Joe Perry and Aerosmith still do big business

By Leslie Badacci staff reporter

At the quarter-century mark of their rock 'n' roll career, about the only place Aerosmith hasn't appeared is on a St. Jude prayer card. And, come to think of it, that might not be a bad idea.

America's biggest rock 'n' roll band is a metaphor for survival.

Surely you know their story: Success in the '70s. Drugs and booze rendered them a lost cause during the early '80s. They got clean and sober in 1986, just in time to spend their 40s climbing back atop the charts and achieving full cultural-icon status.

Twenty-five years after their first album, ``Aerosmith,'' the band has its first No. 1 hit with ``I Don't Want to Miss a Thing,'' from the movie ``Armageddon.''

Their ``Nine Lives'' tour returns to the New World Music Theatre in Tinley Park on Saturday night. (Some lawn and obstructed-view pavilion seats are still available.) By the time it wraps up at the end of the year, more than 2.5 million fans on three continents will have attended their 169 shows.

Guitarist Joe Perry, president of the multimedia, multinational, multimillion-dollar corporation known as Aerosmith, telephoned one recent morning.


Q. As Aerosmith celebrates this 25-year anniversary, are you tired of talking about the history?


A. It's always fun to look back at it. I'm really proud of the fact we made it this far. I'm asked, ``Do you ever see any young bands that can last as long as you guys?'' But if I saw my band in 1975, I never would have thought we could be together 25 years later. That was certainly how we lived, with no thought to living past 30. For me, looking at the history is a source of amusement.


Q. Amazement as well?


A. Definitely. It blows my mind.


At the same time, we are deeply entrenched in the present. We didn't write the book [Walk This Way, The Autobiography of Aerosmith (Avon, $25)] because we were bored and nothing much was going on. It took away from what we were in the middle of, which was making a record and doing a tour. It was a memoir as much as an update. One reason we wanted to do it was so many things were going on and there was a flurry of some accurate and some inaccurate rumor and innuendo. We wanted to set the record straight.


Q. Sounds as if you could give Bill Clinton some advice.


A. I don't know what his story is. He definitely should have been more forthcoming right from the start. I don't think he should have gotten himself in trouble to start with, if you want to start at the beginning. He should have put his predilections on hold while he was in office. One of the hardest things I had to do in the past week was explain to my 11-year-old son what Clinton said.


Q. As an expert on sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, what do you find the most bothersome about the president's situation?


A. Just the fact that he's the chief Boy Scout. Yeah, he is allowed to have a private life, but the bottom line is there are not enough heroes. Here's an example of a guy who was custom-made to be a role model. If he can't hold it together that long, how can you expect someone with less responsibility to hold it together? We're all human. We all have our foibles. But at least try. As far as what people hold in esteem, the president is the closest thing we have here to royalty. So many movie stars and rock stars and sports figures become heroes ...


Q. But they aren't elected. They don't hold the public trust in the same way.


A. Q. Let's look at Aerosmith as a multinational economic engine. How would you describe it as a corporate entity? Are the five of you the board of directors?


A. Yeah. For legal reasons and for signing contracts, we've all taken different titles. I'm president. [Rhythm guitarist] Brad [Whitford] is secretary.


Q. What's Steven [Tyler]?


A. Steven, he's, uh, the engine.


Q. Is there a master plan?


A. We don't have a mission statement or anything like that. When it comes down to all the stuff you have to do to keep the machine going, it's really five guys with equal say in what is going on. Each has different drives and needs, but we all have one goal. Our biggest work is finding the right people to facilitate the other half.


Q. A. It definitely has a lot of momentum.


Q. An asteroid comes to mind.


A. That thing [the movie ``Armageddon''] just fell from the sky. A month before Steven hurt his knee [last April], we weren't even doing this movie. Then we had to pull off the road for going on four months. But all this momentum because of the single [``I Don't Want to Miss a Thing'']--it's gotten to be really big.


Q. What about that song? You guys didn't write it. What do you think of it musically?


A. I have to say, it's really good. I don't see much difference between it and ``Angel.'' As far as a ballad goes, it fits all the criteria. Those were the kinds of songs I'd dance to at high school dances when I was 14.


Q. Well, that's terribly diplomatic, but what do you really think about the song itself? Do you ``turn down the sound and say rude things'' about it, as the lads said in ``A Hard Day's Night''?


A. [Laughter. Pause.] No, I listen to it. I think we delivered on it. We all had questions about it, but I really ... I still love listening to it. Steven sings great on it.


Q. OK, then, I'll say it: The other new song for the soundtrack, ``What Kind of Love Are You On?''--the one you wrote yourselves--is a far better song.


A. I love that song! I'm really surprised it didn't make it onto the last album. That typifies why I am excited about doing the next record.


Q. I thought the next record was a live album.


A. That's done. It's coming out in October.


Q. What was the time frame for recording the live album?


A. About a quarter of it was during the ``Get a Grip'' tour. The rest is from ``Nine Lives.''


Q. At this point, are you still proving yourselves musically?


A. Always. We are always trying to get the best album we can get. I've never felt like we were there, we had completed it, we were done. Now we have a No. 1 single for the first time in our career. But we didn't write it. So it's not like that proves anything ...


Q. Was there any objection to Aerosmith performing the song ``Pink'' at the Nickelodeon Awards show? The double entendre is not exactly appropriate for a children's show.


A. Only from us. We said, ``What? Do they really want us to play `Pink'?'' It was their choice. We said ``Are you sure?'' They said ``Definitely.'' Apparently, a lot of the kids liked that song. It's only a double entendre if you know it.


Q. You had a birthday this month. How old are you?


A. 48.


Q. When Lewis Powell, the retired Supreme Court justice, died recently at age 90, I got to wondering why these guys live so long. What do you think?


A. Maybe it's because they live within such a finite set of rules, and a lot of their job is contemplative and involves something very much like meditating. They say the reason the monks live so long is they have a very set routine they don't deviate from. Stress is one of the biggest killers, so maybe because they have that going for them.


Q. Are you someone who thrives on serenity or someone who needs an undercurrent of anxiety to keep things interesting?


A. Unfortunately for my life-span, if I get into a routine there comes a point that I need change. A certain amount of routine is good, but when those passports start getting cold we all get nervous.