November 2011

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Book Review

by the Libertarian Heretic

Walk This Way: The Autobiography of Aerosmith (2003); Does the Noise in My Head Bother You? (2011); Hit Hard: A Story of Hitting Rock Bottom at the Top (2010) As a multi-decade fan of the band and corporate enterprise called Aerosmith -- since the 1970s, in fact, which decade many snotty old fans will say, unfairly, was "back when they were good" -- I review these books in a lump. (Despite my monniker, there is not much specifically libertarian or heretical here.) One is the semi-official band "autobiography", Walk This Way, an interesting mesh of interviews about the ass and drug kicking fivesome and their adventures through the 1990s. Another is screamer Steven Tylerís recent autobiography, Does the Noise in My Head Bother You? The remaining one is a sort of psychological memoir by drummer Joey Kramer, Hit Hard. That one is about having a middle aged breakdown despite success, fame, wealth, a long-kicked drug habit, a stable if troublesome wife, lovely offspring, and loads and loads of cars. Noentheless, I really do like and recommend the last book, especially, though it is not a riveting read. And I seriously suggest that despite its promise of reconciliation and recovery, another of drummer Kramerís several breakdowns is still due --- probably around the time of passing of his mom, if it hasnít happened yet. Why? There is a serious very instance of maternal abuse told in the book, almost more scary than the whole chronic negativity reported of his father. That incident, and possibly other undisclosed ones, is unresolved.

There are lessons to be learned from all these books. Probably most can be learned elsewhere, but if you enjoy the band then the stories and information will make the trip worthwhile. Key lessons are not hard to discern from the story of a band that was once at the top, washed up utterly, and then resurrected in its original form to sustained superstardom.

These are the lessons, among many:

1) Drugs suck, but are fun while the good times last.
2) Getting old is hard on the knees
3) Singer Tyler is a good-hearted narcissist, for the most part, to the extent that
that is not a contradiction.
4) Lead guitarist Joe Perry is a decent sort with a grand work ethic, despite drugs
and debauchery, but has an annoying streak of pettiness that comes through
5) talent matters, along with work and ambition, 
6) hard work matters, along with talent and ambition,
7) ambition matters, along with talen and hard work
8) narcissistic men often seem to love women with some variation of screechy
borderline personality disorder, and
9) egotistical people are easy to manipulate, and talented at doing the same to
10)Geez, growing long hair was really a big deal in their youth -- drama, crisis,
conlict, etc. at home and with larger society. . . 
As to the music, a lot of details on song history are there. Of course, the real key to "understanding" the music is to actually listen to it, the books only help in fleshing it out. Still, the book confirm a few general points:

1) Production matters. When Jack Douglas took over as Aerosmith's producer around 1974, they went from potential greats to actual ones. Music is sound and the better it is arranged, the better it is heard and sells.

2) Rhythm matters. The three guys on the rhythm side of the band, the Less Interesting Three (Whitford, Hamilton, Kramer) as they call themselves, are serious about what they do, and make the band work. Joe Perry was a downright mediocre performance lead guitarist in the early days, though full of creativity.and energy and a drive to work hard.

The books are best for fans of the band, of course, or at least fans of the genre. Still, crack one or more open if curiosity hits you. Joey Kramerís autobiography will resonate with older folks a bit, even on non-musical matters.

The Libertarian Reader: Classic and Contemporary Writings from Lao Tzu to Milton Friedman (1998) Essays put together by David Boaz of the Cato Institute which eludicate humankindís understanding of freedom as a goal for society. Well done and selected.

Economics in One Lesson: The Shortest and Surest Way to Understand Basic Economics by Henry Hazlitt (1988). Confusing and boring, if accurate and in parts insightful. Itís the undue admiration for books like this by fellow libertarians that explain why we canít get our ideas across. It is not merely that economics is boring to most, but that Hazlitt wastes precious time sermonizing rather than introducing. The title misleads and it is not a useful introduction to the subject.

North Dallas Forty (book: 1973; movie: 1979). I just like this one, that's all. Actually two -- both book and movie. The book is far more dramatic and depressing, especially at the ending, than the movie, which author Peter Gent also contributed to. (I see Gent just passed away in October 2011.) This tale of professional sports and the cultural fault lines of the 1960s in Dallas as told by by its ex-Cowboy author is the kind of book and movie where people who like to mutter about "corporate, corporatey, corporatudinous corporate" will enjoy themselves. But even those who, like your reviewer, don't do that so much can still enjoy this well-told tale of manipulation, hypocrisy, wild booze, drugs, sex, and -- in the book more than the movie -- racism, and romance, as a powerful drama of finding one's place in life in a world where those who have power over you may not have your best interests at heart. (Do read the book if you did like the movie as it has more to add.)

The Murder of Jim Fisk for the Love of Josie Mansfield (2011), book; The Toast of New York (1938), movie. Both book and movie deal with the death and life of the 19th century "robber baron" -- or whatever he was -- Jim Fisk. Fisk was a great many things in post-Civil War New York and America. Speculator, smuggler, bon-vivant scam artist, egotist, philanthropist, Trump-like builder, Tammany influence-buyer, and railroad co-owner. (Fisk was one ofthe genuine historical sources of the literal fat cigar smokiní powerbroking "robber baron" image, which is one of those comforting stereotypes of greed that have lingered and give left-progressives and kindergarten Marxists easy mental images to rationalize their own prescriptions of economic recklessness, naivete, and foolish indulgence of public and political incumbent greed.)

The movie gives actor Edward Arnold a chance to shine Ė a rare case of the chubby guy being the dominant player. Meanwhile young debonair Cary Grant gets a chance to sit back as a mere supporting background player, an individualized Greek chorus of conscience and restraint. Biographically off, the movie is still well-performed and its plot is classic in its denunciation of hubris, with a likeable Fisk character more proud than corrupt or greedy. The book by worthy historian H.W. Brands is more accurate, however, though the subtitle is misleading. Fisk was apparently killed in a more business-oriented drama in which his mistress was a pivotal figure, but not the ultimate motivation. The bookís narrative is odd and its wrap-around narrative of a mysterious visitor to Josieís grave a half-century later is not at all that compelling or even clearly explained. Despite such weaknesses it is an informative and often well-executed read about an interesting hisotrical figure and worth reading about or viewing for the feel of the time and place.

Side libertarian note: donít let the historic or cinematic narrative stimulate simplistic ideas about the Gilded-Age or ďthe RichĒ or capitalism or greed. It is just the story of an engaging con-man who knew how to steal and bully and get government monopoly contracts and conditions to enrich himself and then to overextend himself, personally and financially. He and government corrupted each other in real history as the book shows. He and government also worsen the character of his colleagues, his personal life, and his businesses. Successive demi-intellectuals today mistake that type of scenario for laissez-faire capitalism and have successfully injected that into conventional historical description of the era. (The actual term is "rent-seeking", folks, and it involves living off aggrandized government involvement in, and funds available for, commercial lands and activities.) But donít let that get in the way of two good stories.