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TELEVISION REVIEW

Bio: same old song and dance

Steven Tyler is oddly absent from the interviews in this Aerosmith biography. Steven Tyler is oddly absent from the interviews in this Aerosmith biography. (Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe/File 2008)
By Joan Anderman
Globe Staff / June 4, 2009
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Aerosmith is a case study in rock 'n' roll archetypes: Fumbling Upstarts, Dysfunctional Family, Swaggering Superstars, Drugged-Up Trainwrecks. In other words, the band is a walking rockumentary. Lord knows it's been done, in gloriously salacious detail by VH1's "Behind the Music" and elsewhere, and tonight the Biography Channel takes another whack at chronicling the rise and fall and unlikely resurrection of Boston's Bad Boys.

At this point anyone who's remotely interested in the subject knows the story, but that's the amazing thing about music fans: We eat this stuff up. And truly, Aerosmith's is a pretty darn epic tale. The band created a blueprint for hard rock and power ballads in the '70s, closed down the decade with a dramatic implosion featuring dueling wives and flying cups of milk, and half a decade later staged what is arguably the biggest comeback in rock history.

Biography aims to split the difference between a juicy exposé and a judicious accounting more suited to the channel's demographic, whose core is adults 25-54. In turn the hourlong documentary feels a bit like a bait-and-switch: a tepid narrative concerning a subject that is by definition, in both sound and character, explosive.

Guitarists Joe Perry and Brad Whitford are the only band members interviewed, and frontman Steven Tyler's absence is a gaping hole. That leaves an exhaustive but predictable stable of talking heads to weigh in: Rolling Stone's Anthony DeCurtis and David Wild, Blender scribe Tyler Gray, former Spin editor Alan Light and former Boston Globe music critic Steve Morse, Aerosmith biographer Stephen Davis, DJ/VJ Matt Pinfield, rock photographer Ron Pownall, etc. Visually the film relies mainly on stills, some shown over and over again, with hardly any concert footage. Aside from presenting Perry's first wife, Elissa, as Aerosmith's own Yoko Ono, the members' personal lives are left unexplored.

The one real surprise is extensive interview footage with former manager Tim Collins, who orchestrated the band's mid-'80s reunion, drug rehabilitation, and return to the top of the charts. Since being fired in 1996, Collins has remained largely mum, declining to participate in VH1's 2002 documentary, while the group loudly and proudly prolonged the feud.

Here Collins offers a unique glimpse into the healing of the Tyler-Perry rift and the remaking of Aerosmith - from the so-called Toxic Twins' fragile reunion to 10-hour interventions - but never addresses his convoluted relationship with the band.

The saga of Aerosmith is undeniably compelling, and kudos to the filmmakers for acknowledging the paradoxical bond between Tyler and Perry, and giving credence to the redemptive as well as the seamy side of their tale. But the story line is just too familiar to be retold in stock rock-doc fashion with piecemeal participation from whichever players the filmmakers were able to lasso.

In the end the only real question is: What did we learn? The answer is not much.

Joan Anderman can be reached at anderman@globe.com.

AEROSMITH On: Biography Channel

Time: Tonight, 10-11

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