Violet Magazine >> A Rock 'n Roll Household >> June 2005
From what I've read, you seem to have a really solid relationship with your kids. What about them are you most proud of?
(Joe Perry) When you are in the middle of something, it's really hard to be objective about it. We're dealing with guiding them, their mistakes, and we don't see it. So when somebody tells me, "You have a really nice kid and I had a great time talking with him," that definitely feels good. But you know, it's not what I hang my hat on. What I'm proud of is that they seem to be happy. It's not about what they have to accomplish or people think they should be -- but that they seem happy in their happy in their life today, making the most of their day being a kid, whatever age they are.
So Billie, being surrounded by males, you even have male dogs, what do you think about the job of raising boys?
(Billie Perry) Well, I've always felt that I want them to grow up to be strong men and also to be sensitive and treat people right. I feel strongly that they should be able to do things themselves, not to ever end up relying on people for things. You know like, relying on women and marrying for the wrong reason... like they need somebody to do thing for them. Communication is the key. It isn't actually in a boy's nature to talk freely. So I've just found that I really work to keep them talking. That's real important. It's when they don't talk that you can run into trouble
Are they at ages now where you share a lot of interests?
(Billie Perry) It's nice now that Roman has caught up to his brothers. He's the youngest of the group. He's fourteen now. I think for a while it was sort of out of sync and out of balance. Still there are certain movies that we won't allow Roman to watch because we are very strict about what he reads and what he sees, and we have been been with all the children. So he's still left out on certain things. But, in general, he has caught up with whatever it is that we decide to do, whether it's going on a big snowmobile trip or a dive trip or a long hike.
Joe, have Billie and the boys been an influence for your album?
(Joe Perry) I don't think it would be the album it is if it wasn't for them, especially Billie. She has always been the girl in the audience that I play to. To me, being married, it's of course a nice thing to do and all that, but I was absolutely cemented to her, heart and soul, from the start. I didn't need any piece of paper from the town of Cambridge to tell me how much I love her. Having your soul mate when it comes to making art, I don't know it might be different for some people than others, but I always feel it's part of the inspiration. I've always been a romantic. I've been the kind that wanted to be with one person and that was it and I found the right one. I was fortunate. It's not easy. I was just so lucky to find her. Having the partnetship we have, it's impossible for me not to think about the romance that we've had or some kind of up and down that we've have in our relationship. How is she going to react when I play it for her? I think about that. She's the only one I want to impress, especially with a solo record. With Aerosmith, it's a very different thing. I have four other guys that I also share a very deep relationship with and we make our music together and we've had this garage dream for all of our adult lives, so thats a little bit of a different scenario. And of course, I bring all my creative energy to that. But for the solo record, it is much more my own show. Obviously it's going to have more a part of what makes me tick.
And the kids' influence?
(Joe Perry) I play it for them. They are not all into the same kind of music that I listen to. It's kind of hard to get a read. They've never known me to do anything else. This is just another day at the park, hearing music coming from downstairs. I think they like the record. I definitely listen to what they have to say.
Have they influenced you with their musical tastes?
(Joe Perry) Definitely. I learn a lot about what's going on, everything from video games, to what they watch on tv and the internet. It is such a great window for me to look into. It like, looking at how they react to certain things, I might say, "Ahhh, I've heard that before." But to them it's all new. Just having kids in general, it is like people say, they keep you young because you are looking at things in their eyes. Sitting back and looking at that they are digging, you get a new perspective on it. It's not like I am looking at it all the time with 54 year old eyes. I look at it with 18, 14, and 24 year old eyes. The record wouldn't sound the way does it if I didn't have that influence.
Have their interests taken you to places where you wouldn't have gone if it wasn't for the kids?
(Billie Perry) Oh definitely, because we travel with the children on the road. We have been in zoos all over the world and we've visited children's museums, natural history museums, and caverns and caves in middle America, The Grand Canyon, on helicopter trips.
Do you try to do get-togethers with your whole family?
(Billie Perry) It's hard to get everyone together because they are growing up. Adrian has been living in New York for two years, he graduated from Stamford with a masters degree and he's been working in New York fulltime and is getting ready to go off to law school. Aaron is back at college and running Joe's hot sauce company, and he's married to Becky and they have the baby in their life. Tony is breaking away and getting ready to go off to the School of Visual Arts in New York. Roman is the one that is keeping that kind of glue going, as far as the family is concerned.
So the Joe Perry hot sauce, how did that get started?
(Joe Perry) Well, I've always had a taste fetish for hot and spicy food. I love hot food. It goes back to my grandfather. He had a taste for it, an italian with the chili pepper. The food I actually grew up with was very bland.
Do you cook?
(Joe Perry) When we get a chance, we cook.
(Billie Perry) It's something we want to get back to doing more as a couple.
(Joe Perry) It used to be a hobby. We'd be on the road and discover some Thai dish or some Indian thing and we would go home and try to duplicate it. Since the kids got older we got busy with their schooling and that became more of the focus. So the hot sauce thing came together about four years ago. I put a formula together and I worked with a guy named David Ashley, who had a hot sauce company here in Boston. I had a few ideas, and he showed me the ropes.
I'm guessing it's not for wimps.
(Joe Perry) It's not that bad. Hot is a very relative thing. I asked Emeril when I was on his show, "Where do you put this, like from 0 to 100?" And he said it's like a 60.
You guys seem to put your family first in your lives. Did you make a plan that's how it was going to be?
(Joe Perry) We both wanted to have kids. I couldn't possibly imagine being married to Billie and not having some kids. I guess it's just that italian breeding drive. I mean she is just a fantastic parent. And if it's one thing I have is an eye for talent. It's just an instinctive thing, I think. The point is, we wanted to have kids, and it's not that we were going to put them second. But the most important thing is family and keeping it together. We've seen guys on the road and leaving their families at home, and how hard that is, so we said if you are going to have kids, whatever it costs, we are going to keep our family together. Even if I end up broke on the other end, we are are going to keep our family together. I didn't get married to be alone. I didn't fall in love to be away. Every day is precious to me that we have together. I'd gladly fly all night to spend a day with Billie. And I do all the time.
So you guys home school Tony and Roman. When did you make the decision to start doing that?
(Billie Perry) Five years ago. Tony was at the end of middle school, transitioning into high school. Up until that time they had been in the Montessori school system. We would get their work, and when they were young we would take them on the road and I would work with them and then I'd take them back, and the teachers would check their work. So they had all that socializing when they were young and had a lot of group experiences. But when the work became more difficult, then we got to a point where we knew that Joe's involvement with Aerosmith was going to be extremely intense, and so the only way was to have them home schooled fulltime. We wouldn't be able to balance it out properly.
Did that mean they would go on tour?
(Joe&Billie) They've always gone on tour.
(Joe Perry) We learned that when they were young, the socializing was a big important part of how they learned. But when they got older, they really had to start learning stuff. They can't just walk through it. They needed some serious structure to their book learning, so to speak. Billie did an amazing thing, and this wasn't as popular back then, she did research to see how we could do this right.
(Billie) First I had the kids assesed. I had intelligence and psychological assessments done. So I knew where their baseline was and where their learning curves was and just if they were happy well adjusted kids. Then I researched online the different programs and the different ways of home schooling. One type of home schooling is through the town that you live in. You have to keep track of the hours that you work and what you do then the kids have to go to school and get assessed through the different testing they do periodically. That's one way of doing it. The one that worked best for us was called Laurel Springs Homeschooling. It's an independant learning school, which is actually where Tony will get his diploma from. They also supply tutors. I wanted to have a tutor that would travel with us.
What is that like?
(Billie Perry) Basically they're in school. They have curriculum that they have to follow, but they have have the flexibility of deciding what they want to study, which is really nice. It's hands on. I have loved that aspect with the travel.
Did you trust your instinct to home school from the start?
(Billie Perry) Definitely. My instrincts told me that it was the best way to go. I kept going back to the orginal philosophy. I kept going back to the verbal contract that Joe and I made when we said, "Waht do we picture our life like?" I felt like a trailblazer back then. There really wasn't the support there is now. I just trusted my instincts totally.
It seems with a traditional school, learning is limited to the walls of the classroom. But with home schooling, the whole world can be your classroom.
(Billie Perry) That's very true. The children have been to japan. We've taken them to temples. And they've been able to actually see different religions and see cultures, and eat different foods.
(Joe Perry) It's been a giant class trip.
(Billie Perry) And we've grown along with them, as well, just by being able to see the world. I feel really fortunate.
Did the two of your go to traditional schools?
(Joe Perry) I went to a regular high school and then I went to an all-boys, live-in prep school. I left there my senior year and then I got my high school equivalency.
(Billie Perry) I went to a traditional high school and dropped out. I went back and got an equivalency diploma.
Do you think traditional schools limit kids' creativity?
(Billie Perry) Especially today, with all the government cutbacks in the arts and limited funding. Absolutely.
Tom Waits said in an interview that in raising kids we have to "just let them go off the paper and onto the wall".
(Joe Perry) We definitely have that philosophy. We give them the nuts and bolts of wrong and and right and how to be polite and then we believe in taking down typical barriers so that you can be free to express yourself.
(Billie Perry) I think the idea of sitting a child at a desk from 8:30AM to 3:30PM is almost cruel and abusrive treatment. I truely do believe that. They have so much energy.
We're starting to hear a lot of success stories of people who were home schooled these days.
(Joe Perry) I think that what it's saying is really about schools and the way they work or don't work. Kids really have to be far more motivated to succeed in the traditional school setting than in a home school setting. It's not designed to bring along the kids that are having a hard time. It's designed for the kids that are naturally inclined and driven and the other ones, the ones that need the extra help fall through the cracks. When you hear about some of the schools that have programs for the kids who are having a harder time, that's progress. But I know when U was going to school, you either had a natural inclination to get the good grades or else your just squeaked by and that was it. When you look at it from the point of view of administrators, it doesn't really matter what's right for each kid. Part of it is that there are so many kids in public schools. And, again with cutbacks, teachers don't get paid as much as they should. All this stuff works against the kids. A child might have all this potential for something, but he's having a hard time because he can't sit still for eight hours. I think that's about what Tom Waits is talking about. The kids should be allowed to fulfill their potential for something that may not be on the lesson plan that day.
It sounds like your boys have really taken well to home schooling?
(Billie Perry) Well, they've had a choice. Every year we let them choose what they want to do. We say, "Do you want to be home schooled or do you want to go to school? Do you want to go to prep school?" We sit and we talk about it, and they always want to go on the road. They want to keep the family together.
Has it worked out?
(Billie Perry) We've got Tony, who's heading out into the world. We're excited for him. He's going to put himself out there. And he's a product of home schooling and us, and how we've taught him just relying on our instincts. He's ready.
You are both examples for them. Billie, what about your art and making it a part of your home?
(Billie Perry) Well, I helped to design and decorate this whole house and some of my pieces like all the stained glass I've designed, are a part of it. I had a photography show at the Photography Resource Center at Boston University. Maybe with Tony going off to college I'll have a little more free time.
Have you taught the boys guitar?
(Joe Perry) Only by example. I was never taught so I don;t have that kind of vocabulary, but I can show them things.
(Billie Perry) Both Tony and Adrian play guitar. Roman started about a year ago.
(Joe Perry) In some ways they play better than I do. Adrian is more accomplished technically. We talk a lot about music.
Do you ever play together?
(Joe Perry) Sometimes. We'll all sit down and jam. Right now Tony's in this phase where he really loves Rage Against The Machine, and he's picked a style of guitar that really excites him. And I'll go and listen to him play and give him a word of advice but it needs to be his own music. I know what music was to me, not just that I love music, but politically it was to break away. It was about rebellion. Everything that my parents were about was not the kind of music I liked. Growing upo in the '60's, when society was shifting and changing, it doesn't seem to be that now. It's like a form of entertainment that kids either get into to they don't. Tony's said over and over again, "I don't want to be a rock star."
(Billie Perry) I think that they are just individuals. They don't feel they have to copy dad. They each have their own personality.
Do you worry about the boys socially? It seems when people talk about home school negatively, they always include the fact that kids in home school settings don't integrate with kids as readily with others.
(Billie Perry) When we are on the road, they make friends as we travel. We find people that have children, so when we get to certain spots they know that they are going to see certain kids in certain staes and that's really fun. Also, from time to time, the other band members' children will come out on the road, and they are all similar ages. Another thing that we do is when kids get to be about 13, parents will let us bring them on the road so we will fly out playmates and they can have their best friend come out for a week or two. And the when the band is off, I sign them up for summer programs. Maybe they'll be signed up for a robotics camp. Tony went to summer camp away. Roman played baseball one summer. And we have an open door policy at the house, and this is the hangout place.
You two are grandparents, too, right?
(Billie Perry) Yeah.
You're two of the coolest grandparents I've ever met.
(Joe&Billie) Thank you.
(Joe Perry) I am married to a grandmother! I can't believe it. She's not like any grandmother I ever grew up with, that's for sure.
(Billie Perry) I was very young when I had Aaron, so I've a very young grandmother. But it's fun, I mean, it brings more excite ment to the family again. It keeps the traditions of Christmas and Thanksgiving and makes those kinds of traditions fun. It's a different enegery level.
Joe, you're a musician, father, husband, grandfather. Does that make it hard to keep the creative edge to your work?
(Joe Perry) I went through a period when I was in my early 40's where I doubted where or not is was legitimate enought to dedicate the rest of my life to doing this. Can I just jump around on stage with a guitar on? I went through a few months of thinking, How can I do this with a straight face anymore? But then I realized that I never did it with a straight face, and as long as I have a good time doing it, then it's valid. You know what I mean? I've always had my tongue in my cheek when I am playing and doing this with Aerosmith. So it's fun, you know? And as long as we can do it and have fun, I going to keep doing it. I can be 60 years old and keep doing it. And thats it. I think you just have to follow your instincts, which is what I've done so I'm really comfortable. This little niche of music making, one part is so pop oriented and youth oriented, and the generation I grew up in, the stars either died or the band broke up. It's always been a business turnover. It's always been like if a band ran into a little bit of trouble, there were always two bands to take their place. So I think that all of us that have started this rock n roll thing and have sort of joined up, the older guys, the ones that I consider from the first generation of rockers, you know from the 60's, they're stiull out their doing it.
I heard that you said something about the importance of the guitar as a symbol of rebellion.
(Joe Perry) And it still is. They're out there making new music right now. And just by it's nature, it can be really loud and brash and it can be really obnoxious.
(Billie Perry) But it can also be really romantic and sensual and intimate.
(Joe Perry) That's right and that's why it's so infinite.