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The Dirt, by Motley Crue, with Neil Strauss
he Dirt is a sort of group autobiography by the four principle members of Motley Crue, the metal band that basically started the whole 80s hair metal craze, and banished new wave, bringing hard rock back onto the charts. The book is broken up into dozens of short chapters, each one telling a given story or series of events, from multiple perspectives. Much like the Marilyn Manson autobio I recently reviewed, this one mixes public and private events, and is extremely candid and forthcoming about every sort of scandal, drug abuse, groupie issue, broken marriage, and much, much more.

To the scores (categories explained here):

Motley Crue: The Dirt, with Neil Strauss
Concept: 8
Presentation: 8
Writing Quality: 6
Presents/Explains the Topic Clearly: 7
Entertainment Value: 8
Rereadability: 5
Overall: 7.5

I wish I'd read this one at the same time as the Marilyn Manson autobiography, so I could have written a sort of comparative, dual review. I'm not going to go point by point, but it's impossible not to compare them at least a little, since both books cover the same sort of material, and both have a similar tone and organization, probably thanks to co-author Neil Strauss.

There are a lot of obvious parallels in content, with their stories of rock stars on the way up, wild partying, drug use/abuse, groupies, band fighting, etc. The main difference is that the Motley Crue book has chapters by everyone in the band, and other related people as well. Mick Mars, Nikki Sixx, Vince Neil, and Tommy Lee all contributed the material that Neil Strauss turned into coherent chapters throughout the book, and there are supporting chapters by various management people, record company executives, producers, and even a few sad ones by John Corabi, the guy they brought in to replace Vince Neil after he left/was fired from the band for 4.5 years in the early 90s.

While the structure is similar to Marilyn's autobio, this one is both better and worse. It's better in the scope; thanks to multiple voices contributing to the tale, the reader gets a much more complete picture of things, especially when there are chapters from producers and record company people the Crue have been viciously feuding with. I would have loved a few chapters in Marilyn's book from Trent Reznor's POV, or the POV of the other guys in his band, his record label, etc.

The Dirt is also superior in the time covered, since it goes over their childhoods and early band days and first stardom, just like Marilyn's book, but it also goes much further. Marilyn's ends with the recording of Antichrist Superstar, his first hit record, and then includes a few journal entries from the subsequent controversial tour. The Dirt covers Motley Crue's first big album, and much more, everything newsworthy they did up until press time in 2002. I hope Marilyn does a second book to bring us more up to date on his life, and I'm glad Motley Crue wrote theirs six years later. They didn't do much of anything interesting with their music during that time, but their personal lives were a mess, and they're quite entertaining to read about. All the tabloid fodder stuff with Tommy Lee and his wife Pam Anderson is ever-juicy.

But while this book covers much more than Marilyn's book, and has multiple points of view contributing to the full picture, Marilyn is a much more intelligent and introspective guy than any of the man-child idiots in the Crue, and his book is far more incisive. Neil Strauss did an excellent job with both books, and I'm sure his task was Herculean, as he turned their rambling dictations and scattered emails into coherent chapters with a nice, chronological layout. He couldn't put poetry into their minimally-educated ramblings though, and since the guys in the Crue never think anything bigger than fucking, drinking, snorting, and fighting, he can't do it for them.

Marilyn's book wasn't exactly a philosophical treatise, but he had a lot of insightful observations on fame, self-loathing, rock stardom, faith, society, consumerism, etc. He's also interested in philosophy and religion and culture, while the Crue cared about nothing more than drugs, drink, and girls, and any faux-Satanism or shock stuff they did was just for show or youthful rebellion. MM's songs are about something, and his albums have themes, etc. Motley Crue is just a bunch of totally out of control addicts; 4 guys who had horrible childhoods in broken homes, all of whom dropped out of school and could never hold a job, and all of whom were quite content to spend the ten years it took them to record their first four albums more or less constantly drunk, stoned, or both. Their goals were to get famous and earn enough money to pay for their drugs and parties, and they basically never thought much beyond that until they were into their 30s, and the money was no longer coming in. Frankly, it's a miracle they all lived that long, and theirs is a cautionary tale, since they basically lived the same lives as thousands of other guys their age, perhaps .001% of whom ever amounted to anything.

As for The Dirt, it lives up to its name, and then some. I can't even begin to summarize all of the scandal and chaos it covers. Dozens and dozens of drug-fueled rampages, stories of self destruction and chaos, bankruptcies, broken marriages, fatal automobile accidents, arrests and incarcerations, near deportations, endless fights both within and without, and on and on. The number of famous women these guys banged was truly amazing; just Tommy Lee was married to Heather Locklear and Pam Anderson, with pit stops on Bobbi Brown, Carmen Electra, and numerous other famous models and actresses, and the rest weren't far behind. Vince Neil did a decade-long poor man's impersonation of Hugh Hefner, building a mansion with stripper poles and a mud wrestling pit, and he and the others literally use Playboy magazines as catalogues; looking through, finding women they liked, calling them up, and banging them.

That's the sex, and there's at least as much info about drugs, drink, fights, and so on. How none of them died is quite a mystery. Even the band controversy is outrageous, with endless fights and outright loathing between the members and their managers and record company execs. Vince actually quit the band for half a decade during the early 90s, and some of the saddest chapters are from the POV of the guy they got to replace him, and then cruelly dumped at the record company's instance when Vince returned, after lengthy litigation. As the book comes to an end Tommy Lee has left the band as well, and doesn't sound real likely to rejoin it.

The character studies are amazing, simply due to the time covered. Not one of the guys learns a goddamned thing during their first decade of fame. They're just as out of control and stupid at 28 as they were at 18 -- they've just got money enough for better drugs and hotter women. They outright admit that their first four albums were pretty much shit, written when they were all completely stoned and not collaborating at all, and they and the other authors paint and picture of just how fucked up they all were. A quote from page 248, from a chapter by Doug Thaler, their manager during most of their prime years:

But managing this band was never easy. These are four damaged individuals. Vince is a California surfer-rock guy, the peacock of peacocks, who never really had to work for his fame. I think the ill will toward him began after the car crash with Razzle, because the group would be playing charity shows for him and he'd go off drinking, fucking around, and putting the band's future at risk. To be fair, though, no one really understood the disease of alcoholism at the time.

Mick Mars was the exact opposite of Vince: a guy who had wiped shit off his head for his whole life and was thankful just to have a moment in the sun, even if it ended the next day. Nikki was basically a nerd, except when he had Jack Daniel's in him which was just about every night. And Tommy was like a little kid, running around and looking for mother and father figures. He could be the sweetest, most big-hearted kid in the world or the most spoiled, temperamental brat. But it was always either Vince's behavior or Nikki's drug addiction that jeopardized the band.

Say what you will about the guys, but the fact that they allowed comments like that in their own book is worth some kind of credit. And the entire book is like that, literally cover to cover.

I highly recommend it if you're at all interested in this sort of thing. I just wish at least one of them were a little bit insightful or intelligent. They all eventually kick their drug/drink habits, for days at a time at least, and all realize how fucked up their childhoods were and how stupidly they've behaved as adults... they just never do anything to change that or improve on it. Near the end, after countless failed relationships, including 6 months in jail due to his wife Pam Anderson pressing charges after they had a fight, Tommy Lee comes to the revelation that he should no longer marry women 4 days after meeting them. And honestly, that's about the highest level of insight any of the guys displays throughout the entire book.

It's a fun read though, in a "nice place to vacation but I wouldn't want to live there" sort of way.


Original review posted February 26, 2006.

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