So, Aerosmith is breaking up. Or, depending on which websites you trust or whose tweets you’re following, they aren’t. They haven’t been able to get it together enough to make an album of original material since 2001, or finish a tour without multiple members ending up in the hospital, so it’s no surprise that they can’t even do this right. Perhaps they need counseling, eh, Metallica? At this point, all we know is that Steven Tyler doesn’t want to be in Aerosmith, or maybe he does, just not now. He apparently wants to focus on “Brand Tyler,” which today seems about as hip and necessary as focusing on “Brand George W. Bush.” Though I suppose it isn’t as asinine as trying to continue on with brand Aerosmith without Tyler, as Joe Perry claims he’s going to do, if in fact Tyler is quitting, which apparently now he’s not. WTF, Aerosmith? WTF?
Aerosmith, more than any other rock band, is an enigma. How can the same band have given us “Back in the Saddle” and “Pink”? “Last Child” and “Girls of Summer”? “Mama Kin” and “Amazing”? Given every opportunity to succeed in pure rock awesomeness, they’ve found ways to fuck it up. Maybe when you create something as immediate and phenomenal as the Toys in the Attic album or Rocks, you gain license to shit on your legacy? I’d go so far as to say that maybe they deserve to. But just when you’re ready to count them out, they pull a Hulk Hogan on you and come out on top, yet again. Aerosmith is harder to kill than Jason Voorhees. In fact, the only reason they’re still around today is that they’ve been lucky enough to cheat death.
I can almost guarantee that the Rock Gods had planned for Aerosmith to self-destruct sometime after 1978, and they almost did. It’s surprising no one died. Hell, acting in Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band should have been worth a smiting alone, but even all the coke and STDs in the world couldn’t kill the Toxic Twins. It’s not lost on them, either. They named an album Nine Lives, for God’s sake (and what a turd of an album that was). Sometimes you don’t deserve a second chance, or a third, or a fourth. Sometimes you just want to bury the fucking thing and move on. Unfortunately, Aerosmith has never subscribed to that theory. They’ve been making questionable decisions longer than I’ve been alive and still come up roses every now and again; why should we expect anything different?
I’ve never known life without Aerosmith. But, being born in 1977, I missed what is arguably the best Aerosmith: “Dream On,” Get Your Wings, Draw the Line, Rocks, and the legendary Toys in the Attic. In fact, to this day, Toys is the only Aerosmith album I still listen to. You can put it up against just about any other single album in the history of rock, and it holds up. If you want to know why anybody has ever cared about Aerosmith, you just need to point to that album. Fueled by sex, drugs, and more drugs, Toys in the Attic is the bastard American child of Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones, all grown up and finding its own voice; stealing the blues back for its homeland. It’s fucking timeless, and it’s the one with “Sweet Emotion.” I would learn all of this later.
No, the Aerosmith that I grew up with was a different Aerosmith entirely. They had broken up, hit rock bottom, gone to rehab, and reformed, all while I was busy learning cursive and multiplication tables. They were back, apparently, though at the time I didn’t even know they’d been gone. By the time they reached my radar, they were older, sober, fighting off the “has-been” label, and couldn’t write a hit single without the help of song doctors like Desmond Child and Jim Vallance. The newly clean and reformed Aerosmith, “Toxic Twins” t-shirts now more merchandise than reality, would launch their big comeback with the one-two punch of Permanent Vacation and Pump. They were huge records that today seem like nothing more than a combination of novelty songs and power ballads. But hey, what would Mrs. Doubtfire have been without “Dude Looks Like A Lady”? As a junior high kid, I was reeled in easily while they raked it in, and with the help of music videos, Aerosmith went from near death to MTV superstardom.
The Aerosmith of my youth was the Aerosmith of MTV, all tight red leather pants, big lips and scarves, and “Janie’s Got A Gun.” I swear that video was played every single hour of 1990. But don’t get me wrong, I loved this Aerosmith. It was the only one I knew. I spent my early teens wondering what was really going on inside elevators, and masturbating to the scantily clad women in the “Rag Doll” video. I was obsessed with Wayne’s World, which was obsessed with Aerosmith, and I had a huge crush on my buddy’s older sister, the one with Permanent Vacation on vinyl, cassette, and CD. Then came Get a Grip, with its massive crossover ballads, Alicia Silverstone, and Lenny Kravitz. It all seemed like one big coming out party for Liv Tyler, but I wasn’t complaining. I could watch that “Crazy” video over and over again, and I did. Sure they’d sold out, but I didn’t know it yet, and it would all eventually get much worse. Eventually my mom would like Aerosmith.
Lucky for me, around that time came Richard Linklater’s 1993 movie, Dazed and Confused. The entire movie is a classic, but the opening scene is legendary, due mostly to the use of “Sweet Emotion” and Tom Hamilton’s timeless bassline. There is also a minor plot line involving a plan to score Aerosmith tickets. I probably watched that movie at least once a weekend when it came out on VHS. I wanted to live in 1976, I wanted to score Aerosmith tickets, I wanted to hang out with Wooderson and Slater, I wanted to fuck Joey Lauren Adams, and it was only a matter of time before I delved into the music of Aerosmith circa 1976. Then it got serious. I saved up dough from my part time job at a sporting goods store and hit up Wind Records in Chicago at least once a week. I bought Toys in the Attic, I bought Rocks, I bought Live: Bootleg, and I listened to them religiously. Suddenly, it all made sense. This is why Aerosmith actually meant something. This is why not even Nirvana or Pearl Jam could stop the Aerosmith juggernaut in the ’90s when every single one of their contemporaries were being bumped out of the spotlight and off the radio by the new wave of alternative rock. Old Aerosmith is the reason why I began to hate the new Aerosmith, which until then I had loved. Nonetheless, in the summer of 1993 I scored my Aerosmith tickets, just like in the movie.
On Saturday August 6, 1994, the tenth (yes, TENTH) leg of Aerosmith’s Get a Grip Tour stopped at what was then the World Music Theater outside of Chicago. I was 16, and this would be my first glimpse of the legendary Aerosmith in concert. We crammed into my white 1991 Chrysler Lebaron convertible, blaring Aerosmith’s Gems from the factory tape deck, and rolled into the venue with enough time to grab a spot on the wet lawn and catch the final four songs of Jackyl’s opening set, not nearly as blown away by Jesse James Dupree’s infamous chain saw solo as we’d imagined we would be. I remember bleached blondes wearing tight jeans and wife beaters, bad weed being passed around, overpriced beer being spilled, and how utterly awesome it was to see Joe Perry use the talk box on “Sweet Emotion.” It was easily my favorite song from arguably the biggest band in the world at the time.
However, it was a moment during that night’s “Dream On” that will forever stick with me. My buddy Tony and I, joining thousands of other people on the lawn, sparked our lighters (without irony, mind you), and tried to keep them burning throughout the Aerosmith classic. Then, as Steven Tyler stretched to hit the notes of the song’s peak, suddenly both of our lighters melted…at the same fucking time! Sure, in hindsight, it was a silly random moment brought on by the shoddy craftsmanship and heat limits of the identical, cheap lighters we picked up at 7-11 on the way to the show, but in that moment, as Tyler was leaning up against Perry and they were bringing “Dream On” to its crescendo for the millionth time, it was absolute magic. It was totally Rock N Roll. I’ll always remember the look on his face as we looked at each other with stunned, wide-eyed amazement, knowing that we’d never forget the Saturday night when Aerosmith destroyed our lighters. We screamed, arms raised in triumph, then broke out our air guitars as they launched into “Walk This Way.”
That’s what it’s all about. Moments like that are why I’ve been addicted to rock music for decades. At its best, a great song can transcend your boring suburban teenage life or your mundane nine to five. A great rock show can take you places. It can feel supernatural. At their best, Aerosmith obliterated cigarette lighters. At their worst, they subjected us to the Joe Perry-less Rock in a Hard Place, the horrid Just Push Play, and that fucking song from Armageddon. Now we may get a Steven Tyler-less Aerosmith album and an Aerosmith-less Steven Tyler album, despite the fact that most of us want neither. I know I don’t want to hear Tyler sing a bunch of songs meant for Celine Dion or Katy Perry, and I don’t want to hear Paul Rogers or some random Asian guy from YouTube fronting Aerosmith; no one does. They’ve rolled the dice for nearly 40 years, but this time it will not end well.
Never has there been a band so unbelievably great and so sadly shitty at the same time. That, to me, is the Aerosmith legacy, and it’s only bound to get worse. Yet, there is something that still seems sacred about this band, beyond mere nostalgia. I just think they need to go away for good before we’ll be able to figure out exactly what that is. Now seems to be as good a time as ever. Perhaps they said it best on Toys in the Attic: “You love it and you hate it, but to me they’re all the same. No more, no more.” Yes indeed, Aerosmith, no more…or maybe more? I give up.