Band of Brooders

After everything Aerosmith has been through in the past year — rehab, injuries, infighting — the question isn’t why America’s most dysfunctional rock band would finally break up, it’s what the hell has kept it together for so long.

IN HINDSIGHT, AEROSMITH’S 2009 TOUR looked like a slow, sad march to the end.

[sidebar]Just before it started in June, the band’s rhythm guitarist, Brad Whitford, bumped his head climbing out of his Ferrari — surely one of the lesser-known hazards of rock superstardom — and had to miss several shows. A guest musician covered for him, but then lead singer Steven Tyler pulled a leg muscle, and seven shows had to be canceled. When Tyler returned, bassist Tom Hamilton, who had been treated for throat cancer a few years back, had to leave to recuperate from minor surgery. Meanwhile, Joe Perry, the lead guitarist with the skunk-stripe hair, had been limping along on a recently reconstructed knee (at least drummer Joey Kramer had thus far escaped injury). After nearly 40 years on the road and well over 1,800 shows, Aerosmith’s five members were finally showing their age: a combined 293 years.  

At 62, Tyler is the oldest of the group, and the one who has lived the hardest (which, given their legendary drug habits, is quite an accomplishment). He’d apparently been sober for more than a decade when, in 2008, he underwent surgery on his feet, which had been damaged by decades of physically demanding performances. His doctors prescribed him powerful painkillers, and “being the good drug addict and alcoholic that I am,” he said, “I was off and running again.”

Tyler soon signed himself up for yet another stint in rehab, but some of his bandmates doubted it took. His behavior became increasingly erratic. “He doesn’t act like a sober person,” Whitford said at one point last year.

The 2009 tour was originally designed to support Aerosmith’s first album of original material since 2001. But they hadn’t been able to finish the project, and there were rumors that Tyler had simply walked out of the studio. The band resolved to tour anyway. Shortly before they hit the road, however, Tyler rankled the other members by splitting with the group’s longtime manager and assembling his own team. Suddenly, two sides — with two different agendas — were directing Aerosmith’s business affairs. The move, says one of the band’s former managers, was a “recipe for disaster.” (The five still share a publicist, who declined to make any of them available for interviews.)

Although the other members of the band tried to keep their true feelings about Tyler from affecting the performances, the tension was sometimes difficult to mask. That became obvious during an August 5 show in Sturgis, South Dakota, a concert that would become the band’s most talked-about in years. Midway through “Love in an Elevator,” a fuse blew somewhere offstage and Tyler’s microphone cut out. To entertain the crowd while waiting for it to be fixed, Tyler strutted out on a catwalk and launched into an impromptu dance routine — the “Tyler shuffle,” as he calls it. As he came out of a spin, he fell to one knee, then toppled backward off the stage. Tyler was airlifted to a hospital, where he learned he’d broken his shoulder and needed 20 stitches to close a gash on his head.