There’s something to be said for the fact that by the time you reach the last page of Joe Perry’s new autobiography, Rocks, you still like the guy. Heck, you respect him, even.
I mean, this is after darn near 400 pages’ worth of the good, the bad and the really, really ugly side of Perry’s 64 years on this planet (more than 40 of them as a founding member of Aerosmith). You’re left realizing that the man has worked hard to be the best he could be at his chosen craft — and he’s struggled to figure out how to handle all that comes with it.
In the process, we learn about Perry’s early years: a shy misfit and a loner, his boyhood heroes were oceanographic pioneer Jacques Cousteau and Chuck Berry, who Perry describes at one point as “the Ernest Hemingway of rock and roll. He was strong, simple and manly, a force of nature who created a musical lexicon all his own.”
Perhaps if Perry’s academic career had been more successful, he might’ve ended up exploring the world’s oceans rather than playing the world’s stages; but after struggling through high school with undiagnosed ADHD, Perry walked out of his senior year in a dispute with his teachers over the length of his hair.
Without the focus of music, it’s hard to say what might’ve become of Perry. But no matter: What did happen makes for an excellent read. If it was fiction, you might shake your head and say, “No way” — but this is Joe Perry’s life.
The wildly-colored thread otherwise known as Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler is woven throughout Perry’s story, of course. Tyler has been part of Perry’s world since their paths first crossed at Lake Sunapee, New Hampshire, in the late Sixties (He was known as Steven Tallarico back then). There are times when Perry’s descriptions of Tyler’s interactions with himself and others are laced with near-hatred and disgust … but there also the moments when you realize that if Shakespeare had ever written a play about rock ‘n’ roll blood brothers, the two male leads would’ve been Joe Perry and Steven Tyler.
For all the horrible blowups, dope-fueled horrorshows, and twisted mind games described in Rocks, the one Perry/Tyler moment that will stick with you the longest is from 1972, the morning after the Stones played Boston Garden. A very young Aerosmith was actually using the Garden locker room as a practice space (part of the story of the legendary Frank Connelly, an early band benefactor). Perry describes the scene, after having watched the Stones perform the night before:
“The next day when we returned to the Garden to rehearse in the locker room, Steven and I first walked out into the arena. All of the Stones’ equipment was gone. We climbed up onstage and lay on our backs for a few minutes, side by side. Looking up into that cavernous arena, we said the same words at practically the same time: ‘One day …’”
Rocks is damn near inspirational, as Perry’s story is one of putting your head down and living out a dream, told without preaching, excuses or hyperbole. There’s yin-yang supreme: focused determination challenged by roadblocks created from Perry’s own actions; mountains of dollars and empty pockets; the love/hate Aerosmith brotherhood as a whole; and Perry’s own struggle between the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle and family.
In the end, Rocks is the story of how Joe Perry has managed to pull off the unique balancing act of being “Joe Fuckin’ Perry” and a human being at the same time.
Rock on, sir.
A former offshore lobsterman, Brian Robbins had to wait a good four decades or so to write about the stuff he wanted to when he was 15. Today he’s a freelance scribe, cartoonist, photographer and musician. His home on the worldwide inner tube is at brian-robbins.com (And there’s that Facebook thing too.)