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

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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.


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Song Stories

“Bird on a Wire”

Leonard Cohen | 1969

While living on the Greek island of Hydra, Cohen was battling a lingering depression when his girlfriend handed him a guitar and suggested he play something. After spotting a bird on a telephone wire, Cohen wrote this prayer-like song of guilt. First recorded by Judy Collins, it would be performed numerous times by artists incuding Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker and Rita Coolidge. "I'm always knocked out when I hear my songs covered or used in some situation," Cohen told Rolling Stone. "I've never gotten over the fact that people out there like my music."

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