On the line with Bosstone Dicky Barrett and Aerosmith's Steven Tyler.
By Matt Ashare
DECEMBER 22, 1997: Orchestrating a conversation between head Bosstone Dicky Barrett and Aerosmith singer Steven Tyler wasn't easy. Not only do they front the two bands who were the big Boston successes of '97, a year more notable for its failures than its triumphs, but they're both extremely busy men. Indeed, when we finally got the two of them on the line together late last Sunday afternoon -- the fifth and final day of the Bosstones' fourth annual "Hometown Throw-down," at the Middle East, in Central Square -- Tyler was in Las Vegas gearing up for an Aerosmith show that very night, and Barrett, who'd just signed a round of autographs for the young all-ages crowd, was upstairs in the office at the Middle East, dressed to the T for a show that would begin in a little over an hour.
Although products of very different rock generations -- the hippie '60s and the punk '80s -- Tyler and Barrett have much in common. Both Aerosmith and the Bosstones paid their dues slugging it out in the Boston clubs and on the road, connecting with fans through their colorful frontmen and energetic live shows, and depending upon a family-like sense of band unity to weather the occasional storm. Both groups started with roots musics -- blues for Aerosmith, ska for the Bosstones -- and folded those ingredients, along with equal parts showmanship and musical chops, into tough-edged mainstream rock. Both have maintained ties to the Boston scene, Aerosmith most visibly with their Mama Kin club, and the Bosstones with events like the "Hometown Throwdown," as well as by taking local bands like Bim Skala Bim and the Amazing Royal Crowns on the road with them earlier this year. And, yes, both Aerosmith and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones will be celebrating their year of triumph with New Year's Eve shows -- Aerosmith at the FleetCenter and the Bosstones at the Worcester Centrum.
Barrett's path and Tyler's had crossed in the past, but this was the first time they'd really had a chance to talk to each other. Barrett had agreed to ask most of the questions, so we tried to stay out of the way. Here's what they had to say.
Dicky Barrett: Hey, man, how you been?
Steven Tyler: I'm so good.
DB: How's your family?
ST: They're beautiful. Only thing wrong is, they're home and I'm here.
DB: Are you in Vegas?
DB: That's a good place for you, right?
ST: It's a beautiful place.
DB: Jeez, I don't even know where to start . . .
ST: Let's start with me telling you how great it is that two of Boston's loosest cannons are doing New Year's shows. How great is that! You know that we wanted to do four nights at the FleetCenter originally, and we asked you guys if you wanted to split the bill with us.
DB: I fully understand that. Do you want me to tell you why we didn't?
ST: No, no, no. I understand why. I'm just saying that when I first heard about you guys playing the Centrum I thought it was so cool -- you're on one side of town, we're on the other.
DB: Three years ago when we played with you guys at the Garden, nothing could have been better. There's actually a reference to it on our last album. It was one of the pinnacles of being a Bosstone. When you guys asked us at that stage of our game to do the show, it was just unbelievable. And it was the Boston Garden, not the FleetCenter.
Hey, do me a favor: will you throw a vibe into the FleetCenter? I listen to sports radio in this town, and everybody's talking about the fact that there's no vibe in there. I think you guys could create a vibe.
ST: That's beautiful. I'm thinking, maybe we should fly somebody up from New Orleans to throw some gris-gris around there. Throw a voodoo vibe in the room.
DB: Is this impossible -- and you're probably not the guy to ask, and I'm probably not the guy to ask you -- but is it possible to get some big screens and some kind of a live remote so that we can count down together on New Year's Eve, so that the Worcester Centrum can look at you guys and the FleetCenter can see us? Just to say hello. Is that something that would interest you?
ST: Wow. I love the idea. It'll cost $100,000 for a satellite link.
DB: I got it. [Laughs.] Do we really need a satellite? Can't you just do it with a couple of cameras?
ST: We went there already with an idea like that. We thought about playing out here and beaming something back home. Believe me, it's up around $70,000 to $100,000. It's a great idea. That's the kind of idea that will make you big.
DB: I'm an idea guy. I certainly didn't get this far with this throat.
Matt Ashare: Let me throw something out at you guys. It's been a tough year for tours in general, but the Bosstones and Aerosmith have had a lot of success connecting with fans. Do you have anything to say about that?
DB: I think I stole an enormous page from Aerosmith. I read somewhere that Aerosmith started out by getting on the road, leaving their day jobs behind, and going for it as a band. They toured, and toured, and toured, and showed up in your city whether you knew them or not. And that's exactly what the Bosstones did. Aerosmith has those loyal fans from the people they gained in the early days. Fundamentally we did the same things.
ST: You're right, man. It starts with taking that big risk and leaving your jobs behind. But we were so sick and fucking tired of working at the . . . you know, the . . .
DB: How do you say it without insulting people? I'd like to say gas station, but there are a lot of good people working at gas stations. I'd like to say plumbers, but that's an admirable profession.
ST: Exactly. I'll leave it alone, but quitting your day job and just going for it is a big thing.
DB: Listen to this, Steven, 13 percent of Americans like their job. I'm in that 13 percent.
ST: Yeah, well, that's why you don't call it work, because you love what you're doing. But this five-in-a-row thing [the "Hometown Throwdown"], by that fifth night you're going to say to yourself, "This could be considered work."
MA: One other thing I thought I'd bring up is that though both Aerosmith and the Bosstones have achieved big national success, you guys have both also been conscious of keeping a connection with Boston. Either of you want to talk about that?
ST: You know, you're asked all the time what your favorite place to play is, and after a while you get sick and tired of it. But you do want to be proud of the place you're from. Like, when we left Boston, it was a great place to jump off from. But it's still good to pay homage to where you come from by going back and doing shows and building it up again, and helping out that thing they always ask us to come play at -- the Boston Music Awards. It's difficult for us to do that sometimes when we're over in Budapest or something, but we always fly something in. It just feels good to know that your hometown is still there. And look at Boston's rock history, starting with J. Geils. It's always been dark, but it always had something mysterious to offer.
DB: J. Geils was a great band, man. Radio stations have been letting me play DJ occasionally, and I've been playing "Give It to Me" by the Geils Band. It's such a ska song.
ST: Or the Modern Lovers. I mean, I fucking sat in 1969 in a coffeehouse in Cambridge and watched this guy [Jonathan Richman], and I remember looking at Joe Perry and saying, "This guy's out of his fucking mind, what the hell is he doing?" Because he'd go on for 20 minutes singing "And the radio's on . . . "
DB: He could throw melody out the window, but he'd sing with such passion.
ST: Yeah, such passion. So much so that 20 years later it's the norm, and they call it this new music . . .
ST: Yeah, alternative. And it goes all the way back to the Modern Lovers.
DB: We were just on the road with a bunch of Boston bands. We called it "Boston on the Road." I also wanted to mention that you called yourselves the Bad Boys from Boston, and we called ourselves the Plaid Boys from Boston. So there's definitely a connection. For me to even be talking to you, Steven, is a thrill.
ST: We didn't call ourselves the Bad Boys of Boston, the press did. We just got caught up in it.
DB: Well, when we started calling ourselves the Plaid Boys of Boston, the press wasn't looking at us, so I had to.
MA: Speaking of the press -- Steven, you've had a lot of experience with having to handle the press and being a public figure. Any advice you can give Dicky on how to deal with the pressures that come with that?
ST: It's like autographs. There's a little piece of me that says, you know, "I'm in this big band and I get to stand up on stage with Joe Perry and be the frontman of this fucking fabulous band. People want an autograph, they take it, they talk about it all year, and I feel it's almost an obligation to give that to them."
The press is the same thing. Like, take this Tim Collins thing [Collins was Aerosmith's former manager], and this whole thing with the drugs in the last year. Even when you take the high road and don't say anything, because you know that the shit is hitting the fan so badly that there's going to be litigation, and this and that and the other thing. We took the high road. We didn't say anything. But the press printed the shit anyway. There's nothing you can do about it. It's almost as if you get to a juncture and the press is going to write whatever they fucking want about you anyway. I mean, I just spoke to Steve Morse [from the Boston Globe]. And I asked him, "Why did you print all that bullshit? Why did you facilitate and massage his end when no one in the band was taking drugs? It [the letter Collins claimed the band sent Steven] was simply a letter that the band sent to me because Tim had told them that I wanted the drummer and the bass player thrown out."
It had nothing to do with drugs. If anybody knew what kind of drugs I was doing and the way I was in the old days, then they'd know I wouldn't be up now to talk on the phone. And I certainly couldn't have written songs like "Kiss Your Past Goodbye," "Nine Lives," and all the rest of the good shit that's on the new album.
DB: It's almost a cliché -- don't believe what you read, it's the press, it's yellow journalism. But I think, in a lot of ways, people are starting to understand that. It still hurts. I read everything that's written about the Bosstones, and there's so much good. But I'll read one bad one and obsess over it. So I'm giving you advice that I have trouble taking myself. It's almost like, uh, if the press isn't getting any story at all, then we'll report the worst and make Steven fight the allegations.
ST: In the early days of the band I knew that when we played New York City, it didn't matter who the fuck you were; you could be the biggest band in the world one day and the very next day be booed off the stage. Unless you've got a core [audience]. We didn't know that until the '80s, from doing what you're talking about, playing everywhere, constantly playing, and by the grace of God having a few good songs that people liked. But the mass media can turn on you. This is off the record for a second. No, you know what, fuck it, leave it on the record. The mass media and all those people out there, all they fucking want is a good song. They want a song that stabs them right in the heart and changes their whole life as soon as they hear it. They catch themselves singing it, and they go, "Why am I singing this fucking song?" Because it got into their psyche and they love it. And that's really all it's ever about. It's not about me looking like Jagger, or singing "Angel" so good, or being on or off drugs. It's about none of that. It's all about having a couple good songs. Because at the end of the day that's what's going to get you in the door. And the press sometimes just drives you crazy. But [having] no press is the kiss of death too.
DB: You've been together for 25 years. The Bosstones have been together for 12. When we started as a band, you'd been together for as long as we've been right now. Doesn't time blow you away?
ST: It's a freakout. I'm going to be 50 in March. I was standing in front of my daughter like two days ago at that New York City, uh, what the hell did we do, the Z100 "Jingle Ball" or whatever . . .
DB: How was that?
ST: It was very cool. You know I was sitting there listening to these 12-year-olds shrieking for Hanson, the Wallflowers, and Fiona Apple just like they used to for the Beatles, and I'm thinking, "This is what I got in it for. This is what the fuck it's all about." In my day, you went to the WMCA Good Guys shows in New York, and they'd have six or seven bands all using the same gear: they played their hit song and two others, and they were outta there. The Animals, the Beach Boys, and Sam and Dave were on the bill. It was such a fucking great show. And this was very reminiscent of it. And I'm sitting back in the dressing room with my daughter, Chelsea, my son who's five, and Mia, who's 18. And Liv walked in with Jakob Dylan from the Wallflowers.
DB: That's a striking couple, Jakob Dylan and Liv Tyler.
ST: Yeah. We went in to see Jakob and they came in to see us, and it was such an epiphanous moment to be there with my kids and to think I've been in this band for 20 years, I'm going to be 50, and I feel like I'm 12. I swear to fuck, I'm not just saying this, I still feel like I'm looking for a hi-hat so I can play in the lunchroom after school today. There's something about artists where, when you're in that creative mode, it's just about as close to spirituality as you get. It's very godlike to be creative. Right?
DB: I firmly believe it.
ST: I think we'll all live on a different astral plane. So when it comes to time . . . I mean, I'm still doing fucking backflips and handsprings and throwing parties for 20,000 people a night here. So time has like stood still.
DB: I absolutely agree. I would be creative even if nobody cared. You know, I satisfy myself with things that I create; I draw, I illustrate, and I also write poetry and songs. But to be creative and have people appreciate it, I think that's where it gets close to spiritual.
ST: To be sitting down, picking your fucking nose, man, and come up with a song that's all over the radio a year later -- that's a godsend. That's a phenomenal gift. And like you say, to have people love it. I mean, I'm Italian: I grew up with "Hey motherfucka, you stupid fuck, what you do now?"
DB: I'm Irish, I grew up with "Hey you fuckin' asshole, what the fuck are you doing?" But can I ask you a question, and I'm not trying to be a wise-ass. You walk in two different worlds: you have to balance being a family man and a rock guy. Is that difficult or is it nice to always have the other one to go to?
ST: You know, it's simple. In the old days we used to tour for a year-plus at a time. And we'd never stop. We'd go right back into the studio and go right back out again. When times got rough, we'd whip out the vial and fill our noses. We were stoned all the time, which keeps you away from your emotions, or keeps you in a high emotion. The reason people do drugs is because it feels good: heroin makes you feel fucking great, I mean, right after you throw up from the first hit. But having put that shit aside, and just literally living off the strongest drug there is, which is music, the response back from the audience when that curtain drops, finding out we're playing Boston along with the Bosstones at New Year's, all those fucking rushes are a stronger drug.
It's also important to have a home life. Having a wife and family really snaps you back to the reality of being very humble about what a great life this is. It's not just rock and roll. I got a fence around my house where I live so I can walk out at night and not have people taking my picture, which they did before I put the fence up.
DB: They were probably guys from Norwood, where I grew up, and I want to apologize for them. I also want to thank you for something. I'd like to thank you for the way you guys lived in the past, and then cleaning it up, and showing us, you know, it made it a lot easier for me to realize that that's not the route to go. I had the luxury of looking at what I consider to be older brothers in rock and roll here in Boston and saying, "Hey, you know, they've proven it's not the best route to take."
ST: That's sweet, man, that's beautiful. I remember the reason I got into heroin and the drugs was because in the '60s it was the thing to do. I'm not copping out. I wasn't beaten as a child. I had great parents. I was fortunate enough to be in a rock-and-roll band in high school. I had all the shit that I wanted. Money wasn't a problem. When we [Aerosmith] were down and out, we lived at 1325 Comm Ave and ate brown rice and litchi nuts and stuff we stole off the shelves at stores. But drugs are such a two-edged sword. For someone creative, you stick a joint in their mouth and suddenly they'll see this other side of themselves. You know the Indians with the mescaline and peyote, they all did it to get to that godlike trance state. However, if you continue to do it, it will steal the very thing that you like to ride when you're high, which is your creativity.
I gotta tell you, to give Collins a pat on the back, I love him dearly for the ride we went on together. I mean, he and the band used to get fucking rip-roaring loaded. He used to give me a gram a day just to stay in Boston in the early '70s -- it's in the book [Walk This Way: The Autobiography of Aerosmith]. And we all got so loaded that he saw that we were going down the tubes, and he is the one who brought it to our attention. So I love him forever for saving that piece of the band that was almost gone from too much drug abuse.
However, as you know, in the end, this year -- well, I don't want to get into details because it's in the book. He was so inspirational in getting us sober. But he went from a being conscious pilot to a Pontius Pilate. It damn near took the band down. Unfortunately, when you first get sober, you're on your fucking knees. You realize that you've hit a bottom. I would have done anything to make a pact with Joe Perry, Tom, Brad, and Joe to stay off the shit and get back into being a rock-and-roll band. When you get into that mindset -- it's called letting go -- and when you're in the mindset of letting go, you are very vulnerable.
That's where Collins got his claws in. That's where we let him into our family scene and into the wives' scene. And in the end he calls my wife up and tells her I'm fucking girls in Florida and getting high. She about lost it. But fortunately, we had such a good thing going with 11 years of sobriety and the band being so tight, that all we did is go out to this rehab in LA and look at each other and say, "We were this fucking band way before all of this." And we just made a pact again.
Thank God for the 11 years of sobriety we'd already been through. It helped us weather Collins's storm and come out through the other side. But one of the reasons we asked Collins to step down was because he wanted us to live on a soapbox and he wanted me to be the poster boy against heroin addiction, and I didn't want to do it anymore.
DB: Would you still talk to someone in the music business who is ruining themselves with drugs?
ST: There are three people in the music industry right now who actively sing whom Joe and I called two days ago.
DB: Hey, I hear Joe Perry loves to water-ski . . .
ST: Yeah, you know, we started out on Lake Sunapee in New Hampshire. He had a summer house up there and so did my parents. In '68 or '69 I quit a band in New York and I was back mowing my parents' lawn in Sunapee, and Joe came driving by in his MG, I looked at him, and I remember -- if there's ever a movie it's going to have this scene where he pulls up and whoever is playing me is going to look at whoever is playing him and say, "We should play in a band some day."
But, what was the question? Where am I going with this? Oh, yeah, on Lake Sunapee is where we all grew up, so now when we're in Florida or the Midwest or wherever in the summertime, we'll grab a boat. And he's fucking into it. He's up to doing the slalom course for the Olympics, and he's doing it up to speed. If you saw him, you'd fucking flip.
DB: Here's another question: how the hell do you stay in shape? You're in better shape than the Bosstones.
ST: You play every night. I lose about a pound of water and whatever on stage a night. That keeps you young, bouncing around like a little kid. There are studies that show that if you do handstands, for instance, the density of the bones in your shoulders actually gets harder. If you just let it be, you're going to get old and fall apart. I use every muscle in my body on stage at night. And the purging of sweat through your face, that keeps you young. So there's a lot of pluses about being on the road and playing like this. I mean, the only reason I don't do two or three shows in a row is I don't want to sound like you do, like the fucking Godfather. I could never hit that 'Dream On' bullshit that I gotta do every night.
DB: I really like your tour schedule. Could you take us on the road?
ST: Oh man, if you're not kidding we gotcha.
DB: I'm serious.
ST: Well, you better talk to your manager, because we've put that out there a shitload of times. On the record, right now, there's nothing I'd want to see more than Aerosmith out with the Bosstones. I gotta tell you right now, we'll go to fucking Israel together. Let's do it. I don't mean just as a fan, I mean as a damage report, man. Everywhere I go I see you guys, all over MTV. It's so beautiful.
DB: I want to end where we started and tell you that we've taken so much from the Aerosmith book in so many ways, I appreciate it, and I think you're great. I gotta get downstairs. I got an afternoon show.
ST: Say hello to everybody. I'll tell my crowd you say hello, and you tell yours.
DB: All right, happy holidays.
ST: Happy holidays.
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