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 In this no-holds-barred Q&A, which remained unpublished for many years, he tries to get to the bottom of the many myths and salacious stories surrounding the band.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.
Sometimes real life gets in the way…
Sometimes all you want to do is lose touch with all that’s real It’s tough livin’ like ya wanna’ when the landlord spats with his wife
and texts you; “ya got 60 days”
Because YOUR house, is HIS Dog House
Sometimes “The way I see it, ya’ gotta’ say Shit!” Just to find peace of mind…
Where does one start with this one? This is really the song that made Aerosmith right here. It wasn’t ‘Dream On’, it wasn’t ‘Sweet Emotion’, and it wasn’t ‘Walk This Way’, or ‘Train’. It wasn’t even the song Steven and Joe thought would launch them, in Movin’ Out. This is the song that got Clive Davis’ attention. This is the song that got Leber and Krebs to really push the guys with Columbia, while Columbia was busy pushing and supporting Springsteen and BOC. This is the song that had the edge, the “Something Different” that would become their identity for the next 40+ years. It’s raw, it’s fresh (for the time), and it’s addictive.
Steven wrote the song, or at least had the idea for it before Aerosmith ever got together. He cops to stealing some chords from a Blodwyn Pig song called ‘See My Way’, for the main lick, he started scatting and the song was born. As Steven says in his book; “If Mick can say “oh we got Stray Cat Blues’ from ‘Heroin’ on Velvet Underground’s 1stalbum, I can cop to a little larceny…” The song was also the first from the band, though certainly not the last, to use a curse word.
There are so many different interpretations, or meanings for the song. Most of which, people think it has to do with family, and never forgetting where you came from. I mean people even say the original lyrics were written “Sleepin’ late in Sunapee”. Personally, I’ve never read that with any credibility, so I kind of throw that right out the window, at least until I hear it from the source. Besides, another song on this album relates to family and home. And“Sleepin’ late and smokin’ tea” makes a hell of a lot more sense in ’’71, ‘72-’73.
Getting back to the double meanings though, that these guys have made their whole identity since day one, I’m sure that this song definitely relates to family and home, but Steven has said in the past that; “Mama Kin” is his idea of a spiritual force that drives his creativity and pleasure. “Keep in touch with Mama Kin” means remembering the desires that drive you to excel.
Steven also had a tattoo put on his left bicep with the words “Ma Kin” on it. Joe says it doesn’t say “Mama Kin” because Steven’s arm was too small to fit the two whole words.
In the early 1990s, the band opened up a music club called The Mama Kin Music Hall in their hometown of Boston , near Fenway Park . Since then the club has closed and even re-opened under other venues.
For me though… personally, this was a song, along with a few others, I could really relate to in my teenage years as a high school bachelor, with his own place. “Livin’ like I wanna, (or like I wanted too), “sleepin’ late and smokin’ tea”, and just sayin’ “shit!!”. Because it was futile to think something better was coming. And all the while livin’ like a gypsy was a way of life for me, and as hard I would try to change that over the next 37 years, “Livin’ like a gypsy” came to be more than just a character trait. Oh the stories I could tell…
“It ain’t easy, livin’ like a gypsy…”
When I was a young boy growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, gypsies were only seen in old westerns or maybe something like the Zorro movies from days of old. The gypsies in these movies always had a dark side, yes mysterious, but almost always crooked, always a person of questionable character… People these days, romanticize about being a Gypsy. You’ll hear women of all ages try to somehow, identify themselves as a “mysterious gypsy”. They see freedom in the Hollywood and artistic conceptions. Many of these very, very American women have a perception of a “Gypsy Life” being filled with mystery and enchantment. They identify with a type of free spirit, and even liken themselves to the seductresses that Hollywood and Music has designed these gypsies to be…
It’s kind of sad though when you really look into the lives of the Gypsies that so many of these people naively, and some even ignorantly idolize. It’s obviously not all, but many. However, this isn’t to say that being a Free Spirit is a bad thing at all. Frankly it’s who I am, when I’m not trying to be on the straight and narrow. For the Gypsy though, there is no mystery beyond where their next meal will come from. There is no enchantment other than the fortunes and superstitions they believe will somehow right all the wrongs in their lives. Most of these people would gladly trade their free spirits for something, someplace more secure than yesterday. As far as seduction goes, if it comes down to how you will eat that night, how you will feed your family, most of us will find the means to seduce who or what we can…
I’m sure there was a time in history, even fairly recent history, where the Romani people and their nomadic bohemian cultures were perhaps, looked upon with a sense of enticing curiosity. However, to survive as a Gypsy in the 21st century… well, it’s is not at all romantic. They do what they need to do to survive, and for the most part, that’s all their doing, “surviving”. Yeah, they’ll pick your pocket, or sell you glass pearls, or shine your shoes for a temporary distraction from what’s next. But most of it is not to be some kind of hood, or a criminal, or con artist, it is simply to do whatever they can to survive, using skills and secrets passed down by generations.
I look back on my years, i look back on my life, having moved almost as many times as I am years old. Seemingly every few years, and even multiple times per year, having to pack up the pick-up truck and go. Often times bartering for a meal as young boy, stealing from Peter to pay Paul, and in between making a deal with Lucifer himself here and there, just to survive. And Karma, and mysteries, and fortunes told? Well, they’re all just convoluted road signs on a never ending journey to find safe harbor, and peace of mind… I’m still not sure I’ve totally found it, but I do like where I’ve been lookin’.
Yeah, many of these women, and even some men, will pay big money to look that awful. They’ll decorate their bodies with multitudes of tattoos and piercings. They’ll invest in only the finest of raggy looking clothes, and shop for the perfect bandanna, with the best eye make up known to Macy’s, just to give off that sense of free spirit, only to realize they’re not deceiving anyone…
It’s literally amazing to me how these songs have become the soundtrack to my life. It’s sung from the perspective of a kid, a guy, a young adult who literally lives like a gypsy. Which at the time is fine and all, but watches his friends or friend party like a “Rock Star” stuffing his mouth with “bennies” and smoking to come down from the high of being “up”, all the while working under the care and supervision of daddy’s money, and mama’s cookin’. A friend who talks as if he’s mad at the world, that has no clue how good he has it, because it ain’t easy on the other side… Story of my life.
To this day though, this one is close to me. I’m no Bible Thumper, although I believe in spirit. I’m no Hari Krishna, although I believe in Karma. I’m no Buddhist, but I believe there has to be something better. I get my peace within the granite walls of Yosemite. I get my peace within the thunder and spray of waterfalls. I get my peace, not by standing in awe, but getting under them, to feel the power, to soak myself in the glorious feel of what cannot be controlled. To let it go through me, like blood through my veins. And yet, I can get a sort of peace just “floatin’ down the stream ‘n losin’ touch with all that’s real…”
The difference is in what is real… At least, at the given moment.
You can have your idea of what “Mama Kin” means to you, you can wear it as a moniker, you can use it to address your mom, you can use it as a duplicate tattoo, you can call your dog or cat by the same name, it’s all good, it’s all cool…
But for me, Mama Kin is the spirit who touches me underneath, as I dunk myself under the falls… And I never want to lose touch with her. Maybe overdue for a conversation…
Just a little side note; That kid who’s always got his or her tail on the wag, shootin’ fire from their mouth just a like a dragon… I’m sure it’s safe to assume Elyssa makes quite the impression…
But that’s just me…
This is their core, their roots. Enjoy!
“It ain’t easy livin’ like a gypsy Tell ya honey how I feel I’ve been dreamin’ floatin’ down the stream And losin’ touch with all that’s real…”
Whole earth lover keepin’ undercover Never knowin’ where ya been You’ve been fadin’ always out paradin’ Keep in touch with Mama Kin…”