[25 October 2007]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Two decades ago, Nikki Sixx wasn’t simply a rock star cliché. He was a cliché embodying all the worst clichéd attributes of his rock star predecessors. As founder, bassist and primary songwriter for the notorious Mötley Crüe, Sixx was preordained to follow in the footsteps of Sid Vicious (Sex Pistols), Johnny Thunders (New York Dolls) and Keith Richards (Rolling Stones). But where many of his heroes succeeded in destroying themselves with lethal doses of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, Sixx failed to fulfill such a prophecy, despite drugs aggressively overshadowing the sex and rock’n’roll. Ironically, his inability to stay dead on more than one occasion (repeatedly cheating the hangman, as it were) turned his greatest personal failure into his most profound triumph.
The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star is a riveting account of a single calendar year in Sixx’s life, at the height of his band’s popularity and commercial success, juxtaposed against the depths of his own existence. Comprised of Sixx’s personal journal entries dating from Christmas 1986 through Christmas 1987, the book presents a horrifying portal into the life of a man out of touch, out of control, and very nearly out of chances. From his dabbling in various narcotics, to full blown and crippling addiction, the pages find Sixx chronicling his life in one of the world’s most popular music groups, while struggling with the trappings of fame, the demons of his fractured childhood, and a seemingly futile battle within himself. Entries run the gambit from brief glimpses of the artist’s day-to-day routine, to lengthy discourses on his troubled mindset. Most are penned with remarkable lucidity and introspection, a startling fact based upon Sixx’s mental and physical conditions at the time.
The entries are augmented by reflective (and pointed) present-day commentary from Sixx himself, his band mates, important players from Mötley Crüe’s formidable years, and by sundry witnesses to his downward spiral. In this manner, readers are treated to the protagonist’s explanations as to what was transpiring around him 20 years prior, in addition to others’ candid thoughts on the man they knew, and what they were watching unfold. The consensus opinion of Sixx is as chilling as it is tragic. He is universally described as arrogant, controlling, and driven to succeed, yet incredibly lonely and vulnerable as his addictions rapidly took hold. Sixx’s own words from his diary posts reveal much by way of back story, and demonstrate how scarred he was as he tried to find causation and justification to many unanswered questions that mercilessly haunted him.
Why was he abandoned by his father, and cast aside by his mother? Could he succeed without emulating the perverse lifestyles of his musical heroes? How was he allowed to sink further into dependency and depression by those closest to him? Sixx’s penchant for excessive behavior and his underlying dissatisfaction with life were clearly cries for help, but cries that went unheard and/or largely ignored. And therein lies the cruelest irony of a year in the life of this shattered rock star. For too long, Nikki Sixx was a user being used. Such a revelation is in no way an excuse for Sixx’s decadent and destructive actions, but it does explain much with respect to the disposable nature of celebrity. He was the creative force behind his band, and, as such, the prime source of revenue for many vested parties, including, but not limited to, drug dealers, band managers, record company executives, and various parasitic hangers-on. As long as Nikki Sixx stayed alive, the wheel got greased.
Sixx’s real time descriptions of what he endured go far to demystify the glorified vision of junkie chic. Millionaire rock stars are never reduced to hiding in filthy closets, naked, strung out, insanely paranoid and armed with shotguns. Or are they? By painting a dramatic (and exceedingly unattractive) portrait of his frightening lifestyle, Sixx’s writings also convey an intimate sense of the emotional and physical battles he fought. For those who have faced similar ordeals, the words will sting with familiarity. For the uninitiated, they will be afforded a starkly visceral feel for what an addict’s life is, and is not. The book’s 400 + pages take on a grimmer tone courtesy of Paul Brown’s disturbingly beautiful artwork. Nightmarish caricatures dance menacingly amongst the passages, mixing with positive-negative typeset, blood splatters, and general visual mayhem. The design lends an alluring madness to the vivid word pictures already presented, and puts a convoluted sheen of gorgeousness onto Sixx’s story.
Those familiar with 2001’s Mötley Crüe tell-all tome The Dirt may expect another jaunty ride down Route Sixxty Sixx, with further tales of debauched excess and conquest to revel in. Such expectations will quickly be quashed however, as The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star is as far removed from The Dirt as the 2007 version of Nikki Sixx is from his younger self. The current literary effort is an unintentionally sophisticated exploration of the human condition, offering a broad palette of themes certain to resonate loudly with more than just the Mötley demographic.
While drug addiction is at the core of The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star, disillusionment, depression, self-loathing, isolation and helplessness dominate Sixx’s posts, all sentiments that many members of the general population face in their respective lives. And in compiling entries from such a challenging segment of his life, Sixx invites readers into the depths of his psyche and addictive past, leaving them to draw their own conclusions about the Hell they’ve just visited. He has effectively laid bare part of his soul from years gone by, to be dissected and evaluated, critiqued and judged, shunned or accepted. It is an act of courage, which only the thickest-skinned artists would entertain, let alone put into practice.
To credit The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star as a brilliant memoir offering would do the book, and it’s author, a profound injustice as it’s ultimate worth lies within the scope of its potential. It is a rare piece of work that has the ability to help and to heal, to give direction and provoke thought, all without pretense or heavy-handed posturing. In several instances, the journal entries reference Kerouac and Burroughs, authors whom Sixx obviously held in high regard. Even at the lowest level of his addictive abyss, Sixx was able to articulate his affinity for such literary giants, and seek solace in their words. Who would have believed that now, older, wiser, sober and comfortably entrenched in middle age, Nikki Sixx is poised to join this distinguished duo with an exquisite document of his previous life? Time will be the ultimate arbiter of The Heroin Diaries’s merit and legacy, but unlike 1987, Nikki Sixx has plenty of it, as he is no longer living on borrowed time.