I was far away from home for the first time in my life, getting a haircut in Culver City, California. The barber shop was one of those old musty ones that I was used to, with dusty old Archie comics on the end table and the smell of old man aftershave wafting through the air. It had come up in conversation that I was from Massachusetts. The barber was a nice older guy. He had a big shiny bald head with a ponytail hanging on like the last survivor of some catastrophe. He had quite possibly done some rocking and rolling in his life. “Oh, you must be an Aerosmith fan, huh? You like them Bad Boys from Boston?” he asked, chuckling. “No,” I curtly replied, trying and failing to be polite. “Not a fan.”
The conversation went quiet and I started to feel bad for just not playing along. I could tell this guy was ready to talk some Aerosmith, but I sure wasn’t. I couldn’t fucking stand Aerosmith. I really, really hated Aerosmith. Not just because they were a horrible band, it was because their music had been tattooed into a particularly horrible time in my life and I just couldn’t seem to get over it.
They were my mother’s favorite band. I only lived with her for a few years—between the ages of seven and eleven—before I escaped, fearing for my life. But those few years were hell and Aerosmith was always on. Her favorite music came to represent the epitome of bad taste to me. I reasoned that if such bad people loved something so much, it must in turn be equally reprobate. I had gone to go live with my mother just as the band released their comeback album, 1987’s ultra-successful Permanent Vacation. Their hits off that album were everywhere for years and they became the soundtrack to some incredibly traumatizing events in my boyhood. Even now, just thinking of that stupid chorus and refrain in Dude (Looks Like a Lady) or the guitar solo in Ragdoll, takes me right back there. I can remember everything. The smell of the house, the color of the walls and the carpet—everything.
So I fucking hated Aerosmith. Which is just fine because these days, nobody gives a shit if you hate Aerosmith. It’s really not a big deal. You are totally free to hate Aerosmith if you want. In fact, a whole lot of people do and nobody cares. I cut contact with my mother years ago and I never listen to the radio, so I don’t have to be confronted with any of that if I don’t want to. But there was something about all of this that began to bother me. I could see through my own bullshit. I knew what I was doing here. I was associating Aerosmith—a band with a long legacy and two excellent albums in the classic rock canon—with events that actually had nothing to do at all with Aerosmith. I mean, come on. It wasn’t Aerosmith’s fault that I had those shitty years. Why do I do this?
I noticed myself doing it across the board too, with all kinds of things. I won’t wear certain styles of clothing, eat certain foods, watch certain films, I’ll even hate certain colors; just because I associate them with some asshole who did me wrong or some terrible event that happened during some point in my life. It’s a habit of mine that I find particularly egregious. I’d been rather cavalier towards it in that past, but it seemed like such a weak point, such a flaw in my logic. I needed to go after it and examine it further. I knew I was only making myself a harder person for others to deal with because of it.
Rats in the cellar
I had a few days off work and nothing really lined up, so I decided to get out of town for a while. I booked a hotel up on the Central Coast of California. I had been going through a bit of a rough patch emotionally. My dating life had taken a turn for the worse and my professional life had me feeling like I was the biggest loser on the planet. I knew a lot of these problems I was having were coming from faults in my own character. I needed to take a good, hard look in the mirror and figure myself out. This was up to me.
I got in my room and just sat there. I’ve always had a thing for a nice hotel room. It’s not home and it’s not trying to be home. It’s a transient place, there is no promise or agreement of permanence. They’re very honest and true to life in that regard. I jumped on the bed for a while. The room looked like it had once been really nice in the late ’90s, when forest green and maroon were really popular. It had been well-cleaned and taken care of, but it couldn’t hide from the tides of aging. The green carpet and beige wallpaper looked as though they had been kept freeze dried in time. The smell of cleaning products still permeated the air. I opened a bottle of water and drank it as I looked out the window and watched a bunch of guys drinking and smoking outside as the light played upon the leaves of the trees.
As the sun started to set, I closed the curtains and sat down with myself in silence, thinking of everything that had been going on in my life lately. Everything I said to anyone in the past six months ran on loop through my brain. I thought back to any misstep I might have taken, anything I may have said wrong, any flaws in my judgment. I thought of all the times I spent talking instead of listening, all the times I let my ego get in the way. I brewed the bad coffee they give you in the room as I sat down with my notebook, jotting out ideas. That’s right about when the silence in the room became deafening. I needed to put something on, but I didn’t want something that was going to make me comfortable and let me sink back into myself. I needed something confrontational, something I knew I had been avoiding because it showed me something within myself that I didn’t like. So I broke out my portable speakers and put on some Aerosmith. And I didn’t just put it on, I fucking cranked it like this was 1978 and I was just getting ready to go on a coke binge. Let’s do this.
Back in the Saddle
I knew they had two great albums in their catalog, their 1975 breakthrough hit record, Toys in the Attic and their 1976 masterpiece, Rocks. I’d heard those albums plenty of times before during my childhood, but I kept away from them and definitely didn’t even think about considering them for a serious listening session. All that changed. I needed to do this. I couldn’t go through life despising some rock band for some shitty things that happened to me almost thirty years ago. So I put Toys in the Attic on. The first half of the album had me convinced that I was probably right to have just ignored them. The songs were catchy enough, but I could do without them in my life. I figured that maybe I should cut my listening session short. Then Sweet Emotion came on. Hold the phone.
That bass line in the intro, the riff during the verses, that chorus! It’s a song that had been playing all my life, but one I never really listened to. Turns out, it’s a really fun, well-put together song. It’s masterfully constructed, thanks to Jack Douglas’ production. It’s been so beaten into all of our brains from decades and decades of classic rock radio, it’s easy to overlook how solid and layered it is. Alright then. The last three songs on the album—No More No More, Round and Round, and the album’s finale, You See Me Crying—all had me pretty floored. These were solid 1970s rockers. That magical arpeggio in No More No More with that little bit of Little Richard rock n’roll piano made me play the track over twice.
Then I moved on to Rocks. I’d heard Back in the Saddle thousands of times before, but never like this. I never sat there and appreciated the guitar and the bass work on that track. I never tried to appreciate these guys at all. I kept having to tell myself to lay my prejudices and associations away and just enjoy the music. Just enjoy the music. And I loved the music. There was that beautiful intro in Last Child they took and then laid into with some greasy, glammed-out funk rock. There was the absolute kick-your-ass rock of Rats in the Cellar that seemed to anticipate punk. Combination, Nobody’s Fault, and Get the Lead Out all seemed to be gilded in a sheet of chrome, 1970s hard rockers infused with cocaine and whiskey. I couldn’t get over how good Sick as a Dog and Lick and a Promise were. These were songs that screamed out life and vitality. They were a summer night in 1976 in audio form. They were a six pack and a good hard fuck in the back of a Camaro. The album was a 70s American muscle car. It was a bonfire party at the beach with all your best friends. By the time the album’s finale, Home Tonight came on, I knew I had been wrong the entire time. I knew I had made a friend for life.
I restarted the album and played it through once again in its entirety and then once more as the sun came up. I went for a walk out in this strange town I was staying at where nobody knew who I was. I didn’t just like this album I had been purposely avoiding most of my life, I absolutely loved it. I was beginning to see how wrong I was about a plethora of other things. I had been pulling this kind of shit in so many other aspects in my life. Finally, a light was shining in through a crack in the ceiling.
My love of Rocks goes beyond Aerosmith, it goes beyond music. Rocks helped teach me an important lesson. We often make these inequitable associations. It’s understandable why we do it, it’s a survival mechanism. When we meet someone who displays certain behavior or says a certain thing that triggers us in some way, we often shut them out. I’ve done it a multitudinous amount of times and I may have acted too hastily. I should have looked at why I did that a little harder. Whatever you do, I would implore you not to look away from it. Look at it. Look right at it. There it is.
I listen to that record almost every day. It’s my go-to workout album. I’m admittedly not a fan of any Aerosmith record that has come out after Rocks, but that doesn’t matter. If I had kept my prejudices, I would have never discovered my favorite album and my life would have been just a little more subdued for it. I see people doing this stuff all the time, and not just with music. A dog may have bitten you when you were a child and now you hate dogs, completely missing out on the magic of dogs. I could be here all day writing about the stuff we shut out of our lives just because of a terrible experience. I’m sure you understand what I’m getting at here.
I need to stress to you again how much I hated this band. I feel I need to let you know that because I also hate a lot of other things too. Some of that hate is justified, but a lot of it isn’t. These are hang-ups I have because I’m unfairly associating them with tragic events or I’m generally just being a pain in the ass. And let me tell you this: it’s hard work to not be a pain in the ass. You have to sit down with all these ideas you may not be comfortable with and ask yourself why you’re not comfortable with them. It’s often because there’s something important in your brain going on there that you need to reflect on. It means you have some work to do. And it’s going to be hard work, but if you can lift that veil of prejudice and just learn to say yes to something instead of a big fat no all the time, you may find your Rocks.