By Denise Sullivan Times Correspondent
Published on October 17, 1997
Perry: Hey, it's only rock 'n' roll...
Who: Joe Perry, guitarist for Aerosmith
What: The group performs 8 p.m. Monday
Where: Concord Pavilion
How much: $25 and $37, 50
Call: 762- BASS
They don't make rock stars like Aerosmith's Joe Perry anymore. His image takes me back to a time when rock stars roamed the Earth, when pictures of Led Zeppelin, The Who, Fleetwood Mac, the "Some Girls"- era Rolling Stones and the young bruce Springsteen covered my teen- age bedroom walls. A time when sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll were interlinked and it was still OK.
Rock stars weren't expected to be sensitive and support causes. They were just expected to rock.
The ups and downs of Perry and Aerosmith have been well- documented -- the entire band's recoveries from substance abuse; lead singer Steven Tyler's sex addiction; Perry's departure from the band and his subsequent return; and the boys early '90s reign as comeback kids with their ginormous- selling album "Pump." And I've been eaten up every word of the stories.
"Do I get tired about hearing about that stuff?" asks Perry during a recent phone interview. "Yes. So much of it gets sensationalized. It's just pop culture and I can understand why people want to read it-- but I can't get serious about it. I can't get serious about the music either. it's entertaiment, rock 'n' roll."
Rock star with a brain.
It was just the answer I'd hoped to hear from him. As time wore on, I expected more from my rock stars. A great guitar solo and caveman- esque, one- word responses to hard questions would no longer suffice. Drug abuse was not tolerated. in my heart, I hoped Perry would be smart. No adult can take Aerosmith's over- the - top version of rock 'n' roll seriously. But how can we not love them for continuing to play it? Somebody has to.
"Well, I think when you're growing and you hear things that turn you on, you build some of that into your music as you go along," Perry says.
"For me that's what happens and I think it's true of a lot of artists. I talk to writers and they always go back to the writers that they read that turned them on-- like a touchstone or grounding thing-- it effects their work whether it's real visible to people or not. I can hear a lot of my influences, whether it's The Beatles or early Fleetwood Mac or the Yardbirds. I mean, there are lot of influences I can hear on this record ("Nine Lives"). The Beatles definitely pop out. They're big influence on us."
No, Mick and Steven are not related.
That's funny, because for years, Aerosmith has lived in the shadow not of Beatles, but of the Rolling Stones-- that other five- man, blues- based, sexy, druggy band that has a dynamic big- lipped frontman with a guitar- wielding, mostly silent, songwriting partner. The press dubbed Perry and Tyler the Toxic Twins after Jagger and Richards' Glimmer Twins. Ironically, today it's the elderly Stones who are struggling to keep up with their younger spaw. Even the mythical cover art to "Bridges to Babylon" imitates Aerosmith's "Nine Lives."
"I don't know about them (the Stones), but the guy that designed the covers is the one that caused us all that problem. the guy took all the artwork out of the Hare Krishna book. I guess the Stones didn't know about that. we had 4 million of the album printed and we get this call from the hare Krishnas saying they're going to injuct the album unless we change it. They were so offended that we had changed the image on the cover and put a cat head on there. We paid the Hare krishnas and then two weeks after the record came out, the Hindus called because they were offended."
Aerosmith? Sexist? Never!
Aerosmith has managed to offend more than entire religions over the years. Entire genders, chiefly my own, have found some of their song , video and stage- show content of questionable taste.
When I moved from my college dorm (where the dinosaur rock posters had been replaced solely by posters of the Clash) and into my own apartment (where rock posters were verboten), it ocurred to me that there were too many contradictions in my music of choice. Those rock stars I'd worshipped in the '70s were really just overpaid, drug- addled misogynists whose songs were reduced to topics like backstages, hotels and jailbait.
And Aerosmith had become a particularly ugly representation of all that. But then R.E.M. went and covered "Toys In The Attic" and slowly I forgave them. Further on down the road, a cover of "Walk This Way" by rappers Run DMC drove me wild. And then there was "Pump," a record that was so completly awesome in its homage to old fashioned rock 'n' roll, after years of punk and new wave minialism. The timing was right for me to reclaim the stuff that made rock 'n' roll great in the first place-- the guitars and the sex and drugs part.
But the band was clean and sober and the songs about women were all about how much they loved us. They even had a very '90s anti- child abuse song. But then came the videos and the tours with the blow- up dolls head first in trash cans at stage left and i had to think again.
"Well, it's funny, but there's a war there on that," Perry recalls. "I was uncomfortable with the blow- up dolls myself. but I think... Steven writes the lyrics. he writes about women. He's not going to write about guys, you know what I mean? We always try to be sensitive to women, you know, and there are different sides to everything-- maybe it's just a guy thing. We try to couch it in a sense of humor and i know some of the videos in the '80s... how did we get away with that? It's been a problem, yeah."
Thank you, Joe.
In 1997, all is forgiven and perry and Tyler find themselves shilling for the Gap, no one gives them any guff about corporate sponsorship or selling themselves out.
"We had to think about that really hard, whether to do the Gap commercial. And then I thought, 'Wait a second. When I see the Van Halen guys in a milk commercial I don't think they're really hokey for doin' that, instead I go, they look pretty good, they look healthy. I wonder what they did at the studio this week?' I don't get the dialogue going like, 'humph, that's bad for them.' I put my fan hat on and my fan hat has me thinkin' that they're working on an album with the guy from Extrem. So it's a good thing."
And me, well, I'm still a little embarres to admit that I like them. Because cool people, smart people and especially critics never did. But they are precisely the kind of inspiration and reminder this writer needs-- it's only rock 'n' roll. And not only do I like it, but no one ever said it was supposed to be taken seriously.