Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Aerosmith - Pump - 1989

When I was back in Nebraska over Christmas, I spent a bit of time hanging out with my oldest friend Topher, and we found ourselves talking about music we'd been listening to a lot when we were younger. Right around the time he and I became friends, back in 1989 (back in 7th grade, for those of you who are curious), he was heavily into one album in particular - Aerosmith's "Pump."

I was just starting to branch out into music past the stuff that my folks listened to - mostly older stuff like The Kingston Trio - and was struggling to find music that I liked that was mine. A lot of kids in school were listening to stuff like New Kids On The Block or Milli Vanilli, and I found that kind of stuff didn't appeal to me at all. There were also a bunch of people listening to Skid Row and Motley Crue, neither of which struck a chord in me at the time. (I've actually come to dig some of that weird sleazy hair metal as I've gotten older, but only in small doses.) My dad liked listening to a lot of musicals, and my mother was a die-hard Michael Bolton fan. Clearly, I needed to find something that was outside of the sphere of influence I had.

My first year of junior high, my homeroom had a number of people in it who kept mostly to themselves, but there was one kid who was always doodling on pieces of paper before class started. I remember I walked over to him and said I thought his drawings looked cool. He told me the one he was working on was crap, and he was embarrassed I saw it. So I asked him to show me some of his cooler stuff. And that was how I met Topher.

Topher's family was about as different from mine as I could imagine. He was the oldest of three kids; my baby brother had literally come along a year ago, when I was 11, with no siblings in between. His folks listened to Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin; I'm not sure my dad knew who Led Zeppelin were. His family lived in North Omaha; my family lived in Central Omaha. (I know, many people are thinking - it's Omaha... how different can the regions be? Well, how different are Queens and Manhattan - they're both New York City, right? Yeah, Omaha regions have that kind of disparity too...) Hell, when Topher's mom came to pick him up from our house after his first sleepover, I thought she was his sister. But we were damn near the same age (he's eight days older than I am) and we got along like a gang of thieves.

He ended up being my roommate for much of college, although things soured when I moved out to California, for the more predictable of reasons. (Answer: A girl.) Despite the fact that Topher and I went through some rough patches, we made amends three or four years back, and I've made it a point to hang out with him every time I've been back in Omaha since. The last time I saw him, I hated to leave. The rat bastard really is probably one of my best friends in the world.

So, anyway, when we were just starting to become friends, I remember we were walking to his house after school one day, and I was bitching about all the horrible music that people were listening to, and he started telling me about Aerosmith's "Pump." I had vague recollections of hearing Aerosmith on a classic rock station, and asked him if it was the same band. It was, and when we got to his house, he put on his tape of "Pump" and we listened to the whole thing, start to finish.

"Pump" was one of Aerosmith's biggest hits, carried to mainstream success on the backs of two singles - "Love In An Elevator" and "Janie's Got A Gun." For those of you who are only familiar with Aerosmith from "I Don't Wanna Miss A Thing," man, are you in for a surprise when you listen to their earlier stuff. Aerosmith was a dirty, sleazy rock band in the 1970s that had sort of fallen victim to its own excess, but the original lineup reunited in 1985 for the album "Done With Mirrors." That album didn't have much success, but then Run-D.M.C. covered "Walk This Way" and suddenly people were interested again, so the next album, "Permanent Vacation," brought them back into vogue. By the time "Pump" hit, the band was riding the high wave again.

"Love In An Elevator" was a smash hit. It had the perfect blend of gritty blues rock that the band was known for blended with just the right amount of pop-metal to get kids hooked. And just when it seemed like that song's time was passing, "Janie's Got A Gun" was released as the second single.

The song caught on, in no small part due to the gritty video that matched the dark and foreboding tone of the song. (Fun fact! The video was directed by a guy who's gone on to some renown since he turned his attention to feature films. David Fincher, who brought you Seven, The Social Network and the US version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, among others.)

By 1990, Aerosmith were everywhere. They were on Saturday Night Live (and on Wayne's World!) and MTV's Unplugged. Then in late 1991, they played MTV's 10th Anniversary, with perhaps one of the most epic of epics, their 1972 song "Dream On" done with an orchestra backing them, and Michael Kamen was leading that orchestra. (Kamen died WAY too early...) There's nothing more I can say to top this performance, but you should track down "Pump," and probably at least a Greatest Hits or two...

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