By Marilyn Beck and Stacy Jenel Smith
Who says the dinosaur is extinct? Case in point: Steven Tyler and his Aerosmith cronies. The Boston-based rockers, who by most measures should have died off ages ago, remain a stadium-filling force to be reckoned with three decades after the band's inception.
Fronted by 51-year-old, spandex-wearing, big-haired, big-lipped dynamo Tyler, whose singing style has been likened to the "howl of a crier calling Gomorreans to an orgy," the group is fresh off multiplatinum studio and live albums Nine Lives and A Little South of Sanity. They just wrapped a massive world tour. And they even star in a new Disney World attraction, the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster.
And talk about ups and downs. The act that began in 1970 and went on to become one of the most influential of the decade, had, by the early '90s, given in to extreme substance abuse. But after Tyler, guitar king Joe Perry and the rest of the band cleaned up, they staged one of rock's biggest comebacks.
As well as staging a second generation. Hot actress Liv Tyler grew up believing her father was rocker Todd Rundgren, until age 11, when she went to an Aerosmith concert and realized she looked exactly like the lead singer.
Indeed, her former Playboy Playmate mother, Bebe Buell, had had a liaison with Tyler. Today, Tyler describes his relationship with Liv as a close one, and he's also close to second daughter Mia, a leading plus-size model. Married to third wife Teresa, he's also the father of Chelsea and Taj, ages 10 and 6, respectively.
So, where to now? Steven Tyler's got it all figured out.
You just finished what was starting to look like the Book of Job tour, what with drummer Joey Kramer getting burned in a car accident, you tearing a ligament in your knee and the band's getting hit by the flu. Was it as hard as it looked from the outside?
The cogs just happened to come together in such a way that Joey got in that accident, I took my leg out...You know, I've sung "Mama Kin" more than 1,000 times and always swung my mike stand around. I've had my tooth broken when someone threw a coat onstage and it hit the mike, which hit me in the mouth--but I've never smacked myself with the mike stand before. A coat? What's the weirdest thing you've ever had thrown onstage? Tampons, rubbers, gerbils. Just stuff. Joints, stuffed dolls. What do you call those...uh, Beanie Babies? I musta received 200 of those. Lollipops, panties, bras. In South America, when they spit on you, that is an act of endearment. At some of the German festivals, they pee in their beer bottles and throw those onstage. It's a terrible job, but someone's got to do it.
How's the knee?
The operation was a year ago. Most people don't get up on their feet till six, seven months later, but I took an aggressive stand. We had a number one record, so the last thing I wanted was to say, "Whoops, I'm going home." So, I put my brace on, and I went for it. I paid for it in pain, but it's okay now.
More recently, you had to cancel dates when you all got the flu.
That was in the spring after that terrible catastrophe at Columbine, which happened two weeks before a show we had up there. We almost canceled, but then we decided to go ahead, because we've always felt that rock 'n' roll was about celebration and thinking about good times, not bad. Those who chose not to come could do that.
Was it a hard decision?
Absolutely not. We stopped at the hospitals the night before the show, and we visited some of the kids. To see the looks on their faces when they saw Joe Perry walk into their hospital rooms...It's what we do, you know? One of the guys had been shot in the mouth and in the groin. I got one of the techs to call him on a cell phone just before we did "Livin' on the Edge," which was the song he asked for, and we dedicated it to him. I had him on the phone onstage, and I said, "Everybody, say hello! This guy's in the hospital." Everybody knew who I was talking about. I think it was good spirtual- and healing-wise, having 12,000 people saying hello. And then I sang right into the cell phone.
The drama never stops with you guys. Things were especially hot in 1996, when you fired your manager of 12 years, Tim Collins, and he was quoted as saying your drug problem had recurred.
Yeah, even though he was the single most important factor in our whole career--because we got sober and he supported us in all of that--in the end, he tried to sabotage us, putting in the press that I was back on drugs.
So, how long have you been sober?
Oh, 12 years. I'm in my 13th. I've got a year more than anybody else because I was the first one to go away. I was a defiant patient, of course. But be that as it may, we shouldn't talk about drugs. It's so done that, been there.
There was a report out that you guys had recorded a new soundtrack song. Was that true?
We did, for Runaway Bride. We recorded it, but it wasn't suitable for framing Aerosmith in. Eric Clapton did the song instead.
Will there be others?
When we find something we love, we'll do it. The Armageddon movie with Liv in it--how perfect was that? The Rock 'n' Roller Coaster at Disney World was so perfect, couldn't you almost die?
Did you actually help with the creation of the ride?
We changed some of the lyrics on a couple of songs. Instead of "Walk this way," it's "Ride this way." Joe threw in some live guitar sounds. We did some severe right and left stereo, you know.
What's your plan for your next album?
Joe and I will start writing in September. We'll take October off, then go right into the studio. We're going to finish up some songs we started for the last album. We'd like to release something in October 2000.
You acted in Clubland and Goodnight, Joseph Parker. How do you feel about doing more movies?
Right now, I'm just this rock 'n' roll guy. People aren't sure whether I'm gonna wind up in rehab next or have a number one single. You need to work with a director who's really in love with you and your character, and that takes time. You can tell which directors are in love with which actors, kind of like Bertolucci and Liv in Stealing Beauty. It just works so good.
Liv has said the two of you like to shop together. For what?
We wear the same shoes, same pants. And we have similar tastes. I have a blast. I love my kids, you know?
Are any of them into music?
Well, when I finished writing the last album, I brought the tape up to Liv's, and she and I sat there till 3 a.m. I played her all the songs. Then we sang Beatles songs. She's actually a great singer. And my daughter Mia sang on the song "Pink." I'm going get them both to sing. If they can do it, why not?
It's got to be intimidating to try out your vocal skills publicly when your father's a rock god.
Your kids never think of you as a rock god. If you want a lesson in humility, have children. You get home, and they put you right in your place. "Daddy, you idiot." It's really funny.
Do your little ones show musical inclinations?
I sing so much around the house, they can't help but pick it up--like burrs on their clothing. My son, Taj, is singing up a storm now, and Chelsea plays the drums and the guitar and the harmonica. If you sing around kids, it'll become second nature. Like, my father was a Juilliard classical pianist. Growing up in the house with him playing so much, I couldn't help but get his classical feelings.
Do you go to classical concerts?
When I can. I'm a major Debussy fan.
Is there more collaboration in the works between you and Run-DMC? There was a report that something was going on. We'll see. We haven't been in the studio, but the ball is in motion.
Of course, Run-DMC's version of "Walk This Way" was responsible for introducing Aerosmith to a whole new generation in the '80s.
It was perfect, because the band was otherwise in oblivion at that time. We'd gotten sober about two days before. And now "Walk This Way" was recently voted the most influential rap song by a group of leading rap artists. I was freaking out.
What do you envision yourself doing five years from now? On the serious side, maybe some movies, a little less touring, more songwriting. On a lighter side, I would love to go up in the space shuttle and sing a song from outer space, go up to a space station and be a lounge act for an evening. I'd do a remake of "Walk This Way"--"Float This Way." Who knows? Right now, it's smooth sailing.
So, everyone's getting along?
I remember a time when getting along was the biggest problem, and it was all based on stupid, egotistical fights that stemmed from getting drunk. That stuff doesn't happen any more. We're obsessed with playing and writing, and I know I'm speaking for Joe when I say we haven't written our best album yet. We all have songs left to write. That's really what it's about. It's not about how much drugs you did or how old you are or who your daughter is. It's about good songs, and whether you've got any more in you.
What do you do to unwind?
I jump out of planes. I've actually got a parasail with a motor on the back. I put it on my back and find a good breeze. I start the engine and run up into the sky. It's the damnedest thing! You know, we do stuff like that. We belong to the sports club here, and we shoot guns. We like to fish--stupid, everyday stuff. We have speedboats on the lake in New Hampshire. We do a lot of slalom skiing--well, I used to. I'm afraid now with my knee.
Considering your past and all, it's amazing you've managed to survive on this high wire as long as you have.
Well, we really have first hand experience of the saying that
whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger.