“I hope it’s entertaining at the least,” says legendary Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry of his memoir Rocks: My Life in and out of Aerosmith. [Amazon/Kindle or iTunes Books]
“Entertaining” is an understatement though. The book is downright riveting. In many ways, it reflects his legendary six-string style, bouncing back and forth between unbelievable and exhilarating and striking and soulful. Perry literally brings readers along on the roller coaster that has been his journey, and it makes for a thrilling read.
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, Joe Perry talks Rocks and so much more.
In some ways, the book mirrors your playing. It can be very understated and subtle. At the same time, it can get big and action-packed…
That’s an interesting analogy. I’ve never heard that! I guess it would make sense considering it’s the same personality behind each effort. That’s pretty cool. Thanks!
How similar are writing a book and making an album? Is there any crossover?
There’s quite a bit actually. You set out to do an album, and you know it’s going to be the sum of a combination of parts. Whether they’re songs or bits of songs, you’re going to look at it piece by piece. You don’t write an album from the perspective of the whole unless you’re doing an opera, but we’re talking about doing a record. You may write 20 songs, pick the best ones, and then fine tune them. In a book, you get a chronology of what your life is, and then you start filling in the blanks. You pick out the best story to exemplify each part of your life, and you work on it just like you would a song. You go through, edit, and fix it. Then, you put it together. Obviously, the chronology is self-explanatory. Finally, you get this finished work about two weeks before it’s going to come out with the cover and everything after you’ve been doing it in pieces. The one thing that really is the same happens when you finally get the album. It’s all together with the package, the cover, all of the content, and the actual music. It’s the same with the book. You’ve worked on it in pieces for years, literally, and you finally get the complete thing. You almost have to read it like you just picked it up in a bookstore to get a real idea of what it’s like and see how it’s going to strike you because you’ve been working on it in pieces for so long. There are a lot of parallels between them.
In terms of writing, when do you feel like you hit your stride?
I basically started off on the road. My co-writer David Ritz came out on tour with me for a month. That was the time when I think he realized how complicated the book was going to be. When we first started it, we had a good idea of what it was going to be, but we didn’t realize how deep it was going to go or how many different stories there were. Most autobiographies have one or two storylines. This one has four. He spent that time on the bus with me, talked to me about music, and got an idea of how I think and speak, literally. That was part of his technique. That was when it started to fall into place. Then, we started to get a real sense of the big picture. When we got up to this house where we stayed for the bulk of the writing, we got into a real routine where it was every day. He’d come up, and we’d go over what he had written the day before. My wife and I would go through it and edit it. The next day, we’d go over that, and he’d give us a new package of what he’d done. That went on for a couple of months. I was correcting and making sure all of the bits and pieces were right. Because my writing is so bad, my wife is the only person who can read it that I know of. She was able to put down into the computer and organize it. It worked out really well as far as his assembling it. I wrote it in my own way. Billie made it so he could read it. Then, David fit it in with the rest of the story. He was the one who made it a piece of literature as opposed to a journal.
Was there a particularly gratifying anecdote to recount in the book?
That’s a tough one, but I know there were a few that really resonated with me. That time when you’re 14-, 15-,16-, and 17-years-old, you’re trying to figure out which end is up. You’re basically a hormone in a sneaker. That part of your life is really an exciting time. You don’t really realize that it’s going to be the best time of your life. The best part of it was setting a couple of things straight in the book that had been out there and made too much of. A lot of things had been misrepresented and hinted at. It depends on which era. It was really amazing to play the Super Bowl the first time. They were having technical problems. It’s crazy to think there were millions of dollars riding on this halftime show. That was a pretty amazing thing to see. Getting what that felt like across was a high point of the book for me as far as the band’s career.
Did you feel like you were reliving a lot of these moments while writing?
I think that’s what a lot of the real work is writing a book like this. In my case it was really good to work with someone who’s as talented of a writer as David Ritz is. He was able to tell story in a way that puts you in that place. When you’re telling a story like that, it’s not that he puts it down verbatim. As he’s writing it down, he’s listening to the transcription, and he has a way of making it flow in a literary sense. It’s still got that intimacy as if he’s talking to you. It’s not like reading a text book. If we’re talking on the phone, it doesn’t have the same impact as if we were sitting on the couch. A lot of it has to do with David’s writing style. He’s very talented.
Do you tend to read a lot of biographies?
I’m a very voracious reader, and I tend to lead towards historical novels and science fiction. When I started to do this project, I read quite a few autobiographies to decide who to get to write with me and also see how other people did it. I read 70 percent music autobiographies, and the others were politicians or sports figures. I probably read 20 or 30 books. I read some good ones and some bad ones. That helped a lot with how I felt about how I was going to approach this one.
Have you been writing more music?
I have to say songwriting has been as much of a hobby as anything else. Obviously, it’s one of the ways I make money to live. It’s also what I do to relax and get things off my chest. There are a bunch of reasons I’m always writing. Doing the book, I could see why I liked certain records better than others. More importantly, I had to put my studio time on the shelf for a while because it took so much time to do the book. We went on the road twice during the course of the book so I had to put it aside for a while as well. I’d probably have a lot more songs written if I wasn’t writing the book. I’m glad to be pretty much done with it. I’ve got time to work on my solo stuff, which I’ve been doing.
By Rick Florino for ARTISTdirect.com