the book and as soon as I had it in a complete form, with the pictures and all that, I gave ’em one.
What has their response been?
Well, the other guys have all weighed in at this point. Joey [Kramer] was the first one who called me up and said, “Thanks for telling the truth. It’s about time some of this stuff got out there. Great job!” Brad[Whitford] basically said the same thing. Tom finally called me back. A month went by — I thought I really must have pissed him off or maybe he didn’t want to read it — and he sent me a text, “I just wanted to tell you that you did a great job. You really got it right, especially about Frank Connelly.”
Those are some very entertaining chapters, with Frank Connelly.
Connelly was our very first manager. That was a really cool time for the band and that guy was a real character. As somebody who missed meeting the guy by like 30 years, David Ritz did an amazing job finding his voice. I get goosebumps when I read that part.
How do you feel about Steven Tyler saying he doesn’t want to read your book?
Steven texted me and said, “I read the first four chapters. It’s really good and I’m having fun reading it and the pictures are great!” So I’m thinking, well, that’s the fun part, the beginning, you know? As time goes on he’s not going to be quite so happy about it. I can’t imagine. Then a close friend — a really close friend — said, “Well, Steven’s really not that happy with the book.” And then I saw him on TMZ leaving the Country Music Awards and they asked him about it, and he said he’s not gonna read the book because he’s “gotta tour with the asshole” and you know, he’s being kinda facetious but my question would be: “If you haven’t read the book why would you think he’s an asshole?” I assume at the very least that he had his people circle every part that has his name attached to it and read it to him. All the bad parts. Who knows?
For all of the hype, he doesn’t really come off that badly. Aside from the self-destruction and the womanizing, you paint a picture of a talented lead singer who is ambitious and driven…who loves scarves and is maybe a neat freak.
[Laughs] I gotta think he’s at least skimmed through it. Next time I see him face to face I’ll be able to talk to him and see, you know?
It’s not like he killed anybody. In fact, that’s an astonishing aspect of your book: in spite of the crazy partying and drugs and drinking, no one dies.
Wow, yeah. Well let’s knock on some wood right there.
Knock on wood! But seriously: the part about the Lynyrd Skynyrd plane? You must have all of Heaven’s angels looking out for you.
I’ll tell ya. That’s something I’ve always felt, that I have a guardian angel. There’s a lot of things that didn’t make it into the book because I felt they might be redundant stories, but I think about them and it feels like some rock-and-roll movie. I can literally remember sitting on the couch with an eviction notice in one hand and a management contract in the other: you can’t invent this stuff, you know? All that stuff in the book happened and it always seemed like someone or some thing would come along and bail us out one way or the other. And it’s not like any of us had a rich uncle or anything like that.
I think there’s a reason we were meant to stay together, to make people happy, you know? Maybe that’s it: to entertain people. I don’t know. I’ve had so many people thank me for either getting them to play guitar or getting sober. If that alone is a reason for karma to keep us here on the planet, then I’ll take it.
What’s the most compelling thing about your autobiography that would interest a movie studio in Hollywood into optioning your book for development?
It’s as close to the truth as I could get. On one level it’s like VH1’s Behind the Music but there’s another level beneath that about how people interact with each other. It doesn’t matter if you’re a rock star or a rock fan or an Aerosmith fan: people go through the same things. When you’re 14 and the hormones and all that or you’re 17 and trying to figure out what the hell you’re going to do with your life…it’s a tough time for everybody. A lot of the problems the band has keeping it together aren’t unique to just being in a band. There’s a common thing there in human nature that we all have to deal with whether it’s relatives we don’t like, but love or business people we gotta work with — that’s all part of it. Some of the things in the book might sound like a cliche but this shit all happened way before MTV, before social media and Tweeting, and cell phones and all that stuff. The fact that we were able to stick out even though the first decade was a miracle.
You said when you were young you wanted to be an oceanographer. How have you maintained this interest over the years and is there something that you’ve learned that you can share?
I love scuba diving and being near the ocean. One of the first things we did after I met my wife was we went and got certified [to scuba dive]. We support the Sea Shepherds whenever we can. About two years ago, we joined some of the local divers in Florida to clean up the reefs, pulling up old anchor lines and trash, soda cans. People don’t have any respect for the ocean and they throw crap in all the time. Anyway, I do things like that and try to keep in touch with what’s going on out there.
Next year is the 30th anniversary of Done With Mirrors and you don’t have much to say about the album even though that marked the beginning of Aerosmith’s comeback.
Yeah, you know it just didn’t feel to me like we were at the top of our game. You know what I mean? As good as we could be, considering other things we had done. We were still struggling with controlled substances and I think that played a part in that and not really focusing on the songs. We were also still figuring out how to deal with each other after being apart for five years. And Ted Templeman, our producer, just wasn’t the right producer for that time to help steer us, because I don’t think some of the songs are as good as they could have been.
When Aerosmith tours next year would you consider adding any songs from Done With Mirrors into the set?
You know, I know we’re gonna spend some time and pull out some songs that we haven’t played — never before or that we haven’t played in a long time — because we’ve been playing pretty much the same show and kinda remixing the setlist so to speak, but kinda the same show for a while and we really want to change it up a little bit. So I don’t know if they’re gonna come from that record, but we are gonna pull a few out of the hat that we haven’t played in a long while.
You’ve indicated that Aerosmith will record another album in the future. Going by what you’ve learned and stated in your autobiography, what are the pitfalls you need to avoid and what do you need to do to make the next record a great Aerosmith record?
Yeah. Well, I think a lot of it will have to do with how the music business has been in such turmoil since Napster. It always seems like it’s going through changes, you know what I mean? Technically different people are in the driver’s seat, it’s just changed so much. I think part of it is gonna be whether albums are really relevant anymore. Do we put out singles? Every couple of weeks or something? I don’t know. That’s going to play into it. And also, when we tour next, I’m not really sure….
But Aerosmith is touring next year, yes?
What’s on deck is touring sometime in 2015, maybe a short kinda tour, and then take some more time off and then do a world tour. That’s just stuff that’s talked over. I think everybody’s been…you know we’ve been going at it for four years without any kind of a break, and I just went from the tour right into this book thing. It really hasn’t been that long since we’ve been off the road so we really need some time off. So I think we’ll probably get together in late winter and figure out what we’re gonna do at least for the next year or two. You know? So, now the band’s together and active and actively taking a break. [Laughs]
By Mick Stingley for The Hollywood Reporter