Aerosmith vs. Sammy Hagar: One embodies arena-rock greatness, the other taints it

Aerosmith has long been one of the great live rock bands. With a wide-mouthed androgyne on the mike and a deep setlist of decades-spanning tunes to pump listeners full of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll fantasies, these badasses outta Boston epitomize a rock star attitude. So it's easy enough to pardon their crass commercialism, even when they sell out their songs to hawk Dodge trucks or "Dream On" lottery tickets. But touring with Sammy Hagar is an unforgivable offense against all that is holy about the arena rock experience. The clownish Mill Valley–based singer, who brought down the mighty Van Halen, is no rock star. He's the worst kind of poser, unaware of his own pretense, and he and Aerosmith need a wake-up call.

When the self-proclaimed "Red Rocker" first stepped out on his own in the mid-'70s and '80s, he did so with the doofiest of sartorial statements: a red leather bodysuit. The only entertainers to get away with big red fashion were Michael Jackson (given his spiritual ties to the Catholic cardinals) and Delirious–era Eddie Murphy (it's just the right outfit for fat Elvis fart jokes). But a towheaded white boy from Fontana? Nope, dressing like a dick is no way to rock, nor are the Hawaiian shirts Hagar favors today. What is True Rawk apparel? See Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler's pink scarves, polka-dot shirts, leopard-print jackets, and black leather. You get the picture.

The main problem with Hagar is that he doesn't grasp the difference between frat boys and rock gods. Of course, there are similarities. Both are loud and obnoxious, often acting in fundamentally stupid ways for the amusement of others. But Greeky college guys adhere to meticulously prescribed rules of conduct — aka peer pressure — to appear wild when really all they want is to fit in. This is Hagar to the marrow. Case in point: Onstage, he makes a big show of tossing back margaritas served by high-heeled bikini girls whom he slaps on the ass. That's my great-grandfather's kind of crazy.

Hagar: A goofy drunk uncle?
Matt Becker
Hagar: A goofy drunk uncle?

Rock gods, on the other hand, are feral: falling offstage backwards and cracking their heads open (Tyler), getting naked under the spotlights (Green Day, David Yow), choking to death on their own vomit (Jimi Hendrix, John Bonham, Bon Scott). It's idiotic behavior, for sure, but these are the natural consequences of what it means to be a rock star. Hagar has always tried too hard. Credible rockers derive their power not from trying to be, but from being, way over the top.

Finally, Hagar is not sexy. Nothing about the way he looks, moves, talks, or sings conveys sexuality, the guiding principle of rock 'n' fuckin' roll. He acts like a goofy drunk uncle, and his tough-guy tunes — "I Can't Drive 55," "There's Only One Way to Rock" — are like sports cars and monster trucks, overcompensating for a lack of virility. In arena rock, pheromones with a healthy dose of androgyny rule. And Tyler is king. See his fashion choices above. Then there are the old Aerosmith titles like "Sweet Emotion" and "Lord of the Thighs," hot, grinding grooves that appeal across the carnal spectrum.

So why do genre-defining rock stars need a wannabe to warm up the crowd? The only logical conclusion is that Hagar is bringing free tequila (from his Cabo Wabo business) to the gig. Let's send a message via a tailgate party with Patrón during the first half of this double bill. Then maybe Hagar will retire to Marin and Aerosmith will give props to more worthy opening bands.

 
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