There’s a bit of a story behind my picking up Mötley Crüe’s The Dirt: Confessions of The World’s Most Notorious Rock Band (with Neil Strauss) last month. First, I read Daisy Jones. While reading, I happened to log into to Netflix (which I hadn’t done for weeks) on the very day that the film version of The Dirt was released there. My reaction to the trailer was basically “Mötley who?” but it seemed on theme, so I gave it a go. Soon after, coincidentally, I found some Mötley Crüe original vinyl in my parents’ basement, and had a chat with my dad about his days as a fan back in college. Then I found The Dirt on the Rory Gilmore reading list, of all places. A Stranger Things 3 trailer was released with a Mötley Crüe song playing through the opening scene. If any of these things hadn’t happened, I don’t think I would have ended up checking out this book, despite all the rest. But those things did happen, and here we are.
In the book, the four original members of glam metal band Mötley Crüe– along with several adjacent “characters”- tell the nonfiction tale of the group’s creation, its rise to fame, and subsequent fall. Through alternating perspective chapters and a fairly straightforward chronology, we see the band confess their highs and lows through a retrospective lens of reflection. There are shocking reveals of crimes, deaths, and general immorality as remembered by Nikki Sixx, Vince Neil, Tommy Lee, and Mick Mars, but the book also offers a broader depiction of the rock scene in this era, and the circumstances that birthed the wild lawlessness that defines Mötley Crüe.
“There was Nikki, who was dying; Tommy, who was getting loaded and fighting with his wife; Vince, who was completely out of control; and Mick, who basically woke up every morning and drank and sobbed to himself until he passed out. And this was supposed to be one of the biggest, greatest rock bands in the world.”
By far the most compelling aspect of this autobiography is the mix of 80’s glamour and, as the title suggests, absolute dirt. It’s simultaneously thrilling to watch this misfit band of nobodies beat the odds of superstardom, and appalling to encounter their (mis)adventures along the way. Actually, I’m not sure “appalling” is a strong enough word. If you’re a reader who needs to like or sympathize with characters to enjoy a book, this will absolutely not be the book for you. My enjoyment while reading this book is not in any way on par with my opinions about these people. In fact, I have a friend who probably still hates me for my constant updates on the changing status of “which Crüe member I hate most at the moment” through all 400 pages of this read.
“At first I was relieved because it meant I hadn’t raped her. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I pretty much had. I was in a zone, though, and in that zone, consequences did not exist. Besides, I was capable of sinking even lower than that.”
Though there’s certainly an attempt made by all band members to look back on their 80’s wrongdoings with enlightened 2000’s perspectives, the quote above is a fair example of how close they actually come to remorse or apology- not close at all.
So why keep reading, you may ask?
It becomes clear very early on that the rock ‘n roll culture of the 80’s that has been so immortalized was also a very dangerous place. The members of this band are people who’ve had absent parents and/or difficult childhoods, and if I remember correctly, every single one of them dropped out of high school; they founded the band on desperation and street smarts, with a love of music and Jack Daniel’s and not much else. Some of them were not even old enough to legally enter the establishments where they played their early shows when the band began, though this didn’t stop them from entering or consuming plenty of booze while there. Daisy Jones didn’t lie about the prevalence of alcohol and drugs in band life- if anything, that novel seems to have downplayed the problem.
“Because I was always starving and amped on uppers, I often felt as if I didn’t have a body, like I was just a vibrating mass of nerves.”
Not only was bad behavior allowed as Motley Crue’s popularity increased, but it was encouraged. And that is the reason I stuck with this book despite everything horrendous it had going on. The Dirt showcases an unjustifiable level of corruption and greed in the music industry during this era; from managers and producers admitting aloud to caring about nothing but the money they stood to gain, to fellow musicians reinforcing the party lifestyle, it’s obvious that the most shining of personalities would’ve stood little chance of coming out clean.
“We thought we were the baddest creatures on God’s great earth. Nobody could do it as hard as us and as much as us, and get away with it like us. There was no competition. The more fucked up we got, the greater people thought we were and the more they supplied us with what we needed to get even more fucked up. Radio stations brought us groupies; management gave us drugs. Everyone we met made sure we were constantly fucked and fucked up.”
Alcoholism wasn’t understood at the time. Addiction wasn’t understood. The corrupt bosses who sold the records stayed quiet, behind the scenes. The fans heard the music, and saw Mötley Crüe’s energy and excitement on stage- the band’s health and well-being didn’t matter to the crowds. Their whole lives were on display for public entertainment, and the public was entertained. What shocked me most while reading The Dirt wasn’t anything that the band members did under their disturbed interpretation of “fun;” it was that everyone else seemed to accept these actions from them so easily. To want them, even. The band members themselves seem surprised by how far they were allowed to go.
“For ten years solid, we had been invincible. No one could touch us. Tommy and I had raped a drunk girl in the closet, and she had forgotten about it. Vince had killed someone in a car accident, and gotten away with it. We had released two albums we hardly even remembered recording, and they still sold like crazy. I had overdosed and forced the cancellation of our European tour, and our popularity only increased.”
When Mötley Crüe crashed and burned in the 90s, they were completely lost. They made attempts, tried to carry on each in their own way, but sobriety and a changing music industry pulled them out of the only lifestyle they knew. Yet they never quite grew up or out of old habits.
The last third of the book was not as captivating for me as the rest. The format grew lax, fewer pictures were included (and a portion of the ones that were present came from the band’s heyday rather than fitting their ages in the narration), and it felt like a group of celebrities trying to convince the world they were still big after everyone had moved on. Awkward. Certainly there was still a lot of public interest in their marriages, their incarcerations, their breakups and makeups as musicians. It wasn’t quite the same, though. And through no fault of the book, it ended and was published before the band’s Final Tour in 2014-15 and the making and release of The Dirt film (which obviously wouldn’t have happened before the publishing of the book anyway), both of which brought fresh attention to the band and might have wrapped up their story in this volume more satisfactorily.
And yet, even after the end of the book lost my interest and the only band member I had any respect left for was Mick Mars- the quiet one with the bone disease that prevented him from living the high life in quite the same manner as his bandmates- I still found The Dirt compelling and downright eye-opening. I’m no psychology expert, and it’s never explicitly stated, but I do think the intent of this book is not to glorify the “decadence” Mötley Crüe describes, but to expose the ways that an entire cultural movement contributed to their ruination. That was my takeaway, at least.
“Then Ricky asked, ‘Are you wearing makeup?’
‘Yeah,’ I told him.
‘Men don’t wear makeup,’ he said firmly, like it was a law, with his friends backing him up like a jury of the normal.
‘Where I come from, they do,’ I said, turning on my high heels and running away.”
My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. My experience with this book has only reinforced my determination to pick up more nonfiction this summer. If this is what it’s like, I’ve been seriously missing out. I do think this a book that’s worth the read if you’re interested in nonfiction at all, even if you don’t like Motley Crue’s music or “glam metal” in general. (I didn’t even know that was a genre, to be honest.) I can’t say I’m a big fan, myself. I had only a mild interest in classic rock before Daisy Jones and The Dirt; I watched Bohemian Rhapsody twice, but I’ve never seen any of those band documentaries or reunion shows that seem to air pretty regularly. I barely even recognized the name “Mötley Crüe” before watching the film, but in the end I’m so glad that circumstances led me to this book. It’s been a weird, horrifying, and enlightening ride.
The Literary Elephant