It's Not a Reunion

Mary McNamara is associate editor at the Los Angeles Times Magazine

The guys all love the hair. Vince Neil's hair. He's just dyed it red--cherry Popsicle red. "I got tired of being the blond one," he says. "Totally rad, dude," says Nikki Sixx as he slides next to Neil on a bench at the Reel Inn on Pacific Coast Highway. "Yo, Red," says Mick Mars from across the table. "Aww, man, awesome" says Tommy Lee. "Yeah," Neil says, "like, my psychiatrist saw it this morning and said I looked like Raggedy Andy. My psychiatrist, man. And I'm getting inked tonight," he says, describing the large gothic cross he plans to have tattooed on his chest, emblazoned with "Skylar," the name of Neil's young daughter who died of cancer two years ago. The guys approve of this as well--it's all part of their thing. The hair, the ink, the black leather, the killer shades--it's all part of the music. The music of being Motley Crue.

They haven't been Motley Crue for a while. Not really. Five years ago, after a decade of producing platinum records (including "Girls, Girls, Girls," "Shout at the Devil" and "Dr. Feelgood") that truly defied definition--heavy metal? glam band? punk pop?--Neil and the band "parted company." That is, he quit or they kicked him out, depending on who was talking about it; there were sheaves of vitriolic press releases all around, threats and slaggings and lawsuits.

While this did not have the social influence of, say, the dissolution of the Beatles, it marked the end of an era--the four members of Motley Crue, home-grown and reared on the Sunset Strip club scene, took the credo "sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll" very seriously. They blew up things onstage. They dabbled in satanic imagery. They wore lots of makeup, hair-raisingly tight pants and really big platform boots. They had drug overdoses and lots of car wrecks. They brought rock star hair to the West Coast. They stomped and swaggered and were surrounded by babes of note, including Heather Locklear, way pre-"Melrose Place." They were, in many ways, the boy id run riot.

The breakup was also upsetting for a small but loyal following of Crue-heads who, despite a subsequent album with vocalist John Corabi replacing Neil, and two solo albums by Neil, continued to clamor, mainly online, for a reunion.

Not that "Generation Swine," the new album out Tuesday is a reunion. (See review, Page 83.)

"This is not a reunion, no way," Sixx says. "That is so cheesy."

"I just went away for a while," Neil says.

"We just wished him out into the corn," says Sixx, referring to the famous "Twilight Zone" episode "It's a Good Life."

"Yeah, right on, man," Lee says. "That's it exactly. We wished him out into the corn."

"This is a 'vacation's over' thing," Neil says.

"The name carried on without him," Sixx says. "He carried on without us. But there is a validity to the original magic."

"It wasn't the same without these guys," Neil says.

"All these other reunions, greed's a major factor," Sixx says. "It wasn't for us. It's about the music."

And survival. While the reformed Crue continued to tour, the group wasn't exactly selling out Madison Square Garden--and its one album didn't burn up the charts.

"This is the only thing they could do," says Lonn Friend, the former editor of Rip magazine and an early Cruehead. He's now vice president of artists and repertoire at Arista Records. "Together, they went about as far as a band like theirs can. Apart, well . . . Motley Crue worked because of a certain chemistry. Maybe they can pull it off again."

*

Seated around a picnic table, they are an incongruous sight on a sunny California afternoon: the rocker hair--Sixx's and Mars' jet-black and abundant; Lee's recently purple, now brown but metallic; and Neil's bright red. Their sunglasses are on, despite the shade of a table umbrella; their arms and torsos are much writ upon; their clothing is standard '80s rock issue--black, sleeveless, what isn't leather is leopard skin, and there's lots of jewelry--matching Motley Crue bracelets, earrings, nipple rings, even a diamond glinting from Neil's right canine. But close your eyes and you're surrounded by a bunch of, well, California dudes. Brothers, maybe, from the way they finish one another's sentences, laugh at jokes that aren't quite told, all with an extreme but affable profanity (imagine every third word as an "expletive deleted") and that singsong surfer cadence that those who don't live here cannot quite believe is real. Like, [expletive], no way, dude.

"So we started to record with John [Corabi] doing vocals," says Lee, continuing the non-reunion story, "and we're like, 'What happened?'--'cause he's falling apart. And John says there's too much pressure: 'I'm pulling you down, get Vince back.' "

"Our jaws dropped," Sixx says.

"So that got the wheels turning," Lee says.

The wheels were a bit rusty--"Hey, I hadn't talked to any of these guys in, like, five years," Neil says. "There was still a lot of animosity," Sixx adds.

Until the lawyers took over. If you get enough lawyers involved, even the most pissed off rockers will start talking to each other, if only to avoid talking to the lawyers.

"They were all positioning themselves financially, dragging it out, running up costs," Sixx says.

"They're all worms," Lee says.

"So finally we got Vince in a room and started talking about the music, and everyone starts to smile," Sixx says.

They're smiling now, waving away the smoke of Neil's Cuban.

"Didja see the cover? Didja like the album?" Lee asks. "It's awesome."

Neil pulls it out of a bag somewhere--the cover is a sneering swine chomping on a cigar. The rest of the band points out the resemblance to Neil's smoking countenance; there are so many stuttered "dudes" and so much good-natured swearing you expect someone to lean over and tousle his hair or give him a noogie.

The album, released by Elektra (the group's label since the beginning), is and isn't a departure from vintage Crue. Like their previous oeuvre, it's loud, brash, often abrasive, with a backbeat that could possibly fibrillate a cardiac patient. There is still a lot of what your parents would characterize as screaming, and the sound generally transports the listener to sticky-floored, smoke-filled clubs where dancing is a contact sport, the walls vibrate and you never put your beer down.

*

The guys are very proud of their new album--not just because they like the way it sounds but because they did it themselves.

"We did a lot of experimenting on this," Sixx says. "I don't know why we didn't do this stuff before."

"There's a lot of new sounds, new technology," Lee says. "And it wasn't made in a conventional studio. We made this record from our houses."

"Totally garage band," Sixx says. "We started rehearsing in this studio in the Valley and it was like total sweatbox, so we went over to Tommy's."

"We'd bought all our own stuff," Lee says. "So we're like, 'Why are we here?' So we split."

"We didn't have a process," Sixx says. "It was chaos."

"People in every room doing whatever," Neil says. "You just wandered from room to room seeing what the music was up to."

"You never knew what was going to happen," Sixx says. "Like my son Gunnar came by and I said, 'Sing,' and it was so cool. Magic happens when you're not thinking about it, not thinking about that red light. 'Cause you never think, when you start out, that you'll be in a studio having someone watching the clock and saying, 'This is what you're going to do.' And there's nothing for you to do but resort to massive amounts of drugs."

"Which we did," Neil says.

"Totally," says Mars, who is, it would seem, a man of few words.

The booze and the dope. If nothing else, Motley Crue stands, perhaps a little gray around the temples, as survivors of rockerdom. The group--formed in 1980, when bassist Sixx and drummer Lee quit their respective bands in search of something that wasn't punk but had that edge--was named by Mars, whom Sixx and Lee found through a classified that began: "Loud, rude, aggressive guitar player."

"That was it, totally," Sixx says. "Mick shows up, we're living in this complete dive, wearing our girlfriends' clothes, completely [expletive] up. Sooo Motley. I wanted a band that would be like David Bowie and the Sex Pistols thrown in a blender with Black Sabbath."

After hooking up with Neil, Motley Crue debuted at the Starwood in January 1981, and soon was playing the civic center circuit. The band's first big break came when it opened for KISS on a limited tour; after 10 days, KISS asked the guys to take a hike.

"They were on their way down; we were on our way up" is how Sixx remembers it. "We absolutely drew blood."

Then came the Ozzy Osbourne U.S. tour in 1984.

"It was a full-on fight to see who would top each other, on stage and off," Sixx says. "We would set ourselves on fire, literally. Our egos and drug abuse were absolutely out of control. It was a wonderful time."

"Motley Crue was the ultimate decadent arena band," says Friend. "They had no lofty political statements; they were just about taking your girlfriend to a concert and having a great time. They were the fairy tale part of rock 'n' roll--the size, the volume, the larger-than-life stars."

This particular fairy tale had more than its share of dark forests and tragic turnings: In 1985, Neil pleaded guilty to drunk driving and vehicular manslaughter in an accident that killed Nicholas Dingley, the drummer for Finnish rock group Hanoi Rocks. In 1987, Sixx almost died of a heroin overdose. There have been arrests for assault and drunk-and-disorderly, other nonfatal car wrecks.

They say they're clean now, a decision they made back before they broke up, a decision they made, says Sixx, to put the music first. That doesn't mean they're squeaky--Lee, the most publicized of the four, has had violent run-ins with paparazzi eager for a shot of him and his third wife, Pamela Anderson Lee; the two of them sued Penthouse for printing sexually explicit photos of them from a video they said was stolen from their home; and the couple's marriage has been off and on (on again since Lee's stint in rehab) and has been most-favored press fodder.

*

With the not-really-a-reunion, they hope to recapture some of the insanity, despite the moderation of the times, despite their own inevitable, if reluctant, maturation. They may not all yet be 40, but behind the shades, lines wink around the eyes; there's gray peeping through the dye. They order iced tea and Sharp's and talk about their houses--Neil's in Beverly Hills, Sixx's in Topanga, Lee's in Malibu, Mars' in the Valley--and how long it takes to get to the beach. They flip open their cell phones and make notes in their Newtons.

"Motley Crue suffered when heavy metal got replaced by alternative music," Friend says. "There's a whole segment of Americans who are hungry for arena bands. Motley Crue can give them that, the size, the volume, the escape. If Aerosmith's not too old. . . . There's a generation of kids whose parents went to KISS shows, and, they're saying, 'Hey, that looks like fun, can we get a piece of that?' "

The guys say, you bet, dude. They are ready for anything--they put Larry Flynt in their new video; he, in turn, has them scheduled for the cover of Hustler. The guys want the fans to be happy.

"It's the fans, man," Lee says. "The fans brought us back."

"The Crueheads," Sixx says. "They're faithful. They want us to take them on a journey. You know who our fans are?"

"Didn't we do some research?" Lee asks.

"Totally. And you aren't going to believe who they are."

"All fans are good, man," says Mars. "Every [expletive] one."

"Well, yeah, man," Sixx says, "but our fans, like, they watch 'Cops,' they watch 'Baywatch,' they read Playboy, and they all, like, work in gas stations. They are completely working-class."

"Which is cool, since we are white trash," Neil says.

"But, see, these are the people that get us," Sixx says. "Not like the people who try to label us."

The guys rumble and nod; the energy--angry energy--clenches fists and narrows eyes, and the Crue warms to what is clearly a favorite, if touchy, topic: how they are misunderstood.

"We were built to insult the establishment," Sixx says. " . . . Vince wasn't up there pouting and prancing. He was angry, he had things to say. We got a bad rap."

"And it's still sticking to our boots," Lee says.

"Our following was Hells Angels," Sixx says. "They weren't going to listen to some glitter band. We were Marilyn Manson before there was Marilyn Manson."

"All of us were trying to push the envelope. We were riding Harleys before the business types were," Neil says. "We started getting tattoos, people started getting tattoos, so we started getting sleeves."

"Guess we'll have to get them removed now, just to be different," Sixx says.

"We've been labeled until they've run out of labels," Lee says.

"Punk, heavy metal, glam," Sixx says. "Hell, when we made a pact to get sober, they tried to make us a poster band for sobriety."

"No way, man," the guys say in unison.

"I guess we need a new label," Sixx says.

"Yeah," Lee says. "Maybe we should have a contest on the Internet--the new Crue label."

*

It could be Lost Boys, that new label. Watching the band strut and preen at its recent induction into the Rock Walk of Fame at the Guitar Center on Sunset, it's hard to believe they're grown-ups, husbands, fathers. They seem caught in some rocker's Neverland where you never have to go to school, never wear a tie, where all you have to do is fight and play and plot against Captain Hook.

Their wives and girlfriends look quite amazingly alike--California blonds, all lips and legs and totally tan cleavage: Anderson Lee, the grande dame, with son Brandon on a black-leathered hip; Sixx's wife, Donna D'Errico, of "Baywatch" (where she met Anderson Lee, who made the match); Neil's girlfriend, Heidi Mark; and Robbie Mantooth with Mick Mars. All the women carry cameras. But after posing for family photos, the guys are soon clustered around one another, backs turned, talking and laughing. Like any group of 16-year-old boys. Like any garage band hopefuls. And which one is Pan? It's hard to tell. They all seem eager participants in their own time warp.

"We've already reached the goals we set," Sixx says. "So now we have to set new goals."

"Whatever will [expletive] your brains up," Lee says.

"We'll find stuff that hasn't been done before," Neil says.

"Go places we haven't been before," Sixx says. "Like Europe. The Japanese love us, but we haven't been some places in Europe."

"Just wait, dude, it'll be un-[expletive]-believable," Lee says.

"Hey, you know, the 'tude is the 'tude," Sixx says.

"If you're an asshole and you're sober," Vince says, "you're still an asshole."

"Y'know, we sit around and I think we're just a bunch of guys hangin'," Sixx says. "I think we're normal, and then, like, we go out, like in an airport and, whoa . . .

"Everybody jumps back," Lee says.

"I forget sometimes how broken we are," Sixx says.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
65°