Sixx, Mars, Neil and Lee, 1985
by Calliope Kurtz
Remember the movie The Wrestler? My favorite scene is where over-the-hill pro-wrestler Randy "The Ram" Robinson shares a barroom beer with over-the-hill professional stripper Pam. And, jukebox blaring, they bond over a Ratt hit:Randy: Goddamn, they don't make 'em like they used to.At the time I saw the film, early 2009, I was sure I was in on the joke. Check out these two has-beens crying over their has-been bands. Now I'm not so sure the joke isn't on me.
Pam: Fuckin' '80s, man. Best shit ever.
Randy: Bet your ass, man. Guns N' Roses fuckin' rules.
Pam: Def Lep...
Randy: Then that Cobain pussy had to come in and ruin it all.
Pam: Like there's something wrong with wanting to have a good time!
Maybe it's called butt rock because it kicks ass.
Remember when David Lee Roth said, "Rock critics like Elvis Costello because rock critics look like Elvis Costello"? That was me. Only Costello was too mainstream. I was listening to Half Japanese's second album. I was writing reviews about the first Negativland album. I was singing in a band that imitated PiL. I loved my obscure music because I, working back bar to pay for my 1,000-run xerox zine and my 500-press 45, was obscure. I treasured my loser bands -- so cool nobody (but me) heard (of) them which meant nobody (but me) was buying any of their stuff -- because, damn, I, too, was a loser.
Meanwhile, in the alternative reality called the music business, the airwaves were choked with a new generation's worth of rock and roll that sounded a lot like the last generation's worth of rock and roll, only it was faster, louder, and dumber. Loverboy. Billy Squier. Triumph. Now, I grew up on Zeppelin and Queen, Mott The Hoople and even Bad Company, and I worshiped them like any other longhaired highschooler, but there was no way in hell I was going to venerate anything about the likes of this permed gaggle of cloned upstarts. I mean, these dudes were my age. They weren't rock gods, they were the competition.
And up-to-the-minute DIYers like Throbbing Gristle, Pere Ubu, and The Philosophic Collage (my band) were ready to consign these generic corporate cockrockin' morons to the dustbin of history, forever.
Right. Funny as that sounds nowadays, there really was a sense of upheaval in the industry around 1981. Tom Zutaut, junior A&R at Elektra, recalls signing Mötley Crüe:"I was the laughing stock of Hollywood for courting these guys. The music that was popular at the time was British new wave -- Haircut 100, A Flock of Seagulls, Dexy's Midnight Runners ... Everyone kept laughing at me for trying to sign a metal band. They'd come up to me at work and say, "What are you thinking? This is not going to get played on the radio. You can't reinvent Kiss." But I believed in Mötley Crüe because that crowd at the Whisky [A Go-Go] believed in Mötley Crüe." (The Dirt, Mötley Crüe with Neil Strauss, 2001.)So much for the Only Band that Matter[ed].
As Nikki Six, bassist and primary songwriter for Mötley Crüe, put it:"We're appealing to a generation of kids who are too young to have ever seen Alice Cooper in his prime. Maybe they're too young to even have seen Kiss. They want a band that they can relate to -- guys who are about what they're experiencing. A bunch of old farts in their thirties and forties can't do that." (Hit Parader, December 1983.)Nice try, Rockpile, been nice to know ya, and nice guys finish last.
The funny thing, though, is that, back then, when I believed Fripp and Eno were inventing the wheel, I couldn't entirely escape some peripheral contact with the powerchorded netherworld. There's always a time and a place for canned triumphalism. The Mötley Crüe PR machine must have been pretty damn efficient 'cause I swear I knew the names Nikki Sixx, Mick Mars, and Tommy Lee better than the cats in the Stray Cats and that was without any radio exposure whatsoever (Kiss didn't need radio either. On the other hand, good luck remembering who sang for Asia). When I first heard 'em, it was "Smokin' In The Boys Room" as I was spinning on an amusement park Tilt-A-Whirl, appropriately enough, and I thought to myself, "Cool choice for a cover."
But, still, jeez, the fake dripping blood and the B.C. Rich Warlock bass. The Sid Vicious hair mixed in with the Van Halen spandex, how cynical does it get? Plus, they toured with braindead Ozzy Osbourne. No way I said. If I wanted double umlauts with my substance abuse, I had Hüsker Dü.
That was a long time ago. Before I got tired of spending every penny remaining after rent for studio time and zine ads and postage to impress other indie rock losers such as myself. Things change. I don't need my heroes to be losers anymore. I'm into winner bands now 'cause my self-esteem is better.
Sure, now it seems farfetched to consider Mötley Crüe underdogs. Starting with their first album, its cover an oafish imitation of Sticky Fingers, they gyrated with regressive rebellion and workaday debauchery, playground riffs tarted up with shoutalong choruses. T. Rex, Slade, The Sweet, Kiss (of course), and Cheap Trick (whose early albums were, like Mötley Crüe's, produced by Tom Werman) aspiring towards the emotional depth of, say, The Faces. Sugar punk fuzz jingles. No irony. A lot of filler. Guitarist Mick Mars, who demonstrably knows the difference between a bottleneck slide and a crack pipe, seems the member most likely to have moved the group forward. As in, forward to "Girls, Girls, Girls," their first jukebox bonafide, which traded their earlier glam whining for something more rudimentary and manly, something almost Hagaresque.
Famous for being famous.
With all of about five songs to their name at this point. But a million gothic tattoo posters! The punk poet, the frat boy, the tortured purist and the pretty idiot who sings someone else's lyrics, starring in, fast times, car crashes, hard drugs, fist fights, jail time, Hollywood hotties, and, sure enough soon enough, hard times. As drummer Tommy Lee put it (in The Dirt): "Partying led to addiction, addiction led to paranoia, and paranoia led to all kinds of stupid mistakes with huge repercussions. Even fucking wasn't the same. Fucking led to marriage, marriage led to divorce, divorce led to alimony, alimony led to poverty." Which led back to touring, with its attendant escalating horrors. Like heroin overdoses. Rehab. In some instances, court-imposed. All that, plus along came a band even more obnoxious-sounding than the one that gave us "Home Sweet Home," and the new kids looked more Stoneish, too. Appetite For Destruction or appetite for survival. Now came shit-or-get-off-the-pot time for the Crüe.
Nikki Sixx recalls (in The Dirt):"...[W]e had no idea that the music industry had pretty much said that we were over after Girls, Girls, Girls. We had been around for an entire decade and, as far as they were concerned, that was long enough. The Eighties were almost over, things were brewing in Seattle, and we were just a hairspray metal band that had gotten lucky with a couple of hit singles. In their minds, we were dead and gone."Enter Bob Rock, AOR warlock, hot off engineering duties for Bon Jovi's Slippery When Wet as well as producing Kingdom Come's debut megasmash (dubious distinctions, certainly, for anyone still keeping up with PiL, as I was at the time, albeit less arrogantly than before, but, hey, didn't each ensuing Cult record suggest metal could transcend acid-washed denim and hockey hair?). Dr. Feelgood is definitely a different sorta Crüe album. Less Sunset Strip and more, much more, Mall. We'll fuck you like Supermen. Sonic Schnapps, Americana deluxe, it's made with Thunderbirds and Stratocasters then overdubbed and Pro-Tooled to platinum perfection -- there's really no other way to make arena rock headliners sound like they're playing in an arena instead of a studio; even recording in an arena doesn't quite get that arena sound right. Slutty, sludgy and, above all, simple. Big. Technological evolution necessitates stupider musicianship, go figure. Hands down, Dr. Feelgood is the best album Aerosmith never made.
No, you say? Wanna fight about it?
Timeout! As Crüe guitarist Mick Mars recalls (in The Dirt):"The deal we made was that before we started recording the new album, we all had to be sober.[...] Even though I quit by myself, I still had to go to group meetings and therapy. Our management was trying to do some kind of extensive plastic surgery on the band, and we had to see all these doctors who would try to brainwash us into behaving differently. Once a week we'd have to go to relationship counseling like an old bitter married couple. There, we'd learn how to talk to each other instead of fighting or we'd discuss our feelings and whatever was going on that week. It bummed me out."Relationship counseling notwithstanding, Mötley Crüe recorded Dr. Feelgood separately, in isolated overdubs. Maybe that's why it sounds great. It sure as hell sold great. Heaps. A full half got MTV heavy rotation. Every track a knockout (uh, maybe not those two power ballads, although one was a hit). The apotheosis of arena rock. Clobberation. Atomized uberproduction has been their MO ever since. Nowadays, each member records his part at home and FedEx's the signal to the next guy down the line. So they spend more time rocking out instead of punching each other out. "Of course, the whole process was the antithesis of every punk principle I had held fast to as a teenager" conceded Nikki Sixx (in The Dirt). As Bob Rock observed (in Blender, 2005),"As long as they're apart, they're a great band."
The Dr. Feelgood world tour kept the Crüe on the road for two years, paid off lots of insurance premiums, palimony suits and therapy bills, plus utterly annihilated 'em. Relapses, fist fights, the works. As vocalist Vince Neil put it (in The Dirt): "I like to drink every now and then, and I like to get in trouble. I couldn't be the lead singer of Mötley Crüe if I didn't." Then he quit. Singing for Mötley Crüe, that is. The follow-up album tanked 'cause it was a sack of grunge crap with some new singer. So Doug Morris, the Godfather of WEA, their record label, steps in and demands the original members reform for the next release or else so Neil hastily rejoins the album already in progress but that follow-up falters too. Management gets sacked. Next stop, Greatest Hits. More detox too.
Meanwhile, glue-sniffing tykes were buying Marilyn Manson CD's. Whatever happened to DIY? Pushing buttons. If anyone can do it, next thing everyone's doing it, and what's so special about that? Why would I pay anything just to see somebody move a mouse around? Lesson learned, you get the audience you deserve.
For much of the '90's and early '00's, Mötley Crüe was primarily regarded as the band with the drummer who married Pamela Anderson. Then did a porno home movie with Pamela Anderson. Then went to jail for beating up Pamela Anderson. What's his name again? Drummers hit things. Either way, he didn't play on the next follow-up, which also tanked. Greatest Hits again. But next thing you know, Mötley Crüe is back on the charts, only this time it's the book charts. The Dirt, a collective band autobiography -- that is, individual chapters penned separately by each band member -- retells the whole sordid saga with something resembling literary merit and humanist aplomb. Greatest Hits again, only this time the band owns their own back catalog and muscles up for a reunion tour.
As Vince Neil (speaking to Blender in 2005) phrased it: "You go to work, and I bet there's a guy in the office you don't like. You still do your job, huh? The secret is to think of the Eagles. They toured forever and they fucking hated each other's guts." Asked about that comment on tour shortly after, he told The Guardian, "I don't remember doing that interview." Whatever. Hey, 11 out of 12 steps is close enough for rock and roll.
Not that I could have cared less about Mötley Crüe at that point in time. If I was too older and wiser for junk like "Shout At The Devil" back in the '80's, then I certainly was way too older and wiser for more of the same some 10 or 15 or 20 years later. I was too busy listening to Daniel Johnston and song poems and wondering if Dinosaur Jr. was ever gonna have a reunion tour. I was also too busy with my own divorce and my own addictions and my own therapy issues. I was, in short, still clinging to the truly sinister notion that, somehow, being a loser was actually cool.
Sixx, Mars, Neil and Lee, 2008
Nevertheless, fate and the free market intervenes. After their 2005 tour, and yet another Greatest Hits (this time with the bonus new tracks sounding somewhat hot), the Crüe starts to gain some momentum. Reality TV shows. Film rights to The Dirt are announced, with a projected 2011 release. Sixx followed with The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star. Another bestseller. More Reality TV shows. More tattoos. Solo projects. Degenerative bone disease. Hip surgery. Face lifts. More marriages. More divorces. More alimony suits. More palimony suits. More interviews. More tours. More relapses. More fist fights. More DUIs. More AA Meetings. More lawsuits. And, finally in 2008, another, believe it or not, actual Mötley Crüe album with all our favorite original fuckup members sounding, believe it or not, nothing short of stupendous.
Produced by Sixx solo-project collaborator James Michael, the first thing Saints of Los Angeles does is prove Bob Rock is not Mötley Crüe. The second, and probably most important, thing the album does is that, instead of channeling the usual Cheap Trick, Kiss and Aerosmith, Mötley Crüe has finally accrued enough history to channel themselves. Cannibalizing their own iconography, how's that for progress? Writing songs about themselves certainly energized this bunch of old farts. And they still got style comin' outta their ass! One of the great contradictions in show biz, the professional rock n' roller (that is, the disciplined rebel), is well exemplified by this recording. Damn! The third and ultimate thing the album does is, you betcha, it rocks (no more power ballads). Grimacing, growling, walloping, blustering, it rules. Rock is dead, long live rock.
Judging by the comments posted on You Tube, 14-year-old boys, whatever their chronological age, still crave and salute this stuff. Including me. Maybe it's some sorta sick family values thing, but, sentimental or otherwise, it seems to mean a lot to these 14-year old's that the Crüe contains all original members, all survivors. "Me and the band, we are starting to fight 'cause if we got along it just wouldn't be right." Staying together for the kids, love it to death.
Which gets me full circle, back to how The Wrestler ends. Ambiguous, and that's appropriate. But too bad the movie didn't feature any Crüe tunes, especially their greatest, "Kickstart My Heart":When we started this band All we needed, needed was a laugh; Years gone by I'd say we've kicked some ass.
Also see our 2012 Mötley Crüe article
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