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Book Review

A classic? Dream on.

Steven Tyler’s memoir tells the tired story of another rock star behaving badly

Steven Tyler’s new book adds little to the Aerosmith story that has not already been told. Steven Tyler’s new book adds little to the Aerosmith story that has not already been told. (Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff/File 2010)
By Geoff Edgers
Globe Staff / May 3, 2011

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“Life is short. Break the rules, forgive quickly, kiss slowly, love truly, laugh uncontrollably, and never regret anything that makes you smile.’’

This is the opening of Aerosmith singer Steven Tyler’s memoir, “Does the Noise in My Head Bother You?’’ and it’s a hint of what you’re not going to get. Forget Frank McCourt, Patti Smith, or even Keith Richards. What we’re provided, over nearly 400 pages, is “Backstage for Dummies,’’ a compendium of generic nookie, drugged-out sessions, and dysfunctional band snapshots. It has the texture and shape of a big feature in Star magazine; a pleasure best left to the checkout line at the supermarket. That wouldn’t be a problem except that we’ve heard most of this before.

The story of Aerosmith was told in 1997 by rock biographer Stephen Davis in “Walk This Way.’’

It was a compelling tale, charting the Boston band that got famous through such songs as “Dream On’’ and “Sweet Emotion’’ before dissolving into a drug haze. Davis’s book, for all its debauchery, was ultimately a success story; Joe Perry rejoined the band in the mid-’80s and Aerosmith released a pair of number one albums (“Get a Grip’’ and “Nine Lives’’) in the 1990s.

Davis had access to all the band members, ex-wives, managers, and a slew of others. If you already know the tale, “Noise’’ is like that particularly loud, self-absorbed dude at work who keeps repeating the same story about his totally off-the-hook weekend. Somehow, it sounded better the first four times.

Tyler could have one-upped “Walk This Way’’ by telling the inside story of the collapse of the best-selling American band in rock history. After all, the last 15 years have not been particularly fruitful for Aerosmith.

Tim Collins, the manager cast as a kind of hero for getting the band clean in “Walk This Way,’’ has since been fired. The group hasn’t released an original album since 2001. And Tyler and Perry have been openly feuding in recent years. There was even talk of replacing Tyler with a new singer. Oh, and did we mention “American Idol’’? Tyler seems to want to portray his recent role on the mega-hit show as a story of redemption, but it isn’t clear if his judgeship will be enough to revive his career and his image.

You get tastes of the dark days but almost nothing from his “Idol’’ stint in “Noise.’’ The book’s most substantive sections spin 30-year-old yarns about groupies and ramble on about drugs Tyler has smoked, snorted, or shot up. The last decade, handled in the latter sections of “Noise,’’ is reduced to a hopscotch of quick scenes.

The book covers Tyler’s childhood, growing up in the Bronx, summering in Sunapee, N.H. Tyler tells us of his early love of the British Invasion bands, particularly the Yardbirds and Stones. He gets into the formation of Aerosmith, comparing his relationship with Perry to those of other “brawling blues brothers: Mick and Keith! Ray and Dave Davies! The Everly Brothers!’’ He calls Perry a creep and then, as if to diffuse the attack, calls himself a name we can’t reprint.

In his memoir, “Life,’’ Richards used detail, self-effacing humor, and unflinching honesty to put a fresh spin on a tale most of us thought we knew. Richards and James Fox put care into the writing and also never forgot why we were there — because of the music. They demystify Richards’s creations by explaining his guitar tunings, detailing important recording sessions, and letting us into the fascinating mind of the man who changed rock ’n’ roll.

At times Tyler attempts to reveal the inner workings behind his lyrics. But he clearly has no perspective. We get the backstory for songs like “Pink’’ and “Devil’s Got a New Disguise.’’ Interested? Didn’t think so.

There are moments when the book turns to the jive-rap Tyler loves to sometimes spout in interviews, the jibber-jabber also practiced by Diamond David Lee Roth. Maybe it’s amusing, maybe it’s nonsense. But those raps are lone moments where you actually feel as if you’re hearing Tyler’s voice.

One big question, for Tyler and his publisher, is why he wrote the book with David Dalton, a founding editor of Rolling Stone. Dalton has co-written autobiographies with Meatloaf and Marianne Faithfull and authored a critically acclaimed book on James Dean. But with the amount of groupie-talk involved, Tyler needed a younger foil. Having these old guys talk sex is creepy. There are times, particularly the top of Page 142, when “Noise’’ makes you feel as if you’ve just watched season three of “To Catch a Predator.’’

Tyler blames his many drug relapses on physical issues, from crippling pain in his feet to a bad back resulting from moving a lawn ornament. (In a disturbing typo for Boston readers, Tyler, when writing about his medical team, somehow misspells Celtic icon Larry Bird’s name as “Byrd.’’) He also talks about other things that threw him off the wagon, from his mother’s death to frustration over Aerosmith’s stagnation.

A particularly bizarre moment comes when Tyler — who has spent years lying to his bandmates, family, fans, and the press about his chronic drug use — goes on to portray himself as a victim.

“Fame is the bitch goddess of rumor, innuendo, slander, and gossip and the perverted purveyor of tabloid trash,’’ Tyler and Dalton write. “She’ll say anything to anyone anywhere.’’

Tyler might as well be talking about himself. In “Noise,’’ he turns his partner Perry into a mute, detached, walled-off mystery man ruled by his wives. In an interview published last week in Rolling Stone, Tyler volunteers that he and Perry snorted painkillers a couple of years ago.

For rock junkies there are a couple of passages to savor. For example, Tyler writes about auditioning for what could have been a reformed edition of Led Zeppelin. There’s also a moment — file under local color — when he seeks solace from J. Geils Band frontman Peter Wolf.

Beyond these entries, will saying “anything to anyone’’ help sell Tyler’s new solo single, which arrives this month?

It’s doubtful. And for Aerosmith fans, it’s hard to imagine that this barely-literate hack job will do much to heal band relations and get Aerosmith back where it belongs — in a recording studio.

Geoff Edgers can be reached at gedgers@globe.com.

DOES THE NOISE IN MY HEAD BOTHER YOU? By Steven Tyler with David Dalton

Ecco, 376 pp. $27.99