Photo: wikipedia

Aerosmith, Puskás Aréna, July 10, 2022

Band lived on the edge, when they weren’t falling off

Aerosmith is one of those rock bands whose name rarely appears without the word “legendary” alongside it – that’s what happens when you were formed half a century ago, have “sold 150-million albums” (a nice round number that, but who counted?), became institutionalised in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum (aka the Hall of Shame), won some Grammys and will now embark on a big global farewell tour before going for The Big Sleep. But did Aerosmith have any real cultural significance or change the course of music history a tad? Hungarian fans will get their turn to pay due homage at the Puskás Aréna next July.

Of course, July is quite a long way away when your band members are all around the 70 years old mark, and anything could happen before then, including something fatal. Aerosmith seems to be a resilient bunch though, and it comes as a surprise to this writer to learn that the five current members are basically the same five who formed the band in Boston in 1970 – singer Steven Tyler (born Steven Tallarico on March 26, 1948, in New York City), lead guitarist Joe Perry (born September 10, 1950, in Boston, Massachusetts), guitarist Brad Whitford (born February 23, 1952, in Winchester, Massachusetts), bassist Tom Hamilton (born December 31, 1951, in Colorado Springs, Colorado) and drummer Joey Kramer (born June 21, 1950, in New York City).

Thus Tyler is 73 years old, Hamilton and Whitford 69, and Perry and Kramer 71. They’re relatively young compared to grizzled veterans the Rolling Stones, with whom they are said to be most reminiscent, sharing a bluesy, swaggering musical style. Aerosmith is also variously described as hard rock, glam metal and heavy metal (not to mention a poor man’s version of the Stones).

The original rhythm guitarist was Ray Tabano but he was just a blip in their history and was quickly replaced by Whitford in 1971. The band got fabulously famous and became a byword for rock excess and drug addiction. Tyler and Perry are said to have been so inseparable, and indulgent, in the 1970s that they were known as the Toxic Twins, running up huge hotel-trashing bills and buying new sports cars and crashing them. Even marathon drug ingesters the Grateful Dead cocked a wary eye at their opium intake.

Internal conflict, though, surely fuelled by the illegal substances, led to the departures of Perry in 1979 and Whitford in 1981. In a sort of “handbags at 10 paces”, it appears that in 1979 the band was working on their next album and touring during a break in recording, when drug use began taking its toll and tensions were slowly coming to a head.

At Cleveland Stadium, where they were headlining the World Series of Rock festival, a ruckus erupted backstage when Perry’s wife Elissa threw a glass of milk at Hamilton’s wife Terry. Tyler and Perry then got into a heated argument about it and the result was Perry leaving the band, though Tyler claims in his autobiography, “Does the Noise in My Head Bother You?”, that he fired him. Whitford quit after a string of less successful Aerosmith albums in the late 1970s to work on his own project.

The band started spiralling down, falling out of favour with their record label and audiences alike thanks to a dwindling creative spark. They were just about washed up. However, Perry and Elissa had divorced by February 14, 1984, which was when he and Whitford saw Aerosmith perform at Boston’s Orpheum Theater. Wounds began to heal backstage and discussions soon started to reintegrate the two into the band, and some months later they officially reunited.

Tyler recalled: “You should have felt the buzz the moment all five of us got together in the same room for the first time again. We all started laughin’ – it was like the five years had never passed. We knew we’d made the right move.” The Great Milk Incident had come to a happy end.

The singer had rock ‘n’ roll issues. Drugs had started to affect his performance and songwriting, and apparently he reached rock bottom in 1980 when he collapsed on stage in Portland, Maine, and did not get up for the remainder of the show (what, they just continued playing?). Later that year he was injured in a serious motorbike accident that put him in hospital for two months and unable to tour or record well into 1981.

In 1984, Aerosmith embarked on the Back in the Saddle reunion tour. But drug problems continued and in 1986 Tyler completed a successful rehabilitation program, after an intervention by the band members, a doctor and manager Tim Collins. The rest of the band also completed rehab programs over the next couple of years. According to Aerosmith’s tell-all autobiography “Walk This Way” published in 2012, Collins had pledged in September 1986 that he could make them the biggest band in the world by 1990 if they all dried out.

Well, this is sex ‘n’ drugs ‘n’ rock ‘n’ roll, and Aerosmith has been up and down, with a little hiccup or two only to be expected. It’s difficult to keep up because Tyler has apparently had a whopping eight stints in rehab and estimates that he’s spent $6 million on cocaine alone over the years.

It seems there was also a public feud between the “twins” in 2009, with Perry suggesting that Aerosmith would find a replacement singer. Tyler went back to the clinic (earlier efforts obviously didn’t stick), returning to front the band for a summer 2010 tour, and in 2011-12 he was a judge on the reality TV show “American Idol”, whatever that’s got to do with anything.

According to the statistics, Aerosmith is the best-selling American hard rock band ever, with those 150 million-plus record sales worldwide including more than 85 million in the United States. With 25 gold, 18 platinum and 12 multi-platinum albums they hold the record for the most total certifications by an American group and are tied for the most multi-platinum albums by an American group.

One list credits them with achieving “21 Top 40 hits on the US Hot 100, nine number-one Mainstream Rock hits, four Grammy Awards, six American Music Awards and 10 MTV Video Music Awards”. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001 by Kid Rock and were ranked numbers 57 and 30, respectively, on Rolling Stone’s and VH1’s lists of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. In 2013 Tyler and Perry were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and in 2020 the band received the MusiCares Person of the Year award. A video game, “Guitar Hero: Aerosmith”, follows their career!

Aerosmith last visited Hungary in 1994, playing at MTK Stadium in Józsefváros, Budapest. In 1993 they had performed at Budapest Sports Hall. Now the first Hungarian Aerosmith concert in 28 years is coming to an arena near you. They’re “legendary”. Get your VIP package. Meet and greet. Have a snort. Dare you miss out?

(What do Grateful Dead fans say when the drugs wear off? – “Who’s playing that awful music?”)

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