By Benjamin Leatherman
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Troy Farah
By Roger Calamaio
By Mark Deming
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Brian Palmer
It is the year 2029, and old Mr. Wibly is attic-bound again. This time he's trying to jump-start his dusty Gerard turntable with a digital microchip AC converter he bought at Radio Shack.
"Goddamn those Tandy people! Don't they ever make anything that works?" he grumbles, just as grandson Kyle makes his way up the rickety ladder.
"Hiya, Gramps. Whatcha doin'?" "Oh, hello, Kyle. Just trying to get this blasted thing to work so I can play these old records of mine. Guess I'll just have to stare at covers instead."
Kyle, a boy used to snapping an information chip into his head whenever he's curious about something, seems genuinely interested in these artifacts. Braving his grandfather's cream-of-corn body stench, he leans over to get a better peek at the antiquated record collection.
"Yucch! What's this, Grampa?"
"This is what was called a rock group. Called 'emselves Kiss. These boys used ta put on quite a show, Kyle. Breathin' fire, spittin' blood, shootin' fireworks with their guitars--they had more gimmicks than most people have teeth. Plus they never appeared anywhere without this crazy kabuki makeup on."
"Whatever happened to them?" "Fools! Stopped wearing the makeup. Without it, they looked like guys who belonged behind the wheel of a cab. Ruined everything."
"How 'bout this one--Sheer Heart Attack?"
"Ah, yes. Queeeeeen! They had a real, whatcha call 'androgynous' thing goin' on. Lead singer was a right nancy boy. Wore Cleopatra makeup, eyeliner--nail polish. Yet folks weren't put off by his fruity shenanigans until he started dressing like one of the Village People."
"The Village People? What were they like, Gramps?"
"Let's not talk about them, Kyle. They were merely a burp in American pop culture." "The New York Dolls?" "Yeah! Nobody much liked this band 'cept snooty rock critics. The Dolls did truckloads of drugs and croaked one by one. Except for this one guy. And he made a laughingstock of himself by piling up his hair and wearing a tuxedo."
"Gosh, Grampa, were they 'anonymous' too?"
"You mean androgynous. Heck, yes! Jes' lookit 'em! It's a wonder they didn't curtsy after every number!"
"You really liked this guys-dressing-up-like-girls stuff, didn't you?"
"It was before I met your Grandma, Kyle. I was a lonesome little buckaroo. But no matter. Say, I used to go nuts over these guys--Aerosmith!"
"Not those assholes again, Grampa."
"So you heard of 'em, eh?"
"Sure. Every year they drag their dead asses through town to play some dive. They suck! And they're even older than you!"
"Well, I'm sure they haven't made a record worth spitting at in over 30 years, but they were once pretty good. Funny thing, they got this sudden burst of energy in 1996. Had something to do with a $30 million record deal with CBS/Sony. All the sudden, they're putting out a record every three months like they're Gerry and the Pacemakers. Can't blame their label, wanting to recoup its investment before they all keeled over. They made some awful records--Feel My Pulse, Shake It and Shove It In, Take a Powder, If You Can't Beat 'Em--Lick 'Em, Extended Retirement--one worse than the other. Yeah, everybody got real tired of 'em real fast. Bankrupted the whole conglomerate makin' all those Aerosmith videos. That's why we only have three TV networks now."
Just then, a whirling hum from the turntable snaps the old man back into reality. "For goodness sakes, Kyle. I got this ol' thingamajig to work, after all. Hand me that record, will ya?"
"Get Your Wings?"
"Yeah, this is a good one. Listen ta this--`Pandora's Box.' I loved it when I was your age. Got a lotta whatcha call double entendres."
"What's that, Gramps?"
"Lavatory humor! Don't you and your pals pass around demeaning drawings of women in class? Well, this song's like that. Listen to Stevie Tyler singing 'Sweet Pandora, smells like Flora, open up your door-uh, won't you crack a smile for me?' Used to break me up."
"I dunno, it's kinda corny."
"Well, it used to be horny. You kids today, ya just snap chips into your skull whenever you feel a little frisky. I wouldn't expect you to understand. On second thought, listening to this one, it doesn't rock as hard as I remember. Aerosmith's rhythm section was once interchangeable with the Eagles, a wimpy country-rock band from Los Angeles."
"Where's that, Gramps?"
"California. You know--that state that fell into the ocean. A good thing it did, too, or your grandmother and I wouldn't have this beautiful oceanside property. I don't know how we survived in Tucson without sea breezes. Now these here, Toys in the Attic and Rocks, here's where Aerosmith really hit their stride."
"This sounds like the stuff they make us play in our music class with 20 guitars--Led Zeppelin."
"Well, yes it does. Ya hear this one--`Walk This Way'--sounds like Jimmy Page playing the 'Woody Woodpecker' theme, don't it? Aerosmith had a ton o' songs like this. Seems people were always comparin' 'em to Zeppelin and the Stones. The Stones thing I never got. Every time Aerosmith used horns, it sounded more like Dragnet than Exile on Main Street. Basically, this guy Tyler had big lips like Mick Jagger and similar taste in ladies' lingerie, but I always thought he sounded more like Cab Calloway."
Mr. Wibly could talk pop nonstop for hours at a stretch. Kyle seemed puzzled by the barrage of names that meant nothing to him. Woody Woodpecker, Cab Calloway, Jagger, Minnie the Moocher, Dragnet; it was more data than he could handle without a dedicated information chip. Now his ol' gramps was beginning to drool onto his sleeve. "Slow down, Gramps!" "Sorry, Kyle. Where was I? Oh, yeah--the Stones. Everybody used to call them The World's Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Band. Then they became The World's Oldest Living Rock 'n' Roll Band. Then they toured as The World's Favorite Geezers for a while. They really overstayed their welcome, but at least they had the good sense to retire before they got really, really, really old and pathetic. But this Aerosmith is like the thing that wouldn't die."
"Rocks is a pretty good record, Gramps. I even like the pops and clicks." "Yeah. Too bad their next album was pretty lackluster--Draw the Line. Aerosmith let their guitarist Joe Perry sing a song--a definite sign of trouble in the ranks. Plus there's a song here about not being able to get it up. That just depressed the tar outta me. When Aerosmith started doin' a lot of drugs, it took the sex right outta the music. Made this piece-of-turd album called A Night in the Ruts. And Aerosmith compounded the damage by appearin' in a Sgt. Pepper movie with the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton. Pretty much wiped out the careers of everybody in it 'cept for George Burns."
"We heard about that in music class, Gramps. I think they called it 'The Great Pop Purge of 1978.'"
"Is that right? Well, I'll be! People were apologizing for that movie into the next century, so I guess it's no surprise. Poor Aerosmith. Soon the guitarists started leavin', and Tyler could barely get through a show without screwin' up."
"What happened next?"
"Well, remember, this was the tail end of the 1970s, Kyle. Nowadays, when people leave a successful group, they're humanely destroyed so's not to inflict their worthless song ideas onto the public. But back then, we had whatcha call 'solo albums.' Everybody had one. Even drummers! But then some fools got the idea of staying in their respective groups while continuin' to make solo albums. Of course, that's monopolizing the airwaves, which is against the law since the FCC began enforcin' the Phil Collins Act of 1996."
"What were Aerosmith's solo albums like?"
"Who knows? Even I didn't buy them, and I bought all four Kiss solo albums. Someone, probably the band's accountants, intervened. Got these boys back together and cleaned up their act. Then they made this record."
"I can't read the name of it, Gramps."
"Nobody can. It was called Done With Mirrors, son. Don'tcha see, all the writing on the cover's backward except for the bar code! Actually, if the record company had reversed that, they'd have made a fortune on Soundscan sales. Most of Aerosmith's fans had enough trouble reading forward, let alone backward, so it kinda backfired on them."
After sampling a few cuts, Mr. Wibly shoves the record back into its dust sleeve. "Kinda crummy, innit? Now I remember why I never bothered to hold the record up to a mirror to see what the titles were. It took two black guys, Run-DMC, to make it okay to like Aerosmith again. Although Joe Perry looked kinda embarrassed being in a rap video. And Run-DMC looked like they were embarrassed by Steve Tyler's camera-hogging techniques and his taste in clothes. Even then people were remarking how Tyler hadn't changed jumpsuits in years. Little did they know."
"Do you have any videos of Aerosmith, Gramps?"
"Somewhere--yeah, in this box. Here it is, The Making of Pump. Hell, I'm feelin' lucky today. If you help me connect the wires, Kyle, I'll get this digital AC converter going and we can watch the whole thing."
After Gramps and Kyle labor over the Geffen/Sony entertainment system for a half-hour, the creaking VCR begins spitting out images of Aerosmith, shortly after its second coming. Just then, drummer Joey Kramer, who's almost unwatchable because of a nervous tic in the left eye, discusses the band's drugging days.
"Drinking and drugging, I can't say that I regret it because it was a big part of the path that enabled us to get where we are now."
"Ya see, Kyle, when people gave up drugs in those days, they felt compelled to talk about it all the time. So much so that all these bands that came out later--Guns N' Roses, Nirvana, Shonen Knife--got hooked on cocaine and heroin simply because folks like Tyler and Perry made people want to take up junk and ruin their lives, just so they can give it up later and tell other young jerks not to do what you just did. They all did it; Clapton, Elton John, Kenny G, Aerosmith were no different."
On the sceen is an extreme closeup of Steven Tyler's eyelid.
"From the time you start taking drugs to when you stop, those are all lost years. You go back to where you were before you started. So now, in my case, I'm 19 years old, hah ha hah ha."
"Listen to 'em. Peddling substance abuse like it was the secret of eternal youth or somethin'. Makes me wanna puke."
"I sure wish they'd play a song all the way through. This batch sounds pretty good, Gramps."
"Yeah. As good as Rocks and Toys in the Attic. Probably better. The next one wasn't as good. Get a Grip. Pretty anticlimactic after Pump."
"They should've quit right after this."
"Yeah, they shoulda. That same year, Aerosmith did the MTV Awards with the Stones. Those old limey geezers stole all Aerosmith's thunder. I still went to see Aerosmith at Desert Sky Pavilion, though."
"Were they any good?"
"I don't remember, Kyle. Whadda I look like, a memory bank?