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.

From the beginning, Tyler and Perry fought incessantly, over musical issues and personal ones. But once they were in front of a crowd, they funneled that aggression into electrifying shows. “When they were [onstage] there was love between them, there was chemistry. They fed off that intensity,” says Steve Leber, who managed the band from 1972 to 1984. Their shows started attracting ever-larger hordes of denim-clad teenage boys — “the blue army,” as the group always referred to them — drawn to the band’s good-time message of sex and rebellion. Twenty thousand fans showed up at Madison Square Garden, 90,000 at Michigan’s Silverdome. After albums like Toys in the Attic and Rocks became massive hits, the crowds suddenly numbered in the hundreds of thousands. By the end of the 1970s, Aerosmith was the biggest band in America. Tyler, Perry, Whitford, Hamilton, and Kramer were millionaires.  

THEN EVERYTHING FELL APART. From the earliest stage of their career together, the members of Aerosmith, like many of their contemporaries, used and abused drugs. But the band’s financial success had the unfortunate side effect of pushing Perry and Tyler from highly functioning addicts into full-scale junkies. In 1978, before headlining a show for 350,000 people in Ontario, California, Tyler sent a roadie back to Boston on a Learjet to retrieve his stash; the roadie returned just before Aerosmith took the stage, and Tyler got so wasted he couldn’t remember his lyrics. At that concert and others, he and Perry were going through the motions, trying to talk themselves out of doing an encore so they could get high that much sooner. To get through the shows, Tyler often stowed drugs in the scarves tied to his mike stand; Perry kept a vial of cocaine on his amp and would dip into it when the stage lights dimmed. The drug abuse got so bad that the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia, a noted authority on such matters, judged Aerosmith “the druggiest bunch of guys I’ve ever seen.”

As the band grew more successful, the clash between the drug-fueled egos of Tyler and Perry escalated. Spending any time together offstage proved nearly intolerable — the relationship between the “Toxic Twins” had turned poisonous. It didn’t help that Perry’s wife, Elyssa, was saying he was such a big star he didn’t need Aerosmith, while Tyler’s wife, Cyrinda, was telling him pretty much the same thing. (To Kramer, it felt like touring with two Yoko Onos.)

The situation was not without its conspicuous subtexts. Like a jealous girlfriend, Tyler resented the time Perry spent with his wife. A former manager says Tyler sees his relationship with Perry as a “creative love affair, a marriage without the sex.”

Later, Tyler would admit he “was really hurt that [Perry] would rather be with [Elyssa] than be with me. Especially after we sat on a waterbed and started writing songs.” Because, Tyler added, for him “writing songs was fuckin’.”

No matter how terrible life on the road with Perry became, Tyler couldn’t imagine doing anything else. The same thing, however, couldn’t be said for the guitarist.