By Steve Morse
The media have dogged him all year about rumors of his personal life, but one
thing hasn't changed for singer Steven Tyler - and that's his love of Aerosmith.
Tyler lives and breathes Aerosmith, both the good times and the bad. He wouldn't
have it any other way.
''My heart belongs to Aerosmith,'' says Tyler, whose band headlines the FleetCenter on Tuesday and Wednesday. ''I love it so much. I particularly love the fact that it's a living storm with an eye in the center and everything. More often than not, it leaves a lot of fun and remembrance in its wake, like when people say, `Do you remember that show last week? It was awesome.' It leaves a lot of tumult, also. But looking back on all the energy it creates, I love it.''
Tyler must love it, considering how hard Aerosmith has worked this year. Recently, he phoned from El Paso (''El Pass-out!'' he says with a laugh), while getting ready for a show that night. Afterward, the band would fly to New York for a radio-sponsored show at Madison Square Garden (Z100 Jingle Ball) the very next night, then go to the airport to fly back west to Albuquerque. They would arrive at 6 a.m., then play there that night.
''That's what you call a day in the life, huh?'' says Tyler.
But he's not complaining, despite the crazy travel plans. After all, Z100 is a contemporary hits station and it's playing the new Aerosmith single, ''Pink.'' The station is bringing it to a whole new generation of young fans, for which Aerosmith is grateful.
''The 12-year-olds are still there from when they were 6 and listening to `Dude Looks Like a Lady'!'' Tyler says gleefully. ''It's cool.''
Tyler is also pleased with the new video for the suggestive ''Pink,'' which is airing on MTV and generating the kind of controversy that Aerosmith thrives on. The video makes it look as if the band is cross-dressing provocatively, but the truth is that replicant masks of the band members' heads were placed atop the bodies of female models and spliced together via computer graphics.
''It's all special effects,'' Tyler says. ''It's taking the head off me and putting it on a woman. We hired a troop of people from LA - a boatload of LA weirdos. We went through about 130 people and picked the ones that were the most `out there.' We did the same walk that they did. We all walked down this one white piece of paper toward the camera. The shots came from that. They look very believable. When we saw [the finished video], we were shocked.''
The ''Pink'' video cost $400,000 to produce, says Tyler, who adds that Aerosmith rejected several other treatments, including one that would have shown pink pigs on New York streets. ''It's a good thing we passed on that one,'' he says, ''because the [Rolling] Stones did a video and they had a pink pig walking down the street. ... So it was a stroke of luck that we didn't look like we were duplicating that.''
The pace of Aerosmith's tour, which will continue to Japan in February and March, has helped leave behind the touchy rumors that Tyler was back on drugs, though he still claims to have been completely sober for the last 11 years. The rumors started when fired Aerosmith manager Tim Collins said there was an element in the band that hadn't totally embraced sobriety. To the media, of course, that meant Tyler, who had a problem with hard drugs years ago when he and guitarist Joe Perry were known as the ''Toxic Twins.''
Tyler doesn't want to rehash the Aerosmith-Collins split, but says the crux of the problem was a ''control issue,'' and Collins's insistence that the band be public advocates for sobriety.
''Tim felt he needed to control us,'' Tyler says. ''The thing that pushed it over the edge was that he wanted me to go count chest hairs at a men's group, and I said no. So it's about a control issue. He just didn't see that, hey, I'm a musician that likes to write music that people will like and that the world can sing - music that will just get people out of their bad moods. It's all about having a good time.
''It's not about confronting everybody all the time about drugs and issues,'' says Tyler. ''It's about fun and good times.''
Tyler, however, is pleased to hear that Collins is back managing again, having signed the Boston band Rubyhorse. ''I'm happy for him. He needed to get back into the business, and I wish him well.''
As for his own future, Tyler is committed to Aerosmith, but says he also wants to pursue film offers. His daughter, Liv Tyler, has had great success as a film star - and dad would like to take a stab as well.
''Positively, I'm looking into it,'' he says. ''Parts have come in during different album projects, but of course I'm on the road, so I can't take them, which has kind of bothered me. But parts have been flying in all of the time. It's definitely something that I could get into if the time comes to hang up the Aerosmith thing.
''And I would also love to produce [other] bands. There have been a couple of bands that I would have loved to produce. Who knows. But, as I say, my heart remains with Aerosmith.''
Lately, Tyler is proud that Aerosmith earned the Silver Clef award from the Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy Centers, honoring the band's fund-raising efforts to help autistic children. Aerosmith also performed for autistic children at a Nordoff-Robbins retreat in New York. ''We got to spend an hour with them. The music really touched something deep inside of them,'' he says.
In a different, less altruistic move, Tyler and Perry did a TV commercial for Gap jeans. It's the first corporate commercial that Aerosmith has ever been done - and it shows the pair jamming.
Says Tyler in defense: ''I was talking to Liv and she said that all the actresses and the hot supermodels are dying to get their faces on [Gap] ads in New York. Hey, I'm not saying I wear Gap jeans all the time. But I do wear jeans. The [Gap producers] said, `We just want you to do one thing here.' And we said, `What's that?' And they said, `Just say the words [in the ad] that `this is too easy.' I said, `All right, we'll just show them how we jam.' So we just jammed.''
Tyler sounds in great form during the phone interview - and he's not even fazed that Aerosmith's last CD, ''Nine Lives,'' hasn't sold nearly as many copies as the previous release, 1993's ''Get a Grip'' (which sold 14 million copies compared with 3.25 million for ''Nine Lives'' so far).
Part of the lag is that Aerosmith has faced a changing rock-radio market that isn't as friendly to veteran bands. But Tyler is not going to put down radio (''I like a lot of the new stuff on it,'' he says, naming the techno Chemical Brothers in particular). In fact, he hints that a different order of radio singles should have been released from the album.
''Personally, I would have released `Pink' first. [Then] I would have released `Taste of India' and `Kiss Your Past Goodbye,' because they're not your traditional Aerosmith songs. But because you're with a big record label, they put out the obvious.''
It's been an up-and-down year for Aerosmith, but for the moment, all roads are leading to the FleetCenter. It's the continuation of a tradition that has seen the band play New Year's Eve shows seven previous times in Boston, mostly at the Boston Garden.
''New Year's Eve shows are the best - and Boston audiences are the best,'' says Tyler. ''The New Year's Eve show is sold out and the second is real close, so we're happy about that.''
For these events, the band will also add some older tunes to please hardcore fans. The classic Aerosmith song ''Sick as a Dog'' will get an airing, for instance.
''Otherwise, it will be the same old thing - throwing parties for 20,000 people a night!'' says Tyler. ''We can't wait.''