It’s been almost 30 years since Steven Tyler first dreamed up the title lyric to the 1989 Aerosmith hit “Janie’s Got a Gun,” a song about a girl who shoots her father in a desperate effort to end his sexual abuse.
Now the tune, which derived from Tyler’s own experience meeting victims of sexual abuse in rehab while struggling to overcome his addictions in the ’80s, has new legs, thanks to the rocker’s Janie’s Fund, a foundation that helps provide resources for victims in need.
“I think this is what I was born to do,” Tyler tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. After Aerosmith’s rise to fame in the ’70s, Tyler says he was living fast and loose, partaking in drugs and alcohol. “Then the ’80s came and I fell to my knees with my addictions.”
When he first came up with the song’s title lyric in 1988, “I didn’t know who Janie was or why she had a gun,” he says. But after spending time at a rehab facility in Tucson, he met a number of women who, like the fictional Janie, were trying to “run from the pain” of their trauma.
“Seven out of 10 girls that came through that facility had suffered from physical or sexual abuse,” says Tyler. “It was staggering. That’s where the rest of the lyrics came from.”
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Now, nearly seven years sober – Tyler’s last stint in rehab was back in 2009 – the rocker has teamed with the organization Youth Villages and launched Janie’s Fund, which he celebrated with a benefit concert ahead of his Out on a Limb tour, in New York City on May 2, inviting survivors of abuse as his special guests.
“I have three daughters and a son,” says Tyler, whose children, including actress Liv Tyler, turned out in support for his event. “It’s hard when you have your own children, listening to kids who didn’t have a childhood.”
For more on Steven Tyler’s new charity, pick up this week’s issue, on newsstands now
“I think it’s amazing a celebrity like Steven Tyler is bringing awareness,” says Jennifer Rhodes, 22, a former foster child and Youth Villages participant who turned to the organization after her own difficult childhood. “For a while I turned to drugs and alcohol, but that just makes you feel empty in the end.”
Tyler’s goal is to help girls like Rhodes avoid Janie’s plight. “I want to bring attention to these poor girls so then can get help before it’s too late.”