Steven Tyler may be the fastest mouth alive. He's certainly the motor-chatter king of rock & roll. At full speed, the snap, crackle and atomic pop of his conversational style is a thing of wonder — a torrent of fiercely held opinions, impulsive contradictions, vivid adolescent reminiscences, street-corner profanities, colorful sexual metaphors and explosive laughter. He can break into song at a moment's notice to press home a particular musical point — an old Four Tops single, an obscure Kinks album track, just about anything he's written and sung with Aerosmith. Tyler is also a brilliant mimic; he can do anything from the voice of Yogi Bear to Jeff Beck's ragaesque lead-guitar line in the Yardbirds' "Over Under Sideways Down."
And that's just when he's sitting down. Ask Tyler how he wrote Aerosmith's '70s breakthrough hit "Dream On" and he'll leap to the piano for an impromptu recital. A question about his long, often tempestuous relationship with Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry will have Tyler shooting across the room to show you the Plexiglas-framed remnants of a guitar they blew up one day in a drug-fueled misadventure with gunpowder. And this is definitely the first interview I've ever done in which the artist I'm talking to bolts out of his chair and suddenly starts writing a new song — about me.
No shit. One minute Tyler is explaining how he's going to learn to play the banjo; the next he's raving on about the gift of music as he stands at a drum kit tapping out a swing beat on a high-hat cymbal and scatting excitedly: "Walkin' down the street/What did I see?/Young man Fricke/Walkin' after me/Saywhat?/What?"
"That's a song ready to be born right there! It's all a gift, and it's just waiting there for me!" Tyler howls with childlike glee as he drops back onto the couch in his combination home studio and rumpus room, the second floor of a converted garage at his home in a wooded Boston suburb.
His gift has served him well. In 1984, Tyler's career with Aerosmith was in the toilet; the heady platinum triumphs of the band's original mid-'70s heyday had been tarred and eclipsed by his superhuman consumption of leisure chemicals and the complete breakdown of personal relationships within the group. As far as a lot of people, fans included, were concerned, Aerosmith were a total write-off.
Ten years later, Tyler and the rest of Aerosmith — Perry, guitarist Brad Whitford, bassist Tom Hamilton and drummer Joey Kramer — are at the peak of a second career high. Their last three Geffen albums — Permanent Vacation (1987), Pump (1989) and Get a Grip (1993) — have all sold in the multimillions, triggering a rain of music-biz awards, including two Grammys and a sweep of the '94 MTV Video Music Awards. A greatest-hits collection, aptly entitled Big Ones, will be released in November. The band has also signed a lucrative six-album deal with Sony for an estimated $30 million. And at a time when young America is in the thick of '70s-nostalgia fever (the Partridge Family in fucking-deed), Aerosmith still deliver the real thing: cocksure arena-rock crunch driven by twin power-drill guitars, meaty R&B-grounded rhythms and Tyler's arrested-adolescent, spin-cycle metabolism.
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