During his nearly 45-year tenure with Aerosmith, Joe Perry has enjoyed gold and platinum records, No. 1 albums, No. 1 singles and Grammy Awards. He’s hit the charts in a different fashion this fall, however.
The guitarist published his autobiography, “Rocks: My Life In and Out of Aerosmith” (Simon & Schuster) in early October and watched it debut at No. 8 on the New York Times best-seller list. He’d been there before, with Aerosmith’s 1997 band biography “Walk This Way,” but that didn’t diminish the satisfaction of succeeding in another artistic world.
“It’s really amazing,” the 64-year-old Perry said, speaking by telephone from his home near Boston. “Being in the music business, obviously making records is the closest thing I have to doing anything like this. There are similarities, but there are different elements to it.
“The thing that I always find amusing is that so much work, time and money gets invested into a record or a book,” he continued, “and then you put it out there and people might look at it and just go, ‘Nah. Next!’ That’s the nature of art, you know?
“So to have people interested and wanting to read it is pretty gratifying, because I’ve really got something to say here.”
Perry, who co-founded Aerosmith in 1970 and also has released five solo albums – the first three of which came out during his five-year absence from the band between 1999 and 2004 – started “Rocks” three years ago, working with author David Ritz.
“It just felt like the right time,” he said, citing an assortment of group anniversaries and the end of the group’s latest recording contract with “Music from Another Dimension!” (2012). “There were just a lot of cornerstones, so to speak, so it just felt like the right time do it.”
He certainly has a story to tell, starting with his childhood as the shy son of an aloof father and a mother who nurtured his creative interests. Aerosmith’s success didn’t end the story, as Perry experienced soaring highs but also crushing lows, including debilitating drug addictions, financial difficulties and toxic relationships within the band and in his private life. At one point in the early 1980s, Perry was reduced to sleeping on his manager’s couch. He cleaned up, though, and returned to help Aerosmith achieve glories even greater than those of its initial heyday in the 1970s.
Perry relates all of that in “Rocks” with clear-eyed, reportorial detail, seldom letting sentiment, or sensationalism, get in the way.
“One thing I didn’t want it to be,” the guitarist explained, “was the usual sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll: Band starts off, you know, playing clubs, works hard, struggles, starves, somehow is lucky enough to make it to a certain level and they continue, surviving through … the ’70s and then completely falling apart and then coming back together and then having this kind of success. We’ve seen all that, the VH1 ‘Behind the Music’ thing, a million times.
“We lived it, and that’s in there,” he continued. “I wanted it to be something a little deeper. You don’t necessarily have to be an Aerosmith fan or a rock-‘n’-roll fan to get something out of reading the book, because it deals with a lot of emotions and stuff a lot of people have to deal with that aren’t necessarily just in rock bands.
“I wanted it to be about the reasons why, and some of the dynamics that are common just to be human, to human nature, and how people deal with each other,” Perry said, “especially when they’re kind of working within the family of choice as opposed to blood relatives, and how we managed to make it work and kind of go our separate ways as grown men, having families and how we wanted to raise our kids and all that, but still have this common bond.”
There won’t be many surprises for his bandmates in “Rocks,” Perry added. They did, after all, collaborate on “Walk This Way,” and both singer Steven Tyler and drummer Joey Kramer previously have published their own memoirs.
“It’s not the kind of book where I’m out to blame anybody for anything,” the guitarist said. “I certainly take my part of the responsibility for the ups and downs, but I’m sure there are going to be people who look at it and go, ‘No, I don’t remember it that way.’”
A significant portion of “Rocks” is devoted to dissecting Perry’s turbulent relationship with Tyler. The two are songwriting and producing partners as well as kindred spirits, but Perry makes no bones about his sense that, through the years, Tyler has hurt him, and by extension the band as a whole, by following his own muse – for instance, in agreeing to spend two years as a judge on “American Idol” – without consulting the others.
It reads like the kind of relationship that should have ended long ago, but Perry says that the ties that bind remain surprisingly tight.
“Way, deep inside I never forget the early days, when we were so naive about what was going to be down the road for us,” Perry said. “That plays a big part in it. I know he’s always going to be part of my life, whether we’re talking on a day-to-day basis or we’re on the road.
“A month might go by and we don’t talk,” the guitarist continued, “but there’s still a connection there. And we know that, no matter what, whatever I do on my solo records or when I’m off jamming, nothing can equal what we do with the two of us, and then the other three guys. It’s really the five of us as a band, and it’s still exciting to walk out onstage with these guys.
“That, I think, is the glue that keeps us coming back.”
The strength of that glue often has been tested, he admitted.
“There’s probably a little masochism there, too,” Perry said with a chuckle. “Some people would walk away from it, but then we wouldn’t be making music now. Sometimes I ask that question myself, like, ‘Why am I still doing it?’ Well, when I walk out onstage in Moscow and everybody out there is singing words to songs we wrote down in the basement or in some studio somewhere, it’s nothing short of a miracle. So we kind of have a lot of respect for that.”
“Rocks” also includes a no-holds-barred discussion of the band’s breakup with Tim Collins, their manager in the 1980s, who helped the band members kick their various substance addictions and become a powerhouse concern again, but who, as Perry sees it, ultimately took too much control, pitting the band members against one another and fueling a damaging level of drama around the group.
“I still have to scratch my head about that,” Perry said. “He’s a brilliant guy, and at the beginning things really worked amazingly. But the dynamic behind that, and how manipulative he was at the end and how we let that happen, was … It got to the point where he had his fingers in just about everything, every part of our lives, and it was just wrong. We were grown men and he was trying to keep us these strung-out drug addicts that he could control, and we finally got fed up with that.”
With the book out, Perry is turning his attention back to music. He has a new solo album in the works, a follow-up to “Have Guitar Will Travel” (2009), to which he plans to devote more time now.
“I’ve definitely put some more ideas down on tape,” he said, “but I really haven’t had a chance to move it past that. I have four or five songs that I may or may not re-record, and then a bunch of ideas that I can’t wait to get into the studio and get to. I’ve been inspired in a way that I haven’t been inspired for other records.”
What’s next for Aerosmith is up in the air. The band is well aware that it’s “over-songed,” Perry said, and that its fans are more interested in “some of the old songs from the ’70s and some of the medium-old songs from the ’80s and ’90s” than in anything fresh, which makes it hard for the band to create new material and expect it to find a lasting place in Aerosmith’s repertoire.
“I know we’re going to want to go in and make new music at some point,” the guitarist said, “but I don’t know if that means waiting until you have 12 songs you think are good enough. Maybe it should be two or three songs and then you release it, and a while later you put out a couple more songs.”
Have we, then, heard the last Aerosmith album? Maybe so, he said.
“People don’t buy records the way they used to,” Perry explained, “so why should we make them the way we used to? I don’t know how many tours we’ve got in us, or how many more times we’re going to play, so do we really need to go out with a new record and put all that time and energy into that, when we can be playing places we’ve never played before and playing one of the 50 songs we already have out there that people would be interested to hear?
“These are questions I can’t answer yet, so we’ll just see what happens.”
By Little Rock