BookBin2013: Walk This Way: The Autobiography of Aerosmith

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Here it comes, denizens: Finally, the review of the book I have been wading through for more time than I ever expected it to take. However, when you’re trying to read up on the history of one of the longest-lasting (and still-going) hard rock bands in American history…well, it’s going to take a little bit of time.

And so it went with the Aerosmith autobiography Walk This Way. Released in 1997, this “autobiography” is more a running transcript of author Stephen Davis’s extremely long, extremely in-depth conversation with each member of the band, their managers, their producers, their road crew, their wives, their exes, their dealers, their groupies, their pets, their instruments, their cars, their everything.

Okay, not that in-depth. Still, Davis does a fantastic job of capturing every last snortable, injectable, drinkable side of this quintessential hard rock quintet. It’s all there: The beginnings, the early fame, the women, the drugs, the breakup, the drying out, the resurrection, the continuation, the very essence of what makes this band so very…Aerosmith. Two things you will undoubtedly walk away pondering if you read this book will be that: 1) the original band is still together; 2) the original band is still alive.

I already knew that Aerosmith was a heavily drugged band back in the 70s. Honestly, I already knew quite a lot of what the band talked about in this book. I didn’t grow up listening to a lot of current music when I was a kid, so I was way late to the rock bandwagon. It probably explains why I have such eclectic musical preferences. I had a lot of catching up to do. It also might explain why I have a small group of musicians to whom I am rabidly devoted. And Aerosmith? They’re right at the top of this very short list. I’ve written before about how this was pretty much the band that kick-started my journey into popular music, thanks to that saucy video for their song “Dude (Looks Like a Lady).”

From that point on, I was hooked on this group. They were the first band I ever saw in concert (and I count myself incredibly lucky to have seen them when Tyler was still able to do his trademark backflips…without tumbling off the stage into the audience). I have almost every single one of their albums, minus a few bootlegs (unfortunately, yes, I also bought Just Push Play…no one is more saddened by this than me, I can assure you). This is probably the only musical group for which I can actually name every single band member. For years, I devoured everything I could about them. I know all about the Toxic Twins World Tour (and have yet to give up on my search for my own T-shirt), their ups, their downs, their fights, their comebacks…whatever. And I still love them. I always have and I always will.

The one thing that I don’t really love is their history with substance abuse, which this book details to excruciating levels. I know that drugs play an overwhelmingly prevalent part in many creative fields, but especially music. Perhaps drugs help release parts of our creative energy and abilities that we might never explore without their help. Maybe they help slow down the creative flow enough for us to be able to handle it all. Maybe there are other factors there that I have never considered. I don’t know. I do know, however, that each member of Aerosmith nearly killed themselves in one drug- or alcohol-related way or another. Perry ended up having seizures. Kramer, Hamilton, and Whitford all had major auto accidents, and Tyler admits that he lost almost everything, including about 20 years of his life, because he was busy “snorting my car, my plane, my house, and half of Columbia.”

Drugs and alcohol pretty much nearly destroyed the band’s future as well. Their collective relationship is a tumultuous one anyway, which I suppose is not that odd considering it’s five exceptionally talented musicians all vying for their place in the band’s pecking order while trying to write new music, tour, do PR, enjoy their success, keep their success going, while also trying to live life in the two seconds of downtime they get before the cycle starts all over again. However, add cocaine, heroin, crystal meth, booze, pot, Tuinals, and…well, there is a reason why Steven Tyler and Joe Perry were known as the Toxic Twins. The drugs didn’t enhance the creative energies when the group was knee-deep in China white. All the drugs did was exacerbate problems, deepen wounds, increase egos, and speed up the inevitable fallout when Joe Perry left behind his Toxic Twin for his own record deal, and Brad Whitford soon followed him.

Whatever my feelings about drug use might be (and it’s an admittedly muddled one), I’m so glad the group cleaned itself up and came back together, because the end result is what I would consider to be the strongest era of their professional careers. As much as I love so much of their early music (and, I don’t care how cliched many people consider it to be, I still think that Tyler’s “Dream On” is one of the most honest and beautiful songs I have ever heard, and becomes increasingly more poignant the older he gets), to me, quintessential Aerosmith spans from their 1987 release Permanent Vacation through their 1997 release Nine Lives, with their 1989 release Pump being, hands-down, my all-time favorite of their albums. While there are many individual songs from their career that I might select above any of my favorites from this particular album, Pump is the one I choose whenever I want a nice solid, uninterrupted injection of what I consider pure Aerosmith. Plus, I have to give the MTV influence its due once again. The videos for songs from this album also stand as some of my favorites, including the David Fincher-directed video for Tyler’s amazing song “Janie’s Got a Gun.”

Okay, I’ve been fighting the urge to turn this book review into a video and photo gush fest, but I have to leave this here:

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And now that I’ve opened that floodgate, I’m just going to stop now before it gets worse. Just know this: If this rather long-winded review (which hasn’t really been a review…but it has been…kind of like this is an autobiography, but not really) actually piqued your interest in this group rather than made you want to run screaming in the opposite direction, then you might want to give Walk This Way a go. It’s straight from all their mouths, and I kind of get the impression that there wasn’t a whole lot of filtering going on, either on their parts or on Davis’s part. Plus, it’s strewn with photos of the guys pre-Aerosmith, early years, and up to Nine Lives, which is when this book finally concludes. Who doesn’t love photos? Who doesn’t love Aerosmith?

Be very careful how you answer that last question…

Final Verdict: Do you really need to ask this? Here, just enjoy this early photo of Aerosmith instead…

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Flashback Friday: “Dude (Looks Like a Lady)”

Excuse me, miss...oh. Never mind.
Excuse me, miss...oh. Never mind.

Look at Steven Tyler. Go on! Look at him! Dude does look a bit like a lady, don’t he? Actually, though, the legend is that this particular song was written about Mötley Crüe frontman Vince Neil. Same difference if you ask me.

Whatever the reasons for writing “Dude (Looks Like a Lady),” this song is super special to me. It’s the first Aerosmith song I ever heard. It’s the first Aerosmith video I ever saw. I believe it was either late 1987 or early 1988 and we were visiting my aunt and uncle, probably for a holiday get-together. I’d ambled downstairs by myself to the rec room and the fire…and the television with the cable connection and no one around to control what was on.

I started flipping around and landed on this video and I couldn’t stop watching. It was like a cross between a train wreck and the most wonderful raunchiness I’d ever witnessed (cut me some slack here…I was 11).

That kimono robe. Those red suspenders and cummerbund. Those purple tights with the see-through lattice-work up the sides and the ginormous power bulge that the camera man kept zooming in on. The thrusting and gyrating and slinking. Oh my. Everything about the video dripped one thing (and if you can’t figure out what that one thing is after watching the video, then I really don’t know if I can help you).

And that music. Oh but I loved the music. How do you not love it? Fun and bouncy and rockin’…like hard rock filled with helium. Steven Tyler is deliciously dirty, in his lyrics, in his antics, in his everything. And Joe Fuckin’ Perry. The man’s about as bright as an inkwell in a blackout, but he is a guitar god. Just listen to his solo starting around 2:23 in the video (right after Tyler’s rather Shakespearean lyrics: “Do me, do me, do me, do me”). Or his more impressive solo during “Love In An Elevator.” Actually, any of his solos are worth the price of admission. I’ve seen Aerosmith in concert three times, and I’d go again in a heartbeat (if it was early stuff…none of that Just Push Play piffle, please).

This song also marked the beginning of my strange misinterpretation of rock music lyrics. Through the whole song, I thought Tyler was singing “Do the Slinky Lady.” I thought that was the name of the strange dance that he was doing through the video. Imagine my surprise when I realized he was singing “Dude looks like a lady.” Of course, I’m also the one who thought that Trent Reznor was singing that his whole existence was “flan” in “Closer.” Yeah. Who’s not so bright again?

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