The rock-star autobiography has gained prestige in the past year: Keith Richards’s “Life” was widely praised, including in this newspaper, and Patti Smith’s “Just Kids” won the National Book Award. So Aerosmith rock god Steven Tyler has chosen a good moment to publish his tell-all book, “Does the Noise in My Head Bother You?” Well, let’s call it a tell-all-he-can-remember book.
From the beginning, Tyler’s memoir raises questions. Namely: “How is he still alive?” And later: “Would this make more sense if I were on drugs?” And then you stop for a moment and contemplate how many drugs you’d have to take for Tyler’s internal monologue to take on any kind of logic, and then you realize that the toll inflicted on your body would be too high a price to pay for “getting” Steven Tyler.
The story is the usual rock star rise: an idyllic childhood spent communing with the secrets of nature — though Tyler likens the magic of being in the woods to being on acid — and early exposure to music, followed by a wild adolescence, lots of women, lots of drugs, lots of rehab, more drugs, some rationalization, some crazy stories. Most of them sound mostly true. His occasional forays into music theory are absorbing snapshots of what goes into making great songs. When Tyler is able to articulate what went into Aerosmith’s music, the book becomes fascinating rather than merely titillating.
Like all autobiographies, this one offers a chance to get inside the writer’s mind. And although it is not a predictable mind, Tyler’s conforms exactly to one’s expectations of his persona, from the over-the-top sex stories to the flowery, almost incoherent hippie philosophy to his playful approach toward language. Again and again, he tacks linguistic jokes onto his ideas, even when they make no sense. The book’s title, taken from Aerosmith’s “Something’s Gotta Give,” becomes almost tragic. Yes, the noise in his head is exhausting to the reader, but it’s difficult to imagine what it must be like to have this kind of nonstop chatter always ringing in one’s own brain.
Tyler’s psychobabble is truly offensive only when it comes to his ideas on gender. In one chapter, he seems to argue that groupies are part of a rock star’s lot in life and that it was unfair for his wives and girlfriends to object to his on-the-road extramarital activities; on the next page he bemoans his sad fate when his wife left him, with the so-sincere-and-yet-so-ridiculous question, “Didn’t you take a vow?” He views women as nurturers and sluts but rarely as actual people. Yet the book perfectly communicates what Tyler’s rock-star life has been like.
“Does the Noise In My Head Bother You” has a ghostwriter (veteran rock writer David Dalton), but it’s hard to believe Tyler didn’t write every line himself, or perhaps dictate it into a recorder while pacing around his mansion playing air guitar. It’s a rambling story that leaps from incident to incident, rarely explaining the chronology of events and sometimes leaving off endings. You’re never sure whom he was married to when, or which rehab stint is which. Being a rock star is apparently exactly how you’ve always imagined it: occasional moments of musical clarity stuffed in the cracks around screaming fights with band members and girlfriends and moments of drug-fueled epiphany. The reader’s epiphany comes midway through the book, in one tiny yet telling paragraph: “By now Steven Tyler is pretty much a fictional character anyway — I have absolutely no control over the little [expletive].”
Fiona Zublin is a writer for The Washington Post Express.
DOES THE NOISE IN MY HEAD BOTHER YOU?
A Rock ’n’ Roll Memoir
By Steven Tyler with David Dalton
Ecco. 390 pp. $27.99