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The Ballad of Pam & Tommy Lee

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Though the judge had forbidden me from contacting Pamela, there was nothing I wanted more than to speak to her and work things out. I was pissed at her, but I still felt trapped in a misunderstanding: a fucking missing stir-fry pan had ruined my life. They eventually installed a pay phone in my cell, but it was a nightmare trying to re-establish contact with Pamela, who was still fuming over our fight. We began speaking through three-way conversations with our lawyers or therapists, but every time, the conversation quickly degenerated into a mud-slinging fest and blame game. Eventually, a friend hired an intermediary named Gerald, who was supposed to patch up all my relationships – with Pamela, my children and the band.

Gerald told me that I had thrived on attention ever since I was a kid, doing things like opening up my window so that the neighbors could hear me play guitar. In some sick sense, as much as I loved Pamela, she was also the guitar that I wanted to show all the neighbors I knew how to play. Only it turned out that I couldn't play it that well.

Every now and then, l would call home and Pamela would answer the phone. We'd start talking, but within minutes the old hostility, oversensitivity and accusations would rise to the surface and then suddenly – bang! – one of us would hang up on the other. End of communication.

I'd sit in my cell and cry for hours afterward. After a while, though, with my therapist on the phone as moderator, we learned to communicate again. I started responding to everything she said not with insecurity and defensiveness but with my own natural love, which was one good habit I had picked up as a child. I also learned that to be able to talk or even live with Pamela, I needed to stop testing her love for me, because when you test someone and don't tell them, they're bound to fail.

In jail, I wasn't shit. I was just a fucking maggot on lockdown. I couldn't fucking whine to my manager every time I didn't get my way, and there was no audience to laugh at my goofing off. No one wanted to hear my bullshit. I couldn't be a whiny little baby anymore; I had to be a man. Or at least a big maggot, because I was being stepped on all the time – both in jail and in the real world. Pamela had started writing me some awesome letters and leaving me sweet voice-mail messages. But just as my hopes began to lift, I found out from fucking Nikki and some other bros that she was dating her old boyfriend, Kelly Slater. I couldn't fucking believe it. I spent hours on the phone with my therapist, crying. I couldn't understand how this shit could be happening to me. If I was home, at least I could be with friends or drive over to her place to talk about it. But here I was completely fucking useless. Then I learned my next important lesson: how to let go of things very quickly. I realized there wasn't shit I could do about it. Suck it up and leave it be.

On Saturdays, I was allowed to have visitors. Nikki came down a bunch of times, and Mick stopped by once but said he was never coming back because the guards were mean to him and made him tuck in his shirt and remove his baseball cap. Vince never visited – and I wasn't surprised. The best visit of all, however, came from my lawyer, when he informed me that, if nothing went wrong, he'd have me out in just under four months instead of six – and that meant I only had a month left.

I began to think about what it would take to make Tommy happy again. I had been spending a lot of time thinking about being a good father, husband and human being, but I hadn't been taking care of my creative problems. And the musical part of me is, like, fucking eighty to ninety percent. I needed to do something new, and that frustration had spilled over into my personal life. So I made a fucking decision.

When Nikki visited next Saturday, I looked at him through the bulletproof glass and squirmed in my seat. He was my best fucking bro, but I had to tell him: "Bro, I can't do it anymore." It was the hardest thing I ever had to say to anyone.

His eyes widened, his mouth dropped open, and he just said, "Whoa." He looked like a guy who thought he was in the perfect marriage, suddenly discovering that his wife has been cheating on him. Of course, I had been cheating on him. Earlier, in jail, I had asked a friend to leave a message on my answering machine saying that it accepted all collect calls. That way, whenever I had an idea for a song, I could just record it on my machine, to listen to when I got out. And these weren't songs for Motley Crue. I was ready to do my own shit.

I continued to compile music from my cell on my answering machine until September 5th, the day I was scheduled to leave. I lay in my bunk, waiting for the loudspeaker to crackle, "Lee, roll it up," which meant roll up your bed, blankets and shit, you're out of here.

I was told I'd be out at noon. But noon rolled by and nothing happened. Slowly, the clock crept to two o'clock. Every minute was agony. Then it was three, four, five o'clock. Next thing I knew, it was dinnertime. I kept telling everyone, "Dude, I'm supposed to be out." But no one would listen to me. Midnight struck, and they still hadn't called me. The old Tommy Lee would have bashed his head against the bars until someone paid attention to him. But the new Tommy Lee knew that there was nothing he could do but suck it up and accept it.

I stretched out in my bunk, pulled the threadbare blanket up to my neck, and went to sleep. At 1:15 in the morning, I was woken up by a voice on the loudspeaker: "Lee, roll it up!"

This story is from the May 10th, 2001 issue of Rolling Stone. 

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