NEW YORK "I knew I wanted to do a book on Mötley Crüe," New York Times music critic and reporter Neil Strauss said, "because, first, it was a story that hadn't been told and, second, when you think of decadent '80s rock, you think of Mötley Crüe."
Indeed you do. Hence "Dirt: The Autobiography of Mötley Crüe," which will be published May 22. Strauss interviewed the Los Angeles metal band, along with its current and former associates, and tells a truly epic story.
From 1981 to '91 Mötley Crüe embodied every glorious cliché associated with L.A. metal. Singer Vince Neil, bassist Nikki Sixx, guitarist Mick Mars and drummer Tommy Lee consumed Olympian quantities of drugs, committed countless sexual indiscretions, laid waste to arenas around the world like rock Visigoths and cleaned up their act by decade's end.
Though their commercial heyday is well behind them, Mötley Crüe still exert a powerful fascination. The band wriggled out of a contract with Elektra Records with millions intact; Neil left the Crüe, then rejoined; Lee left the band to form rap-metal group Methods of Mayhem; and, most notoriously, Lee and then-wife Pamela Lee Anderson's videotaped sexcapades fell into the wrong hands to become the best-selling pornographic tape ever.
Marilyn Manson and Strauss co-wrote "The Long Hard Road Out of Hell," an account of the artist formerly known as Brian Warner's early years in Ohio and Florida, and of Manson's career in pop-cultural antagonism up to Antichrist Superstar.
"The greatest measure of that book's success," said Strauss, "is when we read that some kids were arrested for digging up a body and smoking the bones," which echoed a notorious passage in "Long Road." "That's when we knew we'd written a book like something a young Marilyn Manson would have read."
Strauss met the Crüe when he profiled them for Spin magazine in 1998; he was reading the Manson book's proofs while on tour with them for the story. They liked what he'd done with Manson, so when Harper Collins secured their participation for a book, Strauss was enlisted as co-author. He went on tour with the band three times in the course of his research and visited them at their various homes.
"Nikki is a very driven guy; he's got his history set in his mind. Mick is super shy. It's very hard to get Vince to open up, because he's been through so much. The hard part with Tommy was getting him to do one last project with the band."
Strauss admitted it was often difficult to get the bandmembers to relive the highs and lows of their altogether eventful lives. And no session was as poignant as the one in which Neil recalled his four-year-old daughter Skylar's death from cancer. "He was crying, I was crying. It tore me apart. When I gave him the book, I said, 'You might not want to read this.'"
Stories about the Mötley House, the fetid pit on Sunset Strip where Sixx, Neil and Lee perfected their rock-pig life-styles, provided more levity. "Everybody's going to look for Pamela Lee stories," Strauss predicted, "but those early days, when nobody knew who they were, when they were the kings of the Strip, when there were no consequences, are my favorites."
The ancillary Crüe figures Strauss interviewed included John Corabi, Neil's ill-fated mid-'90s replacement; Tom Zutaut, who signed the band to Elektra only to discover that Neil had sex with his date at the 1983 US Festival; former Crüe manager Doc McGhee, who rues the day he became associated with the band; and Scott Humphrey, disgruntled producer of the 1997 reunion album, Generation Swine.
Strauss is at work on a book project with former Jane's Addiction and Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Dave Navarro. "He was working on his [as-yet-untitled] solo project, and we came up with the idea of documenting his life for a year."
"Don't Try This at Home," as the book will probably be titled, will depict visitors to Navarro's home and delve into his history, including his mother's murder by her boyfriend when he was a child.
"Manson's gift is manipulating the public," said Strauss. "Dave's gift is manipulating himself."