Monday, November 28, 2011

Book Review: Aerosmith: The Ultimate Illustrated History of the Boston Bad Boys

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2011
Images from the Internet

Aerosmith: The Ultimate Illustrated History of the Boston Bad Boys
By Richard Bienstock
Voyageur Press (Minneapolis), 2011
224 pages; USD $35.00 / CAN $39.00
ISBN: 978-0-7603-4106-3

The only time I’ve ever seen Aerosmith live was May 31, 1974, at the Felt Forum (now blandly known as the Theater at Madison Square Garden), opening for the band we actually went to see, Slade. I was musically unformed then, and all I really remember is the ear-piercing volume, which was louder than the headliner. And we were sitting pretty far toward the back. This was especially true during the harmonica solos. Now, however, I would like to see that concert again, and rejudge it. Oh, I did once see Tyler’s house on Lake Sunapee, NH (from the water), but I digress…

Part of a series of illustrated history books of bands and musicians from Voyageur Press (such as AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Neil Young, and Eric Clapton), Aerosmith takes front and center stage this time. As with the others in the series, the tomes are oversized hardcover, the size and heft of a coffeetable book, but along with the images is a nicely comprehensive history of the band and its members. In Leon Uris fashion, Bienstock introduces us to one of the musicians (vocalist Tyler is naturally the first, as he also is the one who had any real career previous to Aerosmith) and we learn about his life up to the point of meeting the next future ‘Smither, then we read their story, and so on until all five are caught up to the point of being the band.

Aerosmith is a band whose early output was released faster than they gained fame, so it’s not until about the third or fourth album that they started to really get known beyond their own Bostonian back yard.

The basic history of the band is legend: from fame to overindulgences (alcohol, sex, drugs…) to practical paralysis and stagnation, leading to Run DMC covering “Walk This Way,” followed by an even larger resurgence for the band (also thanks to smart marketing, musical hooks that can bite into your brain for days, and especially well-made videos on the then music channel, MTV – and having Alicia Silverstone and Tyler’s daughter Liv star in them didn’t hurt, either) and a good forced cleaning out (aka rehab) led to years of the band at the top of their game, only to fall (possibly) fall apart again in just the past couple of years.

Certainly, I am not giving away anything in their history there, nor am I stepping on Bienstock’s shoes because this book kept this particular non-fan interested throughout. Without using this as a personal muck-raking excuse, he tell the story of the band and its members, relying more on their musical history than marriages, relationships, affairs, etc.; in fact, the only photo of any family member is of Bebe Buell, Liv’s mom (who has a new album out, FYI). There isn’t even any mention of how Perry won the heart of Willie Alexander’s wife, Billie Montgomery (who appears with Willie in his “Bass Rocks” video), who became Perry’s second spouse. Rather, we learn about where they recorded what, on what instruments, produced by whom and the relationship of the band with their producers, engineers and management (the last is occasionally tricky). Yes, the egos shine through as the band is much quoted, mostly taken from period interviews.

Along with all the text are the photos, of course; after all this is an ultimate illustrated history. There are a multitude of reproductions of the band as they go through the many, many, many years, including instruments played, show posters, buttons, tee-shirts, and especially tons of backstage passes and entry stubs; 400 images in all, each crisp and clear. There are even pages of the Revolutionary Comics history of the band. [As yet another sidebar, one thing I would have liked to have seen included was the Max’s Kansas City Comics cartoon drawn by Shari Szaba (she worked there) where she has Steven Tyler, David Johansen and Mick Jagger all come to Max’s on the same night!]

As with the other books in this series, many of the subject’s albums are sectioned out and dissected and reviewed into what went into them and their influence on culture. Similarly to the AC/DC book, the breakouts are mostly written by numerous other well known critics, such as Chuck Eddy, Martin Popoff, Ramones’ ex-manager (etc.) Danny Fields, and even Phil Sutcliffe (who wrote the AC/DC Ultimate Illustrated History).

While these breakouts are interesting, per se, a lot of them hold redundant information from the rest of the book, which occasionally gets tiring. Similarly, many of the captions for the images are just quotes (or paraphrasing) of the text in the book proper, so again, it gets monotonous at times, but that’s just tributaries. The main text retains its level of high quality throughout.

There is a lot of info here that I didn’t know about the band that really raised an eye. For example, at some point when Joe Perry leaves to form his Project, he is temporarily replaced by Jimmy Crespo. At first I was wondering, “I know that name, but from where?” Then Beinstock explains how he was the guitarist of Brooklyn’s own almost-and-should-have-been-famous rockers Flame (saw them at Zappz on their home turf in 1977 or ‘78, and were a blast; they are worth checking out. Okay, okay, back to Aerosmith…), and in fact, when Tyler’s addiction starts to really get the better of him, there is talk of him being replaced by Flame’s vocalist, the excellent Marge Raymond. Now that woulda been something! There are lots of juicy tidbits like that throughout that don’t even need to be salacious.

The book is very up-to-date, not only mentioning Tyler’s role on American Idol, but the reaction of the audience throughout the season, as Tyler grabs the reins of the show and becomes de facto judge leader, with the most on the ball (as he did early on with Aerosmith). And even though the Slade show I attended at MSG is unmentioned, their performance on the “Wayne’s World” segment of Saturday Night Live is in the telling (it was a brilliant moment).

There is certainly enough information here to keep any of the blue army happy, and even some of us who are just curious about the band that captured the ear of so many.

Bonus Videos:
[Note that from this point on, I will avoid Vevo as much as possible]

And, of course:

Extra Bonus Video:

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