Sex, drugs and one last show7/9/2014
To hear them tell it, Motley Crue is really done after this. When Vince Neil, Mick Mars, Tommy Lee and Nikki Sixx swing through Des Moines this week on their “All Bad Things Must Come to an End” tour, it’ll be your last chance to see VH1’s Ninth Best Metal Band of All Time.
And while history provides little reason to actually take the band at its word — the Crue has done the farewell tour schtick once before — all four members have given every indication that this time retirement will stick. Big boss Nikki Sixx in particular has been adamant in his insistence that the band will not release any new material after 2014, and the band has signed a “cessation of touring” contract, which allegedly prevents them from ever touring again under the name Motley Crue after this current tour is completed.
So assuming it’s all true — assuming that this is, indeed, the end of the MTV Music Award nominees for Best Heavy Metal Video (1990) — then it raises the question: What have we seen? As people sharing the earth with Motley Crue for the past 35 years, what have we, as a society, been privy to?
Well, there’s the music, of course. The Crue has managed to create its fair share of truly classic rock songs over its career. Songs like “Home Sweet Home,” “Girls, Girls, Girls,” “Shout at the Devil” and “Kickstart my Heart” are like uncut lines of glam metal coursing through your veins. Unfortunately, rampant drug abuse and band in-fighting managed to prevent them from really putting it all together at one time. 1989’s “Dr. Feelgood” stands as the lone example of what Motley Crue could sound like when firing on all cylinders and, not coincidentally, the album also stands as the one time the band was both sober and happy.
Even when the band was playing without being the former, they had their moments of greatness: drug-fueled albums like “Shout at the Devil” (1983), “Theater of Pain” (1985) and “Girls, Girls, Girls” (1987) still managed to produce a couple solid songs within the confines of highly uneven albums.
But it’s when they played without being the latter that the wheels really came off: once the ’90s started, both Lee and Neil left the band for periods of time, and Sixx began investing more time into various side projects. As a result, virtually everything after “Dr. Feelgood” has been dismal, with 1994’s professionally disastrous, John Corabi-fronted, self-titled album being the most polished turd in the pile.
But like any good, long-tenured band, the Crue’s legacy will be more than just vinyl. In the life and times of the self-proclaimed “world’s most notorious rock band,” there have been fights, lawsuits, trips to rehab, court, divorces and one thoroughly disgusting contest with Ozzy Osbourne. The Crue legacy is one of 75 million albums sold. It also includes four books, one feature-length film (in production), two dead people, one sex tape, one lifelong illness and a radio program.
In short, rock ‘n’ roll.
Formed in 1981, Motley Crue was the brainchild of bassist Nikki Sixx and drummer Tommy Lee. The pair added guitarist Mick Mars through a newspaper ad and rounded out the band with a high school classmate of Lee’s, vocalist Vince Neil. It was Mars who suggested the name “Motley Cru,” with Neil being responsible for the change to Motley Crue, and the added metal umlauts — a nod, he’s claimed, to Löwenbräu beer.
Motley Crue released its first album, the self-released “Too Fast for Love” in 1981. The album was re-mastered after the band signed with Elektra Records in 1982, and eventually was certified platinum, beginning a string of seven straight platinum- or gold- certified albums for the band.
The Elektra years were very, very good to the band, particularly in the ’80s. Following on the heels of “Too Fast For Love,” the Crue entered its golden age, releasing “Shout at the Devil,” “Theater of Pain,” and “Girls, Girls, Girls” successively on each of the decade’s odd years. But the extraordinary success came with a price.
Crue’s component members didn’t handle the sudden influx of money and fame well. Sixx overdosed on heroin “a half dozen times” (by his own count), Neil spent time in jail (more on that later), and the entire band was apocryphally “banned for life” from the city of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, for a series of stunts on its first Canadian tour. Eventually, manager Doc McGhee — who himself was convicted in 1988 of smuggling 40,000 pounds of marijuana — staged an intervention and insisted on the band’s members entering rehab.
The result was an unmitigated success. The freshly clean and sober Motley Crue returned to the studio and released “Dr. Feelgood” in 1989. The album is the band’s most complete success, its highest selling album, and it stands as the high-water mark for the band both creatively and commercially.
With drugs being reduced as a problem, however, the members of Motley Crue were then left to actually deal with one another — a task they began to find increasingly unpalatable. Finally, in 1992, Neil left the band. To this day, the question of whether Neil quit or was fired is a contentious one. Sixx has continually stated that Neil left the band on his own accord, while Neil has maintained with equal vehemence that he was fired. Wherever the truth of the matter lay, the fact remains that Neil was replaced by former frontman of The Scream, John Corabi.
Corabi fronted the band long enough to release a single album, 1994’s self-titled effort. Though the music was solid enough, sales were so stagnant that Elektra flatly refused to provide funding for another album until Neil was reinstated. The band acquiesced in 1997, and “Generation Swine” followed shortly thereafter. It, too, was a commercial failure, and Motley Crue parted ways with Elektra and formed Motley Records that same year.
Lee quit the band in 1999 after spending most of the previous two years feuding with Neil, being replaced for a time by former Ozzy Osbourne drummer Randy Castillo, who was himself replaced by former Hole drummer Samantha Maloney. During this same period, Sixx began devoting more time to side projects like the bands 58 and Brides of Destruction, while Neil continued his solo career, such as it was.
The band released an autobiography, “The Dirt,” in 2001 and eventually reformed the original lineup in 2004 to embark on 2005’s “Red, White & Crue” tour, which is where the first rumblings of retirement began.
But retire then they did not. At least, not technically. Motley Crue has embarked on several tours since 2005 but has only released two albums of original music in the new century: 2000’s “New Tattoo,” and “Saints of Los Angeles” in 2008. After “Saints” was released, Sixx — who’s been the primary songwriter for the band since its inception — has gone on record several times stating that the album was most likely the Crue’s last original material.
This gets us back to this week, and to July 11, the seventh stop on Motley Crue’s final tour. The past three-and-a-half decades haven’t always been the smoothest of rides, and people have bowed out for a bit here and there. But the Crue has always pulled it back together again, and now the band is finishing up with the same four guys who got things started.
If we were giving Motley Crue’s members cute little naming conventions ala The Beatles, then Mars would be “the quiet one,” even though the distinction might be more a matter of circumstance than personal choice.
Mars (who was born either in 1951 or 1955, depending on who you ask) got the Crue gig after he posted an ad in L.A.-based classifieds paper, The Recycler. In the ad, Mars (arguably Motley Crue’s most musically talented member) described himself as a “loud, rude and aggressive” player, which suited the young Tommy Lee and Nikki Sixx just fine. It would then be Mars who convinced Lee to ask his high school classmate Vince Neil to join the band, telling the drummer “I don’t care if he can sing…the way he got that crowd going, that’s what we need.”
But while the rest of Motley Crue has gone on to varying degrees of infamy through various run-ins with both the law and the genitals of Playboy Playmates, Mars has kept a relatively low profile. This is due in no small part to his life-long struggle with ankylosing spondylitis, a debilitating, inflammatory form of arthritis. The illness has led to decreased mobility, the complete fusing of his lower spine and hip replacement surgery in 2004. Earlier this year, Lee had expressed the opinion that Crue’s retirement was at least in part due to the worsening of Mars’ condition, an allegation that the rest of the band has vehemently denied.
It’s entirely possible that if you quizzed someone who was not a Motley Crue fan, his or her only knowledge of Vince Neil might come from the 1994 Brendan Frazier vehicle, “Airheads.” In it, Judd Nelson utters the sentence, “Stars don’t go to jail. Hell, Vince Neil did 30 days, and he killed someone.”
In truth, however, Neil only did 15 days stemming from the vehicular death of Hanoi Rocks drummer Nicholas Dingley. In 1984, Dingley was riding in a car that Neil was driving while drunk. Neil lost control and collided head-on with another vehicle, killing Dingley and severely injuring the two passengers of the other vehicle. Neil was eventually found guilty of vehicular manslaughter, which resulted in his 30-day sentence (cut in half for good behavior), 200 hours of community service and a $2.6 million dollar fine.
It wasn’t Neil’s only brush with the law, however, as he’s been arrested six more times between 2002 and 2011 for crimes as wide-ranging as “punching a producer” to “punching a sound guy” and “punching a sex worker.”
In between felonious assaults, Neil found time to release three solo albums, all of which have been middling successes at best. He’s also been involved in a number of non-musical business arrangements, including a vineyard, a strip club, a chain of “Dr. Feelgood Bar and Grills,” and he’s part owner of an arena football team.
He insists to this day that his departure from the Crue in 1994 was a forced exit, but when the fortunes of both Neil and the band quickly headed south, both sides found themselves willing to forgive and forget. For a time, that is, until renewed in-fighting prompted Lee to leave the band, a move that eventually forced Motley Crue into hiatus in 2002.
In 2010, Neil released his most recent solo album, in conjunction with his autobiography. That same year, he was a contestant on “Skating With the Stars,” which I am just now being informed was actually a thing.
Tommy Lee has a gigantic penis. There. We got that out of the way. It’s a fact that just about everybody on the planet became aware of in 1995 after a sex tape featuring Lee and his then-wife Pamela Anderson was leaked on the Internet. In an age when people waited for half an hour or more to download photos, Internet porn-hounds everywhere wasted thousands of man-hours just to receive grainy footage of a naked Anderson and, like, nine miles of Tommy Lee’s schlong.
Lee is also the second member of the band to be accused in the death of another person, as he was sued in civil court over the 2001 drowning death of 4-year-old Daniel Karven-Veres, who fell into a pool and died during a birthday party for Lee’s then 5-year-old son. Lee was cleared of wrongdoing by a jury in 2003.
Lee also spent four months in prison after kicking Anderson, and quite possibly stands as one of only two people to be kicked out of an MTV Video Music Awards ceremony, with the other being Kid Rock, after the two of them got into a fight.
Lee left Motley Crue in 1997 after years of bickering with Neil. For the next seven years, just about his only contacts with the band were a short tour in ’99 and to collaborate on the group’s autobiography in 2001. A year after rejoining the band in 2004, Lee released his own autobiography, and, much like Neil would, he released a companion album at the same time.
Now that Crue is done releasing new material, Lee gets his creative ya-ya’s performing as an electronic dance music disc jockey.
Remember when I mentioned a thoroughly disgusting contest with Ozzy Osbourne? You can thank Sixx for that.
As the story goes, Motley Crue and Ozzy were playing a few shows together in 1984. Backstage of one of them, Ozzy and the band got into a contest to see who could gross the other out. It started small, then Sixx upped the ante by snorting a line of ants. For his retort, Osbourne allegedly unzipped his fly, urinated on the floor, then got down on all fours and sipped it back up. Sixx then allegedly followed suit, unzipping and urinating on the floor, but then the legend says that Osborne beat Sixx to the floor, and sipped the puddle up for him.
Throughout the band’s history, Sixx has served as its primary songwriter. Virtually every moment of genius and eye-rolling vapidity has come from Sixx’s mind and pen, which means, for better or worse, that credit for the bulk of the band’s musical legacy falls upon Sixx’s shoulders.
As the defacto leader of the band, he’s the Crue’s most commonly used non-musical mouthpiece. He was the one who announced Neil’s departure from the band; he was the one who welcomed Neil back into the fold. He was the one who announced Lee would be leaving, and he was the one who broke the news to the world that Motley Crue would be no more after 2015.
In addition to being the only bassist Motley Crue has had, Sixx has played in a number of side projects, written an autobiography and hosts a nationally-syndicated radio program called “The Sixx Sense.” It airs here in Des Moines on 106.3 weekdays from 7 p.m. to midnight.
Motley Crue launched its final tour on July 2 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The tour runs pretty much non-stop through the end of August before taking a month off and resuming in October. The final North American date for a Motley Crue concert is scheduled for Nov. 22, in Spokane, Washington. After that, Crue will spend 2015 touring Europe and Asia before hanging their spurs up for good.
Clearly, Motley Crue’s individual members have enough side projects and money to keep themselves entertained until they all die. But one wonders if the time will come when they all realize that they’re never so busy, never so successful, as when they’re together.
Sixx has been clear about this being Motley Crue’s last ride. But musicians tend to be a lot like comic book superheroes: they’re larger than life, and they don’t tend to stay dead. CV