All In the Name of Rock and Roll: On the Road with Mötley Crüe

"Paint a garbage can platinum and it's still a garbage can."

motley crue cover 506 Mötley Crüe
E.J. Camp
Mötley Crüe on the cover of Rolling Stone.
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Any moron can drive from Tucson to Phoenix in less than two hours, but the guys in Mötley Crüe are not just any morons. They're rock stars with the current Number Two album and a new, customized Lear jet, and they want to travel between these first two gigs of their Girls, Girls, Girls tour by plane. Besides, explains the trollish guitarist Mick Mars, flying is less painful than driving when hung over – a state that most of the Crüe are proudly familiar with.

Unfortunately, the jet's not ready: the CD player shorted out its electrical system, its black leather upholstery hasn't been installed, and its nose has yet to be tattooed with the new Mötley insignia – a bentover blond stripper in garters. So after driving for an hour (in the opposite direction) to the Tucson airport, the Crüe – singer Vince Neil, 26, bassist Nikki Sixx, 28, drummer Tommy Lee, 24, and Mars, allegedly 31 – amble from their limos to a cramped, suffocatingly hot five-seat chartered plane. It sits on the runway for twenty minutes before the twenty-minute flight. Thus the band saves a grand total of about twenty minutes.

Once airborne, the band wolfs down some BLTs, and the ever-chipper, ultraskinny Lee uses the butt of his lighter to open a few bottles of Corona beer. During the trip the Crüe admires the many swimming pools speckling the landscape below. Sixx, who as chief songwriter is the acknowledged brains of the outfit, announces, "I want a pool the shape of a pussy!"

Album Review: Shout at the Devil (1984)

Bleached-blond Neil, toying absently with his hefty gold bracelet, looks out the window toward Phoenix and asks, "Is that smog?" Lee checks it out and replies, "It could be dust – it's the desert."

A loud beeping sound from the cockpit reminds the Crüe of flying high jinks from the band's six-year past – like the time Neil took the pilot's controls and nearly crashed into another plane, or the time the group's plane lost power and the wheels had to be manually cranked down. "We were all going, 'Oh, my fucking God, our career's over,"' Sixx says.

But Mötley Crüe doesn't die easily. Instead, in the spirit of living up to their intentionally misspelled, calculatingly umlauted name, the four highschool dropouts have continued to indulge in every conceivable rock & roll vice. Despite Sixx's addiction to heroin, Lee's marriage to Dynasty star Heather Locklear, various sexual round robins and altercations with the law, including Neil's felony conviction for killing someone while driving drunk, their career has never seemed healthier.

This summer millions of kids will buy the Band's fourth paean to the wild life, Girls, Girls, Girls ("Our three favorite pastimes," says Sixx). The Crüe's first three albums (1982's Too Fast for Love, 1983's Shout at the Devil and 1985's Theatre of Pain) have sold in the millions, simply because of the sheer force of the band's barnstorming, Vegas-like live extravaganzas. When its debut album (an independent release recorded in three days for under $20,000) was remixed and released by Elektra, only seven radio stations in the country would play it. Theatre of Pain did yield MTV hits with the ballad "Home Sweet Home" and the band's lame version of "Smokin' in the Boys Room," but the true Crüe sound remained unmined.

These days the Crüe and many of its rude and loud heavy-metal colleagues have fully invaded MTV, radio and the Billboard charts. Even new bands like Poison and Cinderella can slap on some makeup, squeeze into some studded leather, spritz their hair, bang out some fistpumping choruses and go platinum. So a previously established, well-marketed band like the Crüe, with a radio-friendly album, can easily rise to the top of the sleazy heap.

When heavy metal's practitioners discuss the appeal of their music, the phrase "the kids" is invoked almost constantly. "We play and write for the kids," Sixx says. "We've never had peer acceptance. They couldn't see past the costumes. . . . Kids don't buy Whitney Houston. People that buy one record a year buy that. In the golden age of rock it was all kids playing for kids. Now it's that again."

Though heads bang all around the world, heavy metal, in many ways, seems a peculiarly middle-American-youth phenomenon. In England the punk rebellion was fueled by lower-class anger and social unrest, but in America the average middle-class Joe can afford some form of the good life. So instead of roaming the streets, alienated youths cruise the malls, more bored than angry.

And heavy metal has caught on as a sort of Lite punk: it smells and tastes like rebellion but without that political aftertaste. Its main selling points are that adults find it unlistenable, preachers call it blasphemous, and Tipper Gore blushes reading the lyrics. Fans at Crüe concerts say they like the group because the music is hard and fast, but they also like the band's reckless hedonism, which they read about in the metal fanzines.

Steve Boles, 18, saved up his graduation money and flew with his mother and sister from Pendleton, Indiana (population 2000), all the way to Tucson just to see the first show of the Girls tour. A levelheaded, college-bound kid, he's an anomaly among Crüe fans, but he sits in the parking lot for hours just to get Tommy Lee to sign his shirt. Boles says he likes the Crüe because "they do what they want" but admits the band's image is probably just image. "I think a lot of it is showbiz. They have to act that way to make money . . . whatever it takes to be popular."

For all the anthemic raunch, horror-show makeup and well-planted whispers of Satanism, heavy metal's only discernible message is "Party hearty." The music stirs the kids up only to dump them back in the malls, as exhausted and aimless as ever.

Back in 1981, Frank Carlton Serafino Ferranno, who had begun calling himself Nikki Sixx, dropped out of the L.A. group London to start a new band called Christmas. He recruited drummer Tommy Lee (bass) from Suite 19, another area band. Soon after, they came across an ad announcing, Loud, Rude, Aggressive Guitarist Available. Thus they found Bob Deal, then hit it off immediately upon discovering that they used the same blue-black Nice'N Easy hair dye. "We didn't even have to hear him play," says Lee in the band's biography. "We went, 'This is the guy – he's disgusting."' Deal changed his name to Mick Mars and suggested the group's inspired moniker. After dismissing the first lead vocalist, they lured Vince Neil (Wharton) away from a Cheap Trick cover group called Rock Candy. No matter that Neil didn't have the greatest voice in the world – he had all the right moves. Since then, the band has consumed more than 750 bottles of Jack Daniel's in its quest for musical excellence.

Mötley Crüe: The Rolling Stone Album Guide

In 1983, Sixx told a reporter, "We could just fall apart tomorrow or go straight to the top, because we're such extremists as personalities. It's like riding a roller coaster twenty-four hours a day. Every time you turn around, somebody's in jail or 100,000 kids are buying our album."

True enough. For instance, last summer Vince Neil, after being allowed to finish the Theatre of Pain tour, spent twenty days in the clink for vehicular manslaughter for a December 1984 DUI accident that killed Nicholas Dingley, the drummer for the group Hanoi Rocks, and severely injured two others. Neil has paid $2.6 million in settlement to the injured parties, played benefit concerts and served 200 hours of community service. He is still on probation; the liner notes on the last Mötley album warned fans, "If and/or when you drink – don't take the wheel. Live and learn – so we can all fuckin' rock our asses off together for a long, long time to come."

Asked what their new album is about, Neil says, "We don't write songs to be messages . . . When I was younger, even now, I don't listen to the words. If I like the melody, I like the song." Sixx says, "I don't understand U2's music. It's too serious. They bum me out. I think music's an escape . . . I'm not a parent. I don't want to tell kids what to do."

Occasionally, the Crüe does make a suggestion: the liner notes on Theatre of Pain asked fans to send in pictures – "you know what kind we like" – and the band received 4000 Polaroids of young body parts.

"I've always thought of us as the psychiatrists of rock & roll," says Sixx, "because the kids come to see us, get all this anxiety and pent-up aggression out. That hour and a half is theirs. No one can take it away. No parent can tell them to turn it down."

To fully appreciate what goes into that cathartic ninety minutes, just stand next to Paul Dexter at the back of the floor during a Mötley show. His leg thumping with the beat, the blond, bleary-eyed Dexter calls cues through a headset while he and two assistants finger computerized controls for 1600 lights, which are mounted on mobile grids, and smoke, fire and sparklers during the sixteensong set.

The playlist never varies – the $1.5 million production is too technically complex to allow for improvisation. Everything is planned, right down to Neil's introductory raps, which Sixx has written in Magic Marker on sheets of legal paper taped to the stage. (For the song "Red Hot," the rap goes like this: "You know, there's nothing like a nice, cold . . . blonde! Or brunette! But what I really like are redheads . . .")

When the Crüe was starting out at L.A. clubs like the Starwood, the members would light their pants on fire and chain-saw the heads off mannequins. But Sixx, like his audience, has a TV-bred attention span; last tour, after reading something somewhere about commedia dell'arte, he concocted a stage set that resembled a theater, and the band wore heavy makeup and glittery silks. This time out, the makeup is gone, and the high concept is concert hall as strip club. (The Top Twenty title song and its slick video depict the boys cruising on their Harleys from club to club, ogling and groping at the hot dancers.)

The Girls show kicks off with old stripper music. Ceiling-high red curtains drop to the floor like garments, revealing a bare, smoky red stage. Pneumatic lifts raise first one, then two, then three levels of amps. Lee begins his stick-shattering pounding as his drum set emerges out of the ground in a forklifted cage. Originally, the rest of the band had planned to emerge from between a giant woman's legs. Instead, they hit the stage running. Neil grabs his cordless mike, mike stand and all, and tears around screeching "All in the Name of . . .," which, like most Crüe tunes, has a catchy riff and a much-repeated refrain:

She's only fifteen – she's the reason, the reason I can't sleep
You say illegal – I say legal's never been my scene
I try like hell but I'm out of control
All in the name of rock'n' roll –
for sex and sex I'd sell my soul.

Most of Mötley Crüe's lyrics deal with the band, its milieu, desires and exploits. For Neil, the Girls album "is all based on going out with your buddies and having a good time, going to strip clubs and stuff."

During each song in the concert, the dazzling light array swivels and shifts like Spielberg's grandest special effects; flash pots explode in sync with the music, and lithe, blond Emi Canyn and Donna McDaniel (the Nasty Habits) rise out of the ground to shimmy and sing backup.

But the set's truly awe-inspiring peak comes when Lee's drum-set cage rises high above the stage. In the midst of a solo he stops and announces, "I had a fucking dream. I wanted to play the fucking drums upside down." Then, while he plays, the cage tilts forty-five degrees to the left, then to the right, then face down ninety degrees, and finally it flips him head over heels in two complete circles. "See?" the barechested, strapped-in Lee cries when it finally rights itself. "Dreams do come true."

"We try to go overboard with the stage show," says Vince Neil, tanning by the pool at the Sheraton El Conquistador, near Tucson, "so the kids get their money's worth. I'd be bummed if I went to a concert and they just stood there and played. That's not my idea of show business." Just to make sure his voice won't give out, Neil gets a steroid shot before performances. One-fourth Mexican, he was born in Hollywood, California, and cut high school in suburban Covina to go surfing. He still calls everyone "dude" and skateboards backstage.

Of all the Crüe, he's the one most caught up with living the image of a rock star. In the band's home video Uncensored, released last year, he's seen cruising L.A. in a tub in the back of a limo, drinking champagne with a set of breast-flashing women, explaining, "This is why I'm in this business." Before every concert he kisses dressing-room posters of models like Paulina Porizkova and Carol Alt for good luck.

To be interviewed, he has to be pried from chatting up two leggy models who are staying in the room next door. He marvels that even though the models had spent the entire previous night hanging out in his room, they didn't tear off his clothes. "It's okay," he says with a gleeful laugh. "Laying the foundation before you build the skyscraper!"

Neil, who says he's currently dating a "beach bunny," divorced his wife around the time he went to jail last year. The marriage had never been publicly acknowledged because Sixx had wanted the band to appear to have no attachments. In other words, to maintain their image, the members of the Crüe have the opposite of Gary Hart's problem. "I think Hart would've made a great president," Neil says. "I mean, we could've played at the White House!" But he adds that Hart "lied." "A president, to me, is Abe Lincoln, George Washington – not some guy who's boning some chick."

Neil has had problems of his own since his Ford Pantera rammed into a Volkswagen on the way home from a beer run. "After the accident, I wouldn't even leave the house. I was afraid to." He entered a hospital and underwent therapy for a month. The terms of his probation include speaking to community groups and staying off booze. Neil does his best, asking for Evian when his cohorts chug Jack Daniel's. But it's obviously a strain, especially when, every show, he brings a bottle of Jack onstage so Sixx can take a chug. Neil still drinks beer and margaritas without too much peer pressure. A counselor will be popping in on various tour stops to help him.

"I fucked up," Neil says of the accident. "I've always wanted to go out and have a good time, loved fast cars, loved to get drunk. I just fucked up. So ever since, I've tried to say, 'Learn by my mistake. Don't make the same mistake yourself."' He claims that he doesn't feel a twinge when belting out, "Have a drink on the boys, we'll entertain you in style," in the song "Bad Boy Boogie." "I used to, but not anymore. You can't dwell on things the rest of your life." (Still, the band no longer performs "Knock 'Em Dead, Kid.")

If the Crüe hadn't happened, Neil says, "I would be one of those guys in Hawaii that rents you jet skis." When sixty, "I want to be like Jerry Buss, the guy that owns the Lakers. That guy's happening. He's like sixty-five, and he's always got a beautiful nineteen-year-old on his arm. He sits in his mansion, has a good time."

A kid comes up to Neil and asks him, "Will you sign an autograph for my friend Daniel?"

"Sure," Neil says good-naturedly, taking the pen. "How do you spell Daniel?"

"Three, come in three, is seven up yet?" security chief Fred Saunders says into his walkie-talkie.

"That's a suppository, over," comes the reply.

Three is Mötley's cheerful tour manager, Rich Fisher; Seven, Mick Mars. This is the tenor of the nearly constant walkie-talkie chatter of the Crüe's road crew. Saunders (Four), who used to hang with Hell's Angels, devised the number system partly so outsiders couldn't eavesdrop and partly because it sounds cool.

Forty-one is the dressing room; 129, the gig location; 268, the bus; 101, the hotel; 100, "krell" (cocaine); 714, a bimbo; and 747, a "pig with lipstick" (fat girl). Saunders can also perfectly duplicate each Crüe member's signature and often signs their eight-by-ten glossies. "I don't like doing them, but there's such a demand," the muscular, bearded Saunders says apologetically. "At least they're not hand stamped."

It's midday in the blazing Arizona heat, and Seven is nursing a hangover ("My brains are oatmeal," he confesses) in his room, curtains drawn, watching an episode of Kung Fu on TV. Mick Mars, the least social of the Crüe, looks like Paul Williams wearing an Addams Family wig. Born in Indiana, the son of a factory foreman, Mick moved to California when he was eight. He changed his name, he says, because "the initials were B.A.D., and it was bad luck for me." Twice divorced, he says he's "real picky" about girls. "There's too much disease going around."

Mars is the band's cutup, the one most likely to scream unexpectedly or talk about muffs and woodies. He calls Jack Daniel's "mouthwash." But he admits he drinks for confidence: "It's weird to get out onstage and be real animated. I feel awkward."

His hobbies are "fucking around" in his Corvette and dabbling in his eight-track home studio. Though he can quote extensively from Penthouse's "Forum," he admits, "I'm not too big on reading."

Does he picture still being Mötley ten years from now? "Yeah, at least putting out albums, getting together, goofing around, if only for – what's that word? – nostalgia's sake."

 

It's the afternoon before the first concert of the new tour, and Tommy Lee is taping public-service announcements for a local Tucson TV station. He seems uptight; whenever the camera's off, he lights up another cigarette. He glances at a script for a drinking and driving spot. "I got a good one for this," Lee says. "Can I mention that I've had a couple of 502s?" He's told that Arizonans won't know what that means.

"DUI," he explains helpfully. On one take, he says, "Do me and yourself a favor, man. If you're going to drink and drive . . . oh, shit."

Lee later says he didn't "dig" doing the P.S.A.: "I didn't have an accident, and I didn't check into a hospital. I know when to say, 'No, that's enough.' I guess it's a good thing for kids who are in trouble all the time, but if they don't listen to their parents and friends, they're gonna listen to me? I'm not a preacher, man. I just play drums."

Tommy "T-Bone" Lee is the youngest, most gungho and instantly likable Crüe member. Born in Athens, Greece (his mother is Greek, and his father was in the armed services), he soon moved to California, where he went to Neil's high school but only attended three classes: music, coed volleyball and graphic arts, in which he'd print up Aerosmith T-shirts. Since both parents worked, he'd go back home and whack his drums until three o'clock, then leave before his mother arrived and return as if he'd just got home from school. "The first president of the United States really didn't matter to me. I don't give a shit. I wasn't around then. I don't need that upstairs." He was only seventeen when the band formed.

Lee has the most "tats" (tattoos) of anyone in the band – no small accomplishment – including a phoenix over his entire right thigh and a rose with the name Heather on his left forearm. He met Dynasty star Heather Locklear at an REO Speedwagon concert. He took her hand and said, "Hi, I'm Tommy, nice to touch you." He got her phone number from his accountant's brother, a dentist who knew Locklear's dentist. But the first time he called her up, he almost blew it. He told her, "Hey, check it out, you're on channel 2." A minute later she was back saying that the person on channel 2 was Heather Thomas of The Fall Guy. "I was confused," Tommy says, "as to which Heather I'd actually be going out with." That obstacle was soon overcome, and they married May 10th, 1986.

Marriage is "great, it's very cool," says the man who admits he used to "fuck anything with a pulse." "If I wasn't married, I'd probably be dead, the partying and stuff."

Even now that he's a family man, Lee has no problems with the image of women that the band projects. "It never enters my mind. I really don't think about anything, I just do it."

No one in Mötley Crüe is wearing underpants, so before sliding into his leather stage pants for a photo shoot, Nikki Sixx wipes his rear with a towel, which he then tosses at his band mates, who flee in all directions. "We're on tour again!" cries Vince Neil.

The band members take turns pumping a twenty-pound barbell before doing a bare-armed pose. Sixx, who has been working out regularly, throws a minitantrum when he sees how chubby his arm photographs in the preliminary Polaroids. He sits while having ice packs applied to hide bags under his eyes and regards the bare-chested, six-foot-four-inch Lee and his pancake-flat tummy. "If I could just lose this shit here," he says, tugging at his midriff. "I want to go onstage without a shirt on. I want to be in top form. When I'm thirty, I want to be like Jagger, at my peak. I don't want to fade. I want to be getting better, like that Clairol commercial. Is that corny?"

Sixx, the most reflective member of the band, was born in San Jose, California. His mother left his Sicilian father for a musician in Frank Sinatra's band, with which she sang backup, and young Sixx grew up, mostly with his grandparents, in Idaho, New Mexico and Seattle. A loner who read adventure books and dreamed of being a gunslinger, he stole car radios and listened to Deep Purple and T. Rex. He got his first guitar by bringing an empty case to a music store, asking for a job application and sticking a guitar in when the manager's back was turned.

His grandmother's death last July inspired the ninety-second orchestrated snippet on Girls, Girls, Girls called "Nona," which repeats one line over and over: "I'm outta my head without you." Her death, a source says, also helped snatch him from a severe heroin addiction that had started after the Theatre of Pain tour (which ended in March 1986). Sixx had grown so reclusive and dependent that he couldn't bring himself to go to her funeral.

"I was strung out bad for over a year," he says quietly. "I'd just bought a new house, and it turned into the Hollywood rock & roll headquarters. It was like 'Here, snort this. Here, shoot this. Here, drink this. Hey, fuck her.'

"No one can pull me out of anything once I start, I do what I want. I was probably trying to see how close I could get. 'Is Nikki Sixx human? Can I die?"' He spent seven days in a drug-rehabilitation clinic, alongside other sports and entertainment figures, and eventually quit. The same counselor checking up on Neil also keeps an eye on Sixx.

"Heroin is the most dangerous drug," says Sixx. "It's like heaven, you know? People wouldn't do it if it weren't. And quitting hurts. But I opted for pain and to have success as a songwriter – to achieve these goals, rather than being a drugged-out rock star. Half the kids in L.A. are on junk. It's so fashionable, it scares the fuck out of me."

Suddenly, he backs off. "I don't want to sound like a parent." One result of his addiction is the new album's song "Dancing on Glass," which declares, "I've been thru hell/And I'm never goin' back/To Dancing on Glass."

"I'm not mellowing out," he says. "I'm just street smart about it." Mellowing out would kill the Mötley image, but how long can it continue? Sixx now lives surrounded by antiques in a spotless house ("There's something warm about old things"), and his impending marriage to Vanity seems to have dampened his self-destruct fuse. "We've kind of tamed each other," says the sultry singer-actress backstage at the Tucson show. "At home, Nikki's such a farm boy! He wears granny glasses. He doesn't drink Jack at home at all. Just some wine. You don't need booze and drugs when you're in love."

To prove her point, she grabs him from behind and grinds against him. "This is his favorite thing in the world," she chirps.

Nikki had a crush on Vanity for four years and finally contacted her through her management. She fell for him in seven hours and asked him to marry her in three weeks. Why? "The way he looked at me. He looked like he'd been adoring me forever." They plan to marry in December. Interestingly, Vanity's name will then be Vanity Sixx, a misspelling of her former group's name.

But Nikki's not worried that marriage will end his sex appeal. "I have more to offer than being a bachelor. I'm a writer." He has dreams of directing videos, writing screenplays and publishing a book of rock-lyric-like poetry. He wants to call it Shades, because he feels each of his songs expresses a certain color. He sees the new album as "golds, silvers, reds, greens, twinkling lights." He hopes that by grouping together his more sensitive writings and labeling them with specific colors, "kids can get into it, it won't be wimpy."

Nobody could accuse him of wimpiness on his new song, "You're All I Need," written from the point of view of a kid who has just killed his girlfriend to keep her from dating anyone else. It's the closest thing he's ever written to a love song, and he defends it as simply "mirroring" society. It seems time to ask what he thinks of that society, the society that rewards Mötley Crüe's vices while exiling Gary Hart for his. Sixx seems puzzled by the question. "Who's Gary Hart?"

It's 5:00 P.M. the day before the show in Phoenix, and Sixx is poolside, drinking a Bloody Mary and eating a platter of shrimp. A proud mother brings over her four-year-old son, Tommy, to meet him. "He knows all your music," she says.

"Hi, Tommy!" says Nikki, shaking his tiny hand. "What do you wanna be when you grow up?" Tommy, shied into muteness, shrugs. "A rock star?" He nods.

Sixx is ecstatic. "You don't want to be a fireman or the president?" Tommy shakes his head no. "Why's that, so you can get all the girls?" Tommy Grins.

"You can do whatever you want," says Sixx, clearly happy to be preaching his main message to such a ready convert. "Go jump in the pool with all your clothes on!"

Tommy hesitates, frowning slightly. He looks at the pool, then at his mother, then at Sixx. "Go for it!" Sixx urges.

Tommy's mother's smile tightens. "That's too deep for you," she says and grabs his arm, leading him off.

"I love kids," Sixx says fondly, as he watches them walk away.

This story is from the August 13th, 1987 issue of Rolling Stone.


From The Archives Issue 506: August 13, 1987
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