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.

Yet even amid the reconciliation, the band couldn’t let go of past slights. If ever there were a moment that encapsulated Aerosmith’s complicated history — the resentments and the passion — it was during a show in Springfield, Illinois, on the first night of the “Back in the Saddle” comeback tour. First, Tyler got so drunk he fell off the stage. Then, after he hauled himself back up, he got into a brawl…with the other members of the band. The fans went wild.

With a taste of what the group could accomplish when it was firing on all cylinders, Tyler finally agreed to go to rehab (over the next several years, his four bandmates also got clean). The run of success that followed is widely considered the greatest comeback in the annals of rock history: A remake of “Walk This Way,” in collaboration with Run DMC, helped pull rap into the mainstream — and made Aerosmith seem cool again. Albums like Permanent Vacation, Pump, and Get a Grip won over an entirely new generation of fans. “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” from the Armageddon soundtrack, became the first single of their career to top the Billboard chart. In 2001, the band was awarded a prize that amounts to the American equivalent of knighthood: playing the halftime show of the Super Bowl. That same year, they released an album, and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where they were feted as “the greatest rock band in American history.”  

Throughout its career, Aerosmith had been called America’s answer to the Rolling Stones. In the early days, it was a sarcastic comparison. Now it was true.   

EVEN AT THE PINNACLE of its success, Aerosmith just barely managed to hang together. Though they would release several albums over the next few years, they created little new material (with good reason: Tyler and Perry stopped writing songs together around 2000). The band recorded an album of blues covers, Honkin’ on Bobo, that surely pleased Perry, who prefers old-school rock ’n’ roll, but was perhaps less popular with Tyler, whose musical tastes run toward sleek pop ballads. Without an album of fresh songs, Aerosmith saw its concert venues get progressively smaller and its opening acts get older. The 2009 tour was to feature ZZ Top, who hadn’t had a hit song in 25 years.

When Tyler began behaving oddly again, a year or so ago, Perry revived the Joe Perry Project for the first time in more than two decades. After Tyler fell off the stage in South Dakota in August, and Aerosmith canceled the rest of the tour, Perry took his solo show on the road. He was staying busy, to be sure, but it also looked as if he were trying to prove he didn’t need to sit around and wait for Tyler’s return.