Joe Perry has a new project. On Tuesday, he releases his memoir, “Rocks: My Life In and Out of Aerosmith.”
Penned by the guitarist-songwriter with the assistance of veteran music biographer David Ritz (Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye), and featuring a foreword by friend Johnny Depp, “Rocks” traces Perry’s life from his childhood growing up in Hopedale through the struggles and triumphs of his adventures in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame hard-rock band responsible for such indelible hits as “Walk This Way,” “Dream On,” and “Sweet Emotion.”
From prep school to rehab, from onstage to backstage, from marriages to divorce and remarriage to the love of his life, from quiet walks in the woods with frontman Steven Tyler to the pair’s fractious blow-ups, Perry is candid in detailing his sojourn in one of the most famously debauched-then-reborn — and debauched again, and reborn again — bands in history.
“It was time to lay all this stuff out,” says Perry, who read upward of 40 other biographies from musicians to politicians to get a sense of what was out there. “I was overwhelmed by the sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll story being retold and retold with not a lot of depth behind it. Not that I wanted to write that kind of book anyway, but it just reinforced my feelings about the story I wanted to tell.”
Now that Aerosmith has wound up its latest summer tour, he is ready to keep telling his story. He’s back in the saddle this week to promote “Rocks” on a book tour that includes several readings and appearances around greater Boston, including a conversation with WZLX-FM DJ Carter Alan on Thursday at the Coolidge Corner Theatre.
Meanwhile, on the musical front, Perry says that Aerosmith is entertaining new record deals and figuring out what to do next. He has also recorded some new solo material, although he’s unsure when it will surface.
We recently chatted with Perry about writing, rocking, and his endlessly complicated dance with fellow “Toxic Twin” Tyler.
Q. Having talked with you a bit over the years, in reading “Rocks,” it felt like writing the book gave you a sense of freedom, a way to give yourself a voice that you don’t normally use publicly. Did you feel that way?
A. I just felt like I had to let all the walls down, and then make decisions after it was put out there. I didn’t want to edit it in my head and keep some kind of false pride, or project a certain image going into it. I wanted to lay it all out there and then edit it; otherwise, I felt like I would be doing the book a disservice. I felt like I had to be as vulnerable as I could be, and then figure out what was important.
Q. Was that scary? You get into some real nitty-gritty stuff about your first marriage, intra-band squabbles, drug abuse. . .
A. Yeah, it was, because I left a lot of that stuff in there. Stuff that I would never say 20 years ago and certainly not in the ’70s. To admit weakness is not part of my paradigm. (Laughs) Everybody, especially men, wants to think of themselves as invulnerable, strong, and always making the right decisions. And I had to put the whole ball of the wax in there if the book was going to be worth anything.
Q. Did you send the book to the other guys in the band?
A. I really didn’t want them to see it until it was completely done. But certainly I think they should get it before everybody else. I just got the finished copy three days ago, literally.
Q. Did you read Steven and Joey Kramer’s books?
A. Oh yeah, absolutely.
Q. After the release of those, do you imagine any of the other band members will be surprised by anything in “Rocks”?
A. I don’t know. I’m sure that Steven’s been from here to there on what could be in there, because I keep telling him, “I’m just telling the truth.” And we kind of joke about it. There’ll be times where we’ll be doing an interview and we’re on the verge of an argument, and I’ll say, “Hey, remember, I’m writing my book.” Then as the summer would go on, I’d say, “Hey, I’m going through the pictures now, so watch what you say.” It’s kind of funny: We’ve had a laugh, but underneath there’s a little bit of tension there, and I can tell if anybody is going to be worried, it’s going to be him. Certainly our relationship has been the most talked about and very often misinterpreted.
Q. There is one anecdote in the book where you are headed back to rehab, and Steven insists on accompanying you and taking a private plane. When you arrive, it turns out that he was there for other reasons, and he sent you the bill for the plane ride. That incident seems emblematic of how hard things can sometimes be between you.
A. I put in the things that I thought would be very . . . let’s just say telling about his personality. Any more, and it would’ve been like “I will get this guy back!” And I didn’t want the book to be perceived as that in any way, because to this day we benefit from our relationship, we both do and the band does. From a business point of view, I didn’t want to put my book out too close to his. This was separate from my own gut feeling about when I wanted to start writing it, but also, I didn’t want it to be perceived [as an answer to Steven’s book]. Some of the stuff he said in there about me was so off base, it was like, “How can this guy even look me in the face?” But he does that all the time. I’m just not built that way. I could not work with somebody one day in the studio and say, “Wow, this was great, let’s do this again soon,” all the while knowing he’s going to fly off to England the next day to try out for Led Zeppelin, you know what I mean?
Q. You seem to try to balance graciousness and grievances, explaining how much you love him and how crucial he is to the band, but also why he drives you crazy. And he did the same in his book, compliments followed by rancor. Do you feel, even during the rough patches, that ultimately you have each other’s best interests at heart?
A. As far as the band goes, there are times that I feel that way. But I have to say, it’s just gotten overwhelming. I hope I got it across right in the book. It’s funny, in some ways people can change over the course of their lives, and in other ways they are exactly the same people they were when they come of age, only more exaggerated.
Q. Only richer and louder?
A. (Laughs.) Hey, you said it, not me. That was one of the things I wanted to explore in the book.
Q. Rock ’n’ roll has a lot of famous singer-guitarist collaborators. Since Steven has the wild-man image and is given to improvisational flights, and you have precise technical gifts, I think it might surprise some people when you describe how he’s the guy who wants to do a gazillion takes to get it perfect, and you push for spontaneity.
A. That’s the dynamic that you just can’t bottle. We can get pretty steamed up about things in the studio, and then we can walk out the door and ride together side by side on our motorcycles. But still he never fails to amaze me. . . . Those are the kind of things that people who aren’t necessarily Aerosmith fans will pick up the book and be able to get something out of — on how to deal with that [dynamic], because I’ve seen so many families that don’t talk to each other. They have the option of not talking to each other. When you’re in a band and you want the band to keep going, you don’t have that option, so you’ve got to figure out another way. I still, to this day, can’t figure him out.
Q. Another passage that struck me was when you talked about having one of your guitars stolen. While working out what the replacement guitar could do, you stumbled across the riff for “Walk This Way.” You probably wouldn’t have one of your biggest hits if that hadn’t happened.
A. That’s why when people say, “What would be the thing you’d change?” — or the question that goes parallel to that, “What kind of advice would you give to somebody?” — you can’t really change anything, because you never know what lies in store. Because if you changed one thing, that meant you’d be thinking a different way, and maybe that wouldn’t have served other decisions. You’ve got to look back at it and say, I had to make those mistakes to get to here.
Q. Plus, I’m betting you made more money from “Walk This Way” than whoever stole the guitar got from fencing it.
A. That’s funny. It’s true!