“I really don’t understand what Mick’s talking about. Maybe he took the wrong pill that day.”
The man at the other end of the telephone is Vince Neil, the 50-year-old singer from Motley Crue. He seems unimpressed with his guitarist, Mick Mars. I am in Philadelphia, at baggage claim. Vince is in Las Vegas, presumably at home. I had interviewed Mick backstage in Melbourne.
Now, I need you to concentrate here. It’s complicated.
I also quizzed Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee – over the phone, even though we were both in Melbourne at the time. And – I’ll say this slowly – I had 15 minutes on the phone with bassist Nikki Sixx, when I was just outside his dressing-room and he was in hotel less than a mile away!
That’s the way the Crue wanted it. Bad Boys. Rock’n’roll.
So as glam metal’s greatest survivors prepare to tour the UK this December with apparently good friends Def Leppard and depends-who-you-talk-to acquaintances Steel Panther, this Classic Rock AOR feature story comes to you after more than a month in the making. To be fair, there were times I was unavailable. There were more occasions, however, on which tracking Vince down looked like it was going to require the Navy Seals.
To explain what a rather surprised and aggrieved Vince Neil is taking about above, we need to go back to back to the start, back to when Mars – sitting adjacent to me in a nondescript backstage room at Rod Laver Arena – had placed his left thumb and index finger on his forehead after a query. “That’s a hard question to answer for me personally,” he had said.
And there had been a pause. A long pause.
Oh no, I thought at the time. I had clearly been stupidly insensitive. I enquired as to whether Mars could see an endless horizon of touring and recording, now that the original Crue were back together and their place in popular culture – not just rock – was enshrined thanks that tome of depravity, Neil Strauss’s The Dirt.
But matters other than popularity and marketability will affect what Mick Mars is doing a decade from now. One, he is 60, easily the oldest member of Motley Crue. Two, though a little more agile than in recent years, the Indiana-born axeman has ankylosing spondylitis, a joint disease which causes him to “seize up” and resulted in a 2004 hip replacement surgery.
It’s a condition I did not take into account when posing my question…
Things had started well when I had been ushered into the room. Mars – clad loose-fitting black with a cap – was initially laconic, until the line of questioning engaged him more. And until what I immediately assumed to be a gaffe, he had been a generous interview subject.
“There’s always room for improvement. You know that,” he said when I commented that the Crue were particularly tight in late September Down Under. “It all depends if we all get together a week or so before we go (to the UK) and get tight again, before they ship all the stuff over there.
“I think every band should do that. I’m sure every band does. Sometimes, we’re lazy and we don’t do it.”
Towards the end of our chat, Mars says this: “My health is fine. As a matter of fact, I’m the only one in the band – hahaha – that has life insurance or that could get life insurance. It’s just that I’m bent, from the AS. It bothers me sometimes. It comes and goes. It isn’t anything life threatening. It’s more of an inconvenience for me than anything because I can’t lift my head up and down or shake my head back and forth
“I’m always looking down, I can’t see so I run into a lot of things. I hurt the top of my head! That kind of deal. I walked into a piece of glass today on one of these rotor doors, went ‘boof’ just this afternoon.
“I kind of map out the floor (of the stage) so I can see where I’m at. I can see, when I’m standing up, a certain distance so when I get out to the edge of the stage (I check) whether there’s a truss out there or there’s not so I’ll know when to stop. Otherwise I’d be on the ground.”
In other words, the man formerly known as Bob Deal is not sensitive about his health at all. It isn’t why he paused, considering what to say next. His comment about the Crue’s reluctance to rehearse is – in fact – only the tip of a north-Atlantic sized iceberg which Vince Neil is about to be confronted with.
But as you probably guessed I was going to say at this point, more of that later…..
HAVE you ever mentioned Motley Crue in a text message? If you have, you’ll have noticed that on some phones, the umlauts are automatically inserted. “No way!” says ageless surfer dude Lee. “That’s pretty cool, I didn’t know that, I like that,” is Neil’s reaction.
“That’s what happens when you are the undisputed heavy metal champions of the universe!” extols Sixx. “It happens when you’re the heavy metal Bono.”
That was what this story was originally going to be about. This writer composed a rather sour and immature gig review 22 years ago from a US venue which has long since been knocked down, in which he described Motley Crue as “a pop metal band with yearnings for immortality”.
Well, Apple software still interprets “Dokken” and “Ratt” as misspellings. Yearning achieved, then….
But how? Why did Motley outlast the others and, achieve pop culture relevance considered worthy of predictive text recognition. “You can’t eradicate cockroaches,” is Sixx’s initial answer, which he lets just hang there for a while, without elaboration.
“That’s a tough one,” says Lee, polite to a fault despite cancelling a scheduled 11.30pm post-gig meeting with me. “It’s hard to ask someone on the inside. I don’t know … what’s given us longevity is, when I look out in the audience I still see fuckin’ 14 year old kids coming to check out something they’ve never seen before, something their older brother or even parents turned them onto.
“That makes me realise, cements the fact that, we’re going to be around for a lot longer. If there wasn’t new fans out there, I’d be concerned. Like, ‘wow this is a time period type thing’. But that’s not the case. I see different ages and colours and all that and it’s just so fuckin’ cool to me. I think our lifestyle, the whole essence of Motley Crue is sometimes bigger than its music, you know? It’s continued to live on and people keep coming to check it out … never have we not taken the money that we’ve made and put it right back into our show. So every time, we come around bringing some crazy shit to blow their fuckin’ minds.
“I think at the end of the day, people want to be entertained. There’s nothing better than rockin’ out, goin’ ‘dude, I saw Motley last night bro, it was fucking insane’.”
On this point, Vince agrees. “I think we didn’t do anything really cheesy. We tried to prove ourselves by putting out better new music and bigger tours. At the end, we stayed through the tough times and things turned around. A lot of bands, you know, when things aren’t going their way, when music tastes change, they always tend to just break up and stuff and go their separate ways. We didn’t do that and I think the main thing is we touched the younger generation and that’s where it is. You go to a Motley show and you see 15 and 16-year-olds in Shout At The Devil shirts and those are the new fans. That’s how we’re able to sell out arenas and amphitheatres. It’s not just fans who’ve grown up with us. It’s their kids.”
Mars is enigmatic “It’s the umlauts!” he says “That’s what does it! That’s what put us right there on the map, the umlauts.”
SO that’s what this story, which involved interviewing every member of Motley Crue, was going to be about. But when you’re dealing with Motley Crue – as I can recall from writing a similar story in Minneapolis back in ’90 – you can’t expect events and words and actions not to steamroll your best intentions.
Because although Vince, Nikki, Tommy and Mick all seem to agree they have – in the words of Lee – “something really special that only the four of us do”, there seems to be precious little consensus on how, why, when or –most crucially – what’s next.
Take the role of aforementioned book, The Dirt, in shaping their return from club- and theatre-land to arenas and ensuring their survival. I once bought it as a present and a shop assistant half my age described it as “the gift that keeps giving”. Tales of alcohol and drug abuse, of groupies, jail, of Nikki Sixx actually dying and coming back to life – a life that took him from sex God to blind dates and back again – impressed hipsters who would normally have derided Motley Crue as a tragic hair metal act.
But the extent to which Motley Crue are still touring a book divides the band.
Lee reckons it’s just a good yarn. “ … it’s weird, that book, I’ve had people walk up to me and go ‘dude, this is the rock’n’roll bible, dude. It’s bizarre. It’s a really cool story of four guys who really came from fuckin’ nowhere and woke up one day in a haze of drugs and alcohol and fucked up marriages and all kinds of crazy shit and they’re all still alive and still playing. It’s really a pretty epic story, you know?”
Sixx has a more sophisticated theory. “If you stick around long enough and continue to release music and continue to tour, you do reinvent yourself,” he says. “At a snail’s pace, but you do, and people follow you. But if you have a vehicle like the book, you get to be reinvented at a faster pace. Word of mouth is more powerful than anything else. That’s how we discovered music in the beginning. As much as I want to talk about the internet and where radio’s going, I always go back to: if a kid loves something, he’s going to tell all his friends. They might tell their friends. It’s like an infection.”
Mick Mars? He says The Dirt got Motley Crue back together and kept them together, after Neil and Lee strayed – plain and simple. “I think us doing the book had a lot of impact in resurrecting the band, because of all the turmoil,” he says. ‘I’ve leaving the band’, ‘I’m going’, all that crap. But when people read the book and could understand what was going on with the whole thing, they got it. When you’re outside looking in, you’re like ‘(gasp), no wonder!’
“I think it resurrected the band in terms of being human. That’s the way I look at it.
“When the band came out, it was like’boom’ and we were kind of used to that kind of thing. And the fall, after some shit went down and stuff, to try and come back was a lot more difficult. There were a lot of good bands out there. That was when you had all the alternative and grunge and hiphop and rap and all that stuff was coming in.
“But when the book came out, it was either Canada or the UK who said ‘you guys need to …’ I forget the exact way it went down but we did the book and all of a sudden the band blew up again.”
Oh and Vince? Guess what? “I don’t know, that book came out ten years ago so I don’t know if it really has that much to do with us now. It seems like the people who read the book were really the fans who grew up with us. Maybe there were some fans from the younger generation discovering the book but I don’t know…..
“I don’t know if it helped or didn’t help, whether it made it worse. Who knows?”
THE extent to which the world is laughing WITH Motley Crue and their sex tapes, celebrity girlfriends and jail terms or AT them is at least worth discussing. I saw the Crue in Brisbane on the current tour and they were no laughing matter – intense, compelling, slick and cool. Vince has often been justly criticised for singing every third word; it was the best vocal performance I can remember from him since the ‘90s. (“That’s why I go out on those solo tours,” he says)
But when you reach a certain level of fame, your life can become a circus. And that’s where Steel Panther come in – they are the undisputed clowns of the hair metal carnival. Singer Michael Starr often jokes during shows about being 50 and undergoing extensive plastic surgery. Now they’re opening for the biggest Sunset Strip circus of them all.
How many members of Motley Crue have a post-modern view of their own foibles? Half, as it turns out. And not the half you might expect…
Vince Neil: “I’ve actually sang with them before. I like the band. I think they’re funny. That’s their gig. They don’t take themselves seriously, they go out and people love them. They are really nice guys. I like the guys. I just said to them, ‘look, it’s great, but you can’t go up there and play cover songs like they do in these clubs and such here in Vegas and LA. You’re going to have to play some original songs and be a real band, play themselves and not other bands, you know what I mean?’”
Mick Mars: “I’ve never seen them. I know that they do parodies on bands. I believe that they have their own music. I believe that they’re fairly big in the UK. I heard that they’re really popular in Germany. You hear about them around Hollywood, they play at the Key Club all the time. You hear cool stuff but they’re, like, a comedy act. Like Steve Martin or something.
“From what I understand, they’re all good players.
“They mock everybody. They don’t just mock Motley Crue. They mock Pink. Pink went up on stage and sang with them. It’s their whole bit. They’re comedians. Actually, I think that every comedian is a musician and every musician is a comedian. It’s whatever you make it in first.”
“Our thoughts were that we knew nothing about it!” Sixx says earnestly when asked about Michael Starr, Lexxi Foxx and the rest. “We’re always looking for current bands. I called up Joe Elliott, I said ‘hey Joe … I know the guys in Steel Panther, they’re sweet dudes but they’re just a cover band. Why don’t I call the guys in Sick Puppies or a bunch of other bands? There’s a really cool band, I think they’re British, called The Treatment. Why don’t we get someone cool like that?’ He’s like, “I didn’t know about it either’. It was one of those things. We’re at a really seedy time right now when you’ve got companies owning management companies owning ticket companies, owning promoters, owning all that kind of stuff. You start to get a thing where it’s almost a monopoly and these type of situations happen and you end up feeling like the fans aren’t really getting what the bands want. Joe didn’t want that. He said ‘yeah, I didn’t want that but it’s like I guess it’s OK’. The same thing came from our side. And in Steel Panthers’ defence, they probably never knew any of this and in the fans’ defence, I’m sure that people do really like the band.”
But when you’re Tommy Lee and a parody metal band comes out with a drummer called Stix Zadinia… well.
“That got thrown on there. I don’t know. I think something happened where they got put on the bill without us approving it. To me, it’s … what do you call those bands? Like a parody band?
“It is what it is. I don’t know. I can’t imagine. I guess it’s funny if you’re drunk and you’re going to see some shit on stage but it’s weird. I definitely don’t take myself that seriously but for us to play a tour with a band that mocks you is just fucking weird.
“I don’t get it. For me … whatever, I don’t have to sit there and listen to it. I feel bad for the fans if that’s not something they want. It wasn’t by my choice.”
TWENTY years ago, Motley Crue’s pending “feud” with their opening act might have made the tabloids. Maybe they still will. But whether the tabloids are interested or not, Motley’s still got fueds.
Massachusetts metallers Godsmack have a new song, penned by singer Sully Erna, called “Cryin Like a Bitch”, which is about Sixx. Er, sorry we brought it up, Nikki…
“Nobody cares about Godsmack!” he storms. “Let’s talk about something real. That’s a pub band at best. The thing is, they had a couple of good songs. The guys in the band are really nice guys. The only guy who ever had a problem was the singer. It’s funny, his own band told me he’s an asshole and his own managers told me he’s an asshole. I just laugh. You know, the bottom line is that cat called me up personally and begged to be on Cruefest. He said that they hadn’t been out in years, they were going to put an album out, they didn’t know if they even had a fanbase left. The nineties were dried up and gone and they wanted to get in front of a rock audience and lay it down.
“I said ‘you guys can do that’. Then they started taking things personally. I guess it was supposed to be their tour and their stage and their everything. The thing is, when you’re on someone else’s tour, you need to understand it’s their tour… When we played with the Stones, it was their tour. When we played with KISS, it was their tour, when we started out. Iron Maiden, it was their tour. I didn’t see us running around bitching and complaining about it. That just tells me it’s insecure people.
“I told my friend – they said ‘hundreds of thousands of people, they just love you”. I said ‘oh, you’re oh so wrong’. They said ‘what do I mean?’ I said ‘there’s just as many people that hate me. When the day is done, that is important – that you have as many people that go ‘fuck him’ as ‘I love him’. Rock’n’roll loses its balance when you try to appease people and you’re not willing to ruffle a feather.
“Do fans like feuds? I don’t really care what other bands think about us, personally. I think it’s too much, like, let’s all be chummy and cosy and friends. I’d rather be on the outskirts of town. I don’t like being in town and playing with everbody nicely. You have to venture into town and find out if you’re going to get decapitated by everybody because they’re not happy with you. It’s more exciting for me than anything.”
Oh, sorry, quick comment from Vince? “I have absolutely no thoughts on it because I never really got what was going on. It was between Nikki and those guys. I just kind of heard stuff second hand. So, whatever Nikki had a disagreement with the guys in Godsmack, that’s his gig.”
OWEN Wilson as Vince Neil? James Franco as Tommy Lee? Russell Brand as Nikki Sixx? The umlauts are one Hollywood blockbuster away from spreading from Apple to Blackberry, it would seem….
“We’re focusing our energies on getting the film made, The Dirt,” says Lee, who later apologises to me for not having his drum rollercoaster at the show I went to.“All the ducks are starting to come in line to where it’s going to happen. Our next immediate plans will be to get that underway and also to make some new music for that to go along with that …. I’m sure.
“We’ll have a lot of control. Otherwise we won’t do it. We’ve got it so that we’ll be very involved in making sure the essence of our story’s told because it’s a fucking hell of a story and I think we’ve got the right people in line now to make sure that doesn’t really get messed with and it gets … you know how you read a book and the film’s never quite … sometimes it’s really good but most times it’s not as good as the book?
“We want to make sure we’re not one of those statistics.
“I just saw a booklet and DVD of all the people. But they had taken a bunch of actors and taken me Vince, Mick and Nikki and they had taken pictures of the actors and put our hair and face makeup on them. It was interesting.
“One of the guys for Vince was Owen Wilson, I think. It was so weird. James Franco was me. Johnny Depp….it was wild to see them dressed up like us.
“ I knew Russell Brand … he did an MTV interview saying he would love to do the movie. There’s interest out there. Who knows? I don’t know where it’s all going to go but that’s where we’re focusing our attention.”
Mars, who is also working on a solo record with former American Idol contestant James Durbin, says of the movie: “I know it’s based on The Dirt and the director we have picked, for now … I can never tell if it’s going to change or not.
“The guy sent some booklets and pamphlets and stuff like that and I saw what he was doing. When you see some of it coming together, that’s what makes the thing real. Nikki would sit in his room, prop – what are those things with the drawers?”
Er, a filing cabinet?
“Yes, and he would push it against the door so no-one could get in and he’d be like this (sits there, arms folded). That’s the realism. That’s what we’re trying to capture.
“We’re hoping this guy captures it. If he starts not to, I’m gonna go ‘hey, you on the waterskis, come here, that ain’t the way it happened’.
“I suppose I could go around asking actors (to play me), or have my lawyer ask if they’d like to play me. It’s a matter of doh-re-mi… ‘who’s going to invest money in this’ … I hate it.’
I suggest to Mars – who uncannily seems frail and powerful at the same time – that seeing one’s life portrayed on the big screen has prompted some people to break down “I’m not watching it,” he says with a faint smile. “I’ll make sure it’s right…”
“I don’t think I’d be able to do that. Of course you have to do the red carpet thing…..”
Vince Neil does not seem to be “focusing his attention” on the The Dirt movie. At all. “I haven’t heard a word – I have no idea what’s going on with the movie. I’m not excited about it. You know, it’s kinda been going on for so many years, the movie getting made, not getting made. I’m just kind of over it.
“If it had been made 10 years ago when the book came out, that would have been fun and exciting. Now, it’s been going on for so long that I don’t want to get my hopes up.
“I don’t know if we’re going to have that much involvement in the movie. It’s not like we’re going to be there while we’re filming every scene and things like that. We’ll look at the script, we’ll look at the choices for the actors and that’s really kind of it…..”
SO this is where things come to a head.
After carefully mulling over what he wanted to say about Motley’s path towards respect, longevity and stability, Mars came out with this: “I think there’s potential for us to be able to do that if we make the right decisions.
“And so far, I haven’t seen the right decisions made.
“We could. We could be the Stones. We could be Aerosmith. We could be U2. We could be. But if the decisions aren’t made correctly by us four, no.”
“Um….. growing up. There’s a few things that I think … you know, with Mick Jagger … let’s use him for a whipping post, OK? He’ll go up and he’s real strict with his band. He’s like ‘Ronnie, a drink’, this other guy whatever. You won’t drink before this and this and this. They’re professional. When they’re on stage, they’re not going to do this, this, this and this. It’s, like, very focused.
“There’s some …. I think, because my band was so young when they made it, they still think that they’re that young and they’re not. They don’t understand that they’re 50-year-old men. They still think they’re 16.
“I’m not saying we won’t have the longevity. I’m saying … I’ve got to think of the right word. I hate stumbling around looking for a word that’s on the tip of my tongue. If you see an actor or an actress – Johnny Depp for instance. You see him on the screen only. That’s where you see him and it seems like, not real.
“It’s, like untouchable. It’s like, here’s this thing. The Stones have that. Aerosmith has that. U2 has that.”
Like, an aura?
“Yes! That thing, that charisma, that shit, that ‘wow’. But I feel like there’s a few flaws yet that need to be fixed. A couple of childish things. If that didn’t happen … it’s just part of Motley, what they do but I wish that sometimes they wouldn’t. That would put us into a more respectable kind of … royalty, like the Stones are and Paul McCartney and those kinds of things. That level, that I think this band could really reach if there were a few things that were handled differently or changed or … still being us, still being rebellion, still being crazy, over-the-top, whatever-the-heck. You can be that way – like Iggy Pop. There’s a good example. Iggy Pop is still over the top and crazy and nuts and cuts himself up with glass and does all this shit but he’s, like, this entity where you just go ‘whoa’. You see the guy and you just go ‘wow’.”
Vince does not like be compared to a 16-year-old.
“Yeah….you know, I really don’t know what he’s talking about,” he says after I read the quotes to him. “This last tour, Japan, Australia, the shows were good. I look at it like, your private life is your private life. The life you have on stage is where it really counts. You’ve got to go out there and do your best. That’s why people like you, because they want to see you onstage. You can’t fuck around like that.
“That’s Mick. I don’t know what he’s getting at.”
NIKKI Sixx is less shocked at Mars’ comments, which could be interpreted as being only just short of a very public intervention against his bandmate’s partying ways.
“What he’s saying is we try really hard to make smart decisions,” he responds. “When we sit down and make decisions as a band, that’s when we figure out what’s right for the legacy. For me, it’s not about the money anymore. It’s about the legacy. What’s the footprint we leave when we walk away? Because we’ve all made the money, we’ve all had the fame and we’ve all had the chicks, we’ve all had the ups and the downs. That’s all said and done. Now it’s like this body of work and what’s the legacy when we walk away, whether that’s in five years, ten years or 20 years?
“So now it becomes a conversation which I know other major bands have had, where they sit down and they go ‘why are we doing this’ and ‘what do we want it to look like’ instead of ‘hey, let’s just go rock’. When you’re onstage, that is what we do.
“We should have that discussion. That’s what Mick’s saying.”
Normally, a band of Motley Crue’s stature disagreeing so publically – OK, they have slagged each other off before – would never be considered a good thing.
But whether it’s spin that would outstrip Lee’s drum rollercoaster, or whether he is the most perceptive bass player on the planet, Sixx says it all adds to mystique. “I still look back and go ‘was he or was he not?’ about Freddie Mercury. That’s what’s magical. Did they worship Satan or did they not, Led Zeppelin? That’s what was magic. Is he stable or is he unstable? That’s the magic of rock’n’roll. There’s only so many notes and so many riffs. It’s the other stuff that adds to the magic..
“We were not bred to do it right. Motley Crue is cut from a cloth that’s against the grain and the personalities of this band – while a times warm and charming – are at the same time easily turned into … Rottweilers and serial killers. We don’t necessarily do the right thing and in some weird way that’s worked for us
“It’s the same thing as having a rattlesnake for a pet. I have friends who have poisonous animals for pets. They’re like ‘aren’t they beautiful?’ and I’m like ‘they’re really beautiful, can you please keep them in their cage?’. That’s the sense of a real rock band. I felt that with Metallica. I felt that with Guns N’Roses when they were together. I felt that with Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. There was mystery and great music and something was brewing underneath that i didn’t know. I felt at any moment it could turn on me and I don’t feel it with REM or Coldplay. I’d rather jerk off with sandpaper than listen to that shit. It’s just so fucking safe. It’s ridiculously monotone and linear.”
So, what’s great about Motley Crue is not just that they’re still here. It’s that they’re still capable of conflict, contradictions, drama and flat-out weirdness like that detailed above.
How about that? we ended up answering that question this story was intended to ask in the first place…
Filed for: CLASSIC ROCK AOR Appeared November 2011
WARNING: ADULT LANGUAGE From House Of Blues, West Hollywood, January 23 2012
“That would never fly – a parody band?” says Michael Starr, looking quizzical. “I don’t get it.”
Read the full story at Loud Online !
WHEN Tommy Lee told this writer that touring with joke-metal masters Steel Panther was “fucking weird”, he was derided on his own facebook page as being out of touch, humourless and even a bit scared. After all, the Panther do have a drummer called Stix Zadinia and Tommy Lee is known for … you get the drift.
Read the full story at triplem.com.au !
DRUMMER Tommy Lee is not impressed Steel Panther are opening for Mötley Crüe in the UK, starting this week.
Read the full review at Loudmag.com.au !