Book Review: Steven Tyler’s Autobiography Shapes Up to Be a Fun Ride
Steven Tyler is a Rock Star — capital R, capital S. He understands that being a Rock Star is about more than just selling records. You have to live The Life, and if you write a memoir about The Life, certain conventions have to be respected — band fights have to be detailed, partying catalogued, hookups listed, regrets stated, a sensitive inner side revealed, redemption found — and because Tyler understands what it means to be a Rock Star, he delivers the goods in Does the Noise in My Head Bother You? Written with Rolling Stone founding editor David Dalton (James Dean: The Mutant King, El Sid: Saint Vicious, the forthcoming Bob’s Brain: Decoding Dylan), Tyler’s surprisingly insightful and entertaining voice brings the familiar contours of this story alive. It’s not the most original rock memoir, but it is a fun read.
Tyler was born Steven Tallarico in 1948 in the Bronx, N.Y. He had an ordinary childhood, or at least what passes for an ordinary childhood for a future rock star, though one surprising revelation is how outdoorsy he was as a kid. He spent every summer at his family’s summer home in Sunapee, N.H. “I was a mountain boy, barefoot and wild,” Tyler writes. “I’d come back after an afternoon of killing with my slingshot and Red Ryder BB gun with a string of blue jays tied to my belt.”
But by 15, he was already getting high and already sure he wanted to be a rock star. People instantly made the Mick Jagger comparison (those lips didn’t help), but Tyler reveals Janis Joplin as his idol (and the inspiration for the scarves he drapes around his mike stand).
The turning point in Tyler’s life came when he saw Joe Perry and Tom Hamilton perform with their band at a show in the summer of 1969 in Sunapee. Tyler and Perry became fast friends, capping that first summer by attending Woodstock together. The next year, they formed a band, gaining notice on Boston’s club circuit, but it was a gig at the legendary Max’s Kansas City that landed them a record deal. Their third album, 1975’s Toys in the Attic, vaulted them to superstardom.
Tyler’s relationship with Perry — easily the most important and complicated of his adult life — is the emotional center of the book. Perry is his “polar” and “mutant” twin, the “cool” to his “sulphur sun beast,” the “creep” to his “asshole.” The legendary rock bands of the ’60s and ’70s were defined by bromances — Paul and John, Mick and Keith — and Tyler/Perry is one of rock’s greatest. Tyler wrote “Sweet Emotion” about Perry after his friend chose living with his girlfriend over rooming with Tyler.
Drugs are the other constant. They are everywhere in the book: He gets high as a kid, he bonds with Perry over drugs, he keeps them hidden in a drum so he can have them onstage, he gets addicted to prescription painkillers after surgery. Tyler estimates he blew $20 million on drugs: “I snorted my plane, I snorted my house.” He gets clean, he relapses, he gets clean again. He reels off the eight rehab centers where he’s been a patient, surely a contender for the all-time celebrity record.
The story of Aerosmith’s rise, fall and redemption is all here. Much of it is familiar from the band’s earlier authorized bio Walk This Way but told now from Tyler’s perspective. The most entertaining new story is about a woman who didn’t sleep with him: rocker Joan Jett. Tyler made a pass at her — or what amounts to a rock star’s pass — by showing up outside her hotel room buck naked one night. Jett blows him off with a riff on one of Aerosmith’s biggest hits: “I’m not into big 10-inch, honey.”
Those coming to the book only as American Idol fans might be disappointed by the relatively small amount of space devoted to the show. Besides, it’s clear Tyler’s decision to join Idol is best understood in the context of his long-running feud with Aerosmith: He’s a guy cheating on his girlfriend with her enemy, the perky, popular cheerleader.
Does the Noise in My Head Bother You? is much like Tyler himself. What on the surface seems cliched, almost a parody of a rock memoir, manages somehow to rise above that and be a fun ride. And pulling off that trick, ladies and gentlemen, is what separates a Rock Star from a merely ordinary pop star.
Release date Tuesday, May 3 (Ecco Books/HarperCollins, $27.99, 608 pages)