The Doctors of Feeling Good
“I think without conflict we’d all be bored wouldn’t we…?”
“They were the Marx Bros. of rock’n'roll.”
—talking head/music critic
“Just cuz we wear lipstick doesn’t mean we can’t kick your ass!”
Hitting adolescence just when Shout at the Devil was being released was sheer luck. It rolled loud noise, rebellious lyrics, obnoxious style, bad hair days, and the word “Devil” all into one package. A package I was able to get my sweaty teenage hands on from Columbia House, along with Quiet Riot’s Metal Health, Def Leppard’s Pyromania, Dio’s Holy Diver, and Ozzy’s Bark at the Moon also from Columbia House. This was heavy metal for a penny (plus shipping, and ridiculous prices and monthly harassment later) that a paper route’s income could support. It was hair-metal at it’s finest. And until Metallica rose from the depths to blow everyone out of the arena, Mötley Crüe was perhaps hair-metal’s heaviest. Listening to “She’s Got Looks That Kill” or “Shout at the Devil” and jumping around with friends after school before the adults came home was pure bliss, the record skipping because of our wannabe mosh pit and Tommy Lee’s pounding tom toms. Hence, watching VH1’s Behind the Music: Mötley Crüe DVD was not only hilarious, but a trip down memory lane. If you were ever a Crüe fan, you’ll also get a kick (at least in the ass) from this. And if you weren’t, well, enjoy the freakshow.
Like all of the other VH1 Behind the Music episodes, this volume strives to deliver the beginning, the rise, the fall, the inevitable reunion, and the humble attempt to carry on, all into an hour. Sure, we’ve seen it all before, but it’s still fun to watch. Particularly when it’s done Mötley Crüe style. And despite all the hedonism, the arrogance, the bad hair and make-up, the manslaughter, the jail-time, the Playboy bunnies, the massive drug abuse, the domestic violence, well, I can’t help but hold a little admiration for these guys. True, their rock-n-roll story sounds so common nowadays, and true they weren’t the first rockers to turn nothing into fame, fortune, and gluttony. But let’s face it, Mötley Crüe helped define what it meant to be a rock star in the decade of overdoing it: the ‘80s.
Mötley Crüe is a story about four guys in their late teens and early 20s who simply want to party, make loud music, and soak up the seediness of Hollywood’s Sunset Strip. The brainchild of bass player Nikki Sixx, the band was born in 1981. Sixx wanted to combine the ferocity of punk rock with the glam of Kiss. He soon found a cohort in the gangly Tommy Lee, who had learned to play drums in his high school marching band. The duo shared the same dream, and stumbled across Mick Mars, who they took in because he looked like “Cousin It” from the Addams Family and could play a mean guitar riff. The singer, Vince Neil, was added not for his voice but for his pretty boy looks that the others noticed brought the ladies. Next up was deciding on a band name. After nearly choosing “Christmas” as the group’s moniker, they settled upon “Motley Crew”. Then, in a stroke of genius that so often accompanies high consumption of cheap beer (in their case, Löwenbräu), they decided to change the “ew” of Crew to “ue”; and then for good measure, throw those “funny dots” over the “u” like their inspiration, Löwenbräu. Once settled, it was on to writing some songs. The band quickly grabbed a local following with their high-energy shows and punk rock attitude. Nikki Sixx arranged most of the group’s material and wrote most of the lyrics, and after the independently produced Too Fast for Love was pounded out in three days for a measly seven thousand bucks and went gold, the record industry was soon on the Crüe’s trail. The rest, as they say, is history.
1983 brought the magnificent and heavy (for the time) Shout at the Devil and a worldwide tour. The album went platinum, as the Crüe began to carve their infamous path of excess. Life was just one big non-stop party. They hang out with Hustler founder Larry Flynt. They tour with Ozzy Osbourne, who becomes sort of a partying mentor (one of the funniest moments is the band recounting the time when on tour, Ozzy, drunk, snorts a trail of ants off a Popsicle that he’s spotted melting in the street—you know, just for fun). They drink. They play to sold-out crowds. They drink again. And do drugs. Lots and lots of drugs. First booze, then cocaine, then heroin. Which, unsurprisingly, leads to tragedy. Vince Neil is charged with manslaughter for killing his buddy in Hanoi Rocks, but gets off: “I was the O.J. of the early ‘80s; I bought my way out of jail,” he tells us.
I won’t give a blow-by-blow of the remainder of the video. But, the highlights include the following. Nikki Sixx trying to hitchhike naked, drunk, and with a dislocated shoulder; Tommy Lee’s marriages and divorces to and from Heather Locklear and Pamela Lee Anderson; Tommy Lee’s consulting with NASA for his revolving Dr. Feelgood drumkit; the firing and rehiring of Vince Neil; Mick Mars’ freakish mustache; and many other details, including the 1-9-5-8 the eloquent Mr. Sixx has tattooed on the fingers of his right hand, presumably to remind him of his birth.
Overall, it’s a compelling story, and the Crüe members are charmingly sincere and, get this, sort of mature. Production is tight. The video montages are quickly paced, the background music embellishes whatever phase or mood of the band, and the talking heads have seen better days. If you never saw the Crüe in their heyday, here’s your chance. And if you did, well, here’s your past.