By Steve Dollar
I have no idea where the Rev. Charles Boykin is today, but I'd sure like to send him a copy of the new Aerosmith live double CD. Way back there in the Seventies, this Baptist preacher in Tallahassee, Florida fanned the literal flames of a Christian youth record-burning revival when he declared that 984 out of every 1000 unwed teen mothers got that way while listening to rock music. The statistics are dubious, but as long as that's the case I have no hesitancy adding this footnote: The rock music most of those adolescent fornicators were grooving to was Aerosmith.
I more or less alluded to this a few weeks ago when I talked to Steven Tyler, Aerosmith's mop-topped, scarf-draped and whippet-thin lead singer, seeking to pay this 25-year rock veteran a compliment. After all, it's not every band that can measure success on both the adult contemporary charts (where the Armageddon biggie, I Don't Want To Miss a Thing, rides high) and in the adult entertainment industry (smarmy strip-club DJs just love the congenial raunch of Pink and Falling in Love [Is Hard on the Knees]). But Tyler surprised me. "People see Aerosmith and they see sucking and fucking," he said, mildly aggravated. "It's what people choose to believe. It's easier for people to believe Aerosmith is a rock band."
Like, uhhhh...it's not? I guess that was Tyler's way of telling me that his band, rehabbed, rewired and ready to roll until everyone drops, was all that and then some: Not just about sucking and fucking, but everything that went on before and came after. Rev. Boykin didn't give the boys from Boston enough credit. These gentlemen, you see, are artistes.
But me, I dunno. Listening to A Little South of Sanity, it's not the mature Aerosmith of Janie's Got a Gun, Cryin' and Amazing -- a.k.a. "The Alicia Silverstone Rock Video Triptych" -- that stirs the loins, though I really like the way drummer Joey Kramer (recently recovered from severe burns after his car caught on fire at a gas station pump) creates suspense with his dramatic intros.
Nope, I'm hooked on the nasty stuff, them dirty blooze guitarist Joe Perry so effortlessly calls to fore on all those Seventies nuggets of sin that drove the good Baptist young people of my hometown to torch their vinyl. Or, like the zillion high school hotties who now flock to Aerosmith's concerts, wave their Bics in the air and shake it like they just don't care. Tyler, the kind of lyricist who has no problem dropping lines such as "my get up and go got up and went" or "the best thing in lovin' was a sister and a cousin," would appreciate the phrasing of that sentiment. His satyriasis comes with a cornball streak that's as sly and silly as the vintage pre-rock shenanigans of, say, Louis Jordan or Amos Milburn or a score of other ding-dong daddies.
If a lot of the band's current output seems pompous or strained, its savvier musicianship now boosts the punch of the Seventies tracks that fill up most of Sanity's second disc, which finally achieves arena-rock bliss on Sweet Emotion (which belongs in the bar-band pantheon of classic covers), with its separate sets of roiling riffs and that extended solo bass intro -- the band's equivalent of the organ bit that opens the Who's Won't Get Fooled Again. It's rock'n'roll that's still worth setting on fire, among so many, many other things.