If the phrase “Epic Fail” was ever truly warranted for a situation (with the exception of Katy Perry lyrics of course), then it would have to be the time Steven Tyler of Aerosmith “fat fingered” the record button on my Apple iPhone.
I was finishing my final weeks of a six-month military deployment in El Salvador during the fall of 2013. I was stationed there to fly counter-drug operations as a Navy P-3 Orion pilot. Life on deployment was reduced to the bare essentials – eat, sleep, workout, guitar, video games, and a whole lotta of flying. In short, deployment basically ruled. This particular deployment, however, ruled even more when a band of rock ‘n roll legends showed up to my workplace.
I was lifting weights in the small on base gym, dubbed “The Boneyard”, when one of the other pilots asked me if I heard that Steven Tyler was visiting the base in two days. I of course had no idea, and immediately assumed he was pulling my chain since I had earned a reputation as a diehard lover of 80s music. He said he was serious and that he overheard base security talking about preparing for his arrival. Skeptical, I checked the tour list on the Aerosmith website and sure enough, Aerosmith had an upcoming concert date in downtown San Salvador in four days. My initial skepticism was dissolved when my brain connected this fact with the facts that 1.) Our base was attached to El Salvador International Airport and 2.) Steven Tyler is a complete publicity whore (meant in the nicest way possible). My pupils dilated and heart started racing – I was going to meet Aerosmith.
Giddy like a schoolgirl, I raced to Facebook to consult my two closest Aerosmith confidants – Micah and Justin Tiemeyer. I was introduced to #ProjectKaramazov when Justin requested that I record Steven Tyler reciting a passage from Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. For any other celebrity I would of thought twice, but with Steven Tyler, the bizarre task actually seemed plausible.
In the two days leading up to the supposed visit, I noticed base security started to beef up. On the day prior to the Aerosmith concert, the base scheduled an unusually late “Quarters” (military version of a large scale meeting). Typically Quarters is held in the morning, so it was very unusual to have it so late in the day- but this only confirmed my expectation of the awesomeness that was about to unfold. It was a typical afternoon in El Salvador with grey skies and thunderstorms building in the distance. I show up at the hangar for Quarters in my flight suit and I notice some of the permanent staff had brought their wives and girlfriends. They all had lots of makeup and had their hair done up nicely. They basically looked like groupies. I could feel the rock concert aura already brewing. I was beginning to feel anxious. Would I even be capable of having a coherent conversation with the band? Would I be too overcome by reverence and awe to carry out the solemn task Justin had charged me with? My self-doubt was building with every passing minute…
Before I continue the story, let me take a moment to properly address the importance Aerosmith in my life. I was formally introduced to rock music at the age nine by an older neighborhood friend. It was 1994 and he gave me my first mixtape (an actual cassette tape) consisting mainly of Green Day and Offspring tracks. I listened to this mixtape guiltily in my bedroom because of all the swearing. I felt like such a rebel. I have many fond memories of going to his house and listening to tapes for hours, the likes of which included 90s greats such as REM, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, Rage Against the Machine, and Cypress Hill. It was here that I had my first experience with Aerosmith when I listened to the tape with the cover of the weird dummy head pierced with nails – the “Livin On The Edge” single. I couldn’t remember the song, but I always remembered the crazy ass cover. It would be another four years (which seemed like an eternity) before I would discover Aerosmith in earnest. Every Thursday after school I would go to a church youth group with my best friend Micah. My friend Mike Burns from church offered to sell me his three Aerosmith CDs, Permenant Vacation, Pump, and Get a Grip. I had a strange falling out with music during the last year, mainly because I associated people I hated from Middle School with late 90s pop that played every day on the schoolbus (Aqua, Chumbawumba, Sugar Ray, etc). But it was when Micah wisely advised me to buy these Aerosmith CDs that my life changed forever. I spent hours and hours in my room listening through “Get a Grip”. I felt like a bona fide badass. I knew the words to every track. I felt enlightened and superior to all the posers groveling over pop music. I simply could not get over the power and rawness of Steven Tyler’s vocals and lyrics. The fire and venom behind the guitarwork of Joe Perry and Brad Whitford utterly blew my mind. Pop music in 1998 was shamefully bereft of proper rock ‘n roll, and Steven Tyler was like the angel Gabriel trumpeting me into musical heaven. Finally, music that made me feel cool. This music made me feel like I could conquer anything. These three Aerosmith albums planted the seed of rock ‘n roll in my soul, and I never looked back.
So fast forward to the military base in 2013. Aerosmith, in the flesh, casually strolls through the hangar door and my childhood heroes are standing before me. The band looked a lot shorter and more haggard than the photos, but Steven Tyler was in good spirits as always. He made a few opening statements thanking us for our service, and then the band split up and walked around to meet us. I knew that 90% of the crowd had only superficial knowledge and love for Aerosmith, but I on the other hand, understood them. Unmarried at the time, Tyler had his latest squeeze shadowing him everywhere- so rock ‘n roll! While my primary task was to talk to Tyler, I was personally far more interested in talking to lead guitarist and all-around-legend, Joe Perry. My heart racing at the sheer surreal-ness of what was happening, I find the courage to approach Joe Perry. He was answering some generic questions about his age and signing autographs when I clarified that he first played in The Jam Band in the 60s. Perry broke his stone face and cracked a smile at me- he immediately knew I was an actual fan. As a guitarhead myself, I went straight for the jugular and started talking guitars with Joe Perry. He told me about his first guitar (a Silvertone acoustic) and his preference for Marshall amps. I told him he should play Fender guitars more often, and he laughed and said he tries to play all his guitars equally. Steven Tyler clearly had the biggest crowd following him, so I expected a long wait before I could approach him.
We all moved outside for a photo op with our P-3’s. “The Get Your Wings” references ran abound in my mind, and I desperately craved the presence of Micah and Justin to share this mind blowing experience with. After 30 minutes or so, the allure began to wear off and people started dissipating. I couldn’t fully comprehend why people wouldn’t want to spend every second in Aerosmith’s presence, but then I remembered that 99% of the crowd probably didn’t understand and love Aerosmith the way I did. I’m pretty sure half of my peers only knew Steven Tyler from either two things- the loud judge from American Idol or Liv Tyler’s dad. The band eventually requested a tour of our P-3 Orion airplanes and I, along with a handful of other crewmembers, happily obliged. I started with Brad Whitford who spoke quietly, but had a lot of genuine questions about the plane. What are all these holes in the bottom of the plane for? What’s that long phallic object protruding from the tail? I almost felt like I was explaining my plane to an old World War II vet (no offense to Whitford as he still has killer blues guitar chops that no one knows about). Having nothing else to autograph, I gave him a patch from my flight suit. I walked him up the ladder toward the inside of the plane. I met up with Tyler and Perry and showed them all the highlights from our ancient airplane. Whitford had fun playing around with the joysticks. Tyler and Perry sat down in the cockpit and started asking lots of questions. I had to keep pinching myself as my two great childhood dreams were fusing in perfect harmony – Aviation and Aerosmith – this was too perfect. The band whose albums I jammed to while playing flight simulator games on my computer were right here before me- in MY airplane. I desperately wanted to stop talking about my job and start talking details about Aerosmith, but Steven “loudmouth” Tyler kept getting distracted and asked too many questions about the cockpit. I was super surprised to discover Joe Perry was a pilot himself, having received his basic pilot’s license. Speaking in a quiet, monotone Boston accent, Joe told me about the time he almost crashed into a power line buzzing Steven Tyler’s Massachusetts home. He said he has a little over 25 hours flying little single engine planes and that he uses the same airport diagrams that we use in our P3’s. The Toxic Twins eventually exited the cockpit and I felt intimate enough with them to start asking about their music. “So, Steven I heard you were the one that wrote Seasons of Wither?” (one of my favs). He casually confirmed this and elaborated that he wrote it during a cold Boston winter on an old acoustic guitar Joey Kramer found in a dumpster. I giddily asked if they could play Seasons of Wither during their show tomorrow but I don’t think they heard me. I was beginning to feel like protagonist from Almost Famous.
Aerosmith gathered by the main cabin door for one last photo op with the crew, which is when I found the nerve to ask Tyler to read the Karamazov excerpt. I told him it was for a fan project and I was terrified he would go all Prince on me and decline due to copyright reasons. Having seen and experienced all the weirdness of the 70s, 80s and 90s, there was not a request too weird for Steven Tyler. He didn’t talk back and acquiesced to my demand with a straight face as I handed him my iPhone. I told him to “just press the red button” and read the excerpt. I didn’t verify the recording until Aerosmith departed the tarmac in a long convoy of white minivans. It was then that I discovered the absence of the Karamazov recording, and a colossal wave of disappointment washed over me. I felt like Darth Vader at the end of Episode III – NOOOOOOO!!! I never found out why it didn’t record, but I suspected it was because Tyler either fat fingered the ‘record’ button, or pressed the OTHER button on the Voice Memos page. Epic fail.
Note for all future celebrity voice memo recording: PRESS THE RECORD BUTTON YOURSELF, prior to handing it over to the celeb. I eventually forgave myself for this failure, and had a blast at the concert the next day. The show was made even better when Joe Perry smacked my squadron’s sticker on his turquoise Strat and gave a shout out to the “47 Group”. No Seasons of Wither unfortunately, but a killer concert nonetheless. While I realize the unfortunate truth that Aerosmith has become irrelevant in this day and age, they can still play better, louder, and with more balls and swagger than bands 1/3 their age. Long live rock ‘n roll. Long live Aerosmith.