All hail the greatest rock video trilogy of all time – Aerosmith‘s Alicia Silverstone Trilogy, which kicked off 25 years ago this week. The future Clueless starlet played the plucky teen heroine of three perfect videos – “Cryin’,” “Amazing” and “Crazy.” As soon as “Cryin'” hit MTV in the summer of 1993, it was clear Alicia was a new rock & roll muse, the kind of video star who’d bungee-jump off bridges or stomp suckers on the sidewalk as a gesture of her philosophical defiance. As the story kept going with “Amazing” and “Crazy,” Alicia became the Monica Vitti to Aerosmith’s Antonioni, the Clint Eastwood to their Sergio Leone. In this saga, Silverstone was the Frodo and the Gandalf. These stupendously absurd video epics also had co-stars like Liv Tyler, Jason London, Steven Dorff and – oh, yeah – Aerosmith themselves. But the Aliciad remains the ultimate video trilogy, the one that defines the genre.
The other canonical contender would be, of course, ZZ Top’s Eliminator Trilogy. But “Legs” is so much better than “Sharp Dressed Man” or “Gimme All Your Lovin’,” that it seems more like a classic video with two cool prequels. “Cryin’,” “Crazy,” “Amazing” – they’re basically the same song, with the same title. (Say them out loud real fast.) But director Marty Callner turned the Alicia Trilogy into a craymazing crescendo of rock-video history.
“Cryin” dropped at a time when Aerosmith needed a boost – their excellent new album Get a Grip was in danger of looking like a joke. One reason was the admirably moronic cover: the album title tattooed above a cow’s udder. Their tour got off to a shaky start with opening act Megadeth, not a happy match. Megadeth got the axe after only six shows, when Dave Mustaine was accused of blowing his nose on an Aerosmith T-shirt onstage. Stephen Tyler’s comment to Mustaine was one of his classics: “We’d like to help you out. Which way did you come in?” Megadeth got replaced by Jackyl, giving fans a chance to thrill to Jesse James Dupree’s chainsaw solos during “The Lumberjack.”
A bigger problem was the underwhelming first single and video, “Livin’ on the Edge,” a big-budget bore. “There’s something wrong with the world today” was a valid sentiment in 1993, but not the kind of thing you go to Steven Tyler to get lectured about. Tyler wore dreadlocks, inspiring the mockery of Beavis & Butt-Head: “He looks like Vanilli!” The video was a real dud – there wasn’t even a girl, only some hijinks with Terminator kid Edward Furlong. MTV’s VJ Kennedy gave the video a memorable punch line, snickering, “Edward sure makes my fur long.” But Weird Al hugely improved the song when he redid it as “Livin’ in the Fridge.”
So the band needed a real hit – a chance to show off the Aerosmith feel and the Aerosmith luster. They got it with a little help from a rising star named Alicia Silverstone, star of The Crush, a trashy erotic thriller about a murderous teen with a deadly fixation on her sweaty-looking grown-up neighbor Cary Elwes. Best scene: When he fails to show up for her horse show, she hunts him down at some fancy charity ball, storms in wearing her riding suit and boots, slaps him hard and yells, “Too busy kissing ass to care about me, is that it?”
One of the many people who watched The Crush was video director Marty Callner. “He liked what he saw in the movie,” Silverstone told Rolling Stone in her 1995 cover story. “And what he saw was a good actress, not a pretty girl. It’s about what you have inside.” Indeed, the “Cryin'” video was not a sleazy sex romp – it’s about Alicia’s struggles, her hopes and dreams. “After watching all those other videos, it’s cool to see that one, to see a video with a real person. I’m never posing, never doing this supersexy stuff. I’m just being.”
“Cryin'” co-stars Steven Dorff as her scuzzy ex-boyfriend – Alicia punches him out and steals his convertible. When it overheats, she ditches the car by the side of the road, mouthing a visible f-bomb. She munches popcorn, gets tattooed, karate-kicks the crap out of a slimeball who tries to steal her bag at the coffee shop. (The slimeball later became famous as Lost‘s Josh Holloway, undoubtably the biggest celebrity to begin his career with an Alicia beatdown.) For the big climax, Alicia stages an insanely elaborate and pointless prank where she pretends to leap off a bridge, just to flip off Dorff in public. MTV censored her by blurring her middle finger. “Aerosmith made a hell of a lot of money off that video,” Silverstone said. “Their sales tripled or something. They would have been crazy not to ask me back.”
They did. “Amazing” was the next chapter, leaning too hard on virtual-reality cliches that were already tired by 1993. (“Cyberspace Entered!” – sheesh.) The computer graphics look silly now, but “Amazing” is the best tune of the bunch – a power ballad about sobriety, ending with an epic four-minute Joe Perry solo. It’s the most beautiful Aerosmith song of their past three decades (rivaled only by “Jaded”). Jason London, already a cult hero for Dazed and Confused, plays the dorky hacker who uses a CD-ROM to project himself into an Aerosmith video – all so he can meet Alicia. They go for a romantic sunset motorcycle ride in the desert, catch a ride on a barnstorming biplane, and end the video sky-surfing together. But at the end, Jason realizes he’s just a character in somebody else’s VR game – and the hacker at the controls is (who else?) Alicia!
“Crazy” didn’t arrive until the spring of 1994, but it was the capper – pairing up Alicia with Steven Tyler’s then-unknown daughter. They were a couple of teen runaways (still wearing their school uniforms, bien sur) escaping for a top-down joyride in the Ford Mustang. “Crazy” is one madcap adventure after another: The gals bond in the car, then sneak into a photo booth for a nude selfie to reward the nice Pauly Shore–esque gas-station dude who lets them shoplift. They rustle up some cash at a talent show where Liv does a dead-on parody of her old man’s shimmying dance moves, pole-dancing to this song and making eyes at Alicia, disguised in a business suit in the front row. (Before long, Liv was working with Bertolucci.) They pick up a foxy farmboy and tempt him to go skinny-dipping. His clothes are dirty, but his hands are clean, and he gladly abandons his still-moving tractor to join the girls in their wild road adventure. He sits in the back of their Mustang, picking his nose, and raises his fists in the air, in a moment of Judd Nelson triumph. By the end, we feel like we’ve learned something. We’ve been taken on a mystic ride. We’re different people than we were a few minutes ago. And yet, the video has saved the biggest surprise for the very final scene: the magic tractor spelling out the word “Crazy” in the field. Brilliance.
One of the fans who loved these videos was director Amy Heckerling, who’d already made teen-flick history with Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and was about to make history again with Clueless. “Here’s how I found Alicia,” Heckerling told Rolling Stone in 1995. “I was minding my own business on my treadmill watching MTV when I saw ‘Cryin” and just went cuckoo bananas.” Silverstone played teen fashion plate and Wildean wit Cher Horowitz in Clueless, a true Nineties masterpiece, as anyone will agree unless they’re a virgin who can’t drive. (In Rolling Stone‘s definitive list of the 100 Greatest Films of the Nineties, I must confess Clueless topped my ballot.)
Marty Callner knew what he was doing here: the director of the original Pee Wee Herman Show, he’d done Aerosmith’s videos from the beginning of their Eighties comeback with “Dude (Looks Like a Lady),” not to mention classics like Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” Poison’s “Fallen Angel” and Cher’s “If I Could Turn Back Time.” (He also did Whitesnake’s Tawny Kitaen trilogy.) But his absurdist perv sensibility reaches its peak here, in le cinema de Alicia.
Silverstone made the cover of the Rolling Stone soon after Clueless, ambivalent about her glam image: “What people think about me, of doing with me – it can be gross.” She’s always kept a bit of distance from her Aerosmith franchise. “I’m not a video star turned actress. I’m a serious actress who spent a few days making videos.” But she’s having quite a deserved renaissance these days, starring in the Paramount Network’s new American Woman as a Seventies mom in Beverly Hills (it’s based on Real Housewife Kyle Richards). She just appeared on Jimmy Fallon to join his Lip Sync Battle, donning her old Clueless outfit to perform Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy.” But her Aerosmith videos will always live on in the hearts of everyone who’s seen them. Amazing indeed.