"I remember seeing this National Geographic special about gorillas," Perry says. "When two gorillas get together, they'll throw shit, but they won't throw it at each other. They'll just make a lot of noise. That's what Steven and I would do. We'd get in the dressing room and tear it apart, but we never laid a hand on each other. But there was so much anger. If we were in a different space, we'd have killed each other."
Before things got better, they got worse. Perry formed the Joe Perry Project, and after three albums that sold progressively worse, he found himself flat broke, living on his manager's couch and at one point in a depressing Boston boardinghouse. By 1980 the guitarist was so out of it that he had no idea Columbia Records had released Aerosmith's Greatest Hits collection until a fan approached him at the supermarket and asked him to autograph a copy.
Tyler, Hamilton, Kramer and two new players – guitarist Jim Crespo and bassist Rick Dufay – tried without much success to keep the Aerosmith name alive. But Tyler also bottomed out. For one long period he lived in squalor in New York City's Gorham Hotel. Tyler chose the hotel for its access to Eighth Avenue, where he'd go regularly to score a couple of twenty-dollar bags of junk, hoping that the dealers there might recognize him. "That way," he says, "maybe I'd get a little extra."
"Our story is basically that we had it all," Perry says straightforwardly, "and then we pissed it all away."
Hey, dude – this tricolor fusilli is fucking outrageous."
Steve Tyler is talking intensely – as usual – with the chef who's running the elegant pasta bar that the promoters set up in the band's dressing room backstage in Toronto.
Moments earlier, Aerosmith wrapped up a ferocious two-hour set worlds apart from the often horrendous, bombed-out shows the band offered up to stadiums full of equally bombed-out white boys throughout the late Seventies. "It got to the point where as long as we did 'Back in the Saddle,' 'Toys in the Attic,' 'Sweet Emotion,' 'Walk This Way,' 'Dream On,' it didn't matter if we sucked," says Perry.
The same five that once performed with all the energy of potted plants now whip up a ballsy firestorm onstage. Tyler – who relates to his microphone stand as if it were simultaneously a pony ride and a phallic symbol – masterfully works every inch of the tasteful faux-rooftop state set. Meanwhile, Perry, Whitford, Hamilton and Kramer (along with tour keyboardist and saxophonist Thom Gimbel) dedicate themselves to pounding out two crowd-pleasing hours of no-frills rock & roll. Aerosmith manages to breathe new life into FM war horses that should have outlived their usefulness long ago, but the band really bears down on the material from its two post-rehab efforts, 1987's Permanent Vacation and the current Pump, albums that represent the strongest one-two punch in the band's grungy oeuvre.
As the crowds make their way out of the venue, the band members are already sitting around the backstage table, eating their individually prepared pasta dinners. They sip on nonalcoholic fruit spritzers, listen to the occasional rude noise made by a nearby espresso machine and chat amiably about the evening's culinary offerings. A member of the entourage snaps on a TV in the corner and starts a hard-core porn video, but everyone – even noted adult-entertainment enthusiast Tyler – pays more attention to the food.
"Even in the old days, we'd make an effort," says Tyler, doling himself seconds of the fusilli. "When I'd go out to score on Eighth Avenue, I'd get my junk and a chocolate doughnut. But I'd always also pick up one of those pita-pocket health-food sandwiches. You know, something really good for me."
"Yeah," says Perry with a shrug. "We always believed in doing something nice for our bodies while we were killing them."
The band members take turns signing a promotional leather jacket for their Italian record company. (Earlier in the day, before the daily meet-and-greet session with press and radio, they autographed a jacket to be auctioned off by Bikers Against Drugs.) There are also less-formal promotional duties to attend to. A few attractive if overly made-up young women – including one who's apparently Toronto's most important groupie – have gained a backstage audience with the objects of their affection. But tonight there is only some friendly conversation with a couple of the boys in the band. "We can look," says Tyler, "but we better not touch."
The existence of a kinder, gentler Aerosmith is partly the result of the band members' new-found sobriety. It may also have something to do with the fact that because of all the hit singles from the band's last two albums – "Dude (Looks Like a Lady)," "Angel," "Rag Doll," "Love in an Elevator," "Janie's Got a Gun" – and all the attendant MTV exposure, Aerosmith's audience has undergone a remarkable transformation of its own. As Tyler explains with characteristic bluntness, "It used to be the only girls at Aerosmith shows were the ones who came to blow us on the bus."
"We used to call our fans the blue army," says Hamilton, a tall, intelligent fellow with long, white hair who looks like a rocker but acts more like a genial English professor. "We'd look out and all we'd see were these stadiums full of guys in bluejeans, a sea of blue."
These days, "thousands of sixteen-year-old girls are there to see us," Tyler says, stopping to lick his chops dramatically before laughing loudly. "So now you know the real reason Aerosmith is still together."
In an effort to keep all of those fans happy, Tyler goes so far as to keep computer records of which of his various schmatte-and-scarf outfits he wears each night, as well as notes on how the crowd was. "I type in FG for fuckin' great," Tyler says, explaining his crude but effective grading system, "LD for limp dick or MFO for medi-fuckin'-ocre."
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