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Aerosmith's Amazing Road Back

For years their nasty habits got the best of them. But since the members of Aerosmith cleaned up, the band has been better than ever.

April 5, 1990
aerosmith 575
Aerosmith on the cover of 'Rolling Stone.'
Mark Seliger

Steven Tyler enters the hotel room and strips down to his black cracker – a sort of G-string. It's three in the morning – four hours after Aerosmith wrapped up a show before 37,000 fans at Toronto's Skydome – and the band's hyperactive lead singer is back at the Four Seasons Hotel ready to do a little more performing. After contorting himself on the room's double bed for a few minutes, he finally achieves his desired position: bound and gagged with an attractive female friend of the band's riding him bareback. Someone turns on a video camera to record the moment for posterity. Tyler's famous big lips – which rival Mick Jagger's or even Carly Simon's – break into a wide Cheshire-cat grin. Then suddenly his expression turns more serious, and he begins a series of muffled orgasmic squeals.

This is, in all likelihood, not the first time that the forty-two-year-old Tyler has found himself in this sort of situation. In fact, to hear Tyler and the other members of Aerosmith tell it, there's probably not a single rock-star decadence – sexual, chemical, financial or otherwise – that they have not engaged in over the years.

But this time is different. This is, after all, the new and improved, clean and sober, happily married Aerosmith. And so it is that the early morning's decadence is being simulated for the most wholesome of reasons: a gag birthday video that the folks at Boston's WBCN station are making for Mark Parenteau, a DJ there and a longtime friend and supporter of the hometown heroes in Aerosmith.

Tyler moans a few more times for the proper effect, rips the gag from his mouth, then looks straight ahead into the camera. "Believe me, Mark," he says, smiling broadly once again, "life ain't over at forty."

Aerosmith is that rarest of creatures – a rock band that's hitting its creative and commercial peak twenty years into its career. For a long time, it seemed unlikely that the members of Aerosmith would be alive, much less flourishing, by the time any of them hit forty.

The quintet – lead singer Tyler, lead guitarist Joe Perry, 39, bassist Tom Hamilton, 38, – drummer Joey Kramer, 39, and rhythm guitarist Brad Whitford, 38 – was perhaps the most successful American band in the mid-Seventies. Though generally dismissed by the press as bad Rolling Stones clones, the tireless road warriors conquered a nation by supporting classic slabs of hard rock like Toys in the Attic and Rocks with virtually nonstop touring of the U.S. "We were the guys you could actually see," says Joe Perry. "It wasn't like Zeppelin was out there on the road in America all the time. The Stones weren't always coming to your town. We were America's band – the garage band that made it real big, the ultimate party band."

500 Greatest Albums of All Time: Aerosmith, Toys in the Attic

By the end of the Seventies, though, the party was over. The band fell from multiplatinum grace into a deep and nearly fatal rut of hard drugs and bad karma. "Jerry Garcia says that we were the druggiest bunch of guys the Grateful Dead ever saw," says Tyler. "They were worried about us, so that gives you some idea of how fucked up and crazy we were."

Things got so profoundly Spinal Tap-ish that when Tyler actually saw the movie, he could hardly bear to watch the hard-rock satire. "I was real high at the time,"says Tyler with a grimace, "and Aerosmith was sinking – we were like a boat going down. And that movie was way too close, way too real. Our last album was Rock in a Hard Place, which sold, like, maybe ten copies; Spinal Tap did Stonehenge, and our album cover looked exactly like that. I freaked. I took Spinal Tap real personal."

And why not? Aerosmith had become a virtual parody of itself. The band's story was one of rock & roll excess, complete with all the absurd trimmings: wives who incessantly bickered, band members who fell offstage with disturbing regularity, $100,000 room-service bills, contests to see how many things in a Holiday Inn room would fit through a television set, million-dollar budgets, nightmarish gigs at theme parks, crew members who got more groupie action than their fucked-up bosses and money that went who knows where.

Tyler and Perry – the Toxic Twins, as they became not-so-affectionately known – feuded childishly and withdrew into years of death-defying heroin abuse before Perry finally split from the group in 1979, followed by Whitford a year later. "Things were getting more like Sid and Nancy than Spinal Tap," says Whitford. "It wasn't funny anymore."

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