IF THE WASHINGTON Monument vanished tomorrow a sizable portion of the population would be suitably abashed, but if the darned old thing trickled away bit by bit during a period of heavy construction only a few “cranks” would yell fire. So went Aerosmith; the band that you couldn’t ignore for so long did a quick fade only to have their tracks covered by an avalanche of big noise bands.
Years ago, when I had a peer group and we were nothing more than a nasty gleam in the eyes of our high school administrators, Aerosmith was the be-all-and-end-all backdrop for life in the ‘burbs…a ragged round the white collar soundtrack for those of us who reveled in the seedier side of middle class American teendom so often exploited in B movies these days. The band inspired near fanatical loyalty because they were the only adults in sight assuring us repeatedly that it was alright to go out and get fucked. One of my friends rigged the school computer so no matter what was fed in the answer was always AEROSMITH, never realizing that he had summed up the whole situation with one practical joke. Aerosmith equalled sex. At the time sex was the square root of everything.
They rode pubescent hysteria uninterrupted for years until they crashed into that almost inevitable wall of PERSONNEL PROBLEMS. Joe Perry projected himself into a solo career, as did Brad Whitford. The band that kicked America in the crotch unceremoniously faded underground…not into that mine that they were crawling around in on the cover of Night In The Ruts, but into the studio to assimilate new lead guitarist Jimmy Crespo and rhythm guit Rick Dufay. The result is Rock In A Hard Place, produced by Jack Douglas (you remember him), and while I must sadly admit that my tastes have changed somewhat and no longer run along these lines at the same frantic place I still like it more than Duran Duran. In any case it sure is the answer to the question, “Whatever happened to Aerosmith?” (Answer: Nothing. They just had to get back in the saddle again).
Steven Tyler has taken off his shoes, I believe, unless those things attached to the bottom of his legs are his shoes. Mom always told me to inspect footwear first to ascertain status and attitude and I can’t see the guy’s goddamn shoes anywhere. He’s been through all this before, that human unmade bed with his dangling body trinkets. He exudes a lackadaisical confidence that begs for a rude reply. I feel no inclination towards giving one, I mean, this is the guy I wanted to look like when I was 15 even if it meant never getting into the back seat with a boy again. Anyhow…
So what’s the deal here? Why back to Jack Douglas?
“Well, he’s one of the all-time greatest. You look at his track record, all the Aerosmith records he’s done in the past. We’ve been through three different producers since we did leave him a couple of years back and we wanted to get back to something old with a new flavor, which was Jimmy Crespo being in the band. Jack Douglas was just missed. It was a bit of that sound, the old sound, that we hadn’t been getting co-working with other producers, so we found it necessary to call the young lad up.”
Night In The Ruts had a lot of stuff going on at the same time with clamorous results.
“You’re talkin’ recording wise?”
No, just the individual instruments.
“The two guitars…we do the basic tracks we usually play live. We’ll go in there and play the songs that we took hot off the griddle from pre-production and the light goes on and you play. Sometimes those two guitars on there might get a little muddy but we go for it ’cause it sounds great and you don’t want to change it. There’s a couple of songs I agree with you…”
Like ‘Chiquita’, with a beginning that makes you wonder if it has indeed started. (Definitely my fave track on the album for its beat-around-the-bush approach to the hook at hand.) The new alb is much more direct, concise. Were both guitarists on it?
“Jimmy Crespo was, and Rick Dufay came in at the end. There wasn’t much left for him to do although he did play, sang a background vocal. So he’s in there but not full-fledged.”
I did notice that it was more rhythm-oriented than before. Joe Perry occasionally slipped into a Guitar Wars format…
“Joe Perry, the old soldier of fortune.”
“First of all it was him (Crespo) and only him. We’d go and put down the band, as the band was then, so there wasn’t much room for leakage. It was nice and clean and/or dirty one time, the first time that he put it down and then anything we wanted to add over it we put on afterwards which we didn’t do much of. Jimmy consequently played lead and rhythm on the album. Coming from the same guy he left room for himself. It all does fall into place a lot more.”
Any cover songs you’ve wanted to do and haven’t?
“I think we’ve just about done ’em all, haven’t given it much thought. ‘Cry Me A River’ I heard in Beaumont, Texas or somewhere. It was an overnight stand, I had this old honkytonk station on and they happened to play the oldie by Julie London and I thought to myself it would be terrific to try bring it back.”
Sort of like ‘Walking In The Sand’?
“Maybe even with the same flavor that she did but as it turned out I kinda rearranged it and Aerosmith just stomped it right into the mold. It’s an asskicker now as opposed to a tearjerker, somethin’ where I can call my mom up and go whawhawhawha…justa for you mamma, just for you. The Shangri-Las were always one of my all-time favorite groups. That particualr track would have been a real big hit last summer…but what’s her name, Carole King’s daughter, came out with that as a 45 before we did so stations didn’t play it. Most of the kids will probably think we wrote it.”
All the kids in my high school thought you wrote ‘Train Kept A Rollin’’ and when I brought the Yardbirds record in and played it over the school station nobody knew what the hell it was…
“Look what I found! And elephant’s diaphragm!”
It’s a frisbee!
“Oh, right. For concerts, so no one can get sued.”
What about ‘Joanie’s Butterfly’?
“It was taken from a riff that Jimmy came up with sitting around a hotel room, he’s into classical; he does a lot of classical by himself. He came to me with it and then I put a melody line in front of it, and then I had a dream one night. I wrote down my dream, in fact it’s on the inner sleeve of the album. The dream was so fucking vivid…from that the song came out. It definitely has an Indian/Ethiopian flavor to it…Hehna hena…all that shit in there. It fit in real well. It’s a threefold song anyway. It starts off, we use vocoder. That’s what they used in Germany when Hitler would send secret messages. He would have a voice over a band playing, a voice that sounds like a trumpet and somebody got ahold of it in France or wherever and put it to use. That’s where it’s nice and melodic and ballad-y but then it goes into the second part which cuts it right in half. Most of our ballads have been like that anyway. The front will be nice and sweet, then it will break into…I kinda love it, it’s the second step for us.
“I’m not the kind of person who gets too upset about playlists, though I’d love them to play the shit out of the albums. I don’t get upset about songs that people say they don’t play because the goddam albums go platinum and the kids out there are listening to them, they’re wearing the wax down to the bone. They hear it.”
With ‘Push Comes To Shove’ you’ve finally gone all the way into the striptease genre.
“I wrote that song on piano years ago, it used to sound like a Burt Bacharach thing. If there was a piano here I’d show you…it only had four or five measures on it, but I’d been playing it all these years. I was real loose down in Florida, we were recording at Criteria Studios and I sat down at the piano and I had my machine running, Godfrey Diamond, who was our engineer on this project, sat down with me and we stayed up for 54 hours solid and put that song down. I played piano on it, I played the drums, I did all the vocals, I did the background vocals, and it was such a trip, it was just like summer camp. When I got out of there I felt so relieved. It was so great I can’t explain. It has a different sound from ever before.”
Extremely saucy, I suggest. The door opens and in comes this behemoth of a human…their ex-roadmanager Robert Keller armed with a six pack. Or two.
“Are ya ready?” Keller challenges.
“Oh, we forgot the can opener if we’re gonna do that.”
“You can’t do that anyway, these cans are aluminum.”
“Well, you could ice pick the bottom of them. Kelly and I had a contest back in…”
“Buffalo. We had a beer shooting contest.”
“Y’know when you shoot beers, right?”
Ice pick be damned. Keller demonstrates by downing his brew in about three seconds while Tyler hoots “Watch! He eats the can!” He doesn’t. He smashes it into his forehead. I’m beginning to feel very strange, maybe I’m in the middle of a Godard film…or maybe it’s only Roadie. Keller exits.
“He used to be the road manager for Ultimate Spinach up in Boston. Ahh…nothin’ like a Coors…I tell you somedays this stuff tastes like weasel piss. Can you believe this stuff is seven bucks a pack?”
“Five bucks? Anyway, getting back to saucy. You like that huh? We were gonna bring in some black chicks and everything but I overdubbed it four times and it came out sounding like a bunch of black chicks. When I listened to the playback after Godfrey and I had done this I couldn’t fuckin’ believe it. I guess it’s food for thought for a solo album someday.”
Yeah, but what year are you busy until? 1983 at least I would think.
“I might get bored…but I’m not one to get bored with a good thing.”
Who’s this at the door now? Why it’s Tom Hamilton and Rick Dufay. Tom’s shoes match his shirt, always a good sign. He’s a polite, alert, attentive sort of guy which is also a good sign. I can draw no conclusions about Mr. Dufay, who didn’t seem inclined in a verbal direction. (He’s the one on the back of the album cover with smoke coming out of his pants in case you’re wondering). What I want to know is; what is the least obvious thing about Aerosmith?
Tom clears his throat. “Well I’d have to say…ahhh…”
“The tattoos everybody has, the Aerosmith wings and where they are.”
“The brotherhood of the tattoo, me, Joey and Steven.”
“Find out where it is folks? I dunno, what kind of question is that?”
The kind you’ve never been asked before. (Better scratch this other query ’bout whether they’d rather have a publicist or a poltergeist.)
“How ’bout we all own land in East Berlin?”
Why do people like to tell nasty stories about Aerosmith?
“Sometimes we don’t get all of our energy expended on stage. We get offstage and we’re still cookin’ so sometimes it comes out in all kinds of different ways…good and bad. We have immediate…discussions of what went right and wrong and sometimes they get a bit crazy. Everybody loves you when you’re up-and-comer and when you’re there…”
“I’d love to hear what kind of nasty, gimme a juicy one.”
A juicy one I won’t give, but here’s one of the cheap shots. Some friends of mine were up at the Power Station when you were recording and some guy came into their studio and said that he had just passed by yours and it was like walking through the Museum of Natural History.
“That’s fuckin’ nasty! I’m fuckin’ pissed, I’m gonna be nasty to whoever said that.”
“Obviously the guy had his head wedged.”
Well – maybe he had it wedged into a Duran Duran record or something. The point is that ever since I found out I was to do this interview people have been buttonholing me with their tedious remarks, all of them negative. (Actually one guy did tell me a good one. He went up to their house when they were still living in Bosstown to see if he could get a job working on their road crew. He brought one of his favorite records along and when he put it on their massive stereo system they threw him outta the house.) Hey guys, do you have more girls in your audience now or what? A friend of mine went to see you five or six years ago and she didn’t even see another girl.
“It’s gone around full circle I think. When we play we look out into the audience and there’s always a lot of guys up in front fist-fucking the air, but that’s because they muscle their way up…a lot more girls now, I’ve seen them form a line and do the old GET OUTTA MY WAY chant. Girls should kick more ass.”
What’s next for you guys? (an obvious sort of question but what the hell?)
“Let’s let this one work first. A lot of the next one’s already in the can, oddly enough.”
“We’re reaching a point where we’ll continue to do albums but we’ll probably get involved in individual levels in different kinds of projects, maybe producing, maybe films. That’s something we’ve always had in the back of our head that we’d like to do more of. We did that thing in Sergeant Pepper and it came out great, the taste of it really whet our appetites. I think once the album gets established and we’re happening on the next one…we’ve reached a point in our careers where we’ll expand our operations of infleunce.”
“There’s a lot of time for that, right now Aerosmith is doing the old comeback trip, not that we ever left.”
How do you feel having to do that old comeback trip?
“There was a lot of turmoil over the last few years, maintaining the band while people were jumping ship. There was a real fight for awhile, but now it’s more like a challenge. It’s a fight you want to fight…especially since we’re so knocked out with how the album came out.”
“It’s gonna be exciting, a lot of people thought the band broke up, the rumors start, we weren’t about to go do a lot of interviews when people started…jumping ship or what have you. We just let it lie, went into the studio, did a lot of work. It’s great now, to thumb our noses at ’em…
“…the doubters. We’ll have more tunes off this album that’ll be able to go right into the set than any of our other albums on an album-by-album basis.
“I always wanted to go out and do a show that was the fucking album from beginning to end. We could pull it off especially just when the album comes out, and we go out and tour, ’cause the kids will have it on their turntables.”
TH: “Yeah, usually you take your new stuff and mix it in with stuff from the other albums but that’s something that would be nice, to have a whole segment of the show that’s the new album, ’cause it’s nice to be able to play them live, in sequence, because they’re in sequence on the record for a reason…take it onstage and try for that same effect.”
ST: “We should pull that off some night. – well, thanks for the idea.”
It wasn’t my idea but I’ll take the credits for it. How fast or slow do y’all write?
ST: “All the tunes on this record were written a long time ago, and we were rehashing them, changing them around and that took a long time. It’s funny, the songs we wrote during this album, like ‘Joanie’s Butterfly’ were put together pretty quick. I mean, it wasn’t overnight. It happened really fast, especially with Jimmy now. There’s no coming up with shit at the studio and then splitting and never hearing from the person for another two weeks because something good came into town. It’s usually right back to the studio the next day with the stuff and then we finish it. Everybody out there is gonna go [whines] ‘Then why the fuck did it take two years?’ It’s ’cause we got more than an album’s worth of material.”
TH: “With new people we’ll be able to progress on a different level and direction, it’ll still be in the Aerosmith direction but we’ve got a new framework of development so we can experiment with a lot of things we never could before. More polishing, finesse, and technique, but still nice and raw.”
It’s always been Music For Cars.
“That’s where I like to listen to music, in my car.”
“This album’s gonna give a lot of people speeding tickets…European straight-arm, y’know? Look out, ’cause here we come. We should be on tour end of September…major tour.”
“We did a lot of clubs and small theaters in the last few years and I’m dying to get back into a hockey arena.”
“We dug it for awhile, getting back to our fans, I dig the closeness and all that shit, which is true in a sense but then you get all these letters from kids ‘We couldn’t fuckin’ see you, when are you coming back?’ Whether you play the big hall or the little one you put out as much, it’s just that the rest of the world didn’t get a chance to hear you. So you come back from the tour and you feel unfulfilled because all these people didn’t get to see you or they got fuckin’ stitches on their head for trying to climb in the back window and Mallory the Cop came by and frisked them and took all their drugs. This time we’re going to hit the masses.”
“Our own little blitzkreig.”
As I’m leaving, Tom comes up to me with a smile of his face and says, “One other least obvious thing about Aerosmith, we wash.”
© Annene Kaye, Creem, January 1983