Otago Daily Times
March 2, 2013
Aerosmith singer Steven Tyler’s 40-year career has had its fair share of highs and lows. As his band prepares for a one-off New Zealand concert in Dunedin next month, the self-proclaimed Demon of Screamin’ discusses fame, family, feuds and falling down a few holes with Shane Gilchrist.
”Do not attempt to adjust the illusion”. Redolent with overtones of a 1950s-era science-fiction show narrator, the spoken-word introduction to Aerosmith’s most recent album, the 2012 release Music from Another Dimension! might feature a throwaway message aimed at listeners, but bounce it back at frontman Steven Tyler and other connotations emerge.
Such as: don’t mess with this (lucrative) machine; and/or, why not celebrate the rock ‘n’ roll dream? For Tyler and Aerosmith, that has meant steering (sometimes wonkily) a 40-year course in heavy rock.
”People always think of an illusion in a negative way – as in: `It’s just an illusion; it’s not real’. Well, if music is an illusion, then it’s the most beautiful illusion of all,” Tyler says, adding: ”Music can evoke the memory of the first girl you kissed when you were 17 … you can’t buy that.”
That might be so, but music can lead to a different sort of conjuring trick. Aerosmith, the most successful American rock band of all time, has sold more than 100 million albums worldwide. It’s how Tyler can afford to have houses on the United States mainland as well as a home on Maui, Hawaii, from where he is calling.
He is on the phone because earlier this week it was announced Aerosmith would perform a one-off New Zealand concert at Dunedin’s Forsyth Barr Stadium on April 24. The news came the same day as reports Tyler and guitar-slinging bandmate Joe Perry will be inducted into the United States Songwriters Hall of Fame in June. Such industry recognition is nothing new to Aerosmith’s members, who have won four Grammy Awards, were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001 and included on Rolling Stone’s and VH1’s lists of the ”100 Greatest Artists of All Time” the same year.
Accolades aside, Tyler says it is live performance that still gives him his greatest musical buzz more than four decades after Aerosmith emerged in Boston in 1970, melding a bluesy, dirty guitar swagger with elements of metal and glam-rock.
”I love the band. It is the biggest thing in my life, except for my kids and a few parcels of land that I call home,” he says.
”You get that electricity from the people in the front row – you know, these kids are freaking out. I love that. I see kids watching Joe Perry playing guitar; I watch their faces … I don’t know any other way to be.
”Sure, I could get lost in the woods on vacation up in New England for a couple of months, but I never forget that feeling of walking out in front of an audience.
”We still get off on it. I know the other guys won’t say it because they are married but the band defines their lives. I watch them on stage. I’ve watched Joe and he may be ‘all that’ when he’s at home, but he ain’t nothing like he is when he is on stage,” says Tyler, who will celebrate his 65th birthday at the end of this month.
”Sure, we are all tired when a tour is over. Touring is hard. I lose two pounds a night when I’m up on stage jumping around and sweating and generally making people happy.
”I love being able to play a song I wrote 40 years ago on a pump organ,” he says, referring to Dream On, a power ballad off the band’s 1973 debut self-titled album.
”We end the show with it.”
Power ballads might have existed before (Led Zeppelin’s 1971 effort Stairway To Heaven anyone?), but Tyler, Perry, bass player Tom Hamilton, guitarist Brad Whitford (who replaced founding member Ray Tabano) and drummer Joey Kramer have done particularly well reworking variations on the theme over the years.
Angel, a collaboration between Tyler and songwriter-for-hire Desmond Child that featured on the successful 1987 album Permanent Vacation, reached No 3 on the Billboard chart, only to be eclipsed in 1998 by ballad I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing, which reached No 1.
However, many fans and critics are drawn more to the raw licks of Perry, whose technique has inspired a new generation of guitarists, including Guns N’Roses’ Slash and Metallica’s James Hetfield.
”Whether it’s Dream On, Love In An Elevator (from 1989 album Pump) or Sweet Emotion (from 1975 album Toys In The Attic), it’s unreal,” Tyler says, suggesting he scratches his head a little at the success of his band.
”They have become classics. But in this business, it’s a crapshoot. A lot of bands have a lot of great songs, but Aerosmith has persevered.”
Though Tyler was once quoted as saying: ”Great melody over great riffs is, to me, the secret of it all”, he acknowledges both in this interview and his 2011 autobiography, Does the Noise In My Head Bother You?: A Rock ‘n’ Roll Memoir, that a certain arrogance or ”lead singer disease” has helped lift himself and Aerosmith above the pack.
”I think we got caught up in writing music and wanting to play it in front of people better than it sounded recorded. Take Love In An Elevator: we don’t change it when we play it; we just play it so severely every night.”
Tyler, clearly, is a sucker for a sound-bite. A lyricist who delights in the double entendre, who laces more than the occasional song with sexual innuendo, he knows which words are going to stick.
Thus when he discloses he has ”kissed the devil on the lips and survived”, he’s fully aware his past habits are about to be rehashed (excuse the pun).
”I love my life. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I wouldn’t trade anything I’ve done in life, whether it’s the trees I jumped out of when I was a kid, the girls I’ve kissed, the pot I’ve smoked or the Jack Daniel’s I’ve drunk,” he says, adding: ”Well, what doesn’t kill you … ”
His drug use is no secret. In a 2011 Today article, Tyler claimed he had spent at least $US5 million on cocaine during his career.
”Think about it for a minute,” he says, almost conspiratorially.
”It’s 1974 and we’ve finally made it big; girls are clambering over us, money is coming in and we’ve sold out Madison Square Garden. What are we going to do – go home and play ping-pong?
”It’s not just the audience who get off on the show. We do, too. Hence the addictions to other things.”
By the end of the 1970s, despite – or because of – the band’s success, Aerosmith was struggling internally. Perry and Whitford left the group as Tyler’s drug issues escalated. The singer maintained the group by adding new members, but Aerosmith was barely a facsimile of its formative line-up.
By the mid-1980s, Tyler had completed a drug rehabilitation programme, the group reconvened and, with the significant help of rap group Run-D.M.C.’s chart-topping 1986 cover of Walk This Way, made a successful comeback with 1987 album Permanent Vacation, followed by Pump (1989), which included the singles Love in an Elevator and Janie’s Got a Gun.
Yet the performer has endured other health problems in recent years.
In 2006 Tyler underwent throat surgery that forced Aerosmith to cancel half its North American tour; the same year, he was treated for Hepatitis C; in 2008, he checked into a rehabilitation clinic to recover from a series of leg surgeries aimed at repairing damage to his feet; in 2009, he broke his shoulder when he fell from a South Dakota stage (another tour cancelled); and later that year he returned to rehab to deal with an addiction to painkillers, which he said he had used for a decade to offset injuries sustained during years of touring.
The rumours flew: initial reports following his shoulder injury declared Tyler would not return to Aerosmith, with Perry later stating Tyler had quit Aerosmith to pursue a solo career. However, in 2010, the frontman was back on stage with Aerosmith, the band performing in more than 18 countries on the Cocked, Locked, Ready to Rock tour.
Nowadays, Tyler says his health is ”real good”.
”That stuff the press focused on has to be taken in the context of a 40-year career,” he says.
”That ain’t s*** it’s nothing compared to others. People get whiplash in their cars or have plane accidents or food poisoning.”
Tyler took off on a new tangent in 2011, becoming a judge on television music contest American Idol. Having completed two seasons of the show, he pulled out last year, yet his prime-time predilections were not without consequences.
In short, a rather public band spat broke out. Incensed to learn of Tyler’s American Idol deal via the internet, Perry mooted an idea to replace the singer. That, in turn, prompted retorts from the frontman. However, peace returned once it was established Tyler would be able to manage both his Idol schedule and work on a new Aerosmith album, Music from Another Dimension!
”I made the decision to stand down from American Idol because, No 1, it’s television. It’s a different beast,” Tyler says.
”I lived on the top of the mountain for my whole life. Television is a whole different mountain with an entirely different view. I figured I’d been with Aerosmith for 40 years and American Idol has only been around for 10.”
Tyler’s time as a judge on American Idol provided him with more than a few insights into how some now measure (and manage) the concept of fame.
”It is a different world now. Via their Facebook page, people can talk to as many people as who came to see us perform at Madison Square Garden. That’s the forum. Kids are growing up telling people to be their friends on Facebook. What about making a friend at a club because you rocked their world for four hours. I mean, how else do you get good?
”If you make it big on Facebook or TV or whatever, then you are going to have to go out and actually perform. So why not start off that way? Why not get yourself into a venue somewhere and start playing? Go into the garage with a band and start performing.”
On the subject of younger generations, Tyler is the father of four children: Liv Tyler (the result of Tyler’s relationship with model Bebe Buell in the mid-’70s), Mia Tyler (the singer was married to Cyrinda Foxe from 1978 to 1988), Chelsea and Taj Monroe (Tyler was married to their mother Teresa Barrick, from 1988-2006). Tyler has also been a grandfather since 2004, when Liv gave birth to son Milo.
”Wives might not last forever, but children do,” Tyler says. (Though he and model Erin Brady announced their engagement in 2011, the couple split up in January this year.)
”Last Christmas, after Aerosmith had been on tour in America, I took all the kids and their families to Maui. To have them all here at the same time, that’s the kind of s*** that lasts a lifetime.”
Therein lies the heart of the matter.
His autobiography might include a rather self-reverential quote (”Tyler, the demon of screamin’, who never woke up from the dream he was dreamin’, until one day he drank some magic potion, now all that’s left is sweet emotion”), but when the amplifiers have cooled after all those stadium shows around the world, here is a man who just might require a warmth based more on family than fanfare.
”I think someone asked what I’d put on my tombstone,” Tyler recalls.
”However, I don’t know if I’ll have one.”
Still, he offers an alternative epitaph. Let’s call it a recent remix: ”When your lights go out, you want your kids to be holding your hand.”