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Aerosmith: Hard Rock's Down and Dirty Heroes

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"It still excites me to think about headlining Madison Square Garden," Tyler says, anticipating the next date on this 58-city tour. "I mean, there's still something special – still a magic about that place. We actually did play there last year, but that was when we were still the opening act for Black Sabbath. . . . Wait till you see us at the Garden. Then you'll see what we're really about."

Neal Smith still has streamers of blond hair down to his bony elbows and stands seven feet off the sidewalk in his stacked heels; Mike Bruce, with his Roll-over-Beethoven mane and the build of a varsity quarterback, would be almost as hard to miss – yet no one at the backstage door seems to recognize Alice Cooper's former drummer and rhythm guitarist as the old security guard scans the guest list like W.C. Fields playing a house dick, making sure these two freaks are legit. When they finally get backstage and Smith tries to cop a beer out of Aerosmith's dressing room he is politely told that he will have to drink in the "courtesy room." Like Rodney Dangerfield, former rock & roll stars just don't get no respect.

"Everybody get back and give the boys plenty-a room," bellows Aerosmith's tour director, a burly Irishman called Kelly who looks like Jimmy Breslin in a Beatle wig.

The procession that follows can only be compared in terms of pomp and lordly chutzpah to certain papal displays. First to emerge from the dressing room are Joe Perry and Brad Whitford, the grave greasemonkey guitarists, toting their instruments like carbines; then, boyishly befuddled Tom Hamilton, followed by Joey Kramer, the stocky sweathog drummer, jauntily clicking his sticks in a "V" for victory like some amiable "Fonz" of a gang fighter.

But, as usual, the whole point of this display is Steven Tyler bringing up the rear, a little ragamuffin dressed up for some school pageant, complete with cape and plumed musketeer hat and the fair maiden Julia on his arm.

After you've witnessed the procession from the dressing room to the stage, the show seems almost anticlimactic.

Onstage, Joe Perry bends over his axe in the hernia posture of heavy-metal guitarists everywhere, sending out shrill electric shivers to the faithful while Tyler plays to the bleachers of their premature depravity and humps Tom Hamilton. The Veronica Lake bass player gives him a look like he wants to hit him with his pocketbook.

As the set progresses Tyler begins to remind me of a kid I once saw wreaking incredible havoc in a crowded department store. He couldn't have weighed more than 90 pounds, but he fought off two burly managers and a store detective when they tried to nab him for shoplifting a Led Zeppelin album in the record department. He led them on a wild chase – screaming like a banshee and knocking merchandise off counters – take that Burt Bacharach! – as they chased him down the aisles. You had to root for that kid if you have any life left in you at all. . . .

"Like it or not, I have to hand it to your boy," I finally admit to David Krebs, who is watching from the wings like a proud papa, looking a lot happier than he did two nights ago in Michigan. "He's the mutant bastard offspring of Jagger and Iggy Stooge."

"Only he's better than both of them," smirks Krebs with the graceless overconfidence of a man who doesn't yet know he would be lucky to be only half right.

When I ask Neal Smith what his opinion is, he stares out into the audience for a long time. They must look a lot younger to him than they did a mere two years and a whole rock & roll lifetime ago when Alice's "Billion Dollar Babies" tour sold out this same hall.

"Well . . . they're . . . different," Smith admits with more than a trace of sour grapes and maybe just an inkling of the deflating realization that he may already be on the wrong side of the solid-platinum generation gap.

Onstage, they'd come across like mutant apparitions, but now they look more like a high school basketball team celebrating a big victory as relatives from Yonkers and Sunapee swarm the fluorescent dressing room. Tom Hamilton is blushing as buxom ladies plant sloppy kisses on his cheeks, while men in leisure suits line up to shake Steve Tyler's hand.

Meanwhile, one nice lady is introducing herself to perfect strangers with, "Hi, I'm Mrs. Kramer. Do you know my son Joey. . . the drummer?"

Several days later David Krebs lays a startling piece of information on me, and I finally begin to get an inkling of what Aerosmith is really about: "This is the last big tour. After this one there won't be much more touring."

The news is surprising, to say the least, considering that this is a band that is just starting to make it big.

"Correction," says Krebs, "they're already big, and they just don't need to kill themselves anymore. . . . So, next year, their touring is going to be severely limited – so they can concentrate on putting out product."

That's when it finally begins to dawn on me that this is what they used to call a Horatio Alger story.

Only, with improved retirement benefits.

This is story is from the August 26, 1976 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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