Posted November/December, 2009
Photo Courtesy of Rob Shanahan - RobShanahan.com
A wife and family. Check and check.
Clean and sober for nine years. Check.
Whoever this person is sounds like they have life firing on all cylinders, doesn’t? However, this was not the case with Aerosmith drummer, Joey Kramer, back in 1995. Just as he and the band were about to begin work on an album, Kramer had a mental and emotional breakdown.
The months that followed involved lots of therapy that peeled back layer upon layer of deep, emotional baggage filled with hurt and pain from his childhood and most of the significant relationships in his life. The result left Joey with some very difficult decisions to make. Decisions that meant walking away from a lot: a beautiful estate, an emotionally abusive marriage and other toxic relationships. It also led to Kramer taking back the ownership of his life.
Kramer’s book, Hit Hard (see the Boomerocity review of the book here), chronicles his childhood of emotional void and intense loneliness that learning to play drums helped him cope with. It also details his battles with various demons in adulthood that led to his eventual breakdown and ultimate recovery. During a recent phone conversation from his offices in the greater Boston area, I had the privilege of talking with Joey Kramer about his book and some of the stories that he shares in it
To be sure, before talking with Joey, I couldn’t help but think about the fact that he provided the steady beat to the soundtrack of my youth on great Aerosmith songs like “Walk This Way”, “Dream On”, and “Sweet Emotions”. After reading “Hit Hard”, it was clear that there was much more than met the eye with regards to the trappings of his success during those years.
At 59, Kramer comes across as someone who’s at peace with himself and comfortable with whom he is. Not really knowing what to expect, I quickly found that his warmth and approachability created a very relaxed atmosphere for us to talk.
The conversation starts off with discussing how sales of “Hit Hard” are doing. “They’re going okay. Now that we’ve been off the road awhile, I’m going to be doing some book signings and some meet ‘n greets and, hopefully, up the sales a bit.”
As someone who grew up in a nurturing environment as a kid, I shared with Kramer how his childhood was hard for me to grasp and to understand how parents could treat kids the way he was treated. I was curious if writing the book was more painful to write or if he found it more liberating.
With some introspection, he replies, “Um, it was very cathartic writing it. It was very cleansing and I found that, once I began to role on a subject, it was really amazing (to find) what’s stored up in your memory as far as letting it role. If I was talking about somebody that I went to high school with, a story about that person would connect me to somebody else or another situation and, before you know it, things are really rolling. It’s really incredible what’s in our minds that we don’t even know is there as far as what your memory has recorded from the past.”
I brought up the story he mentions in the book regarding a letter that he wrote to his dad. I asked how key the role of forgiveness played in turning his life around. His reply is enthusiastic and to the point.
“Oh! Very key! Very key! You have to forgive and you have to let go of the past because, without letting go of the past, without forgiving, you really can’t move on. You really can’t move forward with your life in any capacity. And as long as it takes to conjure up that forgiveness, that’s how long you stay stuck.”
In commenting to Kramer that forgiveness is a hard thing for people to do and the fact that he was able to forgive the people that hurt him the most was, indeed, amazing, he mellows a bit more as he comments, “Yeah, especially in the section that concerned my father – forgiving him before he passed. That was really important to me because, otherwise, I would’ve really been stuck there. It really was an amazing moment for me. After doing a lot of therapy, I just came to him and – well, the reality of it is that I was doing it for myself but for him as well. It released him and cleaned the slate for us both before he passed.”
People like Kramer who have a lot of international fame, money and influence, have a lot of people who derive their own power and prestige by being associated with them. Joey was no exception. Lots of people controlled him and filtered what he heard and who he heard it from. This skewed his view of life. With that thought in mind, I asked him, “Once you took control of your life and your relationships, what technique, what attitude or what actions have been successful for you in standing up to those who have wished to dominate you or new relationships that tried to dominate you, things like that? For others that need that kind of advice, what’s been successful for you in that area?”
“Well, that’s a very interesting question, Randy. My answer to that would be to own yourself; to own your own feelings, your own emotions, and not let co-dependency get in the way - with co-dependency being that you’re dependent upon someone else to feel good about yourself. It’s very important to own your own feelings and to stand up for yourself.
“In the past, I’ve always had a difficult time standing up for myself and, by virtue of that, sometimes you establish relationships with people who are not even conscious or aware of their taking advantage of you or your emotions. If things go a certain way for them and they get certain perks – from me anyway – they get certain perks by being your friend and then all of a sudden, when you take back the turf that you let them own, they don’t like that and it makes people very uncomfortable. And that in itself is a very difficult thing to deal with. But you have to own your own emotions and your own feelings and basically, for me, a big part of it was learning to stand up for myself. “
I asked if he had been hiding behind the drums. He replies with a laugh, “Well, where I really hid the most, I found, was in my drug addiction and in my alcoholism and once that was gone and I got rid of that, there was no place to hide. Then I really came into the depression and the anxiety. I think that was the lack of being able to deal with the stuff that we’ve been talking about. Because I think depression and anxiety, which goes hand-in-hand with it, is un-dealt-with anger that reverts back inside you. If you can’t be outward with it, then it comes in and attacks you inwardly.”
Clearly comfortable with discussing what he’s learned, he continues, “I was just really emotionally distraught and bankrupt when I had my breakdown back in 1995. That’s when I dealt with all of that. I was already 9 years clean and sober. So I was really wondering, ‘Wow, I’ve been clean and sober for 9 years and now, what is this all about?’ Because people are under the impression that getting clean and sober is the answer itself which it really isn’t. It’s only part of it.”
I was curious if Kramer felt that he has uncovered all the skeletons in his emotional closet or was he still discovering new ones.
“Well, no, I know what I need to work on, which is a constant battle every day. And there’s also new stuff that comes up just as well. So, you know, it keeps it fairly interesting. It keeps me on my toes all the time.”
While the letter to Joey’s father represented dealing with the pains of his past, he writes about walking away from his beautiful estate and his marriage – the symbols of his fame and his toxic relationships - in order to come to complete terms with his life. I commented that those acts had to be incredibly tough for him to pull off.
“Well, yeah, it was because I was very preoccupied in thinking that, in believing that being involved in an abusive relationship was just part and parcel – that was part of doing business. I just thought that was the way it was supposed to be – the way that it is – because I didn’t know any better.
“I was preoccupied with all my stuff: the money, the houses and the cars. I thought that if you have all of that then you’re happy regardless of what your relationship was like. That’s just not what it’s about. That’s just not the truth of the matter. Now, when people are ready to get honest with themselves, you can get honest with yourself and that’s half of it. Then the other half is actually doing something about it. “
“And, boy, that you did! And, aside from the letter to your dad, to me that was the most compelling part of the book - the stand you took in doing that. It must have been a very tough thing to do.”
“Yeah, it was. It was but it paid off for me and I’m extremely happy now.”
In past interviews relative to “Hit Hard”, Kramer has mentioned his desire to help others by telling his story. I asked him what his “elevator speech” would be to a room full of people, kids and adults alike, who are either in homes like he was as a kid or were at their own “Miami cross-roads” as he was in 1995.
“Well, it’s a difficult thing to just say and pull off at the same time but I think that the biggest attribute that I was able to establish for myself was honesty. And once you’re able to be completely honest with yourself then I think a lot of things begin to fall into place. Because, you know, we have a lot of things justified and we make excuses for anything and everything in life, whether it’s for not doing certain things that we should do or being a certain way and not correcting it or being mean to people and not being a pleasant person.
“I mean, there are all kinds of justifications for everything but when you get down to being honest with yourself, I mean, for real, because I believe that we all have that little voice inside, you know? That little voice inside – that we know better? Unless you’re troubled by being mentally ill in some fashion, then when that little voice talks to you, then that’s the honesty. I know that I have that little voice inside and I’ve done a lot of work and a lot of therapy and I honor that little voice inside.”
I asked if there were any stories that he wished he had included or if there has there been any backlash with regards to the stories he did include.
His reply is resolute and confident. “No to both questions. I pretty much put everything in there. I made an honest attempt at doing my book and I think that’s one of the things that people recognize and identify with is the fact that its honest. I don’t think that I left anything out, really. I mean, I worked on that book for four years. It’s pretty much all in there.”
Coming close to the end of our conversation, I asked Joey what was next, project wise, after he has completed the promotion of his book.
“I don’t know. I have a couple of irons in some different fires that I can’t really talk about yet but – you know, there could be some other things. Maybe another book, maybe some other projects, it all depends. It depends on a lot of different things.”
I relayed how pleasantly surprised I was to find that the book wasn’t another “stoner rock star” tome and that I couldn’t put the book down until I was finished. I also shared some of the positive responses I received from Boomerocity readers.
“Well, thank you very much. I didn’t want it to be just your average rock and roll memoir, you know? There’s a lot of those out there and, not only are there a lot of those out there, but it gave me the opportunity to use my celebrity to discuss things that are very pertinent subjects today which are depression, anxiety, drug addiction and alcoholism.
“And, yeah, it’s talked about all the time but you don’t have to be in my position, you don’t have to be a rock and roll star to crash and burn. Everybody suffers from all of those things. And, if you don’t suffer from them yourself, you suffer with the likes of somebody you know that suffers from it and, therefore, it affects you in some way, shape or form. So, it’s pertinent information and you know, it’s out there today. I’m not a believer in creating a bunch of dirt that people can read about, although that’s what people want to read. But this is the real stuff.”
I closed out my conversation with Joey Kramer with one final question that required some heart-felt reflection on his part. I asked how the changes in his life affected his view of the world and of life.
“Well, it’s made me much more pleasant person to be around, I think. I have discovered that it’s a whole lot easier to be nice than to – I use to be a fairly grumpy kind of person because there was a lot of things that I was angry about and that I was unhappy about but I didn’t really do anything about it.
“Writing the book helped me get it out and I’ve become a better person for it. My view of life in general is better – more positive. I don’t let a lot of things bother me that I used to and I don’t allow people to take my power from me anymore. It’s been a very difficult road for me but now that I’m on the road that I’m on, I’m pretty happy about it.”
After the conversation was over, I sat in my office and reflected on the conversation that I just had. First, I pinched myself, making sure that I just didn’t dream the conversation with a member of one of my favorite bands of my youth and adulthood. Second, I was both amazed and thankful that Joey Kramer rid himself of his addictions, fought through the depression and anxiety, and thought enough of others to swallow his pride and share his gripping story with the world. It’s a story that others need to hear and can benefit from.
If you know of anyone that is fighting some sort of addiction, depression or anxiety, then do them a favor and pick-up a copy of Joey’s story, “Hit Hard”. It’s a brilliantly written, but painful, book to read that is certain to help those that take the time to read it.