Pay attention to the lyrics of almost any Aerosmith song and you will quickly discover Steven Tyler has a unique talent with wordplay. He takes what should be a typical cliché and by shifting a word or two, turns it into something new and unexpected. He is also a master of double entendre, making extremely dirty references that could still be said during a children’s television program.
Tyler’s memoir, Does The Noise in My Head Bother You, puts this skill on full display, and ultimately this is both the book’s greatest strength and weakness. From the get-go it is written in an informal, conversational tone that makes it seem like you are a buddy Tyler is confiding in.
While this is engaging and refreshing to start, after a while it becomes clear Tyler will not pass up a single opportunity to coin a phrase (example: “I’ve been mythicized, Mick-icized, eulogized and fooligized, I’ve been Cole-Portered and farmer’s-daughtered, I’ve been Led Zepped and 12-stepped”), and the reader finds themselves wishing for something a little more straightforward.
Nonetheless, Tyler has led an extremely interesting life, and “Does The Noise in My Head Bother You” takes an uncensored and revealing journey through it, starting with his early life in the Bronx. While many rock memoirs are fairly dull until the narrator enters the music business, Tyler’s life is actually pretty interesting from the start.
Perhaps because it is so unexpected considering his public persona, it is interesting to find out he comes from a loving, stable Italian-American home (the family name is Tallarico) and lived an idyllic, Huckleberry Finn-like existence during childhood summers spent at the resort his family owned on Lake Sunapee, NH. To this day Tyler is an avid outdoorsman who feels most at home alone in nature, which again does not match his stage personality.
Despite this tranquil upbringing, Tyler became a problem child in his teen years, getting heavily involved in the use of marijuana, LSD and amphetamines and being constantly kicked out of schools. In one of many humorous anecdotes from the early years, he describes joining a “gang” in his Bronx neighborhood that was really a bunch of insecure misfits who attached themselves to its genuinely tough leader (not Tyler). But even a move from the Bronx to suburban Yonkers did not lessen Tyler’s appetite for drugs or the wild life.
Tyler spent the mid to late 1960s playing drums and singing in a succession of rock bands which gained some notoriety in the Northeast but never broke out beyond the region. That all changed when guitarist Joe Perry, who also summered on Lake Sunapee, invited Tyler to see his group The Jam Band (which also included future Aerosmith bassist Tom Hamilton) perform. Tyler was unimpressed for the first couple of songs, but after hearing Perry play the guitar break to Fleetwood Mac’s “Rattlesnake Shake,” he realized he had found the guitarist he was looking for.
In some respects, the book actually gets less interesting once Tyler, Perry and Hamilton add drummer Joey Kramer and rhythm guitarist Brad Whitford, move to a communal apartment in Boston, and form Aerosmith (originally “Arrowsmith,” but they decided the “Aero” spelling would be cooler). Tyler goes into great detail about the struggles of the early years, the band’s rise to fame in the mid-70s, and the staggering drug intake and sexual escapades that occurred. He then charts the band’s downfall in the late 70s (as always seems to be the case with these stories, due to drugs and women) and rebirth in the mid-1980s, followed by the uncertainty and bickering of the past few years.
In addition to shining a full spotlight onto the crazy behavior and petty feuds that are so common among rock bands, Tyler also does a good job delving into many of the technical aspects of being in a successful band. He explains how a song is written, how management and A&R play a crucial role in a band’s success (while also cheating them and makes their lives hell, at least in Aerosmith’s case), and how different instruments come together to create a unified sound greater than the simple notes which are combined.
On a more personal level, Tyler delves into two relationships more than any other: his relationships with narcotics and with Joe Perry. In both cases, he displays a high level of ambivalence. Tyler readily admits drugs severely damaged or destroyed his relationships with family, friends, bandmates, children, and perhaps saddest of all, a sense of spirituality he felt as a child and has never fully recovered. He also credits drug-altered consciousness with inspiring the lyrics to many of Aerosmith’s biggest hits and says he looks back on many of his drug-fueled misadventures with fondness.
Similarly, Tyler refers to Perry as “my brother” throughout the book and says he never could have achieved success as a singer without him, but also says he still really doesn’t understand or know him after 40-plus years. Tyler further accuses him of being a passive-aggressive manipulator who is also readily manipulated by the women in his life and by Aerosmith management, and even says Perry is a selfish drug hoarder. Summing up his view of their interpersonal dynamic, Tyler calls himself an “asshole” and Perry a “creep.”
Despite the verbal histrionics and a tendency to jump from place to place and time to time without warning, overall “Does The Noise in My Head Bother You?” is an entertaining and candid look into how a rock star is created, destroyed and reborn. It also offers enough insight into the rock music industry and countercultural scene of the 1960s and 70s to be of interest even to readers who may not be fans of Aerosmith or Tyler. In any event, an hour spent reading this book is definitely a better use of time than an hour watching “American Idol” (which wisely, Tyler only briefly touches upon in the final chapter).