14. Aerosmith - Sweet Emotion

I turned forty last year and was often asked how I felt about hitting that landmark age - the precursor to being old.  My answer was simple.  Emotionally, I'm still pretty much a thirteen year-old, so adding another year to my age doesn't really mean much to me.  Age doesn't mean much to Steven Tyler and the guys in Aerosmith, either.  Even though he's sixty-two years old, he's perpetually lived the life of a sixteen year-old.  Drummer Joey Kramer said in an interview, "People always ask, why are you guys acting like kids?"  He paused for a moment, before saying, "We're not acting."  It's true.  They still write songs from the perspective of their young-at-heart mindset, which for a sixteen year-old boy, means sex, getting loaded, having fun, sex, having fun with your buddies, getting in fights, sex, petty arguments, playing in a band and, um, more sex.

The problem is that when you're adults and you add the extracurricular distractions and destructions that are available to adults with money and fame, it's often a recipe for disaster.  And with Aerosmith, at the time that they recorded Toys in the Attic and "Sweet Emotion," the storm clouds were not only on the horizon, but were steadily creeping into everyday life for the band.  The band's cumulative addiction to drugs and alcohol were becoming a major issue.  Bassist Tom Hamilton laughs at the thought that they experimented with drugs.  "[At first], for us, the experiment was a success."  After a long pause, he added, "For a while...."

But after that while, things got more strained. Arguments arose over seemingly trivial things.  Tension over spending too much time together, mixed with jealousy when they weren't spending too much time together, were taking their toll.  Guitarist Joe Perry:  "The ingredients that make up dynamite are benign on their own.  But you put them together.... and they explode."  And explode it did, with no one left unscathed by the damage from the emotional shrapnel.

Even amidst the strife, Aerosmith put together a song for the ages in "Sweet Emotion."  It starts of with Tom Hamilton's brilliant bass line, ambling along, making you wonder where this song was taking you.  If you listen really carefully, you'll also hear a bass marimba, which is like a big, wood xylophone, giving that awesome bass line some extra texture.  It's a beginning that's so memorable that director Richard Linklater used it to open his opus to 70's high school, "Dazed and Confused."  The line doesn't have that typical bass sound to it, which is what makes it so memorable.  You've never heard anything like this before, and you want to hear more.  After the first run-through of the bass line, drummer Tommy Kramer adds some extra percussive effects.  Joe Perry then brings in the talk-box*, adding some really cool atmosphere.  Finally, Steven and Joe harmonize on the iconic "sweet emotion" line, dragging it out and savoring every syllable.

The music throughout the song definitely shows the influence that the blues had on the band.  The casual nature that Joe and rhythm guitarist Brad Whitford play their parts is strongly rooted in blues structure, but they give it some extra rock punch during the verses.  Being a sucker for good talk-box work, Joe really helps set the tone for the whole song's bluesy feel.  If blues legends Willie Brown or Robert Johnson could've used a talk box, I assure you that they would have, especially if they'd had Joe's guitar line to listen to.  Steven Tyler's vocals also have a bluesy style.  His lyrics have that man on the prowl for some action feel that many blues songs have, and he spits out each line with the one line at a time cadence that's common with blues vocalists.  The only thing that doesn't ooze blues is Tommy Kramer's drums.  They're pure rock power drums, start to finish.  This gives the song its distinctive rock sound, with most rock fans not realizing that they're listening to a blues song.

In typical blues fashion, the lyrics are about a woman.  The first verse is all about Steven's animosity towards Joe's then-girlfriend, soon to be wife, not too long before ex-wife, Elissa.  It's textbook sixteen year-old rage directed at the girlfriend that's taking your best friend away.

You talk about things that nobody cares
You're wearing out things that nobody wears
You're calling my name but I gotta make clear
I can't say baby where I'll be in a year

The last line shows the uncertainty that Steven already felt about the future of the band.  The rest of the lyrics are Steven trying to drown that bitterness in the only elixir that works on the sixteen year-old boy, sex.

You stand in the front just a shakin' your ass
I'll take you backstage, you can drink from my glass 

Steven is the lyrical master of taking common sayings and turning them into clever puns.  Aerosmith songs are rife with them.  There's a great one in "Sweet Emotion," where he says that "My get up and go must've got up and went."  While some find them forced and corny, I love 'em all.  Keep them coming, Steven. 

Eventually, the discord and drug use led to the splintering of the band, and Joe Perry left Aerosmith.  After years of acrimony, they realized that they were better together, and reformed, finding huge success in the mid-80's on.  So even though they remain sixteen year-olds inside, they've grown emotionally and can keep their priorities straight.  Joe summed it up, saying,  "We still have the same arguments, we've just learned not to take it all personally."  It's too bad that other bands haven't reached the same emotional maturity of Aerosmtith.  And believe me, that's a sentence I never thought I'd write.

* For more on the talk box, read my post for #45, Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer."

    (Fun Fact #265:  After more than twenty-five years of playing together and writing hundreds of songs, Aerosmith finally hit #1 on the US pop charts with 1998's "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing."  The only problem was that they didn't write the song.  It was written by noted songstress, Dianne Warren, who also penned Celine Dion's "Because You Loved Me" and Cher's "If I Could Turn Back Time."  If you're prone to calling Aerosmith sell-outs, this would probably be your Exhibit A.)
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