Bell Bottom Blues
The main reason I did not manage to become a rock star was because I was just too practical. I blame my parents for this. People think we’re having an epic economic crisis now, but my parents were children during the Great Depression of 1929. There was no Social Security then, no unemployment, no social safety net of any kind. It was the Great Depression that prompted the creation of all those things in the 1930’s. Consequently, my parents, who were both the children of immigrants, clung to the lessons of thrift. I lived with that thrift every day of my life. It was not that they never spent money just to have fun, but they weren’t profligate, nor did they aspire to be. They fixed things themselves. They made do. When we were learning about the Depression in 5th grade, I pestered my mom into telling me about her experience. I suppose I thought there was something darkly romantic about my parents living through such historic drama. But hearing my mother impart details, with great reluctance, and realizing she was about my age at the time, dispelled those notions. Later on, I would find that it can be difficult to pursue the self-indulgent excesses associated with rock-n-roll stardom when you can picture your mom as a ten-year-old girl in a bread line.
On the other hand, I grew up in a music-loving household. My father was a musician who helped form a swing band in his youth that gigged off and on until I was six years old. I felt I owed it to this familial influence to do likewise. Plus, it was the thing to do back then. In the sixties and seventies, garage bands became as ubiquitous as blue jeans. Three or four teenagers, bored and desultory of an evening, might decide to form a band at the drop of a roach clip. Plus there was the feminist factor, the reborn women’s movement, which made it very cool as well as somewhat revolutionary for chicks to join rock bands. Like my dad, my best instrument was my voice, so I began to nurse an acute desire to front a band.
Like Father, Like Daughter?
I brought a lot of serious vocal experience to this endeavor. First of all, I could really sing. In Catholic grammar school, I learned to read music, and sang for years in the church choir, that cauldron of future vocal stardom. Later, I was a soloist in the high school glee club. My first serious boyfriend was in a rock band, and I would sing backup with them. And finally, there was the all-important crucible of belting out rock tunes in the car with my buds on a Saturday night, during which I would perfect my ability to howl like Grace Slick or warble like Joni Mitchell or croon like Nancy Wilson (both of them, the rocker and the jazz singer) or even wail like Robert Plant if I chose. I had a strong mezzo soprano range. I could sing harmony instinctively. I could still read music. And I had long hair and tight jeans, those prerequisites of rockers everywhere. All I needed was to find some rockers who weren’t too stoned, could actually play instruments, and whose ambitions extended a little further than making music as a precursor to getting wrecked and laid. A tall order, believe you me.
But first, I wanted to go to college. This involved leaving home, at least temporarily, a prospect I felt was crucial to preparing myself for stardom. I was, as usual, a good student at college, but I was not a total dork about it. Those jeans up there had already attended a string of Boston rock concerts, and I continued to wear them as I strolled about the campus. In fact, it was during my first semester of freshman year that I embroidered that peacock on the leg. From then on, I was referred to on campus as “the girl with the peacock on her jeans.” Surely, I felt, learning how to stand out in a crowd was another step toward fame.
This was all taking place in Massachusetts in 1972/73, in suburban Boston. My dorm that year was still women-only, but we were for the first time allowed to sign in overnight guests as long as they signed out before they’d been on the premises for 24 hours straight. This led, naturally, to a lot of young men fulfilling their obligatory one-minute sabbaticals by the front entrance to the dorm each day. They’d all stand around on the sidewalk, rumpled and yawning, sucking cigarettes while their young women signed them out at the front desk before 23 hours and 59 minutes passed. Frequently, the person at the desk was a work-study student named Arthur, an obliging dude who was totally on our side. After chit-chat with Arthur ate up the requisite few minutes of non-residence, the women would sign the young men back in again, and everyone would return to their rooms, leaving a pile of crushed cigarettes butts in the sand-barrel just inside the door. Arthur and I became pretty good buddies. He and I were a lot alike, cool but a little nerdy, hip but geeky. But even then we clever, creative types knew we were the people who could do stuff like run the radio station and book the college concerts. Through him, I got involved with both activities. Thus, I got to meet the few musical luminaries that we were able, on our slender state college budget, to book for performances. Consequently, I met Tom Rush, who was handsome, polite, and very nice, and Richie Havens, who was phenomenally gifted and played his heart out. My hip stock multiplied while I learned that even famous musicians were just people, after all.
As luck would have it, in early 1973, during my second semester, the state of Massachusetts lowered the drinking age. For reasons which I’m sure must have seemed rational at the time, legislators finally caved to the argument that if, at age eighteen, we were old enough to vote and old enough to get shot in Viet Nam, we ought to be old enough to drink legally. Interestingly enough, this same argument has resurfaced in recent years as college administrators consider ways to deal with campus drinking. So far, though, statistics from our experiment in the seventies of youthful, alcohol-related accidents has kept the debate unresolved. However, from 1973 to 1979, the drinking age in Massachusetts was lowered from 21 to 18.
Thus it was that in March of 1973, I got to drink legally for the first time. The law took effect on a Tuesday. I remember this because a bunch of us went out that night to celebrate this momentous occasion, and I had a biology mid-term the next morning at 8:30. Yeah, I know. But honestly, I planned ahead and was already swotted up for my exam.
Two carloads of us descended upon the Steak ‘n’ Brew, a new pub-like establishment that served a decent meal with pitchers of draft beer or sangria. We took over two adjacent tables, one of which was the beer table, the other the sangria table. I occupied the latter. I was not unacquainted with drinking wine, and I attained perhaps a pleasant and rather mild inebriation during dinner. But the after-dinner activities put paid to my sobriety.
I don’t remember the name of the club, (it was not the Auditorium Theater where this photo was taken) but we ended up in the town of Hopkinton, a classic, old New England town, possibly most famous for being home to the start of the Boston Marathon. The club was, to the best of my recollection, housed in a large, barn-like structure. The walls inside were rough barn board, and an open mezzanine ran around the perimeter at about eight feet off the floor. Upon this mezzanine, a rock band was set up, comprised of five of the usual young, scruffy, long-haired, skinny dudes in tattered clothing that were the stock-in-trade of local garage bands. What set them apart was that they were getting enthusiastic airplay on the Boston rock radio stations for an original song that had not yet found national release. The song was called “Dream On.” The band was Aerosmith. Three months later, they had a big-time record contract. “Dream On” was released with their first album, and their fame shot to the top of the charts.
But that night, their national fame was yet to come. I wish I could recount lots of colorful, salient details from Aerosmith‘s performance that night, but I was too busy inhabiting my by-then thoroughly altered consciousness and dancing my ass off. Of course we all knew who Aerosmith was. They were already local heroes, we all loved “Dream On,” and I do recall Steven Tyler singing it that night, to the dissonant accompaniment of a few hundred blotto college students who knew all the words by heart. Other than that, the details are a little sketchy. I know I had a fabulous time. I do remember getting home in one piece. It was around 2:00 a.m., and Arthur, bless his heart, had agreed beforehand to snooze in the lobby so he could let me back in the dorm whenever I rolled in. I also remember, rather vividly, having to negotiate the long hallway to the corner room I shared with my roommate. This I accomplished by leaning against the wall and attempting to slide as quietly as possible to my door. My sainted roommate, normally in bed by ten each night, was waiting for me when I got there. She was opposite to me in every possible way. She was short, studious, well-behaved, and wore saddle shoes and plaid slacks to class. I, on the other hand, was your garden-variety hippie-chick, tall, Bohemian, occasionally contentious and gently rebellious. But despite all that, we had forged a bond, and I will never forget her tender ministrations that night, as she helped me into my nightgown, served me hot cocoa, set my alarm clock and tucked me in. It was a tad painful, but I made it to my biology exam in the morning and even got an A.
“The Hub of Boston’s Musical Universe”
Fast-forward to the latter years of the seventies. I’m living in Norwood now, a few miles south of Boston, in a great apartment in a triple decker house. One of my best gal pals lives nearby, on the shore of a small lake that she shares with a bunch of neighbors, some of whom happen to include a few members of Aerosmith. Soon, I come to take it in stride that my life included driving past them, now internationally famous rockers, in the car from time to time, like any other neighbor, in our mutual portion of town.
Eventually, a boyfriend moved in with me, an Army Vet who was attending art school on the G.I. bill. Meanwhile, I was a very busy girl. I worked at Boston University, running a word processing department for the Department of Admissions & Financial Assistance. I went to modeling school & even did a little modeling (‘though I can’t find my old contact sheets…). I took voice lessons. I took creative writing classes at B.U. with my tuition remission benefit. I wrote a lot, I drew a little, and I was actively trying to get a singing gig. I auditioned for four guys in need of a lead singer by singing “Jailhouse Rock.” Their idea. They liked the idea of a chick fronting the band, but they were skeptical of finding one who could sing the kind of stuff they liked to play, which was blues-rock of the Eric Clapton/Jeff Beck/Hendrix ilk. So, they figured they’d separate the wheat from the chaff by making everyone sing that old Elvis tune. So, I sang it, with gusto. I ripped it out, with a nice blues rasp, like Elvis’s contemporary, Wanda Jackson, the undisputed godmother of chick rock, who was voted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame last year. The guys admitted later that when I arrived to audition, wearing a voile shirt with violets on it, tight jeans, long hair flowing, they figured I’d sound like Joan Baez. I didn’t. I got the gig.
Thus did I further my relationship with E. U. Wurlitzer, the Boston music equipment store pictured above as it looked in 1978. Among other things I purchased there was a Shure SM58 microphone. It was THE place to get gear, so it was not unusual to see famous rockers in there, trying out instruments or inspecting stacks of Marshalls. So, I got fairly nonchalant about spying people like Ric Ocasek of The Cars or John Geils, the “J” of the J. Geils Band while I was there. Hey, we were all doing the same thing, just at different levels. During one of my many expeditions, I spotted a small group of dudes in the back of the store who looked familiar in a more personal way. When I got a little closer, I realized they were my neighbors, Aerosmith. Huh. I wondered briefly what they were buying, then went back to browsing the rack of sheet music.
It was on the way out of the store that I experienced a kind of epiphany. Casual brushes with fame aside, I was back then, like a lot of performers, rather shy, particularly with the opposite sex. Once I got to know someone or was on stage, I was full of my usual piss and vinegar. But I was not then equal to striking up a conversation with perfect strangers, especially guys. At the same time, I had a lot of confidence in my own abilities for the most part. I knew I could do what I could do really well. Perhaps because of that, I was also not given to hero worship. I never really had a yen to get someone’s autograph, for instance. I mean, what for? And I was certainly not interested in being some rocker’s groupie, a designation on a par with slut-hood. Sure, I probably wouldn’t turn down a date, but it would have to be a real date, not some roll in the hay in some trashed out hotel room. But I didn’t think about such possibilities very much. I had a boyfriend, and I’d had enough experience with the opposite sex — and with rockers specifically — to know that a lot of them would probably not want a girlfriend who had her own career trajectory to nourish. And I was definitely not the keep-the-home-fires-burning type.
So, perhaps if I’d been a different kind of woman then, who knows what might have happened? But as I was leaving the store, my nose in some sheet music, and I literally bumped into all of the guys in Aerosmith at once, my first inclination was not to gush and bat my eyelashes. “Oh! Um, sorry,” I said, admittedly a little flustered. And they muttered something similar back. And then there was a bit of shuffling so that all six of us could get through the doorway. Once on the sidewalk, we went our separate ways. And that was that, until the next time I saw them driving around the lake or searching the aisles of E. U. Wurlitzer or playing a concert at Boston Garden.
A missed opportunity? Maybe. But after I got such a close look at them, there was another concrete reason, apart from being a non-gusher, why I didn’t try to flirt or ingratiate myself. None of them, not a one, was my type. In the first place, they were all basically shorter than I was. I’m just over 5’9″ and I don’t think I was wearing anything but low-heeled sandals at the time, but not a one of them was taller than I. Joe Perry was, I think, about my height, maybe 5’10”. Steven Tyler was most definitely shorter than I by at least a few inches. He was a skinny, little guy, like maybe he only weighed about 90 pounds soaking wet, someone I could probably take in an arm-wrestling contest. Plus, honest to god, up close like that, in regular clothes and not on stage, they looked like a bunch of lowlifes. I remember thinking it was a fortunate thing they had musical talent, because if they walked into the average employer to get a job, they’d be summarily turned away. Given their well-known lifestyle at the time, I was not surprised that they looked like they’d been ‘rode hard and put away wet.’ But it certainly did not make me want to get to know them better. I mean, I was adventurous and all, but I didn’t have a death wish.
I saw them all several more times after that, at the store, in the neighborhood, on stage. I bought their records because I liked their music. The band I was in broke up after the two guitarists had a huge fight and quit, taking all their equipment with them. The bass player and the drummer and I looked at each other and shrugged. We didn’t have the money, nor, after all the work we’d already put in, the inclination to look for someone to replace them. But we stayed friends. I looked for another gig, but after several auditions with a series of obnoxious, oversexed waste-brains, I’d had enough. My boyfriend and I broke up, and my creative ambitions took a different turn entirely. I still did some gigs now and then over the next decade, but they were mostly with other women musicians, and the music was mostly not rock ‘n’ roll.
Tyler’s Greatist Hits
Bebe Buell and Steven Tyler also broke up. She would give birth to their daughter Liv after the break-up, but kept Liv’s paternity a secret. Steven, for his part, was busy being a star and getting addicted to controlled substances. For years, Bebe Buell reportedly allowed Liv to think her father was Todd Rundgren, although I’m not sure how much of an improvement that was. However, DNA will out, and as Liv grew older, she looked so much like her father did in his youth that there was no denying it any longer. Aerosmith meanwhile went through their own sturm und drang, breaking up for while, leaving Joe Perry to start the Joe Perry Project. Eventually, everyone cleaned up his act and the band got back together to perform and recapture their former fame. Steven finally met his beautiful and talented daughter, who became a successful and well-known actor. Eventually, Liv got married and became a parent herself. Surely, in my humble opinion, Liv Tyler is one of Steven’s greatest hits.
After I related this entire tale to a musician friend of mine many moons ago, she shook her head in wonder and remarked, “You could have been Liv’s mother, you know. You’re a babe. They must have noticed that when you ran into them at the music store. And she even has blue eyes like yours.”
I smirked. “No. Never happen, not unless a whole bunch of things were very, very different. I’d have been very proud to have a daughter like her, though. She’s a lovely young woman. But the rest of it? Nah.”
We mused silently for a moment. “Well, you never know, do you?” my friend said.
“No,” I agreed. “You never do.” Pause. “I still have those jeans though.”
“Yeah. He would have brushed against them when we all squeezed through that door.”
Photos of Steven Tyler from the fansite, sexysteventyler.com.
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