Joe Perry (Aerosmith)
(Raging Pages) Joe Perry / David Ritz - Rocks: My Life In and Out of Aerosmith
published: 13 /
Lisa Torem in 'Raging Pages' reflects upon Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry's new autobiography, 'Rocks'
“When I grow up, I want to be Joe Perry,” writes Kiss front man Gene Simmons on the back cover of 'Rocks: My Life In and Out of Aerosmith'. Perry is most well-known for being lead guitarist and co-songwriter in Aerosmith and for the Joe Perry Project, where he has had the opportunity to showcase brooding, self-penned, Grammy nominated instrumentals and confessional blues ballads. But in his autobiography, which has been passionately crafted by David Ritz (Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye, Buddy Guy), we find out so much more about this sensitive, multi-talented musician. Like many rock stars of his era, he experimented with drugs and was distracted by excess. But along the way, he matured into a man whose main purpose was to achieve artistic and familial balance. No wonder, Simmons wants to emulate him.
The book is divided into six parts but it begins with a chapter on Joe’s love of “the water and the woods.” “The lure of the woods is its primitive beauty,” states Joe, recalling his childhood infatuation. The tranquil shores of Lake Sunapee, in New Hampshire and the fauna of Hopedale, Massachusetts fed this desire for anonymity. “It’s where I can disappear into wordless, endless wonder,” he reflects. A shy, but adventurous lad, he hoped to explore the ocean vis a vis Jacques Cousteau before being consumed by guitar.
His father was a World War II waist gunner. “I saw my father as a man of quiet courage,” he explains, when discussing the optimism of “postwar America.” His mother encouraged his pursuit of athletics and they raised their kids with the then bible of child rearing written by Dr. Benjamin Spock. His grandparents were of Italian and Portuguese origin. To them, education and working hard were the key to survival.
Perry struggled with academics. He described, frankly, the difficulty he had comprehending core subjects but he always felt welcomed in the woods, whilst hunting with his BB gun and with his beagle at his side. “Wild animals lived in these woods and so did I,” he admitted. There he forgot about the constant pressures of school.
But Perry’s unassuming and introspective personality sometimes belied his strong will and belief in individuality. He may have been perceived as a loner, at times, but in his unique way he was a team player, who stood up for the underdog. He refused to get his hair cut; a decision that greatly influenced his shot at a conventional career, but also taught him early lessons about commitment to a personal cause and the dehumanising dangers of stereotyping, which he experienced multiple times.
Perry is always the serious musician. Even when invited by a band for a weekend of potential partying, he lays down the law. He’s more excited about rehearsing with competent musicians than hooking up with pretty girls or free drugs. Another serious musician, Steven Tyler, would notice immediately Perry’s strength, drive and talent.
But, of course, the honeymoon has to come to an end. Throughout Aerosmith, Tyler and Perry step on each other’s toes and swallow their pride. They come across as complete opposites, yet they ultimately learn to accept and appreciate some of those differences.
There are plenty of enjoyable stories about A & R man John Kalodner and chilling stories about the Svengali-like manager Tim Collins, who saved the band from ruin at one point, but then brought on indisputable anguish for other reasons. These stories are told in extreme detail, which enables us to celebrate victories and suffer through many of the inequities.
Perry’s love for his wife, Billie (Montgomery) Perry is elegantly depicted. She quickly becomes his muse and confidant and later his no-nonsense supporter; especially when the chips are clearly down and the band members become blinded by frustration and overwhelmed by financial faux pas. Despite the divide and conquer mentality that manager attempted to put into place, the band pulled through and is still rewarding audiences with great hits.
The appendix features a section on touring gear etc by John Bionelli. Find out here about “air bags”, amp lines and Joe’s special rigs. Written in layman’s terms, it’s informative and imaginative reading for the professional or beginning musician. With an illuminating, heartfelt foreword by jammer/actor Johnny Depp, who declares, “The wise, silent one finally speaks,” this memoir is one of the best of the year. Speak; Joe does, with clarity, purpose and conviction. He’s a driven musician who doesn’t sweat the small stuff and, after all of these years, can play any song in his catalogue with spontaneity and newness. He could blossom in quick sand if he had to, but the allure of the more congenial elements in nature still bring him peace of mind. We should all be so lucky.