Aerosmith: Wings Clipped
In 2009, ahead of what should have been a joyous celebration of Aerosmith’s 40th anniversary, the band was on the verge of another disintegration. It had spent several frustrating years trying to record a follow-up to 2001’s Just Push Play. Along the way, most of its members had been waylaid by health issues. In 2006, bass player Tom Hamilton underwent a seven-week course of radiation treatment for throat cancer, and singer Steven Tyler had throat surgery; in 2008, Tyler entered rehab; in early 2009, lead guitarist Joe Perry endured emergency surgery after developing “unforeseen complications” with a replacement knee.
Things came to a head during the summer when Aerosmith embarked on a North American tour that was doomed before it started. Guitarist Brad Whitford missed the first few shows because he hit his head while getting out of his Ferrari. Even before he returned to the fold, seven shows were scrapped when Tyler suffered an unspecified leg injury. Hamilton was also sidelined for a few shows after undergoing what was described as “non-invasive surgery”. Then in South Dakota on Aug. 5, Tyler fell off the stage while singing “Love in an Elevator” and broke his shoulder. Most of his frustrated bandmates scattered to the wind, not even bothering to visit him in the hospital.
Tyler responded in kind. He hired his own managers, who informed the rest of the guys that their client wanted to take two years off. He wanted to focus on “brand Tyler,” which included writing his memoir and taking over as a judge on American Idol. Tyler’s bandmates, not content to sit around for two years, threatened to oust him so that they could continue making music.
Perry hit the promo trail about the same time for his fifth solo album. He had recorded the songs quickly in Aerosmith’s ample enforced downtime—some were initially targeted for the next Aerosmith record—with the help of an unknown German singer his wife had discovered on YouTube. Touring commitments would keep him on the road through March 2010. Everyone followed the same line of questioning: is Aerosmith over? The prognosis was bleak. Perry said he had not written a song with Tyler in 10 years, and that it wasn’t his fault.
A few days later, Perry’s wife and I got into a public spat when I wrote a story based on some of her Twitter comments. Billie Perry decided it was a good time to tell the world that she did not particularly care for Aerosmith’s recordings and had never listened to any of their albums in their entirety. I facetiously noted that she was hardly being the “dutiful wife” and she ripped me on her Twitter page, but then deleted the post.
In November, Whitford and drummer Joey Kramer spoke to me on successive days in an anti-Tyler campaign orchestrated by a former publicist for the band. It was clear Aerosmith was going through a belated and public mid-life crisis not too different from the ugly one that tore the Rolling Stones asunder during the mid-’80s. I assumed Aerosmith would similarly get over it, and felt the bandmates were wrongly using the media to communicate with Tyler. Their threats to replace Tyler were ludicrous. Did they really think fans would pay good money to see, say, Sammy Hagar or Paul Rodgers sashay around the stage singing “Walk This Way”?
I asked Kramer if this was all one big scare tactic, a bid to shock Tyler back into the fold. “Not at all, not at all,” he said, protesting too much. “Not by any means, not by any means.”
Of course no one had made serious entreaties to prospective singers, underscoring the hollowness of their threats and the inherent media manipulation. As expected, Tyler did return to the fold, and the band launched a four-month tour of the Americas and Europe in the summer of 2010. Perry, eager to enlist the media to promote his agenda when it suited him, now blamed the media for fomenting ill will with Tyler. “The media always wants to sling mud and lies at people’s personal expense,” he said — a sentiment later repeated in his memoir Rocks.
(But wait! There’s more. Buy Strange Days here to see what happened next.)
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