An Aerosmith Exclusive: The Light Inside Steven Tyler
Tuesday, January 15, 2002 @ 1:22 PM
Lonn Friend Recounts His Years
- advertisement -
"There's a place in the way outis sphere/Do you wanna burn the midnight oil?
Does it fool ya when you think there's no way out of here?/Let it pull ya from the outside to within"
The last time my daughter Megan saw Aerosmith was through the portal of my wife's naval, one month before her birth in the spring of 1990. We were at the soundboard of the very same Fabulous Fyorum, that building of basketball Magic and concert wonder for my entire youth. Whether it was CSN&Y in my first live performance experience in '72, Blue Oyster Cult and Be Bop Deluxe, Alice Cooper's Welcome to My Nightmare tour, Metallica's Snakepit or Peter Gabriel's So, KISS or Bon Jovi's resounding L.A. comebacks, this room has rocked my world more than any other.
Megan and I didn't have tickets and my laminate from the Miami trip last month only got me in the door of the Forum club. But I assured my child that her ol' dad always gets in. So while hanging in the lobby, I scanned the hallway into the venue for a familiar face. Two minutes and there he was, the ever-smiling Chicago born cartoon axe legend of riff and humor, Rick Nielsen.
"Lonn!" he squeaks in classic Neilsen, "C'mon in!" The next two minutes I do a Cliff Notes bio for Meg on our way down to production on who this icon of rock is, how her dad knows him so well, how that funny guy from the golf tournaments, Tom Werman fits in, and what a special treat it's gonna be seeing the magnificent Cheap Trick open for Aerosmith, regaining a bit of the arena glory they ascended to the ‘80s. "Don't they do that song from Fast Times, dad? "Mommy's all right, daddy's all right, they just seem a little weird..." Thank you, Cameron, for the connection. Whatever it takes to bridge the new ones to the old stuff. The great stuff.
The first RIP cover under my watch (I took over the magazine in it's ninth issue in 1987), was Steven Tyler holding a bird, a brilliant Neal Preston photograph that furthered the Permanent Vacation media rebirth of the band, ignited the year before by Rick Rubin's seminal "Walk This Way" duet with Run DMC. That cover story also began a relationship between this journalist and one of rock history's most enduring and successful entities.
Over the next several years, I was as close to Aerosmith as anyone who carried a pen and recorder. I set up a private HUSTLER photo shoot as sexy B-roll fodder to be tacked onto the Pump home video. While doing duty at Westwood One in 1992, Steven and Joe called my radio syndicated radio show and dropped the title of their forthcoming LP, Get a Grip, live on air.
Aerosmith soundcheck with Jimmy Page (with Lonn in the background)
I made the trip to Brussels, Belgium that year to act as color man on the network's live satellite broadcast of the concert. When Aerosmith CO-headlined the Donington Festival in the summer of 1993, I rode the bus with Jimmy Page (who the guys asked to jam with 'em that night), Tyler, Perry and A&R Guru, John Kalodner. It was just us but the memory of that four hour ride requires an entire chapter of its' own. Let's just say, it was me who carried the war torn Hammer of the Gods Les Paul guitar case into the venue behind the legend that night.
The virgin meeting. Steven Tyler walked into my office at RIP in early 1988 with that glow in the dark smile, plopped himself down on my sofa and said, "So, what do you wanna talk about?" "First I wanna show you something," I replied without hesitation, whereupon I removed a videotape from my cabinet titled, The Squirt's Last Drop. Having been tipped off as to Tyler's predilection for porn by the equally perverted Kalodner, I had the tape cued up to the star, Fallon's (known as the Water Nymph) key scene. Possessing a talent for turning her G-spot into Old Faithful, I watched Steven beam as she performed her freaky feat of sexual art.
"Oh, man!" he jumped, that classic scratchy voice singing with approval. "Dude, show me that again!" We watched it three times before I started my tape rolling. The conversation bristled with truth and perspective. It was in that moment that I realized how unique an individual this man from Massachusetts was and vowed to stay as close to him over the upcoming years, albums and tours as I possibly could.
I knew then that Tyler had been on the journey as well. It wasn't just the Indian imagery in the packaging of Nine Lives. The man of incalculable charisma, onstage power, androgynous aura and insurmountable confidence, had been to the mountain. He positively glowed.
When I left RIP in 1994 for cellblock C (Clive Davis and Arista Records, where I did A&R for four years), I lost touch with most of the incredible artists I'd gotten to know over the mag's cannonball seven year run. In 1999 during my brief Interscope Records foray, I attended Aerosmith's Hollywood Bowl show at the tail end of their Nine Lives campaign. My face was clean shaven and there was little hair on top. Joe Perry didn't recognize me at all, walking right past me without acknowledgment. But when Tyler caught a glimpse, he sprinted over, hugged me and said without hesitation, "This isn't you. Grow the beard and hair back. I love you." And like a hummingbird in search of nectar, he was airborne and gone.
"The light inside is burning bright/The light inside, oh yeah, all right/
May I introduce you to my point of view?/Me, I wanna get under your skin
I wanna thank you for the pleasure I get from you/I wanna drag you from the outside to within"
I didn't see or talk to Steven for two years after that until synchronicity brought me into a Detroit suburb hotel on the evening of Bon Jovi's back to back sold out shows last July. Aerosmith was on their way out of town as BJ was coming in. And there I was, arriving a day early, sitting in the lobby, when Joey, Tom, Brad, Joe and Steven appeared. I scribbled the following line on a piece of hotel stationary, "Am I the crossing guard at the intersection of Rock and Roll?"
It was a warm reunion. Tom Hamilton and I walked around the neighborhood that evening, talking about music and where I'd been personally and professionally for the past few years. We sat in the bar and had tea until 2 am. The next morning, Joey Kramer and I discovered some spiritual kinship, having taken similar internal journeys. He spoke of his near mental death experience when he almost imploded as the drummer of Aerosmith and how faith brought him back. He's a testimonial in perseverance. Brad Whitford was warm, friendly. He had his entire family on the road with him, home schooling the kids, renting a bus, what an adventure. Joe Perry was Joe Perry. Quiet, cool, polite, short on small talk.
Lonn and Jimmy Page
They were hopping in their cars to leave for the airport when Tyler and I finally had a few moments to reconvene. In the management changes over the past few years, my access to Aerosmith has eroded. I've never had a relationship with current manager Howard Kaufman and tour manager Jimmy Eyers doesn't to this day understand the strength of my bond to this band or the history we've shared. If he did, he wouldn't have left me sitting with my eleven year old last night for an hour in the production room claiming there were no passes when kneepad-toting bimbos galore were sporting VIP laminates like a scene from Almost Famous.
"Steven, we gotta talk," I said as the driver gunned the town car engine, signaling it was time to go. The rest of the group had departed already. "Yeah, we do," he replied. What followed were twenty surreal moments on a sidewalk forty minutes from Motown. "Do you know who Marianne Williamson is?" he asked. "Of course I do," responded. "A Course in Miracles. She's a new age prophet. A very enlightened woman. Why?" He got excited, pulled me closer, and started whispering in my ear. "She was just in my hotel room, performing a private Sunday morning service for me. Lonn, this woman has a direct line to God! We laughed, cried, said Hallelujah."
That was when I knew that my friend had been on the journey as well. It wasn't just the Indian imagery in the packaging of Nine Lives. The man of incalculable charisma, onstage power, androgynous aura and insurmountable confidence, had been to the mountain. He positively glowed. I told him about my pain, confusion, disgust with the egos of the industry, and desire to bring a revolutionary consciousness to rock journalism.
"I'm doing a demo for a TV show idea with Bon Jovi," I explained. "Rock a Mile." He smiled. "Rock a Mile," he repeated. "Like ‘Rock a Mile’ in my shoes? Yeah. But who's shoes? Yours? Or the artist's? And why Bon Jovi. Why not us?" I explained the scenario of how Jon asked me to write the bio for the band's live LP and it turned out so good, it became the liner notes of One Wild Night. I told him how my relationship with the Jon, Richie and the band had grown. "You know, I wanted you to write the liner notes for Get a Grip, but (former manager) Tim Collins nixed the idea." That knocked me back onto the sidewalk. "Really, I never knew that." "There's a lot you don't know about that period. I'm saving it for my book," said Tyler.
Steven Tyler and Lonn in the flesh
Before departing, Steven gave me his cell phone number. "You use this anytime. No barricades. This is how you reach me. I'm serious." He held me close and told me to hang in there. "I'm coming out on the road to see you," I said. "I don't know when, but when I do, we're gonna talk. Really talk." He shook his head, grinned that Cheshire Tyler grin, and disappeared into his chariot, the chains on his wrist jangling, the hair on my arms, quivering.
* * *
Being alone with Steven Tyler is a conscious experience that keeps shouting to your psyche, "Don't waste this time. It's rare, educational and wonderful. But don't act like it's anything different from any other moment. Just keep breathing and speak and act from your heart. Above all, be yourself."
I was surfing Pollstar.com a couple months later and noticed Aerosmith was playing in San Diego, two hours south of Los Angeles. It was 3 o'clock in the afternoon and I got that spontaneous twinge of wanderlust that's long been part of my being. I called a person whom I'd recently reconnected with. "TC, it's Lonn," I said. "What are you doing?" "Nothing," she said. "You got something in mind, Lonn Friend?" "Yes, I do." Within an hour, TC Conroy, journalist, veteran girl about town, former wife of Depeche Mode singer David Gahan, and fellow survivor currently navigating the winds of change, is in the passenger seat of my Accord, sharing the ride to who knows where.
"We have no tix and no passes, TC," I said, giggling. "We have nothing but a burning desire to behold the rock n 'roll wonder of the almighty Aerosmith, oh yes, and Steven Tyler's cell phone number. Has there ever been a more solid ace in the proverbial hole?" "Dude, no worries," she laughed with sweet emotion, and off we flew.
We arrived at the arena at 7:30pm, a full hour before the headliner hit the stage. Sidling up to the rear gate where the busses and trucks sit in wait to haul the circus off in the blink of an eye to the next city, I saw the man with the list. When you're a security guy in charge of backstage entrance at a big rock show, you forget about the $5 an hour you're getting paid or the room and bath you share at home with your little brother. In this moment, you are king. Your power is supreme. No one can fuck with you. And beyond all else, you don't believe a word anyone says to you.
"Hi, um, I'm a friend of the band's," I said politely, going through the proper motions. "If you could call Jimmy Eyers, the band's tour manager, and tell him Lonn Friend is at the back gate, I believe we'll be cool." For the next half hour, I witnessed the affirmation of the adage, “hire the handicapped.” Nothing was getting done, no message was being relayed, and if it had, it was being ignored inside the venue. I turned to TC and said, "Time for plan B."
The phone rang twice before I heard the voice, "Hello." It was unmistakable. I didn't even mirror the greeting. "Lonn Friend," was all I said. "Lonn Fucking Friend!" blared from the tiny receiver into my waiting ear. "Where are you? Are you here?" "Yes, Steven, I'm here with my friend TC," I said, knowing full well our problems were now over. "We're stuck outside at the back gate." "Wait there," he said. "I'm sending someone out for you." Within two minutes, Steven's “guy” was scaling the growing crowd at the gate like Marshall Faulk on an off tackle surge. "Where's Lonn Friend?" he bellowed. "That would be me," I shouted, and we were in, flying past Burger King for a day like we had wings.
"You must know him personally," our muscular escort commented as we traversed the outskirts of the venue, passing several security checkpoints. "I'm taking you right to his dressing room." "Yeah, he's an old friend," I said. "I really appreciate this. Thank you so much." "Hey, man, no problem."
Steven's dressing room looks and smells like...Steven. Cosmic, sexy, sweet, organic, alive. TC and I slipped inside quietly. The captain for tonight's starship ride to planet rock was having his faux tattoos applied. Where once multicolored, fuzzy boa'd bombast littered his persona, there now was a muted earth tone of eastern calm and beauty. Incense burned, soft music played, candles projected an aroma of light throughout the lair.
"Is that your war or peace paint?" I asked, getting his attention. "Both. And neither," he responded. "This is my friend, TC, Steven," I said. He greeted her with the pair of lips that launched a million kisses and nearly as many songs. TC is all about cool, but she was visibly vibrating from the magic touch. With the goddess properly greeted, he moved over and embraced the friend. "Wow," he smiled. "You're here. Beautiful." "We were reading Gibran in the car on the way down, Steven," I said. His eyes lit up. "Someone told me a year ago to do this, and I did, and it was a spiritual experience. Go to a place, a beach, a forest, a place alone where it's just you and Him, and read aloud The Prophet. Every word. When you're finished, you will never be the same. Trust me." That's been on my to-do list for months, I'm ashamed to say.
The moments in the dressing room were passing like meditation. Thought and words ambled by, connecting to something, then nothing. Being alone with Steven Tyler is a conscious experience that keeps shouting to your psyche, "Don't waste this time. It's rare, educational and wonderful. But don't act like it's anything different from any other moment. Just keep breathing and speak and act from your heart. Above all, be yourself."
Having been in the company of greatness for so long in my career, I've come to realize that any significant bonds I have been blessed to foster with those rare birds of paradise that soar higher than rest, exist because I have been exactly that...myself. Good, bad and ugly (and yes, the last few years have not been altogether soothing on the eyes or soul), I have always worn my fragile heart where anyone can embrace it, or step on it. Here, in Steven's enclave, my heart pumped strong and fearless.
"Have I ever shown you the pre-show ritual?" he asked us. I had never heard of this, not in the 30 or more times I've seen the band perform on three continents over the past 14 years. "Come over here. I can't believe you've never witnessed this, Lonn. TC, this is very important. Pay close attention."
We stood over Steven's dressing table where a tiny caldron of viscous liquid rested in a deep clay pot. In the middle of the goo, we could see something small sticking up from the bottom. "When I was very young, at the beginning of my career, I met a soothsayer," he began. TC and I looked at each other for a split second, holding back Jack Nicholson Joker type grins. This was so exciting. "This seer told me to perform this ritual before I took the stage. He said to do this every night and I would have all the success I could possibly imagine. The ritual was for me to fill a pot with honey and place in the middle of the honey, a rat's tail and before every performance, remove the tail from the liquid and bite off the end of it. Like this."
"This seer told me to perform this ritual before I took the stage and I would have all the success I could possibly imagine. Fill a pot with honey and place in the middle of the honey, a rat's tail and before every performance, remove the tail from the liquid and bite off the end of it."
Steven reached down into the liquid and pulled up the curly twig-like substance, put it in his mouth, bit off the end, and swallowed. Then he replaced the piece into the honey. "And that's it. I've done that before every show for the past 30 years." TC and I stared at each other for a second. There was a deep, pregnant pause, after which I blurted out, "That's folklore!" He looked me in eye, raised his eyebrows an inch and responded, "Okay, it's ginger root. But it's a great story, isn't it?"
That night, TC and I sat right on the stage, two feet from the ramp that Steven pranced upon like a cat the entire two plus hours Aerosmith destroyed the San Diego faithful. It was the best I'd ever seen them. Joe Perry, since the last tour, has found onstage Viagra, exploding out of a closet of cool into a cataclysmic tornado of confidence. He sings, dances, and does a six-string mambo far beyond anything ever attempted before. This was a group at the top of their game, or so I thought. Little did I know that in the coming months, this band of merry mid-50ers would set the bar far, far higher, and the incandescent Mr. Tyler would leap over that bar with the greatest of ease.
* * *
"Arianne (Megan's best friend) is in love with Steven Tyler," quipped my daughter on the way to the gig. "Your friend is in love with a 53 year old man, Meg?" I asked. "She thinks he's hot." And out of the mouths of babes, the secret to the enduring success. Aerosmith's remarkable staying power rests in their ability to stay youthful, both in image and sound. But it's not a forced, canned, false youth. "Jaded," from Just Push Play, is one of the best love songs Aerosmith has ever recorded, the kind of tune little girls love to sing in the years where they're still dreaming, still pure, and a long way from being...jaded.
We were standing stage right, the ramp just out of reach over our heads. As Steven wails the chorus, "My, My baby blue!" the women at the end of the ramp -- ranging in age from 10 to 50 -- lose their minds and bodies to the will of the enchanter. He touches them, kisses them, strokes their hands and hair, taunting their new and old libidos with that age old rock star front man fantasy. Like Jagger, Bono, Jon Bon Jovi, each in their own way, stirring it up so hot and delicious that you fly from your seat on holy abandon with the hopes of making contact, however brief. The magic touch. Give me that instant that I can keep with me forever. Steven gave it out in bundles, wherever the arena ramps would take him, into the sea of affection that is every true frontman's life blood. And with that blood, they elevate every man, woman and child who love to rock, who live to rock.
Jon Bon Jovi handed me a wireless set of headphones. "This is Steven's mix," he shouted over the blaring volume. Rick Nielsen had a set, as did Kevin Spacey, who signed Megan's autograph book during "Draw the Line," right under Jon's inscription, "Dear Megan, kiss your daddy for me." The strains were so crisp and clear in the headset, technical perfection, the presentation ultima for a most deserving institution of higher music.
"They are smoking tonight," said Jon, a telling compliment from a man who's slayed these halls with equal resonance for the past twenty years. The surreality hit again watching the superstar in rapt attention of the superstar, who arrived a decade before. The respect in only superseded by the affection. These are the titans, careers built on the eternal power of the fan and commitment to great songs and tireless, transcendent performance. Cheap Trick belongs here. Megan Friend belongs here. I belong here.
"The light inside is burning bright/The light makes everything all right
The light inside is burning bright/The light makes everything all right
The light inside is burning bright/The light inside oh yeah all right"
When Steven saw my daughter backstage, he took a long look at her. She smiled her shy smile, visibly taken by the gaze of one so special. He looked at me, then her, then moved toward her for an embrace. She laughed nervously as he kissed her cheek. "Your daddy used to laugh like that," he said. The bitterest pill often gets shoved down your throat by the hand of someone who cares. When I opened my email this morning, Jon Bon Jovi had a similar comment for me. I have walked in darkness and confusion for too long. Time to feel the light again. I get glimpses, but that isn't enough.
Also in my email box this morning was a note from my dear friend, Mike Ross. It read as follows:
"Brotha, my buddy and teammate (director) Ted Demme died late this afternoon while playing in our basketball league at Crossroads High. I can't begin to describe the emotions I'm going through, the day seems like a surreal blur. Let me just say, I was holding his hand while he was unsuccessfully trying to be revived by paramedics on the court. He died at Santa Monica hospital probably 45 minutes after collapsing. I'll call you tomorrow, my heart is so heavy I can hardly type these words. I love you."
I woke up this morning to find the light in my pen that was placed in my soul last night by rock n' roll. I offer the above not as a signal to once again seek refuge in the community of death and pontificate on such things but rather, to reiterate for all within the sound of my voice that life is tenuous and absolutely precious. Ted Demme's two tiny children have lost a father. Embrace every breath with reverence. Walk onto the stage of your life, every day, the way Steven Tyler walks onto the concert stage. Find the light that's there and hold it close to your heart, the heart we take for granted. Walk this way. Now and forever.
* excerpts from "Light Inside" off of Aerosmith's Just Push Play, 2001