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.

While drumming up publicity for his tour, Perry began suggesting to reporters that Aerosmith might go on without Tyler. He said he was auditioning singers to replace him, at least temporarily. On November 9, 2009, he posted a message to his Twitter feed: “Aerosmith is positively looking for a new singer to work with.” Knowing Tyler’s jealous streak, Perry shouldn’t have been surprised when he turned up backstage the next night at the Fillmore, a 1,200-person venue in Manhattan, where the Joe Perry Project was playing. Tyler hadn’t said he was coming — he simply bought a ticket at the door — but he wondered if he could sit in on the band’s encore. “Being an acquaintance of 40 years, I said, ‘Why not?’” Perry recalled when recounting the story, making an obvious effort to avoid using the word “friend.”  

Whether it’s his show or not, Tyler always likes to be the boss. And when he got up onstage, he grabbed a microphone and said, “New York, I want you to know: I am not leaving Aerosmith.” The crowd went nuts. Tyler wasn’t done. He turned to the guitarist: “Joe Perry, you are a man of many colors. But I, motherfucker, am the rainbow.” Perry was about to respond when Tyler cut him off with a signal to the drummer, and Perry’s band launched into the opening notes of “Walk This Way.”  

There are two things that stand out about the episode. The first is how comfortable Tyler looked onstage, especially compared with the stilted, self-conscious posing of Perry’s lead singer, a 30-year-old German named Hagen Grohe, whom Perry’s second wife, Billie, discovered on YouTube. The fact that Tyler, now 62, can somehow still make something as ridiculous as ripping his shirt open look cool shows why he is a superstar and almost everyone else in the world isn’t. The second point is that Tyler looked as if he were, to put it delicately, less than completely sober (which makes the first point even more impressive). He mumbled through some of the song’s lyrics, and apparently forgot others altogether. At the end, he even improvised a new line: “I just wanna get high. I-I-I-I just wanna get high.”  

Unsurprisingly, Tyler admitted a few weeks later that he was still addicted to prescription painkillers. Just before Christmas, he checked himself into a detox program, reportedly at the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, California. In a statement, he promised he’d return to the band after getting clean. “I love Aerosmith,” he said. “I love performing as the lead singer in Aerosmith.”

After completing the intensive first month of treatment, Tyler was allowed to come and go from the center’s grounds as he pleased. One night he stopped into karaoke night at a sports bar called the Tilted Kilt, named for the short plaid skirts worn by the waitresses. Tyler obviously wasn’t drinking that night, and a member of his entourage told the karaoke emcee, a DJ named Mike May, that he wouldn’t be singing, either. Yet when May looked over to Tyler’s table during “Like a Rolling Stone,” he saw him singing along with the chorus. A little later, when two guys were about to get booed offstage for butchering “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” Tyler jumped in and rescued the song.

Then things got really weird. Shopping at a Home Depot a few days later, Tyler talked an employee into letting him sing a couple of songs over the PA system. A hit off the store’s helium tank gave him a little help with the high notes.