The band Mötley Crüe features a bit more prominently in my life than I would ever have expected. Despite being about the right age, I was never into the “hair band” wave of the early 1980s. I liked a few of the biggest metal acts of the 1980s, but they were mostly the already-established big names. Scorpions, Iron Maiden, Ozzy Osborne… these folks were topping the charts and I did dig their stuff. However, for the bands that were multiplying through the eighties and crowding the hard rock/metal field, well, I looked upon the bulk of the genre as gimmicky and unserious. Mötley Crüe seemed to me to be about as gimmicky and unserious as they came.
While I’d no doubt heard and could hum along with a few of their songs, as could anyone who listened to the radio, through the mid-eighties, I did not think of Mötley Crüe as a major artist. In fact, I can’t say I thought of them much at all. That was to change in the summer of 1987. May 11th of that year saw the release of the single Girls, Girls, Girls. This would be followed, almost immediately, by the release of the album by the same name. The sale of the album was backed by some heavy radio advertising push. At the time, a co-worker and I shared an apartment and we drove into work together. Every single morning we’d hear the pitch and took to feigning enthusiasm at the imminent availability of some new Crüe material.
The album release was accompanied by a summer stadium tour. The show came through Columbus OH in July. My roommate said that we had to get tickets*. I responded that we didn’t actually like Mötley Crüe, we were just pretending. “So what,” he said, “we have got to go and live the experience.” So we did.
Being the music snob that I was, I justified it in part by claiming that my interest was for the opening acts. I did consider the first opener, Anthrax, to be a legitimate artist. Second-bill Whitesnake won my respect by virtue of their connection to classic hard-rock bands like Ozzy Osborne and Deep Purple. But I was just too good for Mötley Crüe.
I took away two impressions from that concert. First, there were far uglier people in the world than, up until that point in my life, I’d ever known graced this earth. By and large, these were the folks there to hear Mötley Crüe, not Anthrax. Second, I had to admit that the Mötley Crüe show was a well-rehearsed and well-performed piece of entertainment. Up to that point, concerts that I’d seen pretty much consisted of bands playing through their songs while tossing in a little banter in-between tunes. With Mötley Crüe, I felt like everything was calculated to entertain. I didn’t come away from the show liking the band, but I did gain a bit of respect for them.
As I was writing this, I realized that someone videotaped that very concert and it is available on YouTube, both song-by-song and in its entirety. As I read through some of the comments, I gather that I was witness to one of Mötley Crüe’s better stadium shows of their career. Apparently, on top of the fan-lore, Niki Sixx talks about the show in his book The Heroin Diaries. Now I’m actually wondering if I could actually get a glimpse of myself if I watch the video. I think I should be just to the left and a little forward of the camera. The downside will be I’ll have to make it through the concert a second time. I’m not sure I can commit to that.
Life would soon take me away from Oh-Hi-Oooh and to the beaches of Los Angeles, but it could not take Mötley Crüe away from me.
While living in L.A., I had a friend who was dating a woman who had shared an apartment with Heather Locklear. The gals were still friends and they all would hang out as a foursome, mostly in Palm Springs. I never met either Heather nor Tommy Lee, but I was shown a bunch of poolside pictures. Sometimes it felt like I knew them. I lost touch with all of them by the time Heather and Tommy got divorced.
So why the trip down memory lane? Well, I decided to give Netflix another chance and watch another one of their “Original Movies,” the biographical drama The Dirt. This was a film that was pushed heavily by Netflix since it came out about a year ago. Unfortunately, the reviews (those few that covered it) weren’t too flattering and I figured to give it a pass. Nonetheless, Netflix kept on pushin’. The other night I was looking at some of the user reviews on IMDB and read one that said, basically, if you like Rock and Roll pictures, you’ll like this one. And I do.
The film is an adaptation of the book The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band. This was a collaboration between the band members themselves and Niel Strauss (author of The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists). The book The Dirt spent its share of time on the best seller list and garnered decent reviews. It took a few years before it was marked to be a film project and, although in retrospect that decision seems almost inevitable, it took even longer to get it made.
More than a decade went by before the film project came together. Completing it took Netflix coming to the rescue, buying the distribution rights and funding the movie’s completion. Once again, the band was part of the process and they are listed as co-producers in the credits. That said, the film doesn’t just glorify the band. Mötley Crüe went through some rough patches, albiet almost entirely of their own making. The ugly episodes are certainly portrayed. In fact, the band comes off on screen looking like a******s.
Critical reviews for the film weren’t great, as I said. The timing of the release was such that it was coming on the heels of my own disillusionment with “Netflix Original” material, meaning I was already predisposed to NOT watching it. In this case, now that I’ve seen it, my pessimism was overblown.
Instead, the IMDB commentary was right on. I am one who likes rock biographicals and this is a reasonably-decent example of the genre. I’ve read (somewhere, I forget where) that the dramatization is eclipsed by the various documentaries made about Mötley Crüe over the years. That may be so but, let’s be honest, I wasn’t really so much looking for a documentary about Mötley Crüe as some light entertainment. I’m thinking Marky-Mark’s Rock Star, but with a little more grounding in reality.
Here’s the funny thing. For pretty much any other “rock” movie that I’ve watched, the core of the story is the music. The genius of the writer, the virtuosity of the performer, or the great song that needs to be written. Even when the film fails to achieve this end, I assume that’s at least what they are trying for. Now, it turns out that I knew more Mötley Crüe than I had realized – the music that played during the movie was more familiar than I thought it would be. Even still, there is nothing from the band that I’d admit to being quality musicianship. The film makes no attempt to alter that impression. From the beginning, the concept for Mötley Crüe seems to be build the band entirely around image rather than song.
But so what. Let’s just say there is a reason that the Sex and the Drugs came before the Rock n’ Roll when we engaged in our teen-aged fantasy** of becoming the next… Vince Neil?
*Concert tickets, in 1987, weren’t crazy-stupid expensive like they are now. I bring this up because I remember, that same summer, arguing with my roommate about whether we should pay an extra $2 a month (on top of the already ~$10) for HBO in our cable package. I found the cost extravagant. He thought it would pay for itself if it saved us on a movie rental or two a month. Like with the Crüe show, he ended up persuading me.
**The film has a scene where the band chooses a name for themselves. It shows Tommy Lee suggesting the name The Fourskins. If so, he beat my friends to the idea by a year or two.