Moby, the earnest if flaky master of vegan electronica, found it amusing a few years ago to tell interviewers how he had recently discovered a pop-culture relic from 1983. It was Motley Crue's Shout at the Devil album, which sold several million copies and, in essence, unwittingly became the linchpin for VH1's Behind the Music, uh, rockumentary series. Moby and a few others view the so-called hair-metal years with irony, a sense of detached knowing that makes it OK to listen to the silly, macho posturing of MTV-era bands recognizable for their effeminate garb. (Lack of irony may be the most endearing, and deflating, aspect of '80s headbangers.)
And yet, as easy as it is to dissect the inanities of Motley Crue, Poison, Cinderella and, oh, I don't know, Dokken, it would be somewhat disingenuous for me to do so. The reason: I am one of those idiots who bought the cassettes, the piles of worthless black logo-ed T-shirts, the band buttons from Record Bar and, yes, the ultimate relic: $15 concert tickets. Twenty years later, I play adult and listen to Norah Jones or The Rising on my drive to work. But my fondness for that music will never match my love of Motley's Girls, Girls, Girls, which, of course, I haven't listened to in a decade or so. (I leaven my guilt with an occasional dose of the Crue's greatest hits, a guilty pleasure that, in all honesty, is guilty only if others are present.)
Which brings us to Nikki Sixx, the founder and chief lyricist of Motley Crue. Now 45, Sixx, whose given name is Frankie Ferrano, was the wild-maned bassist who cooked up heroin as well as marketing schemes during the band's heyday. Somewhere in the midst of groupies, infighting, heroin, cocaine, whiskey, pills and -- as detailed on VH1 -- an attempt to inject Jack Daniel's into his veins alongside drummer Tommy Lee, Sixx managed to wrest control of Motley Crue's recording masters and publishing rights. This victory led to a recent deal to re-master and re-release all of the band's albums, beginning last year.
Lest one wonder why this might be necessary, Sixx, puffing a cigarette and sipping a Red Bull, offers an explanation during a telephone interview. "Our audience reaches across a lot of demographics," he says. "We cover a lot of age groups, going into people in their 40s and 50s and coming back to people in their 20s and 30s."
Much to the horror of the Replacements and Lucinda Williams, among others, Motley Crue has sold 40 million albums during its 23-year recording career. Beyond the reissues, a DVD features debauched highlights from, yes, Behind the Music. Other projects include a movie version of the band's 2001 New York Times best-selling autobiography, The Dirt: Confessions of the World's Most Notorious Rock Band.
In March, Sixx and his grimy glam-rock side project, Brides of Destruction, released their first CD, Here Come the Brides (Sanctuary). It's half of a supergroup, with two unknowns (London Le Grand and Scott Coogan) and two very well-knowns in the world of Hit Parader aficionados (Sixx and former L.A. Guns rabble-rouser Tracii Guns). All the band members' names are authentic, of course.
In matters of dirt, though, it is the Motleys, not the Brides, who possess unrivaled expertise. Sixx was pronounced legally dead in 1987 after a drug overdose before being revived by paramedics. He plans to steal a few pages from Kurt Cobain's posthumous narcotic-addled diaries with the release an as-yet unpublished account he has titled The Heroin Diaries. It may be adapted for a movie, as well. And last year he started his new fashion line, N. Sixx by Dragonfly, which offers apparel based on designs from Sixx's tattoos. If all goes well, Sixx plans a Motley Crue tour in 2005, when the movie version of The Dirt is scheduled for release.
Now approaching middle age, Sixx exudes joy over his five children and his wife, former Baywatch babe Donna D'Errico. Sober off and on since 1989 and without misstep the past six years, he neither apologizes for nor glorifies his misspent youth. "You've got the Grateful Dead and you've got me," he says, "who's grateful not to be dead."
It's a long way from shooting junk and ramming a Porsche into a telephone pole and emerging in a fit of laughter, as Sixx did during the Crue's days of infamy. "It's easy to sit around and say, "Remember that time?'" he says. "But the truth is, I wouldn't go back there for anything. I'm glad those days are gone."
No doubt it's fitting to many that in The Dirt, which includes the raw perspectives of Messrs. Sixx, Lee, guitarist Mick Mars and singer Vince Neil, music rarely surfaces. Instead, drugs, fights, sex, cheating, petty jealousies, theft, rehab, relapse, death, prison and lawsuits dominate. The toll, almost all self-inflicted, includes divorce, abandoned children, vehicular manslaughter, drug abuse, alcoholism, airport fist fights, trashed hotel rooms, trashed groupies, trashed records, trashed tours and, almost always, trashed thinking. Not to mention Lee's sex tape with Pamela Anderson, seen by a couple zillion people on the Internet and elsewhere.
"All I can say is that we've always been honest," Sixx says. "People always told us, You can't say that, you can't do that,' and we never listened. Somehow, it always worked."
It's amusing to hear Sixx bristle over mention of Motley's role in the hair-metal era. "I prefer not to be associated with cheese," he says, dismissing the vast majority of Wingers, White Lions and Whitesnakes as hangers-on with little credibility and minimal touring relevance.
Or, as Mars put it on the band's liner notes for their greatest hits: "Motley Crue has done what all of those 80s bands couldn't do!! We have survived the test of time!!!!" (For some reason, Mick uses punctuation in the conservative manner of a 14-year-old girl.)
Lunkheads though they are, give Motley Crue this: Their songs are so dopey that they work. No heavy lifting, or thinking, required. In fact, mental deliberation kills the spirit of the endeavor.
As Chuck Klosterman, author of the seminal hair-metal memoir Fargo Rock City, notes, Motley Crue and the rest of the heavy-mascara Monsters of Rock matter not for what they said, but for how many millions of people, for whatever reasons (acne and lack of girlfriends, mostly), embraced their cartoonish anthems and antics. "Fifteen years later," Klosterman writes, "I am not embarrassed by my boyhood idolization of Motley Crue. That fact that I once put a Motley Crue bumper sticker on the headboard of my bed seems vaguely endearing." I agree, Chuck, but did you ever have the Motley Crue pentagram Velcro wallet? Now that was cool. Do I mean in an ironic, detached sort of way? Nope. Just cool.
- The reemergence of Motley Crue includes the re-release of the band's re-mastered albums (courtesy bassist Nikki Sixx), a new DVD, and Sixx's new side project, Brides of Destruction.