We are the last of a dying breed: Aerosmith

Friday, 16 November 2012 - 2:46pm IST Updated: Friday, 16 November 2012 - 2:47pm IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph
Never knowingly underdressed, Aerosmith have survived a string of disasters to make a new album. And they aim to go on forever, they tell Paul Rees.
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That Aerosmith are a rock band from another era is made clear upon entering the London hotel suite reserved for interviews with their singer Steven Tyler and guitarist Joe Perry. The size of a tennis court, it has been specially dressed for the occasion in Indian silks and oriental rugs, Tyler's decor of choice. Figurines of Buddha are dotted around the room and incense is being burnt. Such indulgences are not afforded to someone like, say, The Vaccines. But then, The Vaccines haven't sold 165 million records.

Formed 42 years ago in New Hampshire, Aerosmith have long been synonymous with excess. Not for nothing were they christened "America's Rolling Stones" - Tyler the charismatic, big-lipped Jagger to Perry's more surly Richards. Their relationship has been as fractious as that of the Stones' leading men, and just as Jagger and Richards became known as the Glimmer Twins, so Tyler and Perry were called the Toxic Twins, such was their monumental drugs consumption.

"We could never be the Stones, though", says Tyler, sweeping into the room, "they're too good". In bell-bottoms and a preposterous puffed blouse, no one could mistake Tyler for anything but a rock star. He's now 64, but notably well preserved, with spectacles perched on the end of his nose his one visible concession to age. They make him look like the wolf disguised as Red Riding Hood's granny. Perry, 62, makes a quieter entrance, swathed in denim and leather, his features sharp and similarly ageless. He speaks in a measured drawl, Tyler in a torrent.

They are here to talk up Aerosmith's 15th studio album, Music From Another Dimension, their first for 11 years. Much of that time has been spent lurching from one crisis to another. Drummer Joey Kramer suffered second-degree burns when his Ferrari caught fire at a gas station. Bassist Tom Hamilton had to undergo treatment for throat cancer. Tyler was struck down with hepatitis C, lost both his parents, got divorced and was incorrectly diagnosed with a brain tumour. As if this weren't enough, he also suffers from Morton's neuroma, a painful condition affecting the nerves of the feet. He suspects this was brought on by years of dancing on hard stages in tight shoes. In combating it, he became addicted to painkillers. Two years ago he checked into the Betty Ford Centre. This was not the first time he had gone into rehab.

"Whoever writes our scripts, it's got to be someone with a great sense of humour," he says now. "From day one, since we first wrote a song together, it has felt like being in a movie." Drama is nothing new to Aerosmith. Their first flush of success came in the mid-Seventies, when albums such as Toys in the Attic and Rocks became multi-million sellers in the US. Tyler and Perry's heroin addictions brought that run to an end, splitting up the band and leaving both destitute. In 1986, New York rappers Run DMC had a massive hit with a cover of Aerosmith's Walk This Way. Tyler and Perry appeared in the video for the track, initiating a remarkable comeback. The pair sobered up and there followed a run of blockbuster records, including 1989's Pump and Get a Grip in 1993. These albums were made with hired songwriters such as Diane Warren, who gave them their first, and to date only number one single, the power ballad I Don't Want to Miss a Thing.

Things began to unravel once more in 2009. Tyler fell off stage at a gig in South Dakota, breaking his shoulder. He later revealed he had been snorting the sedative drug Lunesta that night. Forced to cancel their tour, his aggrieved bandmates announced they were considering auditioning for a new singer. Tyler subsequently flounced off to become a TV star, replacing Simon Cowell as a judge on American Idol.

The stand-off between him and the band lasted two years. I wonder aloud why grown men who have known each other five decades couldn't pick up a phone.

"When you're in the thick of it, I guess you just don't and we didn't, for whatever reason," says Tyler. "For that period of time, I was high. So I didn't see the humour in any of it. Like when the band didn't visit me in hospital after I fell off stage, I took all of that crap too seriously.

"We never realise how much we mean to each other until we're back together. Life gets in the way - marriages, children. Not to take away from that, because I love my kids, my wives and my girlfriends, but there is nothing like this band and shame on me that I thought any other way."

"Our personalities are so different, I can't believe we ever bumped into each other," adds Perry. "Somehow, there's magic there. I mean, I didn't put an ad in the paper going: 'Wanted - guy that loves life, scuba diving and shooting guns, but also has visions of being a rock star and is looking for someone to argue with half the time.' You can't plan for that stuff."

Thanks to Jack Douglas, who produced the band's most significant Seventies albums, Music From Another Dimension does a creditable job of reviving Aerosmith's vintage sound - one built upon Perry and Brad Whitford's greasy guitar riffs and Tyler's scattershot vocals. It has at least one great song, too, Street Jesus, a galloping update of the title track to 1975's Toys in the Attic.

"We are," says Perry, "the last of a dying breed. The thrill of going to see a rock'n'roll band or waiting for their record, and of it being the only way to hear them, that's done. I don't know if kids realise it or not, but when a band like the Stones are playing now, it's important to go. It's like seeing the last of the dinosaurs." "For us, there is no finishing line," Tyler interjects. "No matter what, we intend to be the last band standing.

"One of the great gifts of being in a band is the sense of youth. When I go on tour, it takes three weeks for me to stop limping to the bathroom the next day, but after that I'm so strong. Even though my feet are messed up, it's not going to stop me because I love to perform too much. I don't do anything else on the planet as good as that. Not talk to my kids, not stay married - nothing gives me as much fun." And if, as he speculated, being in Aerosmith has been like appearing in a movie epic, what would Steven Tyler choose for a final scene?

For a rare moment, he is silenced. "That I do not know," he replies slowly. "But now I'm going to give it a lot of thought."
 

 

 




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