This song is about a girl who shoots her father because he is sexually abusing her. Steven Tyler, who wrote the lyric, explained in the Walk This Way autobiography: "That song is about a girl getting raped and pillaged by her father. It's about incest, something that happens to a lot of kids who don't even find out about it until they find themselves trying to work through some major f--king neuroses.
Steven Tyler started writing the song in his basement, which was when he came up with the line "Janie's got a gun." He then sat on it for months, "waiting for the oracle door to open." Tyler told Rolling Stone it only became a song about child abuse after, "I looked over at a Time magazine and saw this article on 48 hours, minute by minute, of handgun deaths in the United States." He continued: "Then I got off on the child-abuse angle. I'd heard this woman speaking about how many children are attacked by their mothers and fathers. It was f---ing scary. I felt, man, I gotta sing about this. And that was it. That was my toe in the door."
The line, "He jacked a little, bitty baby" was written as "He raped a little, bitty baby," but Steven Tyler changed it at the request of John Kalodner, an executive at Aerosmith's record company who looked out for their commercial interests - he thought radio stations wouldn't play the song if it was too graphic. According to Tyler, Kalodner also asked him to change the line "put a bullet in his brain" to "stand out in the pouring rain," but he refused.
Steven Tyler admitted to Rolling Stone that he was attracted to his daughter, Liv. Said Tyler, "How can a father not be attracted to his daughter, especially when she's a cross between the girl he married and himself?" He continued: "All a man has to do is be totally honest with himself and he can see it. However, the real man knows that's just a place to never go. Instead he celebrates it by telling his daughter how beautiful she is and what a precious child of God she is. There's ways to love it without making love to it - I wrote 'Janie's Got A Gun' about fathers who don't know the difference."
The video depicted a girl killing her father, and the subsequent crime scene. One of the most cinematic videos ever to hit MTV, it was directed by David Fincher, who would later direct the movies Se7en, Alien III and Panic Room. Fincher's talent for building tension in a scene is evident in the clip, and many of the lighting and composition techniques would later show up in his feature films. The video starred Kristin Dattilo as Janie, and Lesley Ann Warren as her mother.
Steven Tyler wrote this song with Aerosmith bass player Tom Hamilton. Tyler typically writes with guitarist Joe Perry
, but Hamilton has made significant songwriting contributions. Some of his other Aerosmith co-writes include "Sweet Emotion
" and "Kings And Queens."
Aerosmith's first two decades produced millions in album sales but zero Grammy Awards. The first time they were honored was in 1991, when this song won the Grammy for Best Rock Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal. The voters in this category quickly acclimated to Aerosmith and gave them the award three more times in the '90s, for "Livin' On The Edge
" and "Pink
The song peaked on the US charts in February 1990, one week before the band performed it on Saturday Night Live. On the show, Aerosmith appeared in a famous Wayne's World skit where Steven Tyler and Tom Hamilton engage in a scholarly debate (Tyler: "it seems that Socialism is in repose..." Hamilton: "There's never been a blueprint for the dictatorship of the Proletariats..."), and Tom Hanks plays their roadie. The band would later appear in the movie Wayne's World 2.
The title of this song is similar to the 1939 anti-war novel Johnny Got His Gun
, which the Metallica song "One
" is about.