Steven Tyler Explains His 'Janie’s Fund,' Horrors of Sexual Abuse, and the Future of Aerosmith

As Aersomith head towards what frontman Steven Tyler has called a farewell tour that will “probably last forever,” the singer has been focusing on further developing his charity Janie’s Fund, which is off to a great start. The organization, which the singer launched with the help of Youth Villages in Nov. 2016, was developed to provide hope and healing to girls that have been sexually abused.

Part of the slogan for the fund is “a big voice for abused girls,” and Tyler has been using his mainstream presence and oversized personality to raise awareness of the fund and ramp up its activities. Last year, Janie’s Fund brought in more than $1.9 million from around 2,700 supporters in 38 countries, and for his efforts Tyler recently received the United Nations 2016 Humanitarian Award. From the time the organization launched, the vocalist was convinced it would quickly catch on.

“When I knew Youth Villages was behind us, I knew we had something big,” Tyler tells Yahoo. “They’ve got nine or 10 facilities all around America that are doing really important work. Last year, after I started the fund, I went to one in Atlanta and I sat in a drum circle of 25 girls that had been abused and were there for help. A lot of them were still in shock, and the drum circle allowed them to bang out their frustrations and express themselves. I felt honored to be a part of that. They’re doing really important work.”

It might seem strange that the fast-talking, brazenly impulsive Tyler is the founder of an organization that treats sexually abused girls and helps them rebuild their confidence and self-esteem. After all, Tyler is an overtly sexual male performer who has never strived to downplay his libido. But consensual sex and sexual abuse are entirely different issues — and as a man who says he loves everything about women and has spent time with many, he has become acutely aware of how traumatizing sexual abuse is to its victims.

“I’ve had lots of friends and partners who have been victims of abuse,” he says. “For anyone that really knows women, who hasn’t? But when you’re a 15-year-old girl and you’re raped by an uncle, you will never be able to have sex again for the rest of your life in the right way. They have ruined you. They have taken that away from you. You have to work so hard at it to make it right again.”

Although Tyler has been aware of the effects of sexual abuse for most of his adult life, the idea to launch a platform to help the victims didn’t strike him until he wrote the 1989 Aerosmith hit “Janie’s Got a Gun,” about a sexually abused girl who shoots her father.

“I always thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great, if I ever did a charity, to name it something like Janie’s House,’” Tyler says. “I met a guy named Ira Rosenberg who said, ‘Instead of calling it “Janie’s Got a Gun,” why don’t you call it “Janie’s Got a Fund?”’ And I thought, ‘Holy s***, could the pieces not come together better?’ It’s like taking a jigsaw puzzle, turning it upside-down and they all fall perfectly into place. So, to me in life, when stuff like that happens, that’s a serendipitous way of God going, ‘Yeah, motherf***er! Maybe you oughta move on this one!’”

In an energized and somewhat elliptical conversation, Tyler talked about the impetus of the song that launched Janie’s Fund, how spontaneity has yielded big rewards and a few regrets, what he was doing one night in the ‘70s in Rolls Royce with Alice Cooper and a loaded .38. – and, yes, the future of Aerosmith.

How did you develop public awareness for your new fund?

I made up 50 My Microphones and stands along with Steven Tyler scarves. We put them in boxes and added handwritten notes, and sent them to Johnny Depp, Elton John, Miley Cyrus, Bono and a bunch of great people, each of whom I knew that the last thing they needed was someone else coming from a charity to hit them up. But you gotta start somewhere. And everyone has been very generous.

You have been active with other people’s organizations over the years.

I’m involved in Elton John’s AIDS charity and Linda Perry’s Art of Elysium, and I take part in a bunch of other charities. Linda is the musical director, and she puts together this big event and invites all her friends. One year she got me to sing “Walk This Way” and “Dream On.” And she invites half of L.A. to show up. And there are all these people there that love to show up that have too many millions of dollars, and like to put it into charity events. And I always thought that if I’m that big-lipped lead singer from Aerosmith, this kind of thing might work for me.

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What are your 2017 plans for Janie’s Fund?

Now that we’ve gotten it jump-started we can put together some larger events for 2017. I can throw one in L.A. and I can invite a bunch of people. And it will build from there. And now that I’m doing something like this, if I feel like f***ing off to Istanbul with [my girlfriend] Aimee or taking off to Maui for a week at the end of the year, I feel like I can do that. It’s kind of like I’m always waiting for the next thing to happen, and that kind of pads my self-worth. I’m achievement-motivated in that way, and overachievers always look at that as a wrongdoing. It’s like, “Wait a minute. Why can’t I be normal?” Well, because we’re not. So be it. I kinda like being this way.

We’re heading into the year-end holiday season. Is that a time for you to kick up your feet and sit back and smell the flowers for a little while?

Well, you’re home with family, and all the kids are coming home and that’s great. But I’ll buy into the fact that I don’t know how to slow down, and I’m addicted to adrenaline. I don’t know how to stay focused, stay relevant and stay on top of my game by taking every other month off. It don’t work like that. I haven’t met anybody it does, and I know those who have slowed down and you can truly see it. The only thing I can say is I respect them for it, if that’s what they want to do. But that ain’t me.

You released your first solo album this year and you’re busy with Aerosmith and Janie’s Fund. Do you have to carefully pick your projects?

I’ve never been one to pick and choose what I’m going to do, short of a rollercoaster. I’ll go on that one or this one. But in my life, events have been things I can’t really pick and choose. What I do is jump in with both feet. And I’ve gotten in trouble many times for doing this, but more often than not I’ve gotten Grammys and UN Awards. But yes, I’ve gotten in trouble in the past, whether it’s a marriage, joining a band — I was in bands before Aersomith — or going to write an album or buying a house. Many times I’ve gone, ‘Wow, what inspired me to do this?’ And I figured out, you know what? I just decided to do it that morning. I picked up the phone and I did it. And a lot of times I’ve gotten great rewards from that.

Name a time when jumping in with both feet was a big mistake?

Oh, how about the first party I went to when there was a naked girl in the back room with a gram of blow? Man, that’s the afternoon I heard our first song on the radio and it was one of those things where I just went, “I’m going there!” It’s like hanging out with the guys in the Animals and smoking red hash. There’s been many situations.

Alice Cooper tells a story about the two of you in a Rolls Royce with a gun, but he says he was too wasted to know what happened.

I think we were shooting at street signs. This was so long ago, and those are the things you did. I had a .38 pistol and I do remember that particular incident. And then a year later, I brought it down to [club owner and Rolling Stones associate] Freddie Sessler’s apartment in New York City, where Keith Richards was sleeping. It was his birthday and I gave it to him as a birthday present. There are a lot of great moments in life. It depends on how you look at them. Remember the other side of that coin. For every one of those experiences that you think wasn’t a good thing, it got you to where you are now.

When you were younger, you were a stereotypical hedonistic rock star, much of which has been exhaustively documented in the media. Was there a point in your life when you had an about-face, and decided to give back and be charitable?

When I wrote “Janie’s Got Gun” the first thing I came up with was the line “Janie Got a Gun” over this thing I had picked out on the piano. A month went by, and I was trying to get a handle on it to start some lyrics. The thinking at the time was, “Who’s Janie? Why does she have a gun? Why would she have a gun? What would she do with it?” You think of all those things when you come up with an idea like “the dude looks like a lady,” or “why do you wanna walk this way? Or “tell me what it takes to let you go,” or “why you wanna dream on?” Those are the thought processes.

How did you decide Janie was an abused girl?

I went to a month-long codependency program because I couldn’t figure out why the band was always fighting. While I was there I found out that women are verbally, sexually and emotionally abused to damn near the tune of 50 percent. They say one out of five, but I think it’s more like two or three out of five. It’s a phenomenal number. There were 400 people in the place I was at, and all the women there had been abused. So I just thought, “Okay, Janie was abused and that’s why Janie’s got a gun.”

David Fincher directed the video for the song, which was so impactful and earned regular rotation at MTV.

Man, I was dead against doing a video. I hated video because it told people what to think every time they heard the song instead of letting the music do the talking. I wanted “Dream On” to mean whatever it means to each individual. It’s like doing a guided imagery. You can sit up there and talk about a dog and a cat and a house and a lawn, but you don’t have to be specific because eight out of 10 people in the room had a cat, had a dog, had a house, had a lawn. So I never liked doing videos and putting that image into someone’s mind. But when I sat with David Fincher we started talking about the storyline, and it was different somehow, and the video just wrote itself. You know that one shot where the father looks down the hallway and sees the wife seeing him going into the room? That’s how sexual abuse usually is. Somebody in the family knows the elephant exists in the living room, and that’s a double whammy to the child that’s being abused. Not only are they getting physically touched, but then there’s the emotional thing where it’s like, “What, mom knows?!” So, the next thing you know they’re the hell out of there, smoking crack. Gone. It’s very terrible.

Do you think it’s fate that 25 years after this song became a hit, you were inspired to start this fund?

Yeah, I mean… Look, being in a band is one thing and it takes its toll. But I needed a break. I went and got sober seven years ago – again — because I had a lot of operations and that’s just what happened. I just decided to take a risk again, or as they say, “take a chance at a high school dance with a missy who was ready to play.” I took a chance and joined American Idol. And what did that do? Well, it made it so I can’t ever call for room service because people go, “Hey, wait a minute. I recognize that voice.” It gives you a second lease on life, sort of. So with that power and that strength, why not do something good with it instead of staying inside and going, “Oh, I can’t go out. I can’t go anywhere?” Bulls***! Instead of resting on my laurels, I decided to do something.

Was there a story you read, someone you talked to or something you heard that triggered the need to create a place for abused girls?

I want to say no. Because once I wrote the lyrics to the song, it started right there. It’s like that adage: you know when you’re born, but then when you know why you’re born it’s a whole ‘nother story. When you write the song it’s one thing. But then when you see the video. I mean, there’s that scene in the end where the police came and they’re taking her away and there’s a shot where she’s on the floor and there’s a gun and it’s smoking and she’s completely f***ed up. What do you want there? Do you want a cold stare? No. Do you want the father next to her bleeding? No. We showed her drawing a line and a circle around herself, which says “everyone keep out,” and it pulled back on a stare. And it showed just how broken someone can be from that. So it’s always been in me and it was always in my mind to do something, I just never moved on it before.

Did becoming a father give you a deeper or different perspective on child abuse?

Not for my kids, because it wouldn’t happen here! But once you write “Janie’s Got a Gun” and once you have kids, it definitely becomes a more precious deal. I’ve got three girls and a son. It’s unspeakable now. It’s unthinkable. Once you have kids yourself, so many things are different. You can have a town of 100 people and only 12 of them have a mother that died of breast cancer. The rest of them know all about it, but they certainly don’t feel the same as those 12 people. So for those of us that have kids, it certainly brings it to the forefront.

Tragically, many great musicians died in 2016, including David Bowie, Prince, Glenn Frey, Keith Emerson, Greg Lake and Leonard Cohen. Does seeing celebrities lose their lives motivate you to stay busy or strive to achieve more?

Not really. In moments like that, I’m just so grateful to have my original band. I’ve never quite thought of it that way – achieving more – I’ve always been way on top of that. When I was nine, I chiseled my initials into this giant 12 X 20-foot boulder in the woods of Sunapee, New Hampshire because I thought when the spacemen come down in their UFOs they’ll see my name and they’ll know who I am. At nine years old that was special. But then I thought, if I’m in a band and I can do a record, then I’ll live forever in a song. And I was so right! I’ve achieved that and so much more.

And God knows I’ve got four beautiful kids and the world loves me, and I’m very happy, and the world is singing the songs that Joe [Perry] and I wrote. What a great gift. Once I knew that, I told Aimee and my kids, “I sing so hard and I’m so hard on myself onstage, most people die at 50 from aneurysms with half the stress levels that I have.” So if that happens then that’s the way it’s supposed to be. I never look at these things as signs of my own mortality. All it makes me be is grateful that my band is still together and that we can still tour. So let’s do another tour. We’re already booked for all next summer.

You’ve said this will be the final tour. How long will it go on?

Joe and I have always had this saying: We want to be the last band standing. We’ve always felt that, only because we get so much – not so much ego out of “check out what I wrote,” but ego out of “check out my f***in’ band!” We used to open up for bands like The Kinks and we always wanted to blow the headliner off the stage. That’s why we were there. That’s what you did in clubs. We’ve always wanted to do that. And I love nothing more than being onstage with Joe Perry looking out and doing [Johnny Burnett and the Rock ‘n’ Roll Trio’s version of Tiny Bradshaw’s ] “Train Kept a Rollin’.” C’mon. At 60 years old, there’s nothing better than that.

 

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