I love Steven Tyler. He sucks the marrow out of my bones. I liquefy, burn. I would crawl 10 miles over broken glass to lie naked in his shadow. When I hear his voice, my body dissolves. When I see him on stage, my heart bubbles. Anyone who knows me, who has visited my house, ridden in my car, viewed my iPod, taken my spinning class knows I love Steven Fucking Tyler. He presides, open mouthed and bedazzling in orange and red, a smeary portrait in oils encased in a gaudy gold baroque frame, over my living room, and photos of him, and him and me, and him and me and Andy, my husband, hang, lean, stand all around our home. Aerosmith rocks, but Steven Tyler’s oolala drives that machine. I attend the concerts to see the show, yet I am there for the icon of cool, sexy, perfect and mouthy: Steven. Tyler.
I grew up entrenched in music, especially through my dad, a gifted guitarist, drummer, pianist. He smoked, drank, crashed cars, shushed us when Molly Hatchet or Aerosmith or The Doobie Brothers played on our FM radio. In the 70s, music—pure, raw, heavy, real—sledgehammered my body, not taking, “No” for an answer. Listen to me, it begged. Before leaving high school, I had seen AC/DC, KISS (twice), Pat Benatar and Billy Squier. Music echoed in our home—ever-present sound, loud and jangly, pounding my feet, bobbing my head, curling up the corners of my lips.
So when Andy and I started dating, I knew he needed to be initiated into the Holy House of Aerosmith. The only concert he had ever seen was Rush in 1987 in Utica, N.Y. We bought lawn seats to Aerosmith. KISS opened for them in the flashy, fiery spectacle they had become. It rained, a soaking, blinding, sheet of glass—constant and aggressive and unkind to the grass-turned-mud under our feet: a Houston rain. Unrelenting. We stood on the top of the hill, and over me, Andy held what came to be known as “the magic blanket,” a woolen beast capable of absorbing an evening’s worth of precipitation without buckling, without dripping, without dampening me. Everyone else, wet to the bra and panties, dripped mascara, perfume, and good will, but not us—not me. I stayed dry while Andy’s arms trembled, burned and held the saturated maroon and green and blue wonder fabric, unwavering; his shoulders, in crushing pain, were reduced to buttery pillows. Still, he held, and I, cozy and sound and crazy in love, salivated over Steven Tyler, as he bounced and screamed so far away from me on the dry stage.
At 13, I, along with my sister and brother, spent weekends with my father in our old house. Our parents freshly divorced, my childhood was home empty, except for a double bed in the master and a stereo, replete with a turntable—a behemoth, large enough to sit on or lie across. My mother left the hefty piece of furniture because I once had coiled a rubber snake on its lid, and the snake’s skin had melted a swirly “C” into the cheap veneer, scarring its surface. That was no matter to us kids; that stereo played my father’s albums.
Those weekends, we three stayed in our pajamas and listened to Aerosmith’s “Mamakin” over and over and over again, lifting and lowering the needle onto the vinyl. The music ate my heart out. We threw our bodies all over the red shag carpet, moved and moving, cheerful even in our fear and confusion, the voice of Steven Tyler buoying our lost spirits. Steven Tyler, sexy, shirtless, all lips and hands and black eyes and golden throat spewing lust and desire and longing and love. That song meant freedom. Inside its lyrics, I felt a penetrating, driving, dazzling warmth. If I could see “Mamakin,” it would be shades of deep purple and taste like hope.
I met Steven Tyler last year in Houston. My husband had purchased the Meet and Greet package to the Aerosmith concert for my 44th birthday. I was wrecked. How do you meet a rock star—the rock star–you’ve loved most of your life? A miasma encircled me as I stood in his presence. He kissed Andy on the lips, and someone eventually pried me from Steven Tyler’s waist, ushered me from the tent. I kept repeating that I loved him. I was a cartoon, a delirious mess.
“Are you OK?” one of the security guards asked as I tumbled, foggy-eyed, from my dreamy, fantasy boyfriend.
“I love him,” I said. The guard kind of snorted. He’d heard it before, right? Thousands of times.
That night, Steven Tyler signed the cover to my old Rocks album and a postcard I made, a collage about dreams and a magazine photo of Steven Tyler in the upper corner holding his girlfriend’s hand. I cut her out, so it looks like he is blowing a kiss outward to some unseen audience. I regretted not having Steven Tyler sign my belly. Vanity prohibited me from allowing him to do it because (I am horrified to admit) I felt fat. Where am I? I thought. Where have I gone? What happened to that confident girl, the barefoot one hiking the neighborhood in her bikini and wild hair, making out with all the cute boys? Sure, I’m married now and have an adorable five-year-old daughter, but my sweet seventeen-year-old self must be in there somewhere. I simply needed to reach back in, down deep, and pull her out. She could hear the music: a good listener, that girl.
Which is why this year I bought the Meet and Greet tickets to see Steven Tyler in Houston. Buy Now! the shiny yellow rectangle on the Aeroforce One fan website enticed. So I did. One click, and I had two third row tickets to see Aerosmith, and the coveted Meet and Greet package. I would once again see rock star Steven Tyler. And my belly would be his.
But truly it was not that simple. We had scheduled a sojourn east to see my family in Delaware the very same week Aerosmith would breeze through Houston. We had rented the house a year in advance, securing early August, my birthday on the eighth: this all before Aerosmith announced their tour dates. Fuck. The beach house and the tickets cost roughly the same, and here we were now, required to be in two places at the same time, 1,500 miles separating these spaces, one near the ocean, the other at the feet of a rock star.
I did what every self-proclaimed lover of Steven Tyler would do: I lied to the realtor, telling her we had to be in Houston on August 5, non-negotiable, and could we please, please, sorry this happened, rearrange our week, trade weeks with another family anything, please? I would not, could not, be deprived of Steven. My husband did not say much during my angsty groveling with the realtor, but the anguished look in his face spoke for him: You’re ridiculous.
Out on our front porch late one night, my daughter, dog, and I sat in the muggy moonlight. I heard the door unlock behind me and saw my husband’s blanched, worried face through the glass. I thought someone had died.
“How much were those Aerosmith tickets?” He knew I had purchased them, but I did not tell him about the Meet and Greet or about my belly’s need for ink. His Visa bill had, apparently, arrived that day. He could justify spending that kind of cash once (as in, “Mel, this is a once in a lifetime deal,” the argument he made last year), but twice? No. Not conservative Andy who paid cash for new cars, never carried a credit card balance month to month, and probably knew the exact amount in his checking account. Yet I could not go back to the lawn, or anywhere not near sweat and Steven Tyler’s tattoos, his teeth, not after being so close, so close that I could see the ornate S speared by a wicked T stitched onto the front pocket of his white leather pants last summer. My fantasy in Houston. My belly awaited his arrival.
“A lot,” I said.
He shut the door.
He opened the door, came outside, and sat beside me on the step, staring at me. “I’m not mad.”
“I know,” I said.
We are not rich. We have a mortgage, a broken shower, a non-functioning driveway gate, a daughter in private school, but, but now we had those tickets, tickets to a memory. And this time, Steven Tyler would sign my belly.
I do not groom. I loathe primping. I hate showers, baths, detest shaving, plucking, trimming and exfoliating. I am natural, happily so, and I’ve just kind of made it work for me. I bought my wedding gown off the rack at a Houston boutique for a couple hundred dollars, wore my hair loose and damp that day, and kept my feet enshoed for maybe an hour. That day, the day of my wedding, Steven Tyler sang for me. I walked down the sandy aisle on the Hawk Watch in Lewes, Del., to the song “Never Loved a Girl,” Aerosmith throbbing from a boom box. My mother and my brother, wearing a top hat and velvet jacket, flanked me. My father had been dead nine months, sudden cardiac arrest at age 60. He would have been proud, proud of me, my husband to be, my choice of Aerosmith. Andy waited on the spot overlooking the ocean with Mike, the warlock who performed a pagan ceremony, joining our hands with a blue silk rope, making us jump a besom, symbol of a new life, blessing the daughter growing in my stretched belly, baby Echo, named for Bob Dylan’s high school girlfriend, a blonde free spirit not unlike my own girl.
My easy going, hippie self, however, fell into a grooming frenzy the week leading up to the Aerosmith concert. I shopped for the “perfect outfit,” bought makeup and something called Instant Age Rewind Primer Skin Transformer (who knew?), tweezers, and Bed Head’s Superficial Smoothing Liquid promising me silky hair.
The day of the concert finally arrived, and I shimmered with light. I worked out hard that morning (one hundred more crunches for you, Steven!), ate fruit only, lightened my teeth, shaved and exfoliated, plucked my eyebrows for the first time, lathered and slathered and buffed my soon-to-be 45-year-old body. I struggled against myself over what to wear. Finally, I looked back and saw her: the shadow of 17-year-old me. I knew what to do! Cut-offs, white tank top with rhinestone wings on the chest, bright pink bra peekabooing, my belt with LOVE sparkling across the back, and high cork wedges, simple tan choker bearing an abalone flower, fuchsia mouth. I looked like me. I felt like me. Me. Yet I was not fooling myself or my husband or our daughter. I was me, only, well, much better—a fantasy version of me, the fantasy version of me I wanted Steven Tyler to be feeling up in the tent later that evening behind the stage at the Aerosmith concert.
As my husband and I waited with the other Meet and Greet folks in a narrow, stifling alleyway outside and behind the pavilion, I glanced over and over at my flat, tan, clean, shimmering with body glitter tummy. I brought no other object for Steven Tyler to sign. I wondered about my own resolve. Would I do it this year? Andy grabbed me and
pulled me close for a kiss. “You’re beautiful,” he said, squeezing my sides. Running from the parking lot in the amazing heat, I had developed a raging blister on the top of my foot. It ached and bled, and I knew it was deep enough to scar. I also knew that joy kills pain, and I knew that I would be jumping and dancing and throwing my body all around during the concert, like I always did, like I had as a girl, lifting and lowering that needle and that hinged lid, the one assuming the toy snake’s slithery impression.
“Next,” the bald security guard said, opening the curtain for Andy and me. When I saw Steven Tyler, I didn’t tell him I loved him like last year. I laughed. I could not stop giggling. And you know what? I merged with my 17-year-old shadowy self who had hovered around my head all week. I was myself in jean shorts and scattered hair. I grabbed him, hugged him, kissed his smooth face. Steven Tyler is my fantasy, a beautiful and concrete manifestation of song, the oozing sexuality and sweat and liquid sugar that is an Aerosmith song. He glows preternaturally. Wearing a soft black t-shirt and what seemed to be gold silk badass pajama bottoms, his left earlobe crawling with a reptilian looking thing, Steven Tyler, “Mamakin,” “Last Child,” Aerosmith materialized in practical form and righted the world. Badass. Everything about him.
“Sign my belly,” I said, pulling up my shirt. I did not care that Andy looked on along with the photographer, guards, Aeroforce One reps, Joe Perry. No shame. No fear. Then Steven Tyler’s sexy rock star hands were on me, pushing, pushing down my cut-offs, a peek of pink panty appearing, grazed by his black Sharpie. I intook my breath and inhaled the musky scent of his rock star hair. A moment of eerie panic slipped into my throat, and my silly heart beat faster. My C-section scar, ugly and bumpy and white and
ick and totally fucked up lingered centimeters from Steven Tyler’s hot, dazzling fingers. I wanted to haul up my shorts and press him away. My scar. This entry point for my daughter into this world. My world. My life. My child. Mine. All me.
I did not move.
Instead, I said, “Oh my God! Steven Tyler’s touching my belly,” and I opened my gum smacking mouth and laughed. He, tossing a strand of lovely brown hair out of his perfect face, smoothed harder on my belly, brought his mouth closer, closer, to my tummy, and said, “. . .”
I’m not going to tell you what he said. That intimacy belongs to me, fantasy me, and Steven Tyler, fantasy boyfriend, who had by now emblazoned his signature across my willing, taut, inscribed body. I held him and held him until once again I was removed from Steven Tyler. He had a concert to perform after all.
We cannot see music, can’t grab it, hold it, make out with it. We can’t invite it home with us to share our beds. Music juices our ears, massages our minds and does delicious things to our hearts and spirits. I want to live in an Aerosmith song, “Mamakin” or “Last Child” or if I’m feeling feisty, “Walk on Water,” or flirty, “Deuces are Wild.” Steven Tyler embodies song. Being touched by him is as close as I’ll ever get to being one myself.
Taking the stage, Steven Tyler morphs into Rock Star, Leviathanian, enrobed in a sparkling silver duster, hat, fuchsia scarf and sunglasses. His dusky purple pants become more hip, overlaid as they are in black lace. Because it is Houston and because it is August, Steven Tyler strips off the jacket and hat, turns toward Joe Perry, and mouths, Fuck. The heat stuns the man, not the rock star. He does what he came to do, what he always does, what we love him for doing: he transforms into his sacred version of Aerosmith—stone cold foxy Steven Tyler.
During the concert, I heartily sing and scream and dance my bloody feet off. Suddenly, time and air and sound and image slow, and I watch myself watching my fantasy boyfriend. I breathe deeply, clap my hands, and feel an up rush of cool, sensual air surge inside of me, a backward inhalation, from my bellybutton through my heart, my chest, my laughing mouth. Sometimes, before a storm, I can feel it, the thunder, the booming, the lightning, pulsing electricity from my core out to my fingertips, tingling. This sensation, the one I experienced listening with my entire body to Steven Tyler sing, swells with wind, more airy than electric, more breath than prickly verve.
I cannot explain it except this way: I filled with Aerosmith and the positively joyous luck of live music. This uplift of breeze—part my father’s spirit, part my own love of Steven Tyler, part the energy and life and love and collective admiration of thousands for a good song—inflated me. A long saturating peace settled on my shoulders, so close to Steven, Andy, hovered nearby, not too close lest he get whacked by my happy limbs. No magic blanket tonight. Andy, perpetually present Andy, always there, always behind me, beside me, gazing in my direction.
By night’s end, half of the S had worn off of my belly, smudged blackly on my jean shorts. Determined to keep his name alive on me, I did not bathe. For days. Even after spinning class, dog walking, and Houston heat. My husband and I had sex, and I
insisted on wearing a t-shirt so Steven Tyler’s moniker would not rub off on Andy’s belly.
“You smell,” Andy said finally, a week later. I pouted. I showered. Still, I did not scrub. I shielded my belly from water. I cried, and I knew how silly this all was. The ink faded daily, until all was lost. Those two marks on my tummy—C-section scar and Steven Tyler’s light signature—coexisted briefly. And I know I am lucky. I will forever feel the touch of Steven Tyler’s fingers on me. I turn on Aerosmith, hear the lyrics, envision the story rolling off of Steven Tyler’s lips. Song narrows the space between absence and presence. Through it, Steven Tyler is here. But not really.
At home that sweet evening after the concert, Andy checked sports scores, munched Cheerios. He, too, wore Steven Tyler’s ink, for the rock star had signed Andy’s t-shirt, never to be washed again. I watched tired Andy, up since four in the morning. He had to work the day of the night of Aerosmith. I stood in the kitchen, my loose pink and orange and yellow striped PJ bottoms grazing my hip bones, my long blonde hair ponytailed, wearing glasses and my comfy Aerosmith 2004 tour t-shirt, the one I wear to bed every night, the one with Steven Tyler over my solar plexus, the other band members orbiting around him. I was barefoot, blistered and sore, eating cold pasta shells out of Tupperware. Hushed in the quiet of midnight, I lifted my top and looked at my belly, traced my finger over the letters of his name, and closed my eyes. Listened.