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"Dude, it was like Animal House fucked Satan and had a baby," says the heavily tattooed and pierced Nikki Sixx over the phone from a tour stop in Arkansas explaining the genealogy behind Motley Crue, his voice youthful-sounding but hoarse with a Spicoli-like cadence. "You know, Satan with a sense of humor," he adds laughing.
Currently, Motley Crue is touring in support of its recently released single-disc Greatest Hits package (including two new songs, "Bitter Pill" and "Enslaved"), a record that seems a tad superfluous in light of the Crue's 1991 best-of Decade of Decadence compilation. This might explain why Greatest Hits is falling short of sales expectations: After only five weeks on the Billboard charts, it had already plummeted to number 144. (Greatest Hits is also the Crue's first release on its own label, Beyond/Motley, since "acquiring" all its master tapes from Elektra, an unprecedented move that raised more than a few label-cheese eyebrows.)
"I think the alternative press tried its best to paint a line or build a wall between music," theorizes Sixx on the flaccid sales of the band's latest offerings (the Crue's 1997 "comeback" release Generation Swine failed to go gold) and hard rock in general. "And I don't know how much of that was the industry saying, 'Okay, look, let's get all the same kids to buy new records so we'll say what they did have was bad. They did it in the '70s, they did it in the '60s, nothing new."
The Crue story is well-documented, almost overworked: The band (guitarist Mick Mars, drummer Tommy Lee, singer Vince Neil and bassist Nikki Sixx) sold millions of records with a kind of Kiss-nicked, hyperactive imagery; a somewhat calculated decadence that grew to mythic proportions when fueled by the rise of MTV, Reaganomics and incredulous white kids itching to transgress the 'burbs and devour and dispose of everything in sight.
As with any turning point in history, timing is everything, and the CrYe's was impeccable as well as reactionary. They arrived just after a stoic period in pop that saw the overall commercial failure of punk and New Wave. "We were a reaction the whole way across," says Sixx about the stagnation of the early '80s. As a result, dig it or not, the Crue left a skid mark on pop history.
Motley Crueheads were generally teenaged, horny and male. They were bored or stoned or ill-educated or intolerant or all of the above. And throughout the '80s and early '90s, these kids bought 35 million Motley Crue records while the band weathered death, addictions, grunge, flop records, failed marriages, various overdoses, embarrassing porn-film appearances, jail time, rumored bankruptcies, and the firing and rehiring of singer Vince Neil.
"If you tried to lump us in with Ratts and Poisons, I mean we fuckin' had to go throw up in the corner," Sixx says of the Crue's mascara-tinged, lite-metal '80s contemporaries. "We've always had a real problem with that because we cut our teeth on the Pistols and the Ramones.
"It's funny 'cause the whole concept of being made up was to be more ugly. It was never to be pretty. It was to be shocking, not to be glammy. We were emulating the fuckin' [New York] Dolls."
When Sixx speaks, his ardor ups the impression that he truly believes in the rock 'n' roll mythology he spouts, that its ability to destroy lives like Johnny Thunders' is just part of the same crapshoot that made Sixx a millionaire. It is that sensibility that makes Sixx a rock 'n' roll star in the purist--albeit most archaic--form, and one that makes Sixx somewhat deserving of respect, in spite of who his bandmates are.
Johnny Thunders, a man who expired at age 38--Sixx's age now--was a forebear to the Crue shtick, both in attitude and choice of vices. "Johnny Thunders was the man," Sixx says of the Dolls guitarist. "Guys in my band don't get it. They [the Dolls] sucked in a beautifully artistic way. The way William Burroughs sucked as a writer. The way I suck as a writer. It's about gut, instinct, it's about stringing words and chords that don't necessarily go together. It's about the 'tude and the way you dig into the strings.
"Joe Perry is here because of Johnny Thunders. Kiss is around because of the Dolls. These guys owe homage to that band."
For the buck-wild Crue, the party really commenced after the group's second album, 1983's Shout at the Devil, started selling in truckloads and catapulted them into a no man's land of undeniable excess. But the downside to the uproar swiftly made itself felt: The next year Hanoi Rocks drummer Nicholas "Razzle" Dingley was riding shotgun in a car manned by Crue singer Vince Neil that plowed head-on into oncoming traffic. Razzle was killed and two others were seriously injured. Neil was shit-faced at the time.
That accident--which saw Neil get off relatively lightly with community service, a huge fine and a short stint in a county slammer--was the single most sobering experience for the band. It offered Razzle up as a kind of sacrificial lamb that changed the way Sixx looked at life, his band, and his own heroin addiction.
"I mean, guys in Hanoi Rocks would be at my house, and we're shootin' up and we're havin' fun," Sixx admits. "Everyone's fuckin' on 10 and it's nudity and orgies. When we'd go to the drug dealer, we never said, 'How much?' We just said, 'How much do you got?' It was always like Burger King for us." Then Sixx adds pensively, "When Razzle died, it was like, 'Whoa, we're not invincible.' At the time, I was so desensitized that I didn't really have the opportunity to feel for Vince, to feel for Razzle. It was more like, 'Fuck, man, what the fuck's with Vince,' ya know? I didn't even know that I was supposed to say [to Vince], 'Are you okay?' I still to this day feel bad, ya know? Me and Vince are closer now.
"And we didn't know how to stop because we were addicts," he adds. "I was a kid who was broken, my family had abandoned me, I was fucked up. I was a drunk, I was a drug addict, I was a mess, I was a rock star, I was filthy fuckin' rich. I was full of myself. The fun stopped that day Razzle died."
So after lessons hastily learned, the early '90s saw the Crue sittin' pretty: The group had five hugely successful records under its collective belt (Shout at the Devil, Theater of Pain, Girls, Girls, Girls, Dr. Feelgood, and Decade of Decadence), it packed arenas around the world, and in 1991 it signed one of the most lucrative record deals in pop history with Elektra Records. A prophetic January 1992 Musician magazine cover story headline read: "What Kind of Nut Would Pay $25 Million for Motley Crue?" Above that headline, in smaller text, read: "Nirvana Conquers the Universe." The old order was changing, but the Crue didn't know it yet.
"The thing is, I had gone on MTV then and I was saying, 'There's this new band, they've got one record out. I heard their new record, it's gonna be out next month, they're called Nirvana. I think it's amazing, you guys gotta go check it out,'" recalls Sixx with nary a trace of bitterness in his voice.
"See, I've never been into that boundary thing. It's like I was listening to Television, Jim Carroll and then Aerosmith and Nugent. So when somebody later goes, 'Nirvana is it and you're not,' I was like, 'Wait a minute, who said it's on or off? Who is all of a sudden deciding the on-and-off switch?'
"I'm not gonna sit here and tell you I thought alternative was bad. I think alternative in a lot of cases was necessary, but I also believe that a lot of the alternative was watered-down versions of what I called original alternative from the '70s. You know Blondie wasn't fucking safe. They were very poppy, but Debbie Harry had her fuckin' nipples poking out and doin' all that kooky dancin' and stuff. There was an edge there. There isn't that kind of an edge with some of these girl groups that have come out."
One band Motley Crue openly acknowledged as an influence has emerged as a sore subject for Sixx: Kiss. A few years back, Sixx made national news when he called Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons "money-grubbing Jews," a comment Sixx says was taken out of context and one that was only in defense of his friend, ex-Kiss guitarist Bruce Kulick (also Jewish). Sixx explains that Kulick had gotten the shaft when Simmons and Stanley put the original Kiss lineup back together, leaving Kulick high and dry. "Well, you know, I'm supposed to be some nasty-mouth racist," retorts Sixx. "I'm not, I just speak the truth."
Sixx also thinks the fact that Ace Frehley and Peter Criss played very little on Kiss' new record Psycho Circus is a sham. "I feel sad," he says. "That's not rock 'n' roll. You know, there is a Kiss fan that could be reading this and going, 'Oh, man, what a prick.' That is not my intention. I'm not talking about Kiss, I'm talking about fucking rock 'n' roll here. Kiss was a great band, they've done great stuff. And I'm very proud to say that Kiss was one of my first concerts. But it's about rock 'n' roll."
The Crue's upcoming Phoenix show is Sixx's first return to the Valley since spending a night in Madison Street Jail last year with drummer Tommy Lee after they were charged with inciting a riot during the band's performance at America West Arena. According to Sixx, some overeager bouncers were the cause of the fracas, not the band.
"The security was abusing the fans, and that is not acceptable behavior," he says. "And the deal is, steroids and a bright yellow shirt doesn't give somebody a right to abuse the fans. They are there to protect the fans."
After this tour, the band is looking forward to starting its next record and has plans to rerelease its entire catalogue on its own label, a move Sixx believes is a commercially viable one.
"There is a definite resurgence in sort of nasty, dangerous rock 'n' roll," he says. "We're gonna take her back to the top, man. I want to fuckin' grab that ring twice. I died once, means I'm gonna die twice. I wanna live twice, on 10, too."
Motley Crue is scheduled to perform on Sunday, December 20, at Phoenix Civic Plaza, with Laidlaw. Showtime is 7 p.m.