The phrase dirt cheap is gonna have to be decommissioned. Considering all the celebrity biographies in the bookstores and on TV, there‘s hardly anything more expensive, and profitable, nowadays than dirt. With the purchase of Motley Crue’s new autobio, I get not just the dirt, but the piss, the shit, the snot, the scum and the blood. And I love it. Because I find comfort in the knowledge that there‘s something lower than a pathetic loser: a pathetic winner.
Feel sorry for yourself? Read about bassist Nikki Sixx, abandoned by his father, hating his mother, living on the streets as a teen; once he’s become a big star, the only way he can figure out he‘s in bad relationships is by repeatedly kicking dope, each time discovering that drugs are the only thing he and his woman have in common. Or drummer Tommy Lee, who breaks up with Heather Locklear because she doesn’t want kids, then, once he has them with Pamela Anderson, freaks out when he‘s no longer her 24-hour spotlight kid. Or Mick Mars, a superb guitarist with no self-esteem and a degenerative bone disease. Or singer Vince Neil, a fun-loving drunk who gets to watch his 4-year-old daughter die of cancer.
Neil Strauss, who did such a bang-up job co-writing Marilyn Manson’s megapopular 1998 autobio, has nailed this task somewhat differently. For the Manson book, he included funny lists, “found” documents and lurid pix, letting Manson act as near-exclusive narrator. Same in The Dirt, except, though he makes it seem like he‘s just letting the guys talk, the structure cunningly allows the alternating narratives to shed light on the conflicting viewpoints that multiple egomaniacs can provide. I hit him? No, he hit me first. I quit? No, they fired me. I lied to them? No, they’re ungrateful pricks. He doesn‘t respect me? Well, I bet he doesn’t know I screwed his girlfriend. Strauss keeps a consistent personal inflection for each band member: Tommy is dude-this and fuckin‘-that; Vince is down-to-earth and don’t-give-a-shit; Nikki‘s a natural storyteller with an endless memory; Mick’s full of quirky philosophical observations and dark humor.
I‘ve been curious about a lot of Crue events in recent years, and now things make more sense. When I interviewed them in 1997, for instance, I wondered why Neil seemed so aloof from the others; now I know he didn’t want to be back in the band, hated the album they‘d just made and would soon be trying to throttle Lee. I asked them all if they had done sports in school, and it turns out Sixx was lying when he denied it; he was totally into football. Mars seemed shy; now I learn he’s in constant pain. When I next needed to make PR contact with the dudes, I had trouble; now I know they were waging all-out war with their label. And a sloppy L.A. concert was occurring just at a time when Lee had lost all interest in the band‘s music and was about to split.
Most of the book, though, is of more interest to the general reader: chicks, drugs, booze, fights. The opening pages contain a truly wonderful description of the Lee-Sixx-Neil apartment around the corner from the Whisky; you can almost smell the crusty mattresses, filthy shower and broiled cockroaches. But the rest is no letdown. Motley Crue have lived a life of near-continual conflict and destruction, packed with famous entertainers; there’s a Dennis Rodman or Axl Rose or Hugh Hefner story in every chapter.
What some will miss is the music. You‘ll glean chewy tidbits about the business (bands get into debt quickly because lawyers make commissions on advance money), but you’d hardly know from The Dirt that Motley Crue have made some of the biggest, baddest, hookiest rock music of the last 20 years. Maybe you‘d like to learn where Mars dug up that supremely evil guitar sound on “Shout at the Devil,” or how the hell Lee got to be such a powerful mother on the skins. Not here, bro. I guess there’ll have to be another book for that.
Anyway, it all comes down to four rock & roll bozos and your feelings about them. When you get to the end, where they‘re more or less sober and they more or less hate one another, you’ll love them. But you‘ll wonder why. I guess a band that admits to being beaten up by redneck transvestites can’t be all bad.