In 2002, Ben Mitchell spoke to Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Joe Perry. In this no-holds-barred Q&A, which remained unpublished for many years, he tries to get to the bottom of the many myths and salacious stories surrounding the band.
Is it true that you once opened a show with the song that you usually played last, thought that you’d finished and walked off?
Steven Tyler: No. What we have done is played the same song twice in a show. It didn’t happen very often, but this was the early days
You played the same song twice in a row?
ST: Oh no, that would have made us blithering idiots. We were just drug addicts.
Joe Perry: We probably went on without a setlist because we were late and just muddled through.
Come on, have a little class… If you wanna’ drink from my glass…
I may be committing more Aerosmith sacrilege here once again, but let’s remember whose book this is. I’m just playing with you guys with that statement… I would never argue anyone else’s list, but it would be just that; “their list”. I’m not saying it’s not a great song, and I can certainly understand it being in somebody else’s top 50 or top 10. Just not mine, maybe because of where I’ve lived for the last 20 years… The local Classic Rock radio station only has one continuous tape of maybe 100 total songs. So yeah, this one, Dream On and Train, are all you really ever hear from this group, at least where I live. So maybe with me, it’s just because of an imposed lack of depth. However, I definitely respect it.
What do you say about a song that is the essence of the toxicity of the band that created it? The song itself is a four minute biography of how it split the band. Sure it happened 4 years after the song was born, but the seeds of destruction were already sown. Everything I’m saying has been said before. Except maybe my personal view, which is; “This song is the Toxic Love Child of the all the principals that who was Aerosmith and their inner circle at the time…”
Okay here we go; this song goes back to before there was an Aerosmith. No it wasn’t written that long ago, but the content was there over five years time. Let’s go back to Lake Sunapee ’70, ’71, and a few characters go back even further. And my hunch is, they go deeper. There were a few different people involved in the making of the song. A very young adolescent Steven Tyler knew this girl from the summers he spent at Trowrico, who was pretty darn close to the definition of “Drop Dead Gorgeous”, even as a very young girl. Of course she didn’t give Steven the time of day, as he was pretty much an awkward, and kind of a strange teenager. At least that’s what’s been said publicly, and in print. However, some of us who follow these guys a bit closer than what might be deemed healthy, have a different opinion on that. But as is written, Steven did have a huge crush on that girl. (You can only know this by reading between the lines of all the books written)
Over time Steven and Joe met at a burger joint Joe was working at, in the resort town of Lake Sunapee. Joe flippin’ burgers, and Steven and a few of his buddies eating them, as well as throwing them around the restaurant during food fights. Over more time, Steven made his way down to see The Jam Band play, really more to see Elyssa than to see Joe, but never-the-less this was Steven’s first Joe Perry experience in musical form. and an experience it was!
What hasn’t been written, and is pure speculation on my part, as well as others, but again is that this girl and Steven knew each other a little more intimately than has ever been told, I’m sure out of respect for all involved. Joe likens the previous friendship of Steven and Elyssa, to a kind of “Kissing Cousins” relationship. Maybe that’s true, I don’t really know. My thoughts are though; Yeah exactly that, and then some. Some of us learn about girls and sexuality at a very young age, some of us way younger than what would be considered the norm. We discover things we can’t really comprehend at such an age, but damned if presented the opportunity, we won’t try. My own belief in life, is that this isn’t because two kids are perhaps left alone together too long without parental supervision, it’s a lot more simple than that. It’s my belief that extremely sexual and sensual people are born that way, and when two of them meet, no matter the age or comprehension, they will explore who they truly are.
With those early lessons, come confusion and thoughts of love before you even know what love is enter your mind, but the aftermath of those types of “Discovery Years”, for lack of a better description is what becomes the strong sometimes lifelong connection. No, it may never be the boyfriend – girlfriend connection that we think could have and often think should have happened, but none-the-less a lifelong connection is created. However, without having the experience and knowledge of what to do with that discovery, where to go with it, sometimes a tension is created that has far reaching effects onto other people and even into others’ own personal relationships. And it’s all because of an innocent discovery made by two kids with curious minds, left alone for awhile, with nothing better to do. This strange connection would later play a key part in the making of the song in later years, and the breaking of a band.
Steven saw Joe on stage, and even then at a very young age, he could see the Rock Star in Joe, that Steven so desperately wanted to be. He saw his ticket, so to speak. He also saw this gorgeous girl in the front row, The same girl he’s known so long, but truly really never knew, and yet wanted too, especially now in later teenage years. She was there by the way, to see nobody else but Joe. This was a strange dynamic for Steven to process. Steven wanted to be a star in his own right for many reasons, but in all truth, maybe even more than fame itself, he wanted the attention from the girls. And this girl in particular was perhaps the girl he wanted the most attention from at that moment in time. So, you can see here, that even before the “Toxic Twins” were as close as brothers could be, there was already a dynamic created of envy, of jealousy, respect, appreciation, and competition. There was a lot goin’ on there!
Two things were brewing in Steven’s mind. First, he pretty much knew right away that if the two of them, he and Joe, got together, they would“Make It”. The second, although there was envy for Joe having the attention of the girl he had a crush on so bad, it wasn’t so much the girl, as it was Joe was the Rock Star that Steven wanted to be. But at the time, the egos were bigger than the truth. Steven’s crush on Elyssa turned into jealousy and hatred over the next five years.
After some time away, even abroad chasing other Rock gods of the era, Elyssa came back to New England and of course re-grouped with people she’s known her whole life. Steven being one of those people, she came to know Joe a little better too. Now Joe at the time was making his way through the life as a young rock star, albeit not well known, he definitely was starting to experience the benefits of female attraction to musicians. He’s even had time with a very famous celebrity of the era, Judy Carne, but that’s another story. After meeting Elyssa again, he also seemed to be experiencing some pretty strong attractions to this chick himself, but didn’t quite feel an invitation so to speak. Maybe because of Steven’s strange connection to her. To be honest, from all I’ve read and have seen over the years, I’m sure there were hundreds who felt the same way about Elyssa.
After some partying together of Joe, Steven, and Elyssa in the apartment Steven and Joe shared, it just happened that Elyssa wound up in Joe’s bed. I think it’s easy to say here, that Elyssa had an attraction to Joe since their early teens, but Elyssa always seemed to choose the guy who gave her the fastest track to financial security. Now this being the time between Aerosmith’s 1st album and their 2nd, it’s my thought that Elyssa allowed her attraction to Joe to gamble on future success. That next morning, to say Steven was surprised, and a little jealous would be an understatement. Now there is a few books on this story, so I’ll stop with the tangent there, and say it’s only given to provide basis.
Now it’s not quite that simple either. The life of Aerosmith as a band was nothing at the time the song was written, if not sex, drugs, rock and roll, but all the while, they were just 5 middle class 20 somethings who liked to have a good time. There were women everywhere anytime, anyplace. But for Joe, it was different; Joe’s personality was to be loyal to one woman, and that woman was Elyssa, his wife. Listen to “Lick and a Promise” again… The Rock Star of the band, the real star did not “play” with the rest of the band.
When you’re involved in guilty pleasures and indulgences, it’s always good to have your best friends around to tell you it’s okay. And it’s only natural that while your best friend (Joe), is going the other way, you question your friendship. And when you question your friendship, you create blame. Whether it was real, or contrived it didn’t matter. And now you bring cocaine and even harder drugs into it. Now your best friend is not only not partying with you anymore, he’s taking his drugs, AND his woman, THIS woman, the same woman Steven had a crush on since childhood, and just going the other way.
Yeah it’s true that there was a triangle, a “Toxic Triplets” so to speak, and later even a Pentagon of people involved in the lyrics of the song. But one thing I don’t think Elyssa Jerret gets enough credit for, is the support, encouragement, and confirmation that she gave Joe. Yes she was instrumental in helping Joe pursue a solo career but she was also instrumental in Joe becoming the talent that he is, although later, perhaps out of admission of a mistake, confirmed that the band together, the five of them, is bigger than anything else. I know that Joe’s present wife Billie gets most of the credit for putting them back together. Maybe deservedly so, I don’t really know… but it’s my opinion that if they didn’t split, they would have just petered out, never knowing what they could have been.
So from a very complicated triangle of personalities to “locking the door with a chain”, to spilt milk, comes an anthem that describes the fiber of this band. The most ironic thing about the song is in its title, which so many casual fans just don’t get… It ain’t “Sweet” at all!
Over time and years, not unlike other songs, the song took on its own identity, with Tom’s signature Bass Line that gives the song its initial sexual and sensual appeal, along with Joe’s iconic Talk Box giving it a different dimension, and even further sensuality… Toss in Steven’s play on the “Vibraslap” almost as if you feel the electricity of a touch that will lead no where, except for “there”… And the Maracas that keep it going… But make no mistake about the true meaning of the song behind the sudden, and explosive sounds, not once, not twice, but 3 times, each time becoming more intense, to tell the story of seduction, illusion, betrayal, destruction, and eruption!… Each time becoming more, and more intensified.
The lyrics are so very profound. We’ve read and heard through our fandoms of certain celebrity bands who have used their own tumultuous lives to create masterpieces in music, ie Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’. And although Fleetwood Mac isn’t alone in this process, sometimes other band’s do the same, but with the brilliance of double entendres creating a masterpiece that can be interpreted in the vain in which it was written, or in fact a listener can create his own interpretation to mean what he or she needs it to mean. This song does both so very well.
Time and public demand would turn this song into what may very well be the 2nd or 3rd most identifiable song of the band’s more than 40 year career. Rightfully so, so simple and yet so very, very complex. But it’s more than just an iconic song for fans to hear and see in concert. This song, right here, as I said earlier is the band’s Toxic Love Child.
From it’s infancy in the 70’s creating tension between all principals involved in the birth of it, the raising of it, to it’s rebellious and often misunderstood adolescence of the 80’s, to it’s coming of age as a song that is so good, so powerful, from every member, to be a show closer in it’s adult years, as if a final statement is made. In essence this band presents the culmination of a lifelong relationship of 5 brothers and their families, through good times and bad, and it stands as strong as ever, more powerful than ever. They use it to close out concerts to show the audience, a song written about Toxicity, has matured into a song of pure strength, the song that tore a band apart, is the very song that binds them together, stronger than ever. It exemplifies this band!
You can only understand this when you experience this Final Encore of today’s shows. They present to you, in a true vision of growth through sound, the soft beginnings of the song, it’s infancy of sorts, and yet a personality within that infant, which tells the listener this is a child of its own identity, its own destiny. You can feel its birth out of a smoldering toxic relationship, yet not a burning tension of sorts. An almost inquisitive sense of what its life will become, the music alone slowly climbs to a period of breaking free from all that binds, and keeps its roots together. During the show, close to the end of the song, you will experience Joe taking his child off into a corner as if giving it a final talk of fatherly advice, to be strong, to be heard, to be loud, to make a fucking statement! As he comes away from that corner, this song, this Toxic Child reaches full maturity as powerful as a song can possibly be. And when you hear it, when you feel it, when you experience this song live, it comes alive! You feel that this band, this family has sent their offspring into the world to make its own mark. That is Sweet Emotion!
The lyrics tell the stories of the arguments between Steven, Elyssa, Joe, and even all the others, and their wives. It tells the story of fame and fortune gone to their heads. It tells the stories of taking their stash into solitude rather than previously sharing between brothers. It tells the hidden story of intimate knowledge that Steven has of Elyssa, or maybe wishes he had, almost out of spite, yet disguised as any groupie in the crowd. But make no mistake, this song, this Toxic Love Child, has a personality all its own, and if you’re lucky enough to feel it, to get to know it in person, you will understand the respect and admiration it deserves, and when you do, you will be Professionally Rocked like never before!
Elyssa from the Days of Joe’s “Jam Band” at the Barn in the front row, and then so many shows along the way..…
“Standing in the front just a shaking your ass, I’ll take ya’ back stage you could drink from my glass…”