David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 208: Aerosmith (Janie's Got A Gun)

December 12, 2022

One of my favorite people ever is Dr. Tom Brown.  Tom served as my boss when I was Vice President of Academic Services at Davenport University, my predecessor as Provost at Davenport, and even my successor, when he took on the interim role after I left. Tom made me very much the Provost I am today, but the main reason I appreciated him is that he had an appreciation for popular culture, especially music, that mirrored mine. He exposed me to a lot of music I had never explored, most notably, The New Pornographers and My Morning Jacket.

So, after I wrote It's All Academic, he and I met for lunch where he tickled me with praise for parts of my novel. Among other things, I knew our shared sense of humor meant he understood the satire that others completely missed. At that lunch he said one thing, though, that stuck with me, especially because I couldn't process it quickly enough to respond.

In short (and in paraphrase), he said he loved all the music references in the book, except one. He couldn't remember what it was, but he said he was surprised I referenced the artist because it didn't seem like something we might like. Since I didn't know the specifics to what he meant, I couldn't offer a rebuttal.

Later, I realized it must have been Aerosmith. In the chapter where Boan leadership play a "friendly" game of basketball, President Berrian chooses the music for background noise. He picks Aerosmith, particularly the O, Yeah! double disc greatest hits.

Part of my intentions with capturing Provost Carter's first few months of his ill-fated position at Boan was to show how he tried to connect with colleagues through common interests. With Dean Jennifer Riley, movies provide a common interest, especially Young Frankenstein. With faculty member Henrietta Van Wyck, both movies and music connect them (they joke about "Cabinet" meetings with allusions to Blue Velvet and Neil Young). With Kiana King, a mutual love of British mystery writer Peter Robinson forms the link.

Carter will never find a link with President Berrian. In the realm of music, we most see how different the Provost and his new boss are.  Carter listens to Cocteau Twins and Sigur Ros, while Berrian chooses Aerosmith. Not only is the difference generational, it is genre-ational (yes, I really did write that). 

When Berrian demands his colleagues (his underlings) listen to O, Yeah! during their basketball games, he forces especially on Carter an uncomfortable, frankly sexist, all-that-is-misogynistic-about-rock-and-roll soundtrack that provides a greater context to men making decisions about staffing in female employees' areas who aren't there to speak for themselves. After all, subtlety flies out the gymnasium doors when Steven Tyler sings "rippin' up a rag doll, like throwing around an old toy" right after Carter questions whether his female counterpart should have some say in the impromptu personnel decision being made during a stoppage in the game. When the trio of games ends during "Love In An Elevator," more than just Carter is sick and tired of the music.

That basketball game should have been Carter's wake-up call. A week into his tenure and Carter knows all he needs to know about working with President Bob Berrian.

So, I had a method to my madness, Tom. I just wish I had been a quick enough thinker to explain it to you over that burger and fries.

Having said that (aren't I to be talking about "Janie's Got A Gun"?), I don't particularly dislike Aerosmith. I doubt Tom did either, as we both shared the perspective that no one, nothing, was ever really black or white. With many catchy tunes, "Janie's Got A Gun" has always been my favorite. I purposefully don't reference "Janie's Got A Gun" during the basketball game, although I did reference the song before it ("Rag Doll") and the one after it ("Love In An Elevator') off of O, Yeah! The song seems rather ill-fit on this greatest hits, especially falling between two more emblematic Aerosmith hits symbolizing Carter's own mis-fit nature between Bob Berrien and Howard Shue.

The song was probably also an outlier on Pump, the multi-selling album on which it first appeared (I have never owned the album and don't know for sure). Our female protagonist kills her abuser a decade before Wanda and Mary Ann kill Earl in famously Top 20 fashion. Tyler even eventually opened a "Janie's House" to help abused girls as well as a corresponding "Janie's Fund." It's a far cry from a singer and a band that reveled in cheap innuendo like being "back in the saddle" or "whipping out a big ten inch" record for the ladies.

As with all Aerosmith songs at that time, the production is over the top crisp. The percussion and bass at the foundation of the song is flawless, perhaps evidence of how co-writing with bassist Tom Hamilton led to Steven Tyler's best collaboration.  With sounds coming from all corners of the speakers, the song is never boring. Surrounding all that is Tyler's tale of a young girl taking revenge on her abusive/predatory father. (I try to eliminate the creepiness of knowing that Tyler, in referencing writing the song, admits being attracted to his daughter1.)

Maybe there is something to Tyler's complicated relationship with the daughter who didn't know he was her father until she was 8 years old. "Jaded" is also easily among my favorite Aerosmith songs, and certainly that seems written to Liv. Fatherhood may have made Steven Tyler a little more interesting if nothing else.

So, this is my long explanation to you, Tom. Unfortunately, you passed away during the pandemic so not only did I not get to provide this explanation in person, I haven't even learned if there was ever a memorial service where I might more globally thank you for your role in my life. I hope Heaven has internet, Tom. And if I have been wrong this whole time, that it wasn't Aerosmith's presence in the book that shocked you, it better not have been The Smiths. That conversation will go nowhere fast.

1Aerosmith. "Janie's Got A Gun." Songfacts. https://www.songfacts.com/facts/aerosmith/janies-got-a-gun. Retrieved 12.7.22.

Aerosmith. "Janie's Got A Gun." Pump. Geffen, 1989. Link here.

Day 207: The Tubes "She's A Beauty"

Day 209: The Stooges "I Wanna Be Your Dog"

See complete list here.