I’m not a big fan of glam, spandex-wearing, big hair bands of the 1980s-1990s. Van Halen and The Cure are about as close as I get to the hairspray and makeup genre.
Mötley Crüe is not my thing, which makes it seem odd that I would pick up a book written by bassist Nikki Sixx to read over a weekend. The First 21: How I Became Nikki Sixx surprised me. I was impressed.
This the story of Frankie Feranna, who emerged from his chaotic young life to become the successful co-founder of Mötley Crüe. A kid from not just a broken home, but a wrecked one, the dysfunction and heartache of abandonment and early drug use, would later set the stage for alcoholism, drug addiction, depression, a near-death overdose, two failed marriages and a sex addiction – just your typical story of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Perhaps a bit more than typical.
“Nikki and Tommy (Lee) cut my bed in half with a knife so that when I got in to it, it collapsed. Two days later they got a pellet gun , put a load of records at the end of the hallway and lay shooting at them. By the time security came, the hallway was littered with pellets and shattered vinyl.”– Don McGhee (Mötley Crüe manager)
Feranna was a child of the late 1960s and 1970s. Shuttled between his mother and grandparents, he had little sense of stability and began rebelling early. The formation of his later problems were already underway. Substance abuse and failure to develop grounded relationships would envelop his rockstar years. His book, The Heroin Dairies: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rockstar, presents the underbelly of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, and the downward spiral into a near-fatal overdose.
Sixx kept a diary, and the resulting book covers one very significant year: December 25, 1986 – December 25, 1987, including the Girls, Girls, Girls album sessions and the resulting Mötley Crüe tour. The original diary entries are enhanced by commentary from Sixx and others looking back on those events, along with candidate photos and artwork.
One needs a strong stomach to read the books. It is candid, profane, full of debauchery, mean-spirited antics and lack of respect for women (including lack of respect of women by other women). Reading this I was reminded of Led Zeppelin’s tour of America, where destruction and depravity were of historic proportions.
“Rich Fisher said I called the hotel front desk and complained about the fans banging on my window last night. F@@@, I’m on the 26th floor. I’m losing it… unraveling at the seams. And this is news?”– Nikki Sixx, December 17, 1987
To read Sixx’s actions and behavior is to wonder how he could have lived through it, but also wonder at what point he will have to answer for the wreckage from this and other tours. While much of this behavior impacted Sixx most directly, there was a lot of collateral damage. Girlfriends, groupies, strippers, fans, hotel workers, limo drivers and others were subjected to rich, egotistical, cruel rockstars.
“Quitting drugs and alcohol was the hardest thing I’ve ever done and has given me the most satisfaction. I’m actually glad I’m an addict, ‘cause through recovery I have the ability to give back.”-Nikki Sixx
It’s not so much the subject matter as it is the author that made the impression. The Nikki Sixx of The Heroin Diaries is nothing like the man today. Sixx not only cleaned up, but turned around who he is. His music success aside, Sixx has emerged a decent person, who uses his art to help others. He gained compassion and uses the abyss of his younger years as a guiding light.
Three best selling books is no fluke. Sixx is a decent writer and he has an interesting story to tell. Mötley Crüe sold tens of millions of albums and sold-out concerts around the world. Addiction to heroin, cocaine, alcohol, opioids and sex is not glamorous. It is tawdry, dangerous, destructive and ultimately, deadly. Sixx writes that when he did book signings for The Heroin Diaries, person after person poured their soul out telling him it was their story too.
Rock ‘n’ roll does not have a monopoly on addiction and bad behavior, yet it is a popular showcase and often romanticized to impressionable young minds. Growing out it is one thing, surviving it is another.