"It's amazing how far music will take you if you let it," Tyler chatters in his customary hyperdrive. "But some of the greatest minds behind the greatest music can't get over their egos, and they stop the flow of the music. I meet these people, and I hear them say they hate their last album, or they hate their big song. And I sit there, I swallow, and I don't know what to think. It's like finding out the Star of Bethlehem was a UFO! I start to wobble, because my whole belief system goes down the shitter."
"Like with Jeff Beck," Perry chimes in. "He's one of the few guitarists who's kept pushing the edge — it's like God is talking through him. It would be so great if he would do a record with Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood again. But it'll never happen because they're English and they have attitudes and they don't speak to each other. I don't understand it, man."
"Personal shit can stop the flow," Tyler agrees, completing the thought. "But the music is still there. The music still gives you that three minutes on the way to school or on the way to the guillotine. It's still a Rembrandt painting that you can get lost in. The Beatles, the Stones, all the Sufi masters of the past — something like the Stones' 'Goin' Home,' eighteen minutes of that shit. It's a panoramic view of emotion. Allow it to take you somewhere, man."
For Aerosmith, keeping in touch with mama kin also means finding themselves in the strange position of playing to kids as well as to their own generation. "It's funny, I learn so much from my kids," Perry muses. "They're really into music. They love Limp Bizkit and Rage Against the Machine — it was a sad day for them when they heard Zack [de la Rocha] was leaving. But my son got into Zeppelin and the Beatles, and he said, 'Dad, what are some of the other cool bands from then?' So I made him a CD off Napster, with Blodwyn Pig, Moby Grape, Spirit, early Fleetwood Mac with Peter Green — some of these bands who were really big and influential in our lives but have no presence now. You never hear these guys on the classic-rock stations. Man, I hope they find a way to keep Napster running, because that's a great way to dig around in the past." He shakes his head sadly. "I don't know if we would be the same band if we didn't have Blodwyn Pig — and no one's fuckin' heard of Blodwyn Pig!"
By now, the sober and reunited Aerosmith have been around nearly twice as long as the original incarnation, and they've taken one another to new heights this year with their spectacular Super Bowl halftime show, perhaps the only memorable thing to happen in the NFL all season. It was one of those moments that makes you proud to be an American: Aerosmith jamming on "Walk This Way" with 'N Sync, Mary J. Blige, Nelly and, as the Missy Who Was Ready to Play, Britney Spears herself. The guys are proud to have gotten Britney's feet flying up in the air. "To have a negative opinion about that is so myopic, so easy, so musically correct," Tyler says. "The highlight for me was Nelly, the underdog, rapping over a solo I've heard Joe take for thirty years. That was flipped-out throw-down spoken-word shit! It was beautiful!"
"Let me tell you something," Perry adds. "The irony of standing there in the middle of that fuckin' straight corporate America — because football is pretty, you know, Republican — and to have that electric guitar loud and live with Nelly standing next to me, doing his thing, was such a fuckin' triumph. I was going, this is it, man, everything else led up to this."
Tyler's one regret about the Super Bowl? "I wanted Britney to sing the second line, 'You ain't seen nothin' till you're down on the muffin.' But she wasn't having any of it." Yeah, well, dream on, dude. But the Super Bowl show also sums up Aerosmith's mixed feelings about their uneasy pact with the corporate machines. They have the clout to play live for a global TV audience or to top the charts with their Diane Warren-penned movie-soundtrack ballad "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" (a recording they all seem sincerely proud of), but right now they're trying to figure out how much clout they have to say no.
For Perry and Tyler, that process began with making Just Push Play themselves. "This is the first record in a long, long time that I feel like we own," Perry says, in an appropriately cocky mood the morning after the band's triumphant Hall of Fame induction gig. "If it sinks or swims, I'm still proud of it. Nobody's gonna hear this one and say, 'I wish I could hear more of you guys on it.' We made the record. I haven't felt that way for years — after a while, it got so big and corporate, and we just didn't want to go that way anymore."
Last night's performance was a killer: After an eloquent introduction from Kid Rock, the band did one verse of "Jaded" before crunching into an assault on the old chestnut "Train Kept A-Rollin'." On the morning after, Perry reflects a bit on the chemistry that's allowed him to do what even his guitar idols like Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton couldn't do: Keep his band together. "When you put a band together with your buddies, it's all about the vibe, the bond, a common dream. If they're talented as well, that's a bonus, but there's gotta be something there besides being a great musician. A band like Cream were great players, but they weren't like a bunch of guys getting together and saying, 'Let's do this, let's have a band.' That's what Aerosmith is: a bunch of guys having this common dream, and as it goes down the road and everybody discovers their strengths and weaknesses, the one goal is to keep playing Aerosmith music.
"Everybody brings something. Brad's a better guitar player than me. Tom is really nonreactive — if Steven's over here going nuts, and I'm over there going nuts, Tom will sit in the middle and calm us down. Joey, he's the spirit of the band, he's in the middle of everything. If you talk to him about the dark years, he never lost the vision of the band. When we were making the record, he was hanging around, listening, throwing in his two cents." Perry leans forward and pours himself the last of the espresso. "I still remember the first time I heard Steven sing, you know. I heard that voice and thought to myself, 'Whatever I think about him as a guy, whatever personality things rub me the wrong way or the right way, I'll take it.'" He sighs deeply. "I guess whatever we had between us that was bad, it wasn't strong enough to keep that voice out."
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