Great piece on Steve Tyler by Phil Reisman in his column today in The Journal News.
Citing the Aerosmith front man’s new autobiography, Reisman goes back to Tyler’s upbringing in middle-class Yonkers – where he started his first band, got kicked out of school and laid the foundation to being, well, a rock star.
Read for yourself. Here’s Phil’s column:
So you wanna be a rock and roll star?
Steven Tyler starts off his long-awaited autobiography “Does The Noise in My Head Bother You?” with the bland, straight-forward fact that he was born in a Bronx hospital on March 26, 1948, and that his family summered in New Hampshire.
What a card.
Actually, Tyler grew up in middle-class Yonkers. The future lead singer of Aerosmith and “American Idol” judge moved to the City of Hills when he was 9 years old and stayed until just after his teen years — after he started his first rock band, after he was busted for smoking pot and after he was thrown out of Roosevelt High School.
Back in the day his name was Tallarico. His family called him Little Stevie, which was preferable to Steve, “a name almost as bad as Yonkers.”
Moving to Yonkers took getting used to. “It was too white and Republican for a skinny-ass punk from the Bronx,” he recalls in the book. Tyler lived in a house with a big backyard in a wooded section that was near a lake and a reservoir that, judging from his description, was probably Sprain Lake. He fished there with his friends and learned how to trap and skin small animals, selling the fur pelts for pocket money.
At one point, Little Stevie adopted a wild raccoon, Bandit, which he was forced to give away because it “ripped down every curtain my mom put up in the house.”
Parting with the little critter wasn’t easy. “I loved Bandit and he changed my mind about killing animals.”
And that, my friends, is about as sentimental as Tyler gets about Yonkers.
Give him this — he was way ahead of his time. He wore long hair when few others did, copped a rebel attitude, sold and smoked pot, got drunk, and found himself on the ground floor of the American rock revolution.
Tyler had only one possible career path — rock star. And he had to be good at it quickly because A) there are very few openings in that job category and B) the occupational hazards usually add up to a short life.
It’s probably a miracle Tyler didn’t die of a drug overdose a long time ago.
Life at Roosevelt High was not happy for Tyler. Kids made fun of his thick, rubbery lips. He’d get into bloody fistfights.
He writes that the only way to prevent getting beaten up in school was to be entertaining. So he picked up the drums and started a Yonkers band, the Strangers. Later he formed Chain Reaction, which played at the old Palisades Park in New Jersey and opened for the Byrds in 1967 in Westchester.
His musical ability was at least recognized at Roosevelt where he and fellow classmate Amy Karrow (what ever happened to her?) were listed side by side as “Most Talented” in the class of ‘66 yearbook.
That fact is not in his book. Nor are other bits and pieces of Tyler trivia that I’ve managed to pick up from Roosevelt alumni who remember him for the crazier things he did, like running naked down Central Park Avenue.
Mike Edelman (class of ‘65), the political consultant and commentator for Cablevision’s News 12, who starred in high school musicals, told me that Tyler was an excellent musician but frequently reverted to his bad-boy persona by pushing him around. He called Edelman “Lunch Meat.”
“I never knew why,” joked Edelman. “Either he wanted to ‘eat me’ or thought I was spam rather than prime rib.”
Tyler played in the school’s concert and marching bands. When performing in public, he was forced to wear hairpins to conceal his unacceptably long hair. Larry Feldman, who also played in the band, remembered that the music teacher, Mr. Humphreys, would become furious when Tyler was late or missed practice.
Finally, Humphreys “really unloaded on him in front of the entire band,” Feldman told me in an email exchange a few years ago. The teacher said Tyler would never amount to anything.
But Feldman admired him as a true original and in retrospect felt lucky to have played in the high school band with him.
Tyler says in his autobiography that he was busted by an undercover cop who infiltrated his ceramics class with free marijuana. This episode is recalled with a heavy reliance on the F-word.
Slapped with four misdemeanors, Tyler tried to talk his way out of it with a local judge, but it didn’t work. He received youthful offender status and a mark on his record that kept him from being drafted.
It also got him expelled from Roosevelt, just before graduation. Nevertheless , they still allowed him to play the guitar for the spring musical, “Music Man.” Before the curtain rose, somebody lit off an M-80 in the hall bathroom.
Tyler’s last gesture of defiance was to steal the bass drum he played in the marching band. Seventeen years later, it showed up in an Aerosmith video.
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