Steven Tyler Reflects on his UN Humanitarian Award, Talks Future of Aerosmith
2016 has been kind to Steven Tyler. The Aerosmith frontman began his year releasing his solo country record, We’re All Somebody from Somewhere, and finished with the honor of receiving the United Nations Humanitarian Award for his work with the non-profit organization Janie’s Fund, which helps young women who are victims of abuse.
“It’s been a great two years, doing the country record, launching Janie’s Fund and when I got offered this place for the U.N. Humanitarian,” he tells Billboard. “I usually don’t wake up in the morning and think ‘I’m Steven Tyler in Aerosmith.’ I don’t think of it like that, but it really was a beautiful end of this year. I was just flabbergasted."
The organization has raised nearly $2 million this year, and is currently in the midst of a holiday drive raising monies for the organization. Tyler has offered his prized Hennessey Venom GT sports car --one of only 12 Venom GTs in the world -- up for auction at the 2017 Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale Auction with 100 percent going directly to Janie’s Fund.
While accepting the award with an impassioned speech addressing global warming and climate change, Tyler performed two songs backed by a classical quartet from his father's old school, Juilliard Conservatory -- “Livin’ on the Edge” and “Dream On” -- while singing the praises of the UN.
“The classical training he received there is what gave me the gift of melody that could break someone’s heart, and today, it seems like every time I sing my heart out I have to write a song to grow another one,” he said.
“Greed and money, and I would love to say trumps, but I will say overrides ethical, moral...doings,” he continued. “Therefore, hats off to the persistent efforts and pursuits of the UN to make this a better world and to that we can all celebrate our endless desire to dream on.”
Speaking to Billboard a week after the ceremony, Tyler --who has even more good news on the way as his daughter, Mia, is expecting ("I'm not allowed to reveal the sex of the baby," said the excited grandfather-to-be), is still pinching himself.
“Isn’t that the craziest thing? When that came in I thought ‘well, you know you made it when...’,” he says. “When I was growing up, I had an Italian family. We all cross-talked at the dinner table, and in school I always had a big mouth along with big lips and I got it for like the first 15 years of my life for having a big mouth. Then you put a band together and decide to become the lead singer and that works out pretty good for you. So, there to all those people who said I had a big mouth ‘now you realize that they would like a few words out of that big mouth of yours.’”
Being recognized as a humanitarian, he says, is part of the universal nature of music bridging people of all backgrounds together as one, healing hearts of hardships through song
“I always found that fascinating when we went to Japan in ’75, how people at the airport could barely say your name, but they were singing along with the lyrics all of the songs and it’s a fabulous thing,” he says. “To me, part of the humanitarian-ness is being able to come up with a couple songs that you and the guys wrote and have it 'A' be accepted and 'B' become the backdrop for these people’s lives all over the planet.”
Tyler was touched when UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon praised the work of Janie’s Fund, and how impressed he was that a rock star was discussing an issue he held “very dearest to my heart” -- which is protecting young women and girls.
“He’s seen the abuse around the world,” Tyler says.
The seeds to Janie’s Fund actually began years ago when Tyler penned his iconic song, “Janie’s Got a Gun.” At first, Tyler sat at a piano singing along when the phrase popped into his head -- but he didn’t know who Janie was or why she had a gun…yet.
“I took a month course in co-dependency and found out that four out of ten girls are verbally, sexually, or emotionally abused. So, when I heard that, I put that together with “Janie’s Got A Gun” and that’s why she had the gun,” he says. “So, when I worked out the video concept, it was a girl -- and it was after a few hours of sitting down and coming up with the story line, it was a girl who was obviously all three things verbally, mostly sexually and emotionally abused by a father while the mother was looking on. And it worked out perfect for the video. Once finding out those statistics, it was very enlightening. And at that time in my life -- I was probably 45 or so -- but to come to realize that of course the most sought after commodity on the planet is females in a male based world, so to speak. And so, how does that really go? How has it been swept under the rug?”
The issue gnawed at Tyler, and he decided to do something about it. At first he considered creating a home for abused girls named “Janie’s House,” but the name was taken. It was then that Ira Blumenthal, who was involved with the non-profit organization Youth Villages, made a suggestion.
“He called me up one day and said ‘Instead of Janie’s Got A Gun, how about Janie’s Got A Fund?’and I just was about to drop the phone,” he says. “The guy was genius and that was a very smart line and quick.”
“I think the magic of it all started with the partnership with Youth Villages. I got to meet Patrick Lawler and Richard Shaw, who came in and said ‘I love your idea,'” he says. “My management team of Rebecca Lambrecht [Warfield] and Larry Rudolph got me involved with Youth Villages and thought it would be the perfect dish to serve the blue plate special on, and they loved the idea of Janie’s Fund. They are a huge philanthropic organization that generates [more than] 30 million dollars a year for saving these wounded children all over America. So, they adopted me…and so one thing led to another.”
“I sent out my mic stand with all the scarfs on it in these huge square-shaped boxes and I put a note saying ‘you’ve heard my big mouth now I need your voice’,” he says.
His work for the organization, he say, is “simple.” Tyler organizes fundraising events featuring the likes of Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry, Elton John, Paul McCartney and Depp, for example, and “invite people for an evening that they’ll never forget.” His plan is to host two or three events like this a year.
He is driven, he says, by the stories told to him by the young women he met through the fund since its inception.
“I’ve met with these girls and they are so broken and wounded that they can’t even speak,” he says. Again, whatever I could do to help… I can go to bed at night knowing that some poor 13-year-old has finally gotten off the street that started hooking when she was nine and selling crack when she was six.”
While wrapping the year at the UN was a triumphant end to a year that saw Janie’s Fund come to fruition as well as the release of his country album, Tyler is looking ahead to 2017, which includes more touring with Aerosmith. While some reports suggest the band may retire, Tyler has a different take.
“The European tour is booked, locked and cocked and that’s ready for next summer. And then we’re coming back and we’re doing the rest of the world,” he says. “Farewell? I’m not sure, but truth is, who knows how long we’ll be touring as the original band? I don’t think that needs to be said, I think that we’re all freak of natures and Joe and I were talking on the phone yesterday and he said to me, ‘We have no right being as healthy as we are after what we’ve been through.’ Whether it’s through the abuses of being on tour for 40 years or the abuses of substances or the abuses of life on life’s terms, there’s been a lot of abuse. But we’re both looking pretty damn good for what’s going on.”
Time away from the band, he says, is not necessarily a bad thing.
“Aerosmith is something else you’ll never see again. We all love each other, five of us are still alive, every one of us is still playing better than ever -- and I’m not just saying that because we just came off a South American tour. Yes, we have ups and downs. But one of the things I’m learning in life is that being away from each other is sometimes the healthiest thing we can do. You know? I dare to say that being away from each other may have saved a few marriages on this planet,” he says.
“The one thing that’s never failed is that when we get back together to rehearse the love is there again and I’ve been closer to Joe now in the last three weeks, in the last two months than I think of in our whole career -- short of when we started,” he explains. “But I think we see eye-to-eye on why we got together as a band and what the power of our music does for ourselves first and the rest of the world afterwards.”
He also has a thought that may surprise fans -- the possibility of singing a duet with Mariah Carey.
“I just saw her in Nobu in New York and she was getting ready to do this last week she did at the Beacon. And I was actually thinking this morning, or last night in the shower about doing something with her where I can shine in as well as she does,” he says. “She’s still got it -- and it is Mariah Carey, she kind of invented it. She was one of the firsts to be one of those vocal gymnasts, right? She went all over the map with her vocals and I was just thinking last night about doing something like ‘What It Takes’ or ‘Dream On’ or something like that with her and actually be able to represent myself.”
He did represent himself well on “We’re All Somebody from Somewhere,” a collection of songs he says “dug out of from where I came from and who I am.” As for his solo plans, he says he enjoyed doing the country album and creating music with Nashville writers, as the process was “cathartic” and a “fabulous adventure."
“I haven’t really gone back to my room and wrote out full lyrics about deeper things that were going on with me in the last, say, 10 years,” he says.
“Would I do another one? I’m not sure, but I know it’s there and I know how much fun I had doing it. And you know what, as music goes and what music is, you sit down and you create and you come out of the room with a song,” he says. “And I would listen to these demos at the end of the night, like a year ago, and I would climb out of bed and get on my knees and say, ‘Thank you God for a tangible, living, breathing little entity called a song that would live long after I’m dead.’”