Rock Stars From Stockbridge
Twins Kenny and Jonathan Aronoff make the world better, together
Kenny and Jonathan are each other’s biggest fan—and biggest ham.
Photo by Jake Borden
When drummer Kenny Aronoff took his curtain call at the Mahaiwe last August, the standing ovation went on and on. The tattooed rock star was teary-eyed behind his trademark sunglasses, in a theater packed with old friends and neighbors. The audience clapped as though their applause might keep their hometown hero in their grasp a little longer. For his part, Aronoff seemed in no hurry to leave the warm embrace.
Even after playing on over 30 Grammy-nominated recordings with superstars of every stripe, including Beyoncé, Sting, Bruce Springsteen, and Bob Dylan, this moment felt even more significant for the 62-year-old Stockbridge native.
It wasn’t because he closed out the night by killing a ten-minute solo of Thelonious Monk’s “Straight, No Chaser.” And it wasn’t his stories about meeting President Bill Clinton or being named the number-one pop/rock and studio drummer for five consecutive years by Modern Drummer. It was because at the top of his show, Aronoff asked for the houselights and told the audience this community made him. “We’re in this together tonight,” he said, and everyone in that house felt like a rock star, too.
Aronoff’s biggest fan that night and always is his mirror image, identical twin brother Jonathan Aronoff, who conducted the Mahaiwe’s Q&A. Eight minutes older, Jonathan has always been his chief collaborator and competitor. Star athletes growing up, the brothers battled to be top dog while rooting for each other. Kenny played offensive soccer to Jonathan’s defense, Jonathan excelled at cross-country skiing, while Kenny dominated downhill.
With trademark hard work and the belief that failure is not an option, the Aronoff twins made good. A classically trained timpanist who performed with orchestras at Aspen Music Festival and Tanglewood, Kenny got his break in rock ’n’ roll in 1980 playing on hits like “Jack and Diane” and “Hurt So Good” with John Mellencamp. Kenny toured with the pop star for 17 years and subsequently became the most in-demand sessions drummer in the world. Meanwhile, Jonathan played semi-professional soccer and got his PhD in clinical psychology from Brigham Young University while completing a predoctoral internship at Harvard Medical School.
Jonathan returned to Stockbridge to become the first local person accepted for the post-doctoral internship at Austen Riggs and subsequently opened a private practice as a clinical psychologist, psychotherapist, and coach of hundreds of athletes, executives, and individuals in the Berkshires.
Jonathan has been dubbed “The Mayor of Stockbridge,” and Kenny has been called “The World’s Greatest Rock Drummer.” Both credit their twinship for any success. “One plus one always equals more than two,” says Jonathan, articulating how they propell each other. “The magic is that my brother and I were so committed to what the other one had, and that is a feeling we both served.”
Though they speak once a month and Kenny makes it back to the Berkshires just once a year (Jonathan lives in Stockbridge and Kenny in Studio City, California), they still think the same way and finish each other’s sentences. While Jonathan wears suits and Kenny wouldn’t be caught dead in one, both shave their heads and are in top physical shape so they can attack life like it’s a competitive sport. “It’s fight or fight for me, not fight or flight,” says Kenny. Hanging around them forces the question they ask themselves daily, “I may not be as great as I want to be, but am I being as great as I can be?”
The Aronoffs returned to their alma mater at Berkshire Country Day School and saw vividly how their paths were preordained. By 14, Jonathan was the go-to kid to help others and received BCD’s Citizenship Award. By then, Kenny had formed his first band (The Alley Cats) after seeing The Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and deciding he would play with them one day. (Kenny got his wish in 2014 when he played with Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney in a Grammy’s tribute.) “Even when Kenny was a kid on this campus, everyone gravitated to and orbited around his music,” says Jonathan.
When Jonathan coached the Monument Mountain Regional High School girls soccer program to Northern County Championship in 2002, he invited his brother to do a fundraiser for the school’s athletics. “I had to flip-flop because the music wasn’t the most important thing. It was the message,” says Kenny. From then on, his music became another vehicle for the brothers’ joint message about living a healthy and full life.
Both Aronoffs plan to publish books in 2016. Kenny’s is a memoir that includes his strategies for a successful life and career. Jonathan addresses how boys can become mature, presidential men in his new book he has titled The Lost Generation of Boys. The brothers are contemplating a joint tour that is part coaching and part rock ’n’ roll, a version of their Mahaiwe triumph.
The only downside as twins is when they’re mistaken for the other. “I’m walking out of the Red Lion Inn and there’s a tour bus and three heads pop out and say, ‘Kenny!’” says Jonathan. “I’ve been going through this for 35 years.”
Kenny has been stopped by Jonathan’s former patients who say things like, “Your brother saved my ass. He’s brilliant,” says Kenny.
Their impact on each other and the Berkshires is hard to calculate. Jonathan is so infused “as a mentor, a coach, and a leader, and that makes him the real rock star,” says Kenny.
Jonathan describes Kenny as “a larger-than-life hero,” one who “created this incredible way of making us feel good through his music. How do you measure that?” asks Jonathan. “That’s one plus one equals thousands.