For a moment, Steven Tyler almost runs out of words. He's standing too close to the edge of a Laurel Canyon cliff, exulting in the panorama of Los Angeles at his feet, the city's sprawl giving way to white-capped mountains on the horizon. Off to his left, past green hills, a gang of clouds has singled out the HOLLYWOOD sign for a blast of rain. A sharp wind ruffles Tyler's hair as he takes it all in. A deep breath of cool air, then he resumes the monologue that's been running since he learned to speak – or, as he puts it, since he was "vaccinated with a phonograph needle." "It's all magical," Tyler says in his excited rasp, pointing out the storm. "Hollywood is crying, because the Oscars are happening tomorrow night – it's sad to see the year go, but it's also crying tears of joy, because it's all going to start all over again."
Tyler means this stuff, all of it, and he can make you buy into it too. He's in a manic, mystical state of awe and gratitude these days, practically vibrating with sweet emotion – hence the unflagging positivity he exudes in his new gig as an American Idol judge. "I'm not sure if I'm going to be a sorcerer at the age of 80 and be able to throw fire," he says, pacing the hilltop, "but, man, walking around all day, the only times I looked at the clock, it was 11:11, 2:22, 3:33 – not the myriad of 60 other minutes. It's like you go to gamble and every time you just pull an arm as you're walking by, it's aces, aces, aces. Something's going on with that – too many magic moments. Maybe life is random, but I doubt it."
He shakes his head. "I'm really lucky right now," he says. "I'm on top of the world. I'm Hollywood's little fuckin' sweetheart, basically." A shadow passes overhead; we hear a powerful squawk. "That's a hawk," Tyler says softly, watching it circle the pastel sky. "That's a full-on fucking hawk." More magic.
Four months ago, Aerosmith's front-man had to move from Boston to Los Angeles for his life-changing Idol gig. So he rented a house in this storied Hollywood Hills neighborhood, with its beguiling blend of natural beauty – an echo of the New Hampshire woods where he spent his childhood summers, climbing trees and skinning raccoons – and rock & roll history. "That's where the Byrds put 'Mr. Tambourine Man' together," Tyler says on our way up, gesturing to a random house. Really? He shrugs. "Maybe!"