So, this one time, I met Nikki Sixx. And it got me thinking:
Motley Crue is awesome. And Motley Crue is crap. And since 1985, I have been in something of a state of flux between these two viewpoints.
I was first exposed to the Crue in sixth or seventh grade, via the posters in my buddy, Kevin Moran's, bedroom. And to say that those guys looked unseemly - with their pentagrams and their tattoos their hair and their leather - would be an understatement. By the time I finally got around to hearing their music, I was more or less convinced that the band might actually be evil. As Chuck Klosterman put it in his brilliant Fargo Rock City:
"I was a myopic white kid who had never drank, never had sex, never had seen drugs, and had never even been in a fight. Judging from the content of Shout at the Devil, those were apparently the only things that the guys in Motley Crue did."
Over the next few years, America got a lot more familiar with the Crue: their videos made them MTV darlings, Tommy Lee's romance with Heather Locklear catapulted him into stardom in his own right, and Circus magazine provided ceaseless coverage of the band's exploits. Long before Nikki Sixx's infamous near-death experience, the mainstream success of "Dr. Feelgood" or the band's various best-selling sex tapes, Motley Crue was unquestionably the poster boy for all that was awesome and all that was crap about the LA hard rock scene.
Think about it:
- Two of the guys in the band (Lee and Mars) are awesome musicians. The other two (Neil and Sixx) are crap, getting by - often just barely, in Mr. Neil's case - on style.
- Nearly every promo shot the band did in the 1980's is giggleworthy today. And yet for kids like me (and several tens of thousands others), their image was a genuinely shocking and very effective celebration of rebellion, excess and deviance. Was it crap? Yes. But it sure was awesome.
- And the songwriting.....where to even begin? Just about every great artist who ever went big-time has a major league turd or two in his repertoire. Motley Crue, on the other hand, has a nearly even split between totally awesome instant classics and complete crap wastes of magnetic tape.
That's the mystery of the Crue: they're either better than they deserve to be, or they deserve to be better. But no one really knows which.
Personally, I thought the band was great. And, yet, by the time I was a senior in high school, I had turned on them.
Not because they were overexposed. Not because they'd become a mainstream hit machine. Not because they were now the favorite band of the teenage douchebags, prom queens and jocks who had never before shared my music preferences.
But for a far more petty and shallow reason: because they'd become my little brother's favorite band. And the idea that he and I could share any of the same interests was absolutely unacceptable to me.
That's all it took. In my mind, the band went from "awesome" to "crap" at that moment.
Because, unlike my own older sibling, I was not a charitable big brother. I did not encourage. I did not teach. I did not share. I resented, and I distanced.
It was an insecure basis for my tastes, but I should mention that in the years following high school, the band went out of their way to vindicate my opinion. Bumbling and fumbling their way through the 90's, the Crue swapped out singers, introduced dreadful solo projects, and went on occasionally ill-fated reunion tours. Like so many inferior hard rock acts of their generation, the Crue officially became a joke.
Regardless as to whether their legacy is one of awesomeness or crap, the one undeniable fact is that Motley Crue is irrepressible. Several lifetimes of arrests, car accidents and drug overdoses are certainly proof enough of this. But their resurrection in 2002 more or less proved it for once and for all.
That was the year Motley Cure released The Dirt, a biography so completely vile, depraved and tell-all that it became the gold standard for everyone from Aerosmith, to Marilyn Manson to various members of Guns N'Roses to mimic. The book was fantastic for both its bombast and its honesty, and it provided an excuse for fans like myself to fall back in love with the group.
It was a great moment for the band, earning the Crue - if only for their death-defying longevity - the kind of respect from the mainstream music media that they never received at the ridiculousness of their peak.
But it was also a terrible moment, because that flash of attention convinced the band that they were not only legendary, but that they were once again relevant. And this can be a dangerous thing for any artist. Because an artist striving for relevance will take very different chances with their art (and with their career) than one who believes that they have earned relevance, and, thus, has permission to take chances.
That's how Tommy Lee ends up embarking on gigs as a DJ and a rapper.
That's how Nikki Sixx gets himself a goofy radio show, a barely readable Twitter feed and a stable of tatted up c-list celebrity girlfriends young enough to be his granddaughters.
That's how Vince Neil gets booked on reality TV shows.
(To that end, you've really gotta give it up for Mick Mars).
And its how the Crue ends up touring again. Touring, I assume, to success, but not without their sad insistence that they're still the gunslingers that they were in 1987.
I don't at all begrudge them the success that they've had on their second go-round, but it's a tough thing to watch.
For the record, none of this high-minded snobbery stopped me from seizing my moment to meet Nikki Sixx.
The occasion was the book tour behind Sixx's "The Heroin Diaries", whereupon he would make an appearance at the Barnes & Noble in Georgetown.
Now, yes, I know that book tours are stupid. And I know that it's a sad take on a rock star encounter....no chance meeting, no "right place, right time" ("I was doing blow in the bathroom of the Ritz Carlton in Five Points, when who walks in but fuckin Udo Dirkschneider!!")....just a silly use of time spent purchasing a book and standing in line all night for the privilege of meeting the author.
But my intentions were good. Because the book signing took place four days before my little brother's birthday, and I thought that nothing would excite his inner 15 year old more than receiving an autographed copy of Nikki Sixx's book for his 30th birthday.
I wanted to make it right for being such a jerk to him when we were in high school and for being a judgmental prick about his musical tastes, which were in no way worse than my own.
And, so, after work that evening, I jetted on down to Georgetown, purchased the book, and waited in a line that snaked throughout the entirety of the expansive, three-story shop.
I think that I was there for three hours. I know I was more than halfway done with the book by the time I got towards the front of the line (and that I'd already deemed it a contrived, mostly-fabricated heap of monkey shit).
None of this mattered. This was all about getting a gift that would cement me as the greatest big brother ever.And, with the passage of time, I finally made it to the front of the line.
So, let me tell you what you notice when you meet Nikki Sixx up close:
He's really good looking.
Seriously, the guy looked good. He looked healthy. He looked friendly. He looked pleased to be there.
I'm not saying that he isn't cosmetically enhanced....no one pushing 50 has a full head of hair quite that shade of jet black. And no former junkie has ever had teeth that glow quite that radiantly.
But the point is that Nikki is aging well. His skin seemed to have a natural ruddy tan to it. His eyes were were sharp, accented not only by a dash of eyeliner, but also by a set of crows feet that somehow flattered him. Clothed comfortably in designer blue jeans and a loose fitting black collared shirt, the impeccable body art that adorns his neck, upper chest, arms and knuckles was all tastefully on display.
More than anything else, though, he looked sober. He was both alert and engaging, but also calm in that way that you only really are when you're well-rested.
As I reached the front of the line, an assistant grabbed the books out of my hand (one for me, one for my brother), opened them to the front cover, and quietly told Nikki the names "Tom" and "Kevin".
Nikki looked up at me and did a half-grin.
"Are you Tom or Kevin?"
"I'm Tom. Kevin is my brother."
He started signing away, and the silence made me uncomfortable.
"My brother was a really huge fan when we were younger and I'm getting this for him." I was spasticly spitting the words out in that ridiculous way that I do when I'm nervous.
"Cool man. Good to meet you, Tom," he said as he shook my hand and handed me the books.
"Man, thanks. My little brother is going to be excited. I hope I can mail this to him in time for his birthday."
"It's for his birthday?" Nikki paused. "Do you think I could write him a note?"
"Oh man, that would be awesome," I blurted, as I handed him back the books. Both of them, for some reason. "Of course you can. Thank you so much." I think I kept on talking and talking while he scribbled "Hey Kev, Happy B-Day" on the book.
"Dude, that was really nice of you. Thanks. Seriously, thanks." I became aware that I was holding up the line, so I shook his hand again and moved out of the way.
I turned around. Nikki Sixx was calling for me?
"These are yours."
He was smiling, holding the fucking books, which I had left on the table in my nervous excitement.
So yeah, I just spent 700 words shitting all over Motley Crue. But truth be told, not only was Nikki Sixx amazingly polite to me, but he also took it in stride that I totally threw my panties in his face for the 40 seconds I got to meet him.
The following morning, I made sure I got the book in the mail, sent USPS Priority Mail so that it would arrive at my brother's house in time for his birthday.
And then I waited, hearing nothing from him.
Two days after his birthday, I finally picked up the phone to wish him a happy birthday.
"Hey, I got the book. Thanks."
Nothing in his tone expressed any impression of surprise.
"Yeah, it's a pretty funny story how I got it."
"Oh yeah," he asked. He seemed nearly disinterested.
"Um, did you open the book yet?"
There was a silence, as he found the book and leafed through it.
"Cool." His tone had become awkward. I could nearly hear him asking himself what the fuck else I wanted from him.
"Look at the inside front cover," I finally asked. (Or insisted. Whatever....)
He was surprised, but didn't exactly seem impressed. As I told him the whole story of waiting in line and embarrassing myself, he seemed less surprised (and certainly less impressed). As we got off the phone, I was struck with the feeling that my awesome gift wasn't really all that awesome.
What does this prove?
That I was wrong for being such a jerk about the Crue. And that whatever decisions Nikki Sixx made with his career, he seems to treat his fans well, and that's an important indication of at least one aspect of his character.
And it proves that I need to stop feeling bad about being mean to my brother all those years ago.
Man, fuck that guy.