On Jan. 24, Aerosmith will be honored as the 2020 MusiCares Person of the Year during The Recording Academy’s 30th-anniversary benefit gala. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees will be honored for their philanthropic achievements and join an elite group of past award recipients that includes Dolly Parton, Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, Lionel Richie, Bob Dylan and Carole King. Always a Grammy Week highlight, the annual reception will include a silent auction and tribute concert with performances by Foo Fighters, H.E.R., Alice Cooper, Jonas Brothers and others. The honor is fitting, as this year marks the group’s 50th anniversary as a band, and the second year of its Deuces Are Wild residency, which will continue at Las Vegas’ MGM Park Theater through June, followed by an arena/stadium tour of Europe. The residency, which grossed $45 million in 2019, is just a fraction of the band’s total live haul of $524.3 million, according to Billboard Boxscore.
Among the songs on the residency’s set list is “Janie’s Got a Gun,” a 1990 anthem for trauma and abuse victims co-written by frontman Steven Tyler and bassist Tom Hamilton that reached No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and spent 18 weeks on the chart. The hit appeared on the band’s 10th studio album, 1989’s Pump, which is tied as the group’s top-selling studio set, with RIAA-certified sales of 7 million in the United States. In 1991, the socially conscious track earned the band its first Grammy for best rock performance by a duo or group.
Tyler spent nine months crafting the lyrics, which were inspired by his own experience in a recovery program in the ’80s, where he heard a story of a woman who had battled addiction after being abused by her father.
Today the power anthem continues to live on through the act’s philanthropic organization, Janie’s Fund, which Tyler established in 2015 to coincide with the song’s 26th anniversary. He partnered with Memphis-based Youth Villages, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to helping emotionally and behaviorally troubled children across America. With more than $7.5 million raised from over 3,500 supporters in 40-plus countries, the fund has provided 167,000 days of counseling and trauma care for over 1,200 girls and their families.
“One in five girls will be sexually abused before the age of 18, which we all know is underreported, and the first step toward addressing this issue is being able to talk about it openly and honestly,” says Youth Villages chief development officer Richard Shaw. “These issues are often hiding in plain sight.”
The organization established two Janie’s Houses, in Douglasville, Ga., and Bartlett, Tenn., which provide 24-hour medical care, therapy and housing for up to 14 women and girls at a time. Community gardens, drumming yurts, horse barns and playgrounds are among the activities available to residents. “Steven is very supportive of experiential therapies — arts programs, West African therapeutic drumming,” says Shaw. “He started as a drummer and will tell you about how these girls speak to him through their drumming in ways they can’t verbally.”
Ahead of the gala, bandmates Tyler and Joe Perry discussed Janie’s Fund and what’s next alongside Shaw and Youth Villages CEO Patrick Lawler.
Steven, what was your initial inspiration for Janie’s Fund?
Steven Tyler: In the 1980s I was in a recovery program where I met so many women who had experienced incredibly painful and debilitating sexual, mental and physical abuse. Those events put them on a path of suffering that led to anything from abusing drugs to self-harm to many other self-destructive behaviors to mask the pain. It was also around that time that I wrote the song “Janie’s Got a Gun,” which tells the story of a young girl who is abused by her father. Over the 30 years since that song was released, I’ve often thought about what could be done to prevent this kind of abuse.
We started Janie’s Fund to give a voice to the thousands of victims who haven’t had one. It’s an incredible organization and has become my life’s work and a huge part of my legacy.
How important was it, and is it, to have someone with Steven’s celebrity involved?
Richard Shaw: Aerosmith is the greatest rock’n’roll band in American history, with a following in the millions. From the time we started, Steven has dedicated time, energy and resources. His entire life has been focused on this for the last five years. He has fans who feel deeply moved by him being so committed to this issue. That has amplified the number of people talking about abuse in this country. This has given them a platform and a voice.
The band has thrived across five decades. What has been the biggest insight with younger demographics?
Patrick Lawler: Our kids all know Steven as a judge on American Idol, not the Steven who we grew up with.
Shaw: If you ask them to tell you 10 songs by Aerosmith, they can’t. They can’t tell you who it is when they hear “Dream On,” but when they see Steven’s face they know him. Idol did a lot to make him much more visible and viable for a whole new generation.
Your Deuces Are Wild residency will marks its first anniversary in April. Why Sin City, and why now?
Joe Perry: We’ve played Vegas at all the different venues, but the residency is a different audience on the Strip. We thought, “Let’s try and put up a show that’s the rock’n’roll equivalent to Cirque du Soleil or David Copperfield.” There’s real pressure there, almost like playing Madison Square Garden or Glastonbury [Festival] — the feeling that you have to be on your toes every night. And people come to see us from all over the world. We’re entertainers and they want to be entertained, so we give it up every night. Long may it continue.
MusiCares helps musicians struggling with addiction. Aerosmith has gone through so much there, very publicly. What is your perspective on that struggle today?
Perry: When we decided to put the band back together after [guitarist] Brad [Whitford] and I had left, the most important thing was to see if we still had it. So we toured bare bones that summer, and realized that the one thing we had to fix was everybody’s old habits and overdoing the partying. We had burned every bridge we could — we had to buy our way out of the Columbia recording deal. Nobody wanted to give us a record deal, and the promoters were very wary about booking us. The only people that were there for us were the fans. They came out to see us, and we were encouraged by that. We gave them everything we had and realized we could give a lot more if we changed that old style of life.
At the time, not many rockers talked openly about sobriety. Were you worried it could affect your success?
Perry: Not many bands were getting clean, and we were worried we would lose fans, but they cared more about our music than if we were still getting high. We’ve had our ups and downs. I’d like to say that everybody has been sober since that day and time in 1984 but I can’t. It’s a journey, not a destination, and everybody has to do it for themselves.
Youth Villages’ LifeSet program has helped over 9,000 young adults aging out of state custody transition to living independently. Why is this such an important facet to the organization?
Shaw: When girls turn 18, they age out of the foster care system and are essentially kicked to the curb. Steven felt it was an enormous disservice, and equated it to aftercare in rehab. When you get clean, you have to continue to have support.
Steven, what has been the most rewarding part of Janie’s Fund?
Tyler: Not only do we help girls and young women overcome their trauma, but we also ensure that they really thrive. What I’m most proud of are the results we’re delivering to transform the lives of thousands of fearless young women.
MusiCares’ $66M Safety Net For Creators
In 1991, two years after The Recording Academy formed MusiCares, the charitable organization threw its first Person of the Year gala, honoring David Crosby. MusiCares provides support to musicians and those working in the industry dealing with financial, medical and personal hardships.
Since its inception, MusiCares has donated over $66 million to help those in need and serviced more than 66,000 clients. “For more than 30 years, MusiCares has existed to safeguard the health and well-being of the music community, recognizing the humanity behind the industry and the human behind the artist,” says Recording Academy president/CEO Deborah Dugan, who also serves as president/CEO of its charitable arm. “The Person of the Year gala continues to be a crucial part of the well-being of the music industry. A humanitarian organization at its heart, we recognize that partners like Aerosmith and the long list of iconic honorees enable us to further our vision.” Person of the Year recipients are honored by their fellow musicians through song, often providing one-of-a-kind performances, and, in the case of Bob Dylan in 2015, a riveting, extremely personal 30-minute speech, which is believed to be the longest Dylan has ever spoken in public.
MusiCares, which has earned four stars — the highest ranking — from Charity Navigator, the top charity evaluator in the United States, also emphasizes addiction recovery programs for clients in need. Since 1997, over 12,000 people have visited one of MusiCares’ 794 Safe Harbor Rooms during a music festival, awards show or live event, to gain additional support for their recovery. For the past 14 years, MusiCares has offered weekly recovery support groups in seven U.S. cities, and it has also stepped in to assist following natural disasters, including hurricanes Katrina, Sandy, Harvey and Irma.
Ahead of Aerosmith’s honor on Jan. 24, Dugan aims to raise “record-breaking funds” to protect the lives of its many creators, “the lifeblood of our community.”
— MELINDA NEWMAN