#128 & 129 – What It Takes by Aerosmith
A few months after moving to Los Angeles, I convinced one of my best friends from New York City to join me. We referred to each other as “brothers” and since I’d never had one, this served the purpose. For over thirteen years in Manhattan, we had joined forces in a couple rock bands, hung out and partied in every neighborhood, celebrated with new girlfriends, and consoled each other through every inevitable girlfriend breakup. We also laughed so hard and so often it’s surprising we didn’t permanently injure ourselves mentally and physically.
On second thought, I’ll go ahead and assume we did suffer some damage. But it was worth it because I’m still laughing.
Once I hit Hollywood, my rocker days were behind me. I had scored behind the scenes in the comedy biz in NYC and was attempting to work my way into that zone on the west coast. On the other hand, my brother-in-arms was looking to recharge the rock fire. When I picked him up at LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) he looked as he always did – like a clone of Steven Tyler. He had a suitcase and a guitar and set out looking for a band and an amp to plug into.
After hosting a few parties in a condo sublet for our new LA friends that probably still has the Silverlake neighborhood wondering what the heck hit them, we crashed in a large apartment located in North Hollywood. As past city dwellers, we were shocked at the lack of bars and clubs within walking distance, but it didn’t matter. If we weren’t hosting a party where the crowds came to us, we had cars available to take us to where the action was happening.
But it wasn’t as easy as it sounds…
Being from Ohio, it was a “given” that at the age of sixteen, the most valued possession was a driver’s license. What I didn’t realize until I moved to Manhattan was that most city and suburb natives weren’t concerned in the least about that piece of plastic or the skills needed to get one. Public transportation was the fastest, cheapest, and most convenient way to get anywhere you wanted to go, whether it was Uptown, Downtown, Midtown, or a borough. If it wasn’t within walking distance, subway, taxi, or bus could always get you there.
As an adopted New Yorker, I soon shared a same outlook. Why in the world would I ever want to travel anywhere else? Everything we needed and everywhere we wanted to go was in New York City and a driver’s license was not a requirement to get there.
That’s why I didn’t drive – unless I was in Ohio visiting my family – for thirteen years. Besides, keeping a car in Manhattan was like paying rent on another apartment. The only thing fast about that would be the rate you burned through your bank account.
So, before my native New Yorker “brother” who went by the rock star name Tim could make his mark in Los Angeles, he had to pass a driver’s test. If I were a betting man, I would have given better odds he would be named lead singer of Aerosmith.
One of the “smart” things I did as a NYC resident was to keep my Ohio driver’s license current. That didn’t mean I could navigate Los Angeles traffic with any skill, but at least I was legal. But since we were both on the plus side of thirty-years old (me a little more plus) I didn’t know how well my potential rocker pal and native New Yorker would handle passing Driver’s Education and the driver’s test – especially since (as far as I knew) he had never even sat behind the steering wheel of a car.
To both our surprise, he passed.
After that my only questions were about the mental capacity, sobriety, and resistance to fear of death the testing person at the DMV possessed to have passed him. I also thought about contacting Steven Tyler to check out the odds of the Aerosmith singer needing an understudy.
Since I had scored a lemon of a car (detailed in another Classic Rocker rambling) soon after my arrival in Hollywood, the next quest was to help find a set of wheels for my adopted brother. He had started a day job in the music biz that gave him some financial stability, but his credit rating wasn’t enough to do the trick. And since he was estranged from his “real” family at the time, this adopted family member was coerced into being a co-signer on a car loan.
I used the word “coerced” only because it sounds cool.
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In reality, I was duped by a used car dealer to sign on the loan’s dotted line. Now, please don’t question my mental capacity, sobriety, or fear of financial ruin in this matter and allow me to explain. My only previous car ownership came during college when I had paid cash for a Vega station wagon (now you’ll understand the thirty-plus age reference above). That was the only way I knew how to go through life since I had never borrowed money before.
My California car purchase had been the same cash deal. Taking out a loan was new territory, but the car dealer (another word for crook) assured us both that it was just a formality. My name could be taken off the loan after six months as long as my pal kept his steady job and monthly payments.
Yeah, I know…
This scam artist saw these two streetwise New Yorkers walk in with the word “sucker” flashing in neon lights on our foreheads. It was a lesson most teenage car owners in the Midwest were being taught while I was jumping on a NYC subway and laughing about how I would save a fortune not paying for gas, parking, or insurance.
Before I get too carried away with this story, it might be a good stress-relief break to talk about this song on The Classic Rocker Countdown. What It Takes is from the album Pump by Aerosmith and the “real” Steven Tyler. It came out in 1989, which was only a couple years before this adventure, and was still in regular play rotation in both of our car’s cassette tape decks. The rich kids might have had CD players by the early 1990s, but since we purchased our wheels from the used car markets, cassette decks were still considered our “state of the art” technology.
The song joined this list on April 11 and October 4. Since I listen to it more on my digital playlist than I did in my lemon of a car in Los Angeles, it goes down as a recent memory. I’d heard it within a day or two of both mornings before waking up with the real Steven Tyler’s voice screaming through my waking mind.
Riding as a passenger with a thirty-something, newly licensed native New Yorker behind the wheel on any highway or street in Los Angeles can easily become a white-knuckle thrill ride. The “California roll” was common through stop signs, U-turns were spur-of-the-moment shortcuts, and pedestrians brave enough to use crosswalks were questioned about their mental and athletic abilities since he had no intention of slowing down, let alone stopping. He also saw no reason to stop at traffic lights if there happened to be a gas station on the corner. He’d just cut through, drive past the pumps, and exit in the direction he was going to turn anyway.
“This isn’t just a car,” he told me when I tried to explain there were traffic laws about these things. “This is a three-thousand-pound weapon.” Since I have no idea how much a used compact car weighed on November 21, 1991, you can trust that’s an exact quote.
You can also trust that was the exact date. It was when two events occurred and another (more important) a little more than a week later.
On November 21st I was a white-knuckle passenger while we were running errands, probably for groceries to stock our North Hollywood apartment, when Tim realized we were running late for that evening’s new episode of The Simpsons. The television show was never on the “must see” list for either of us, but his favorite rock band was going to appear as cartoon characters, and he wasn’t about to miss it.
The band? You guessed it… Aerosmith.
After a few California Rolls and a quick shortcut through a corner gas station to beat a red light, his maneuvering of his three-thousand-pound weapon hit a roadblock. Actually, it couldn’t legally be called a roadblock since he slammed into the rear of a car, driven by someone that had made the bad decision to legally stop at a red light with us riding on his tail.
It happened so fast that we were deprived of the moment in comedy movies where the heroes or antagonists launch their car off a bridge (I’m thinking of The Blues Brothers) with their mouths hanging open, looking at each other and screaming. That scene usually leaves audiences – like us – in hysterics.
But in our case, it was… Bam!
Followed by each of us looking at the other and going, “What the…?!” Our experience wasn’t what a director would call for in a Hollywood comedy production.
Fortunately, it was only a fender-bender since he had no time to gain any true collision speed following the gas station shortcut. I don’t remember the driver of the other car being too upset, probably because he was a native of Los Angeles and these events were expected on a daily basis. They traded insurance information and Tim’s car limped us home in time to catch Steven and the band rock out on The Simpsons.
The car was never repaired since it wouldn’t have improved his driving anyway.
About eight months later the rock music scene hadn’t panned out and the music biz job ended abruptly, for whatever reason I’ll never know. After a month of no income, two big guys knocked on our apartment door with repo papers and drove off with Tim’s car. A week or so later I dropped him off at the LA train station with a one-way ticket back to New York City, this time funded by his now un-estranged family, and I set about finding place of my own closer to where I was working.
Fortunately for me, the train ticket also included funds to pay off his car loan and I was able to mentally erase the word “sucker” from my forehead. But that doesn’t remove the word “crook” from a certain used car dealer in Los Angeles.
And in case you’ve forgotten, I mentioned another event happening a week (and a day) after our entry into the Hollywood demolition derby. The Friday evening after Thanksgiving I met with Budd Friedman, the owner of the Hollywood Improv comedy club, for a job as his assistant and talent coordinator. There was also another “interviewer” that sat at our table, who I hadn’t expected – Jay Leno. The results of that meeting gave my life a U-turn worthy of a Hollywood movie, but that’s another story…
- And here’s a different “another story”: What It Takes is the only song on this list to EVER be the first song I heard on the radio after waking up with it running through my mind. Before I even had a chance to make my morning coffee, I turned on the radio and BAM – there it was coming out of the speakers. Does that qualify me as a Nostradamus of Classic Rock? On second thought, maybe I should have purchased a lottery ticket that day…
To watch Aerosmith on The Simpsons go to YouTube.
For the official What It Takes video by Aerosmith, visit this YouTube link.
Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker – and author of The Beatles In Cleveland and The Beatles At Shea Stadium. For details and more books by Dave, visit his Amazon.com AuthorPage. Thanks for reading – and keep rockin’!!