In its early days in New Hampshire and environs, Tyler noted, Aerosmith couldn't find club work in the cities because proprietors only wanted to hear cover songs. "We were interested in writing our own stuff. So we decided, 'We'll go somewhere else and play our music until people like it.' " They wound up in out-of-the-way high school gyms and dance halls, slowly developing their musical personality and building an audience.
"Remember Noel's Casino, Tom? Jeez, there was this place where you'd drive three miles into the woods on this single-lane road, and you'd wonder where the kids came from. It was a big old barn--it looked like the place the Spruce Goose was built in--this huge bovine motel that was turned into a rock 'n' roll house. And kids would come out of the woodwork. We would drive hundreds of miles to play places like that just to be able to access something in ourselves, which was doing the kind of songs we wanted to do."
That woodshedding paid off years later: When their records weren't selling, they still could rely on their live shows to draw fans and to keep their own interest alive. "It's that part of being able to go onstage and have a good time that took the nut away from it being what other people call work ," Tyler said.
The final factor in the group's drive to return to the top was its taste of what things are like on the bottom.
"It gives us something to compare this to," said Hamilton. "It's strange but you can get to the point where you take anything for granted. There can be days when you get so fatigued you even get sick of the compliments. But we've got that nugget, that period of time where it began to slip right out of our hands, and it was right at the end of the rope before we grabbed it. That was a healthy thing for us."
Concurrent with their second chance in 1987, Tyler and other band members adopted a clean and sober lifestyle. This was after years of practically being poster boys for the "endless party" cocaine-and-whatever excess that has become a cliche of rock star life. Tyler said he refrains from proselytizing when he sees younger bands who still think that partying is a requisite part of the package.
"Partying is part of it," he said. "The only difference is, speaking for myself, I partied myself into oblivion. I became a professional drug addict and not a professional musician. I wasn't really dedicated to my music. I let that slide and got too carried up in being high all the time.
"That's not everybody's problem. If somebody is out there smoking an occasional joint, I don't say that's the best thing they could do, but we don't walk around with a sign saying, 'Listen, don't get high.' If they do get caught up in the trappings of it, then they can come talk to me."
Recovery hasn't been all roses. Like others, Tyler found it took a while to connect with his unmedicated muse.
"One of the biggest fears was 'I won't be able to write. I won't be able to play. I need that buzz to see me through.' What you come to find out is that you were dragging around a load of bricks. If anything it was holding us back from our muse growing."
"Sometimes (the drugs) work," Hamilton said. "I can remember smoking a joint and coming up with some pretty cool ideas. So you really get that burned in, that it is a great tool for writing. But there comes a point when you step over a line where you just go into reverse instead of forward."
Aerosmith pointedly has avoided topical songs during most of its career but at least two songs on "Get a Grip"--the title track and "Amazing"--address the band's errant past. Tyler said he didn't set out to write on the topic.
"I never set out to write about anything. At most we'll say there's a feeling we want to convey. It's better for me to close my eyes and go into a trance and let the music speak through me than for me to sit down and think, 'Tell your ma, tell your pa, our love's gonna grow, wah wah' and wrap a song around it. That's not the kind of songwriters we are.
"But when those songs came out that way I didn't fight it. I thought, 'Great, my muse is pointing me in a direction.' We were saying you can point it back to some of those old beliefs about the crossroads and signing up with the devil, that you can look at the drugs as that: It can be fun in the beginning but then it comes time to pay your debt, and if you're not sharp enough to see that it's taking you down, then it really will get you."
The album has received mixed reviews; the band's brief honeymoon with the critics may be over, but Tyler and company aren't especially broken up over that. The reason, they think, is that instead of being underdogs, they're now sitting on top of $30 million in Sony gold.