Aerosmith’s flamboyant frontman Steven Tyler turns 72 on March 26. We’re celebrating by republishing Jesse Nash’s interview with Tyler, which originally appeared in the November, 1993 edition of High Times.
HT: When did you start to sing?
ST: The day I climbed over my drum set and said, “Fuck this shit!” was with a band called the Strangers. My bass player was singing and I said, “Give me a fucking mike!” That afternoon I bought a boom, stuck a mike on the end of it and proceeded to help him out with the harmonies. That was the first time I ever sang.
HT: Did you have any idea at that point that you could sing?
ST: No. That was part of those doubts, fears and insecurities I was born with as a kid. That was one of those things about pot and drinking, you know, that got you out of those insecurities. When you smoked pot or drank and someone laughed at you and said you sucked, all you did was give them the finger and tell them to fuck off. So that was one of the good things about my drug-taking days. But all that shit now I realize was a crutch. Yeah, it got me out of my insecurities. And I used to think that if I did more I’d be better. WRONG! I’d wake up the next day and my chest would be killing me. I’d be in a lot of pain. And I’d wonder, what the fuck is wrong with me? And then I’d find out that the night before I OD’d and my friends were banging on my chest to start my heart. That kind of shit.
HT: It got that bad for you?
ST: It got real bad. I mean, why do you think I’m sober now? Why do you think I make such a big point about the fact that, by the grace of God, and by the fact that other people were my witnesses, I’m even alive? I didn’t see what the fuck I was doing to myself. I was too fucked up to know or to really give a shit, to tell you the truth. And my sobriety is in a nutshell why these last couple of albums have been getting better and better and better.
HT: The last three to five albums are the best records Aerosmith has ever put out.
ST: If I went to Des Moines, Iowa, in the seventies, like, 1976, when there were no drugs there, I could go there in one night and by the next morning I knew every connection in town. All I’ve done now is simply transpose all that energy and concentration from drugs and put it all into my music. And into the better side of life. Now I’m as good a songwriter/musician as I was a drug addict. All the guys who were taking drugs who I was trying to emulate [in school] are dead or they’re cops. And all the so-called squares and the jerks and the guys who had the tape in the middle of their glasses are the presidents of record companies and even the president of this country. So that tells you something right there.
HT: When you were messed up on drugs and the band temporarily broke up in 1979, what was it like being on the bottom looking up?
ST: I remember being in the hospital. I had just had a terrible motorcycle accident where I took off the left heel of my foot. It was hanging by a thread. If you drew a semi-circle from the left side of your heel to the right side all around the back, that was ripped to shreds. I was crippled. I was in a leg cast. It was around that time that somebody finally had the guts to tell me that I was fucking-up major.
HT: Who was that?
ST: My manager, Tim Collins. He knew the band was fucked up. He didn’t know how or why or what ’cause he was taking drugs himself. But he knew that something was wrong. And he asked a friend of his in New York named Johnny Padell, who had just recently gotten himself sober, to talk to us. Padell told Tim that we were hitting bottom. I was the first one to go away. And, consequently, here we are today and we’re all sober. We have each other and we have a buddy system.
HT: How long have you been sober?
ST: I haven’t had a fucking thing in six years. The only thing I’ve had drug-wise is an aspirin. You know, sure, I’d like to get high every once in a while. I still think about getting high. Imagine—there’s a little bottle sitting on your shelf in the morning when you eat breakfast that says, “If you take me, you’ll feel great.” Who’s not going to get strung out? Who wouldn’t want to do drugs? That’s what they don’t teach you in school—that drugs make you feel great.
HT: But only temporarily.
ST: You have to have a certain knowledge and a certain learning to know that if I take this every day I’m going to become an addict. Everybody’s an addict if you really want to get down to it. Everybody’s addicted to something. Everybody has their favorite foods they crave at a certain time. Everybody has their cup of coffee. Ever try and take away the coffee maker from the guys in the office? They’ll flip out on you. And what about those of us who are addicted to chocolate? But for the most part, these addictions don’t really hurt you.
HT: What do you tell your daughter Liv about drugs?
ST: I’ve had this conversation with her and I’ve pointed out the major pitfalls.
HT: And they are?
ST: Going to a party and there are people smoking pot and she has a couple of hits and she gets loose. And then someone does a line and she can’t help herself. And I say to her, “Just call me before you go too far. Call me, I want to talk to you.” I just keep the dialogue open so I know what she’s doing. In my generation, I had friends that came home tripping and the front of their shirt was soaking wet because they didn’t want to blink. They didn’t want to miss anything. And their parents didn’t have any idea that they were high on drugs. They had no communication with their children. If you’re a parent who has communication with your kids there’s no way in hell they’ll be strung out on drugs and you won’t know it. I tell my kids that I can’t stop them from going out and fucking people and smoking pot and doing cocaine or any other things, but I tell them, “Call me! Call me when this happens!”
HT: Have your kids actually called when the temptation to indulge became too overwhelming?
ST: Yeah. Positively.
HT: How did you handle it? Did you go and get them?
ST: No. I just asked them, “What did you do?”
HT: Do you try and talk them out of it?
ST: If you tell them not to smoke pot, then they’re going to smoke pot. When you tell a human being you can’t do something, they want to do it even more. They’re most likely going to find out on their own. And I just tell my kids, you know, you have an addictive nature and it eventually is going to get to you. So tell me when you do this stuff. Let me know what’s going on in your life.
HT: Brad Whitford says Get a Grip was the hardest album you’ve ever recorded. What made it so difficult?
ST: I’m so critical of myself. I feel like the shit ain’t never good enough.
HT: Brad says the band went through a major writer’s block.
ST: That’s wrong. I never had a writer’s block. I just didn’t write any songs for almost two years after I got sober. I did, but they didn’t amount to nothing.
HT: What do you do with all your money?
ST: We haven’t worked in two years, so I’m flat broke already. Stuff I do buy is smart stuff. I’ve got two houses. I’ve got some property. Six years ago I was spending one hundred and twenty dollars a day in New York City for a bag of heroin. I was down to zip. I blew it all.
HT: What about the first time you made a lot of money—did you go crazy?
ST: The first thing we did with the first check we got from Columbia was buy groceries. Up until the week before that, who had money? We would go to Ken’s Pub and have a salad if somebody had three bucks. Otherwise, it was spent on Boone’s Farm, pot and speed. I would go into supermarkets and steal steak and stick it down my pants like Divine did in Pink Flamingos. By the time I got home it was well-cooked. Medium rare.
HT: Who would you like to work with other than Aerosmith?
ST: It’s always been one of my wishes, even when I was using, to write a song with Keith Richards. Or to write a song with Little Richard. Or Paul McCartney for that matter. But these people didn’t think I was cool enough. I’ll never meet them. I mean, what does it take? It can all be done in a fucking afternoon in four hours. So I was too busy back then spending six hundred dollars on a quarter ounce of coke and I would go away with somebody and we’d snort blow all night and the next day I wouldn’t even remember what their name was. Now I meet with people that I look up to and it’s all possible.