While the rich and famous broker deals to keep their lives private, rock hellraisers Aerosmith decided that if there’s cash to be made from dirt, they might as well dish it themselves. They’ve collaborated with Stephen Davis, author of the most scandalous unauthorised rock biography ever (Hammer Of the Gods), to produce the ultimate authorised rock biography: Walk This Way – The Autobiography of Aerosmith (Virgin, £16.99). But does anyone want an authorised biography? Simon Witter talks to the band and author about the process, pitfalls and issues raised.
AT THE RECENT FRANKFURT book fair, a literary agent was offering worldwide rights to Elton John’s autobiography for sale. The pricetag, a cool £5 million. Whether or not any publisher ends up paying that – they must balance the colourfulness of Elton’s life against the fact that it is already so well-documented – that figure gives some idea of the kind of money that is to be made from the chronicling of famous lives.
Biographies did huge business in 1997, and Walk This Way: The Autobiography Of Aerosmith, written by the band with Stephen Davis (author of Hammer Of The Gods, Fleetwood and several other music books), is the major biography that everyone is talking about as 1998 gets underway. In publishing terms, it’s a lavish slice of the richest pie around.
Being a tale of wild rock folk, the audience expects this book to be knee-deep in good old-fashioned dirt, and it delivers. As befits a band whose motto was “If something’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing”, there are plenty of tales of sex and drugs, of roadies being sacked for leaving their torch in the coke lines on the amps, singers screaming hysterically at promoters who provided the wrong kind of turkey slices on the rider, of guilty abortions, missed gigs and tour managers who snort all the band’s coke on the plane and then blame an air pocket. Maybe most touching of all is the sacrifice made by the road crew who, to prevent giving their girlfriends back home the clap, used to insist on a blowjob-only policy for the last ten days of each tour.
“From a literary point of view,” says Davis of his motivation for writing biographies, “it’s the old story of how life has taken over fiction. With global communications and stuff, it’s really life that has taken over the realm of the imagination that used to be dominated by fiction. One wants to know what actually went on. It’s much more interesting than someone’s attempts to construct a reality. Fuck that! Give me the reality! I think life has outstripped the world of the imagination, at least in this culture. The financial reason is that, as a professional writer, it’s much easier to make a living targeting audiences that you know are there. If you’re writing about somebody that’s sold 50 million records, you know you’re gonna sell a lot of books if you’re not a moron and you work hard. You don’t have to worry about it going into the mainstream, if the fans like it. Whereas, if you’re sitting there writing a novel – boy, what a crapshoot! And if you have children that need school fees… God!”
“Biographies appeal to the British more than to any other nation,” according to Stuart Proffitt, Publisher of the Trade Division of Harper Collins UK and the man who commissioned the Thatcher memoirs. “We write more and buy more than anyone else. I think the British like stories, and biographies are the narrative of a life, with the added frisson of truth – or supposed truth anyway. The British love of biographies ultimately remains a mystery but, in terms of writing, publishing and buying them, the UK is the centre of the world. I think the truly great ones are the ones that are well-written, like Ben Pimlott’s Harold Wilson and Richard Holmes’ Coleridge.”
“Britons buy around 10 million biographies and autobiographies a year,” says Steve Boehme of Book Marketing Ltd.. “That represents 3% of all books sold, or 5% if you take childrens’ books – where biographies don’t feature – out of the equation. That may not sound like a huge percentage, but there are loads of non-fiction genres, almost none of which can match that figure, apart from cookery books, which also make up around 5% of all sales.”
Though bookstores may appear to be flooded with the buggers, Nicholas Clee, Book News Editor at The Bookseller, denies the oft-mooted notion that 1997 was the year of the biography. According to him, every year is. “I’ve been on The Bookseller for 13 years, and biogs and memoirs have always been heavily-published categories. They’re always a big sector of the market.”
But what kind of rock biographies do the British go for? Nobody expected Michael Jackson’s autobiography Moonwalk to sell 120,000 in hardback, but it did (and another 300,000 in paperback). Over 250,000 Britons bought Bob Geldof’s Is That It?, which is a good 70,000 more than were prepared to pay to see Madonna and pals naked in Sex. While diarists like Kenneth Williams and Alan Bennett are reaping rich rewards from a tradition that began with Pepys, new tomes on current figures Courtney Love and Chris Evans are staying resolutely on shop shelves. (Let’s face it, would you go home and, having switched off the radio and TV, still want to read about Chris Evans?) And what would a foreign observer make of the fact that Paul McCartney’s long-awaited Many Years From Now is being outsold by Dickie Bird’s daringly-titled My Autobiography?
Critics may not agree on whether 1997 was a rich or thin year for the chronicler’s art, in terms of quality, but the fact remains that 220 different biographies featured in the sales breakdown for the last quarter of the year. Whether your tastes are Dickie Bird or Princess Diana, Brian Eno or Bob Monkhouse, someone somewhere will have penned their tale for you.
When Davis was first asked to write a book about Aerosmith, he didn’t even want to do it. But his two-book deal with Simon & Schuster was dependent on the promise that one of them would be a no-holds-barred rock bio. Now, half a decade and many changes later, he is enormously proud of the book he and the band have co-written, but back then it was just the cash cow that would underwrite his other literary escapades. Strangely, for all its five-star filth, one of the most controversial aspects of this book was the band’s involvement.
“I started working on it as an unauthorised book,” Davis explains. “But we all live in the countryside around Boston, which is a very small town – it sort of corresponds to Bristol – and everybody knows what’s going on. Soon I was contacted by their management, who said why don’t we join forces and try and do it as an authorised book? After years of going back and forth we decided to do that, and I ended up going around the world with them a couple of times. I moved in for three years, and all those interviews were done pretty much on the road. So it started out as an unauthorized book, and then they got wind of it and said, ‘Look, we all read Hammer Of The Gods too. Don’t do this to us! We can do it.’”
In rock bio circles, the word “authorised” usually means “sanitised”, and the difference between whether anyone wants to buy your book or not. But Davis was not remotely worried that the band’s approval would render his work tame, nor that they would insist on everything negative being taken out.
“They had that right, of course. This is their book, it’s by Aerosmith with Stephen Davis. The astonishing thing to me was that, in the last two weeks before the final deadline – that time when, in my experience, people are killing themselves because of calls they’re getting from lawyers ordering them to take stuff out – these guys and their families were putting stuff in.”
“I have to explain something. I got them at the height of what they call ‘the programme’, which is Alcoholics Anonymous, so they had a manager at the time who was flogging honesty on them – and spilling it all and letting it go. And I realised very quickly, early in the process, that I couldn’t touch, with an unauthorised book, what these guys were actually willing to release in an authorised one. It was really an astonishing thing to come across. There was very, very little taken out by the band. The lawyers took some stuff out for fear of libel, and stuff that they felt couldn’t be proven or would hurt people. The six of us knew from the beginning that we were going to do a book like no one’s ever done before. Whatever you can say about this book, I don’t think any rock band has done anything like this before. This is terra nova.”
But if Davis was excited about the potential of this collaboration, Simon & Schuster took a very different view, immediately refusing to publish it.
“I said ‘Hey listen! I’ve got the band. Let’s do it with the band.’ And they said no, no! We don’t want that. We want an unauthorised Stephen Davis-style Hammer Of The Gods type book. I said that idea’s over. Let’s do this. And they said, well, no thanks. They were very sweet about it, and let me sell the book somewhere else, and I haven’t paid them back yet. My two-book deal is still in force with them.”
At the time, Aerosmith were bigger than ever, on the back of their 11 million-selling Pump album. But despite this, and the “large” advance they had paid him, it seemed S&S were content to forego publishing this potentially classic rock bio just because of the A-word.
“Simon & Schuster was not interested in the Aerosmith story as an authorised book. In fairness to them, when I went back with the band I asked them to triple my advance, because the musicians want to get paid – ‘we’re forming this company, we’re gonna do this book and go out and sell it’. They said no thanks.”
Chuck Adams, Senior Editor & Vice President at Simon & Schuster, was the man who first commissioned and then passed on Walk This Way. He confirms every detail of Davis’ account of the deal’s progress, but says the increase in advance demanded following the band’s involvement was nearer tenfold than threefold. “I don’t know what they finally got paid, but I believe it was over a million dollars. I had agreed to pay just over a tenth of that. Stephen is a really good rock writer, but why would I want to pay ten times as much for an authorised book when I’m going to get as much juice in the unauthorised version, if not more? I don’t have a problem with the idea of an authorised rock bio, though if he were doing a book on Eric Clapton, full of great stories that could be proved, and I heard that Clapton wanted them removed, I’d be pissed off. But that wasn’t the case with Aerosmith. I spoke to their managers – who they’ve since fired – about what stories they were going to include, and it didn’t sound like the band were going to censor anything. I would have been happy to do this book with Stephen and with the band, but not for that money – though I think I offered to double the advance. So the authorised/unauthorised thing wasn’t the problem, it was the money.”
Having decided to go authorised, Davis made no attempt to hide the fact, crediting the band as co-authors. “They gave me a co-author credit!” he insists. “This is very much their book. This is different to Hammer Of The Gods because it doesn’t have an authorial voice. I’m really just in there as an editor, filling in the gaps here and there. It’s really them and their people telling this saga, and I think it’s important that it’s their book. They’re the ones going around the world promoting it and signing all the copies. They signed around 20,000 copies in the US this autumn, and they’re going on television and saying, ‘Yes, this is our story’. For me it’s just another episode in this chronicle I’m trying to do, but it’s my favourite one because it’s closest to the bone. If they didn’t like it and didn’t agree that it was what happened, I probably wouldn’t have gone back and done the unauthorised version.”
Walk This Way opens with a long, intriguing preface about how the band finally kicked drugs, hooking the reader before launching into extraordinarily detailed recollections of their childhoods that could, to the casual reader, seem a bit slow.
“I wanted to do the childhoods. I wanted to do a sort of Mark Twain, very detailed… It’s an American story. It’s also important for me to show people what it was like to be a rock band in the ’60s and ’70s, and come from nowhere. That’s why the book builds slowly. It starts from oblivion. It took them five years to have a hit record, and I wanted to tell that full story.”
Guitarist Joe Perry considers the idea that they were collaborating with Davis to get control over the more scurrilous elements of the book ludicrous. “You can read from the book that we didn’t pull any punches. If that were true, the book would have been a lot more sanitised. I’ve read about 14 rock bios, everything from John Lennon, Elvis Presley, Fleetwood Mac, Marianne Faithful, Hammer Of The Gods, No One Here Gets Out Alive to…. I’ve read a lot of them, and a lot that were self-penned became a little bit…. like the Jagger book, the Keith Richards book. A lot of them glossed over a few of the rough edges. I was determined we weren’t gonna do that.”
But, as frontman Steven Tyler attests, Aerosmith have a long history of getting involved, mostly with cash-in compilations organised by ex-managers and arriviste record company execs. “You’ve constantly got people trying to attach themselves to you, so what do you do? Let them do it, and let the world have another interpretation of you through them? Or do you get involved yourself? You get involved yourself. It takes more time, but I’d rather write an article about me with you than have you write it, because then it will be your take, and you don’t even know me. So that’s what we did, we tried to get involved in it. Last time we were in London to do a TV show, we wandered the streets with Stephen Davis, smoking cigars and talking on tape.”
It didn’t hurt either that theirs was a story that the band felt needed telling. “From the earliest days of the band,” says bassist Tom Hamilton, “things would happen, and I’d think: That would be great in a book. It’s a story that had to be told, not just because of all the wild episodes, but because it’s an inspirational story about five guys who got together and fought really hard to make it, and to stick together and keep it happening. It’s a great read, but I hope it’s more than just a rock book.”
“When you’re in it, like we are,” says Tyler, “you don’t spend much time pondering what a rock star you are. You don’t think of all the albums you’ve made or sold, or what you did last night and where that fits into the big scheme of things. But every once in a while I get this feeling that I’m living this movie, and it’s been going on for many years now. So what more perfect thing to do than to write a book about it all, before somebody else does?”
Not everyone, however, shares this urge to tell all. On recently meeting AC/DC’s velvet short-trousered guitar god Angus Young, I wondered why he had never collaborated with a biographer. AC/DC may be tediously even-keeled pros now, but their trek from the rough Aussie outback to the world’s stages must be one of the great untold rock tales. Singer Bon Scott, who fashioned a song out of being date-raped by a 19-stone Tasmanian woman, prepared for their first studio session by drinking half a bottle of bourbon, taking some speed, smoking a joint and snorting a pile of cocaine. He then turned, beaming, to the band and announced, “I’m ready”. Within ten years he was dead, having choked on his vomit after a long night out in London. “You’d need several volumes of Brittanica,” says Angus, “just to chronicle what Bon got up to in one day. As for my story, well, if it’s going to be told, give me the money and I’ll write it.”
Aerosmith have efficiently overcome Young’s objection to biographies by making sure that they get far more out of Walk This Way than the noble thrill of sharing the inspirational tale of their life struggle. “Oh, they made a lot of money,” Davis confirms. “It had to be split five ways, but they didn’t do this for free out of the goodness of their hearts. It was a business deal, and quite a good one, actually. It wouldn’t be fair for me to go into exactly how much money they made, or what split of the book it was. That’s their financial trip. But they made a lot of money and will continue do so. The natural form of this book is as a $7 paperback, as opposed to the $25 hardback, so when it hits those airport bookracks it’ll really start to move. And I have a feeling there’ll be some sort of movie deal.”
The prospect of working on an authorised rock biog throws up many fascinating control issues, but the written agreement the two parties had about their respective rights and commitments was, at best, minimal. “When it got into the area of organised crime,” says Davis, “they said be very careful. You know? And that’s all I can say on that subject. Other than that, I guaranteed them a book that would hit the New York Times bestseller list, and they guaranteed me unlimited access to their archives, basements, rehearsal studios and their wives, and ex-wives and ex-girlfriends.”
Guaranteeing access to potentially bitter and unco-operative ex’s might seem a bit rash on the band’s part, but Davis says the American divorce system sorts all that out. “With a celebrity divorce, you’re never really divorced. These guys are paying through the nose for past relationships, things that happened 30 years ago. There are still people coming out of the woodwork. So, in a publishing agreement like this, it’s not ironclad. If someone is not going to talk, then they’re not. But when you do a book like this, it’s people’s run for the rainbow, and in the end people are afraid of getting left out. They start calling you, and saying ‘Hey, you didn’t interview me yet. What’s going on?’”
And his rash-sounding guarantee of a place on the bestseller list was even less risky. “I said three of my last five books have been huge bestsellers in rock bio land and, if you and I get together, we can easily do it. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to see that if a band that has sold 70 million records puts out a book… It only takes 45,000 people to buy it, and libraries to stock it, for a book to get on the bestseller list in this country. So it would have to be a pretty bad book. The odds are great that your book is gonna make the list. So I felt I could guarantee this to them.”
Face-to face with Tyler, it’s easy to see the dynamo that the young Steven must have been – as testified to by a legion of cowering ex-colleagues. He still gets wildly animated and passionately indignant about past sleights. It’s the kind of energy you probably need to drive a rock monster all the way. One of drummer Joey Kramer’s memories of the process of dredging their past for the book confirms this. “Steven is like the gangster that never forgets, and then will come up to you one night, 20 years later, and put a bullet through your head. He’d remember tiny little things from years ago, and say ‘You guys did this and that’. And we’d be really incensed at first, and then think about it and realise, shit, he’s right!.”
The saying “If you can remember the 60s, you weren’t really there” should, by rights, apply to the ’70s for Aerosmith. And yet – while a lot of people can’t even remember their last holiday without keeping a diary – Walk This Way is packed with the most staggeringly intricate details of their entire lives. It seems barely credible that, after all those drugs, they were able to remember all this.
“There were different stories,” explains Davis. “That’s why I ended up doing it in the form of different narratives. I wanted to let the contradictions stand, and let the readers read between the lines and figure out who was telling the truth. The thing about memory is… in the early days they were smoking pot and drinking, and you can remember stuff like that. It was when the heroin hit, much, much later on, that’s the stuff they don’t remember as well. But it’s more recent, so there are other people that do remember.”
“The hardest thing for me was getting the sequence of it right,” says Joe Perry. “By everybody working together, we got a timeline. Stephen Davis came in, and he did his homework, got old itineraries and talked to some fans that are like Aerosmith freaks, and have tons of obsessive stuff. We just got a computer print-out from somebody from the fan club that had a song list from almost every gig we’ve ever done. We’re reading through this going, Wow! Holy shit, that’s right! All this information from the very first gig we ever played. So this stuff started coming out, and it spurs your memory. And a lot of the stories are things that we tell to each other, in the back of a plane flying from town to town. You know, remember when we…? A lot of that is our verbal history, that we’ve related on different occasions.”
The many personal photographs alone pay testimony to the depth of access Stephen Davis had, but he claims that the research process was not that different to his other books. “The difference was in the degree. The difference was in the private jets, the best hotels in the world, the first class sections of planes. And the level of restaurants was superb. These guys really travel in style! The last book I did was with The Band, Bob Dylan’s old group, who are a bunch of retired guys in Woodstock. So I went from this very quiet, rural American trip to…. DUDE! DUDE! Other than that, the research was very much like with Led Zeppelin or Fleetwood Mac.”
“Stephen Davis really worked hard,” Tyler insists. “I can’t tell you how many times I thought I don’t want to do this. This sucks! I don’t want to meet with him. I don’t want to talk. I don’t want to do another interview. I had to give whole days up, going through the attic and a basement full of old clothes and notes in pockets in old wallets, pictures of my ex-wife and my children and just talk about a lot of stuff. It was very interesting.”
One rumour going around has rock photographer Ross Halfin being asked to remind the band of what they’d been up to, and saying it was too scandalous to bring up again. Can any story be too scandalous for a rock biog?
“There were one or two,” admits Davis. “The band didn’t consider them shameful, they thought they were good stories, but Steven did, as they were at his expense. His life is a bit more outré. We’re talking wild sexual escapades here, but I’m afraid the exact details fall under the confidentiality clause I signed.”
“I don’t classify the real rock debauchery as bad behaviour,” says Tom Hamilton. “Bad, shameful behaviour to me is missing appointments and turning up for shows in no fit state to play. And there was plenty of that.”
“The form the book takes is that everybody has their own take on things,” continues Joe Perry, “and there were a couple of tales in there that were so absurd, that just didn’t happen. No matter what people said, we left it in if it contributed to the story or gave another slant. We really didn’t change anybody’s quotes, but there were some stories we took out because they simply weren’t true. Even though it was somebody else’s slant on it, I was there and I know what happened. It was better off just not being in there. It would’ve hurt me and my family, and I just wasn’t going to put up with that.”
“I thought I’d seen it all,” says Davis. “I’ve done books about Michael Jackson and with Bob Marley and been around the block a few times. But what was really scandalous to me was that Aerosmith are going out now sober and doing it. I’ve never seen anyone do that, and be as good as they are. They’re a really great hard rock band, and I think it’s scandalous that they’re sober. The other stuff didn’t surprise me.”
Surely, when writing a rock autobiography, there’s great pressure to skip over all the reports of good behaviour and exaggerate the wild stuff for effect?
“No, I think you need that stuff,” says Davis. “If you just give people a litany of the wild parties, it’s an inaccurate depiction of a life in which the majority of time is nothing wild at all, in fact it’s kinda boring. For every wild party there are nights when everyone goes back to their hotel rooms and reads and talks to their wives for three hours on the phone.”
“Yeah, I was looking for the mud sharks,” jokes Tyler. “And I couldn’t find any. To be honest with you, I didn’t do half the fucking I wanted to do because I was so stoned. I was in the bathroom filling my nose with this guy, and that guy and this one. Perhaps some of the good stories I don’t remember, because I was so blasted. One of the reasons that I wanted to get sober was because I remembered too many lost Aerosmith weekends, where I was with Roger Taylor, the drummer of Queen. We used to be great friends. We carried on! And I don’t remember half of it. I wish I did. Maybe those stories would’ve gotten in the book. But if there’s enough in there about how we got from there to here, then it’s a good read.”
The mudshark story in Hammer Of The Gods is the stuff of legends. I suppose it’s slightly unfair to wonder whether Walk This Way contains an anecdote that will be remembered that way?
“The story that has been excerpted in the States,” says Davis, “is just such a typical Aerosmith story from back in their ’70s heyday. They played these big outdoor stadium shows and, at the beginning of each show, the head of the road crew would hand Steven a huge bottle of Myers overproof white rum from Jamaica. Steven would take a swig of it and hand it down to the kid in the corner of the first row, then the kid would take a big swig and pass it on. Within five minutes, the entire first row of the audience was vomiting. And the band would have to stop playing, ‘cos they were laughing so hard. They thought this was totally hilarious. It was a regular thing, getting 13/14 year-old kids to puke on 150 proof rum. It doesn’t quite have the grotesque majesty of the shark story in Seattle, but people have picked up on it. Also, like many bands that have followed Led Zeppelin, these guys went to the Edgewater Inn in Seattle, and sure enough, within a couple of hours they were catching sharks, and hanging them up in the closet. I don’t think they were feeding them into the private parts of groupies, like Led Zeppelin did, but many bands now have shark stories. The Edgewater Inn is still there, and there’s still a tackle shop in the lobby.”
All this Hammer worship suggests that – unauthorised though it may have been – Davis’ Led Zeppelin epic did the band anything but harm. “When the book came out,” he agrees, “the reading public put it on the New York Times bestseller list for four months. It still holds the record for books about music on the bestseller list. Led Zeppelin denounced it as ‘bollocks’, but they keep talking about it, and keep selling books for me – thank god! In the edition published by Pan two years ago we used a pull-out quote from Robert Plant on the cover: ‘I’d like to believe Hammer of The Gods, because it has done us huge favours in terms of aura.’ There have been a lot of books about Led Zeppelin, but most of them stink. They’re like fanzines, they miss the drama of it, of these five English guys taking over the world in the late ’60s.”
Despite having penned many rock bios, Stephen Davis is not always a cheerleader for the genre. “A lot of people say Hammer Of The Gods is their favourite music book, but I keep noticing that one that also gets referred to a lot is David Ritz’s book about Marvin Gaye, Divided Soul. I read it when it came out, and I was just incredibly impressed. This was a guy who got as close to Marvin Gaye as I did to Aerosmith. He co-wrote Sexual Healing, I think. This is a book that goes beyond just some crap rock bio thing and really goes into this guy’s life and death. The rest of them are just unreadable. It’s just unbelievable pablum. I notice that Martin Amis always goes out of his way to put down dopes who write rock bios. Of course I have mixed feelings about this, but…”
Well, you’re never going to please everyone. Even when you’ve laid the whole truth out on paper, straight from the many horses’ mouths, there’s always someone who’ll cast doubt on the story. “The only place where people have accused us of not telling the whole truth in this book is Boston,” claims Joe Perry, “cos it’s such a gossipy place and our ex-manager Tim Collins put out there that it was ‘a nice work of fiction’. We just wanted to get the facts straight, not to whitewash it and make ourselves look good. I guess he isn’t happy with our version of his exorcism, which the whole last chapter of the book deals with.”
“He was there managing us when we all realised we’d hit a kind of bottom, and decided to get sober,” explains Tyler. “We all got sober together, so he was the perfect person to have as a manager that could relate to what we were planning to do, and helped us in the beginning terrifically. However, in the end he was pushing his doctrines on the band. Don’t get out of limousines with your wives at gala events, cos you’ll alienate your core fans. It was control issues. He went from being a really good facilitator and pilot of the Aerosmith ship, a conscious pilot to a Pontius Pilate. He went to Rolling Stone magazine and told them that I was still on drugs, and that he knew I was fucking women, just a whole barrage of things that no true friend or manager should do to their client. So we asked him to step down. It was simply that. He didn’t steal money, it was just that we didn’t see eye-to-eye on certain issues. After I’d been in Florida for five months, working on this album and writing some great songs with Joe and some other people, he wanted me to go to a men’s retreat in Big Sur with an Indian guide. I said, you know it’s my mom’s birthday, I promised my son I’d take him fishing, I’ve been working, my best friend’s father is passing away and I promised my kids. See ya, pal! I’m not doing it. And he got pissed off and went and told the band that I was outta control, and I didn’t want Tom in the band anyway, and told Joey I was happy to get another drummer – which was all lies. When I told the band that I couldn’t stand to be in a room with this guy any more, one thing led to another, and we got rid of him.
You can see why Collins might object to his portrayal in the book. While he is extensively quoted and given huge credit for getting Aerosmith sober, his devotion to their sobriety, so helpful in the beginning, sees him become a monster, eventually suggesting that members of the band – who were perfectly happy with their lives – spend time in a kind of retreat/mental home during the recording of the last album.
“His desire to control things got out of control,” confirms Tom Hamilton. “He was always trying to splinter us apart, so we couldn’t combine to defy his plans. Sometimes he wanted us to take action against a danger that just wasn’t there. You know, if fire engines are permanently circling your house, and the fire has long since gone out, there comes a point where you want to call the fire department and tell them to turn the damn sirens off.”
Whether Walk This Way ends up being deemed the definitive rock autobiography or not, only time will tell. “I’m 80 percent happy with it,” says Joe Perry. “No matter how much time you spend going through it, in retrospect there’s always stuff that could’ve been added or said better. I’m still wondering what the fallout is going to be, how it’s going to affect our kids over the next two years. Of course there’s stuff in there that they don’t know about. I have a six-year-old, and he’s barely starting to read. I have an 11-year-old, a 16-year-old and a 24-year-old, and it’s going to affect all of them in different ways. My 16-year-old can’t relate to that stuff, but he’s finding stuff out about his mother, my first wife, who lives on the other coast now. He’s gonna read the book, or his friends will tell him, and it’s gonna be hard on him.”
It’s like being an actor, and taking your kids into account when wondering about doing a nude scene.”Yeah,” concedes Perry. “The only difference is that an actor is playing a part. These are our lives here pal! So we’ll see. I feel like we do a pretty good job raising our kids, and they’re gonna have a pretty good foundation. So I think they’ll weather the storm. But still, it’s a concern.”
“I’ve got an eight-year-old,” says Steven, “and, like all eight-year-olds, she does some terrible stuff. And I punished her, and she’s crying, and she’s in time out for this long. And I go in there and I say listen, you know I’ve done some terrible things. As many as you and probably, by the time you’re my age, worse things. But we learn from our mistakes and we move on. If you teach your kids that early on, they’re not gonna be so surprised that you stuck a needle in your arm, or that you were off with Janis Joplin smoking pot when you were 15. They’re not gonna be so surprised. You’re gonna say I learned the hard way from my mistakes. That’s how I feel about it. However, I still don’t want my daughter to know that right now.”
For the first time in the conversation, Steven visibly bristles with indignation when I ask him if he was concerned that – having read the book and heard about all his shenanigans – his kids would never allow him to discipline them again.
“Well, if you bring ‘em up right, they won’t say that, cos that’s not the gist of it. It’s interesting that you would say that. That’s a journalistic thought. In reality they wouldn’t say that, if they know deep down inside that you’re never going to learn anything unless you make mistakes. You learn from your mistakes. You don’t learn by not making mistakes, you don’t go to school and get all the answers right the first time. You never learn how to ride a bike without getting a cut knee. And you can’t say that you’re bad for having cut knees. And some of the experiences that I had to learn to become a songwriter… maybe I had to go through sticking needles in my arms. Maybe, I don’t know.
“All I can say is that I’m bringing them up with as much love as I can, and teaching them that I made big mistakes, ones I don’t want you to. And that every mistake I made and sank, I want to be your stepping stones to get across the river. Where I sank and almost drowned, let my mistakes be your stepping stones to get across. And they’re gonna know that, so they’re not gonna say well look at you, you had a needle in your arm, why can’t I smoke pot? They’re not gonna say that, I don’t think.”
Parental concerns aside, everyone loves to hear about drug excesses. But, in retrospect, was it really that glamorous? Would they do it all again? “Yes,” says guitarist Brad Whitford, without hesitation. “You have to go through all that, to experience it for yourself. We wouldn’t be here, where we are today, if it hadn’t been for all those experiences.”
© Simon Witter, The Times, 1997