TOKYO – As the gates at the Tokyo Dome (search) were just opening and thousands of fans beginning to stream in for the night's sold-out show, Aerosmith (search) lead singer Steven Tyler (search) offered a simple explanation of what it feels like to be rock 'n' roll icon:
"First of all, you walk out in front of 42,000 people," Tyler said as he and guitarist Joe Perry (search) waited backstage, the smell of incense wafting through the air and the sound of distant drums reverberating through the walls. "It's like taking a wire, stripping it, wrapping it around your neck, and plugging it into the wall.
"Either your head pops, or you learn to love it."
Tyler's head has survived. And Aerosmith has proven to be one of the most successful -- and long-lived -- bands in the history of the business. But the business, they say, is in need of a major makeover.
This spring, Aerosmith released their 14th studio album, "Honkin' on Bobo," and embarked on a 40-city North American tour, which was one of the year's top grossers. They've headlined the Super Bowl pregame show. Tyler now has an honorary doctorate in music from Berklee College of Music; Perry has his own hot sauce.
"Every dream we ever had came true, and then some," Tyler said. "With our children, with a roller coaster at Disney World, with Super Bowls, with Grammys. To come to Japan and have the fans love us and embrace us like they do, it's just insane."
Insane isn't necessarily bad.
Always a popular draw in Japan, the band's seven-city tour filled some of the country's biggest stadiums with audiences that provide a diverse -- though slightly baby-boomer heavy -- sampling of Japanese demographics. The older fans, in their 40s or early 50s, waited to hear "Walk This Way," (search) circa 1975. The high school kids yelled for "Jaded," the hit from 2001.
For Tyler, the philosophy of a hit is pretty straightforward.
"Three minutes of perfection, that's what a song is," he said. "It's something that makes you feel good when you put it on, end of story."
Getting a handle on what makes people feel good is a knack Tyler said he has never had much trouble cultivating. With album sales in excess of 100 million, it's hard to argue otherwise.
"You just ride it like a wave, and you pay attention to what's happening," he said. "We knew very well what people were dancing to around the tribal fires early on."
Tyler admitted, however, that the creative inspiration didn't always flow naturally.
"We were big on drugs, because we loved it, we loved the exhilaration," he said. "We cut through the '80s on drugs."
They've since toned that down. Tyler, now 58, for a time was on a salmon diet. And guitarist Perry seeks his offstage thrills on a water ski at 60 miles per hour.
They've also grown rich and famous enough to take a step back from the industry -- and they don't necessarily like what they see.
"The business has changed 100 percent since we got started," said Perry. "It's a totally different thing. It's gotten so huge and overblown. Now it's melting in front of our eyes like a glacier in the tropics. It's totally collapsing."
Perry said the increasing focus on sales and marketing has shut out many talented young bands who can't get signed, and squelched creativity in favor of the familiar.
"It's always been the case that the record company says, 'That's not a single,' but it somehow slips through the cracks and becomes the next big thing," he said. "But now, the industry has gotten so big and there's so much money to be made and there's so many bands, it's harder to make a mark."
Perry believes that the era of the Super Band -- like Aerosmith, which was inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame three years ago -- may also be over.
"I don't know if you'll ever get another world-changing phenomenon like the Beatles," he said. "But there's music being made today that will stand the test of time. People will play it in 10 years, 20 years, 30 years and it will end up on greatest hits compilations."
"There's a huge wave right now of everybody following the trend, which makes everything sound the same," he said.
But Aerosmith is still willing to explore.
"We could tour for the rest of our lives without putting out another studio album," he said, but "it's great playing new things off of a new album. That's what we're addicted to."