‘What’s missing in the world,” announces Steven Tyler, lead singer of Aerosmith and answer in human form to the question of what a child born of Mick Jagger and Carly Simon would look like, “is that people don’t get laid enough.”
He leans back in his chair, letting the force of this proclamation sink in, spreading his denim-clad legs ever so slightly. Across the Los Angeles hotel room, his long-term bandmate and “toxic twin” (as the press dubbed them), Joe Perry, nods.
“It’s not just about coming and effing — it’s about making love and unbridled passion. The world doesn’t make love enough,” Tyler continues. This proclamation occurs about five minutes after we meet.
Such a conversation opener will not come as any surprise to even the most casual student of the Aerosmith oeuvre. “Aerosmith was all about sex,” Tyler writes in his memorably graphic and endearingly rambling 2011 autobiography, Does the Noise in My Head Bother You?, and few would argue.
Certainly, through the 1970s and 1980s — before the band became purveyor of fist-pumping love-torn ballads — Aerosmith was at least as much associated with sex as it was with narcotic indulgence and inter-band bust-ups. So much so that one of the band’s best-known videos, Love in an Elevator, features Tyler who, dressed like Charles II, only has to walk into a department store for ladies to offer him oral sex in a lift.
“That really happened!” yelps Tyler, bouncing in his seat. “Me and this girl, we were full-on getting it on and, you know, it’s a lifetime from the top to the bottom floor. But suddenly the doors opened in the lobby and there were all these people. I was like ‘holy shit!’”
Tyler has always been a man with a prodigious appetite for drugs, alcohol or sex. These days he is only allowed to indulge in one of them. In his autobiography he outdid Naomi Wolf with odes to a certain part of the female anatomy, decreeing it, in climactic conclusion, “the holy grail”.
“I certainly do say that!” he says stoutly, adding that the aforementioned body part is “a creative force”. I cross my legs a little tighter, keeping my creativity all to myself.
“Tonnes” of people, according to Tyler, come up to him on a daily basis to thank him for making music that helped them to get jiggy with it.
“So I was sitting at a table a while back at the Kennedy [Centre] Honours and was with, um, what’s her name — the president’s wife?” asks Tyler.
“Keep going,” he says, jerking his hand and scarves in a backwards direction above his bouffanted head.
“Thank you! So I got up to go to the bathroom and I bumped into every actor, every joint chief of staff and Nancy Pelosi and they said: ‘You wrote the songs that I got laid to and made out to.’ It was wild.”
Wait, I say, grappling with the image of the former speaker of the house getting her groove on to Mama Kin, Nancy Pelosi told you that?
“I don’t want to say that on the record,” he says with belated coyness. “Is she still the speaker of the house? Oh, she’s out? Okay, go with it, yeah!”
Tyler (64) has been married and divorced twice: “Why would a man and a woman who call themselves soulmates leave each other over something as frivolous as sex?” he asks in his autobiography. This argument failed to work for him, because at least one of his marriages ended in part due to his infidelity. He has four children, including the actress Liv Tyler, and lives with a long-term girlfriend.
The band’s new and very fun, very Aerosmith album, Music from Another Dimension!, their first for eight years, includes one song that advocates the Viagra lifestyle of “luv three times a day”. Another is titled Lover Alot. In fact, it is a rare song that does not have the word love in the title.
A memorable chap
It is hard to imagine what Tyler would have done if the music lark had not panned out. In person he is far less weird-looking than he appears on TV: the mouth seems less outsized when you see it as part of the whole feline package. But he is still a memorable chap with little of the nine-to-five about him.
Occasionally, and without warning, Tyler bursts into song, flaunting a voice that is one of the most extraordinary instruments in American music, one that can give vocal-cord-busting performances of rock (Walk This Way, Janie Got a Gun), blues (Dream On, Sweet Emotion) and ballads (Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing, Crazy).
“Doctors keep saying I will wear it out, but it just gets stronger,” he says proudly.
Perry, still disarmingly attractive, sits almost immobile, eyes lowered, in nearly head-to-toe black and decked with silver necklaces.
Give or take various periods when one or the other had seemingly or actually left the band, they have been playing together for more than 40 years.
Despite having a somewhat inconsistent output and only one Billboard number one (I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing, which they did not actually write), Aerosmith is one of the most successful American rock bands of all time. Considering how improbable it is that either one is still alive today, let alone still playing together, Perry and Tyler understandably feel that this must be down to a higher power.
“When someone comes up and says ‘I had sex for the first time because of you guys’ — that’s the funny part. But when someone says ‘I got sober because of you guys’ — that’s when you realise that’s why God said: ‘You guys should stay alive, you guys should stay together,’” says Perry.
“Guardian angels? Yuh think?” retorts Tyler to a question nobody asked. He proceeds to list all the evidence that “my guardian angel — I call him God” has looked out for him: “[Drug] ODs — sure! Shooting coke, car accidents.”
After countless stints in rehab the two men are clean and the only health issues are physical. Tyler’s feet defy description: sharp corners of bone protrude in unexpected places, his toes are piled on top of one another and he is in near constant pain, all due to a lifetime of jumping about in tight, heeled boots. Perry has one titanium knee, a legacy of a bad fall off a stage.
“Hey, you know,” he shrugs. “This stuff happens.”
Perry and Tyler met in the summer of 1970 when the 19-year-old aspiring guitarist drove up to Tyler’s parents’ house in New Hampshire to ask if their son wanted to see his band that night. Hearing Perry play “made my dick sooo hard”, writes Tyler, who was born Steven Tallariccio, in his autobiography, before leaping with nary a pause to an analogy involving Helen Keller. “My whole life I’d been searching for my mutant twin … I wanted that Mick-Keith thing,” he writes.
The two men are clearly of opposite temperaments and Tyler is prone to what he calls “LSD — lead singer disease”. Various incidents of bad behaviour on everyone’s part, exacerbated by their Herculean drug abuse, led to breaks between the two, including Perry leaving the band from 1979 to 1984 and then, in turn, Perry announcing in 2009 that the band was looking for a new singer, much to Tyler’s surprise.
These days both men are grandfathers and Tyler radiates when talking about his grandson, Milo, Liv’s son. Milo loves to come over to Papa Steven’s house in Boston: there is a pool with a slide, secret tunnels connecting the rooms and trees growing inside.
This sparks the thought that perhaps rock stars, although not always great parents, maybe turn into terrific grandparents simply because their arrested emotional development makes them such jolly playmates. What does Tyler think of this theory — has being a rock star kept him young?
He stares back, dumbstruck at the very question, and swishes his legs about, his mutilated feet flying through the air: “Are you kidding? Positively! Just look at me!” — © Guardian News & Media 2012