From Moscow With a Novel Message : Behind the media blitz of taking heavy metal rock to the Soviets, an anti-drug line was quietly delivered


It was near the end of Day 1 at the recent Moscow Music Peace Festival and most of the 90,000 fans at Lenin Stadium were caught up in the performance of Ozzy Osbourne, one of the pioneers of the fiercely rebellious heavy-metal genre.

But Dr. Dave Lewis, a Los Angeles authority on substance abuse and a director of the nonprofit, anti-drug organization co-sponsoring the two-day festival, wasn’t watching the show. He was sitting in a second-floor conference room at the stadium, focusing on the words of another flamboyant rock star--Motley Crue’s bassist Nikki Sixx.

Sixx and the rest of the Los Angeles-based Crue had just finished their hourlong set and he and drummer Tommy Lee were sitting at a table, answering questions from Soviet journalists.


The initial inquiries were simple enough. How did they like Moscow? Why did they smash their guitars at the end of the show? When was their next album due?

But one journalist was curious about why a band with as notorious a reputation as Motley Crue’s would be part of a concert whose goal was to raise money to combat drug abuse in the United States and Soviet Union. Wasn’t there a contradiction in that?

Lewis, 42, waited for the answer. For all the talk about the festival being a cultural breakthrough (it was an ambitious display of Western hard-rock that was for years considered impossible in the Soviet Union), Lewis’ reason for being here was the anti-drug message.

But he knew Sixx and most other hard-core rockers weren’t about to preach an anti-drug message on stage. It would, they felt, break the momentum of the show and make them sound like nagging parents. So the anti-drug message was going to be transmitted, if at all, in exactly these kinds of informal media exchanges.

Lewis, seated in the rear of the room, leaned forward in his chair as Sixx addressed the question.

“I don’t believe Motley Crue is here on an anti-drug crusade,” Sixx said, raising a heavily tattooed arm to brush the long, fluffy hair from his eyes. “We are not anti-drug at all. We are here to play kick-ass rock ‘n’ roll.”


Lewis twisted anxiously.

“We’ve all done drugs,” Sixx continued, referring to the band members. “We are drug addicts and we don’t do drugs any more because we have . . . gone through rehabilitation. But we are not here to (preach against) drugs, because a kid will just rebel against you and do it.”

The important thing, he said, was to “be a role model of some sort and relate your own experiences . . . and explain why drugs are bad. . . . Why shooting heroin or freebasing (can kill you) and how drinking can rot your liver. . . . That’s something the kids can understand.”

Lewis sighed. It was exactly the kind of message that he thinks makes an impact.

“Rock stars and athletes can be enormously effective role models for kids, but they’ve got to speak straight from the heart because kids can tell the difference between public service announcements that someone else has written and an honest message,” said Lewis, a member of the board of the Make a Difference Foundation.

“When kids hear Nikki Sixx say he’s a drug addict and that drugs almost killed him, a lot of them take notice. They realize the same thing could happen to them and it makes them realize there is a choice involved.”

But, he warned, parents shouldn’t think Nikki Sixx or any rock star is going to be able to solve their kid’s drug problem. Rock ‘n’ roll--contrary to some parents’ fears--isn’t the reason most kids get involved with drugs, and it alone can’t stop a drug user.

Lewis uses this example in explaining drug addiction patterns to parents: “There are kids on the left side of the fence who aren’t even thinking about drugs, and there are kids on the right side who are already using. Our experience has shown that those kids aren’t much affected one way or another by what a rock star or athlete says because they’ve already made their decision.


“But the kid on the fence can be influenced. Listening to Nikki Sixx or some other rock star can help that kid take one foot off the fence and start moving in a healthier direction. In the foundation, we are trying to help use rock as a positive force to get those kids on the fence to turn away from the drugs.”

Motley Crue had some help in saying no to drugs. The band was still racing down rock’s fast lane five years ago when lead singer Vince Neil was charged with drunk driving and vehicular manslaughter following a traffic accident that resulted in the death of a passenger in Neil’s car (Nicholas Dingley, the drummer in the group Hanoi Rocks) and serious injury to a couple in the other car.

Neil pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 30 days in jail, five years’ probation and about $2 million in compensation to the victims. Neil subsequently attended a drug abuse program where he met Lewis. Eventually, the other members of the band sought rehabilitation and all now declare themselves drug free.

Even the Make a Difference Foundation grew out of a legal skirmish involving substance abuse. Doc McGhee, who manages numerous bands including Motley Crue and festival headliner Bon Jovi, started the organization last year as part of a community service provision of probation given him after he pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to “aiding and abetting” in the distribution of an estimated 40,000 pounds of marijuana.

McGhee, who said his role in that drug case was “peripheral,” said he has experimented with drugs but had sworn off them long before last year’s court action and was involved in anti-drug campaigns, including the Rock Against Drugs program launched in 1986, well before the community service order.

“I had some (drug) problems personally and I saw a lot of my friends using drugs and I finally decided enough is enough,” McGhee said during an interview here. “But I think the accident with Vince was the real telling point for me. It was devastating to all of us and I thought we should use the power of rock ‘n’ roll to help people, not to destroy them.”


What about that power of rock ‘n’ roll? Has rock, as some parent groups have charged, contributed to the alarming abuse rate in this country through its celebration of sex and drugs? And can it now be an effective tool in discouraging drug use?

Lewis, the father of two teen-age boys, has studied the problem of drug abuse since the late ‘70s when he was chief of the department of mental health at the Air Force Academy. His conclusion: Rock can play a role in the substance abuse battle, but the main responsibility remains with the family.

“Everyone knows we have allowed drug abuse to become an epidemic in this country,” Lewis said, sitting on some stadium steps after the press conference. “Studies show that as much as 20% of high school seniors use either marijuana or alcohol on a daily basis. That’s a tidal wave pushing at us.

“The tendency is for parents to point to something else as the source of the problems. . . . Movies or rock ‘n’ roll. . . . But these are only side issues. If you eliminated rock ‘n’ roll tomorrow, you’d still have a substance abuse problem in this country.

“Pointing a finger at external causes in most cases is simply an example of denial.”

But what role does rock play in drug abuse?

Lewis said virtually all kids listen to rock ‘n’ roll and not all kids are substance abusers, but his research does suggest that more “troubled” kids probably listen to heavy metal than other forms of rock.

“We did some studies with UCLA that suggest a stimulation-seeking behavior is common among young drug users. We don’t know if it is the chicken or the egg, but kids who use drugs like being a little on the edge. They like fast cars and I think heavy metal is a part of that pattern,” he said, referring to the thrill-seeking images of much of that music.


“But I don’t think there is anything to suggest the music is the cause of the behavior. We have to look back in most cases to someone’s family life, and in doing that we have found several high-risk factors.”

Lewis said most of the high-risk factors involve situations that cut severely into the time that parents can spend with children: single-parent families, families where both parents work and military families that are on the move and often separated. Another high-risk situation is the family that moves from a small town to a big urban area at a key moment in a teen-ager’s life, causing the youngster to make new friends at a time when self-esteem is often in question.

This covers a lot of territory--even Lewis, who is divorced and raising his sons--is in the high-risk category.

“The best thing a parent in one of these categories can do--or any parent can do--is to provide quality time,” Lewis said. “You’ve got to lay a foundation so that a kid has something to fall back on when he goes through the difficult teen years.

Lewis said parents are the primary role model in a child’s early years.

“When kids are, say, between 4 and 10, a parent tells that kid a tremendous amount about what the world is like--and it’s not just what we say, but what we do,” he said. “If we walk into the kitchen and grab a beer or Mom goes to the medicine cabinet and gets some Valium and says, ‘Boy, what a bad day it has been,’ the message for the kid is that the way to deal with bad feelings is alcohol or drugs.

“A parent has to show the kid that there are other ways to deal with those feelings--and you’ve only got a certain amount of time to do it because by the time someone is 14, they start moving out of the nest and finding other role models.


“That’s when rock stars and athletes can be tremendously important because they are among the people that kids look to as additional role models. If they see these heroes abusing, it is a form of permission for them to do the same thing. But if they see their heroes speaking honestly about the dangers of drugs, it makes it easier for them to say no when someone offers them drugs or alcohol.”

While the guitars roared on during the Moscow Music Peace Festival, many of the rockers spoke freely to the press when asked about how drugs have affected them--including Osbourne, in his unorthodox way.

“To be perfectly honest, I’m not drinking and I’m not abusing,” he said during the flight to the Soviet capital. “But there are still times when, shall I say, a few leaks appear here and there. I want to do my bit to help other people stay away from (drugs), but I can’t really point to myself as a great example of control.”

During one of the several press conferences conducted during the concert week, Osbourne couldn’t resist a joke when asked if he has any problems with alcohol.

“Yeah,” he quipped. “I can’t find the bar.”

But there was no humor in the remarks of Jason Bonham, the 23-year-old son of Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham who died in 1980 of a heart attack reportedly brought on by excessive drinking.

Said Bonham, “Substance abuse is a very difficult issue because no one likes to admit they have a problem, but if you take it one step too far you can end up dead.


“And the sad thing is it’s not just you who is hurt, but the people around you. Being here is a very emotional time for me because I lost my father when I was 14. We had a lot of great times together. He used to get up at 7 every Sunday morning when he was home and drive me to the motocross meets and cheer me on.”

Bonham, now a rock drummer too, was at the festival to join in a jam at the end of both concerts on an old Zeppelin song, “Rock and Roll.”

The version will probably be included in an album the Make a Difference Foundation is releasing later this year, a key in the organization’s goal of raising $6 to $10 million for its programs.

Rather than simply issue a live album, McGhee asked each of the acts involved to record a song made famous by a band that lost a member to drugs or alcohol. The lineup includes versions of the Who’s “I Can’t Explain” (recorded by the Scorpions), the Who’s “My Generation” (by the Soviet band Gorky Park), Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back in Town” (Bon Jovi), Janis Joplin’s “Move It” (Cinderella), Tommy Bolin’s “Teaser” (Motley Crue), Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” (Osbourne), and the Sex Pistols’ “Holiday in the Sun” (Skid Row).

Noted Bonham, “When someone listens to all that great music, it may make them stop and realize what we’ve lost to drugs.”