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This topic is guilty pleasure, yet I feel no guilt whatsoever about my love for Motley Crue: The Dirt — Confessions of the World's Most Notorious Rock Band. I say this while admitting that Motley Crue's music was its own cliche — a form of lowest-common-denominator hair metal that dominated the rock world during that regrettable time known as the '80s (the Crue's album titles include such demure offerings as "Shout at the Devil," "Theatre of Pain" and "Doctor Feelgood"). So yeah, from a purely music snob — or even music dignity — standpoint, you'd be better off reading Our Band Could Be Your Life, or Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records or Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk.
But band quality has no correlation to quality reading experience. And as good as those other books may be, The Dirt is the singularly greatest sex/drugs/rock reading experience of our age. It's one of the all-time great rock bios. Not one sentence in its 448 pages is about Motley's music, which is even more impressive, and I guess appropriate.
Chapters are narrated alternately by the band's members. Nikki Sixx, Vince Neil, Tommy Lee and Mick Mars. We start with them as delicate unknowns, torching cockroaches with hair spray in their rat hole pad off Sunset Boulevard. So what if young Sixx knew so little about music that he showed up at practice thinking the six-string he'd just stolen was a bass? So what if frontman Neil regularly couldn't remember lyrics during concerts? With their black leather, apocalyptic makeup, and penchant for setting themselves aflame onstage, Motley Crue was a blunt reaction to the peppish, skinny-tie new wave music in vogue at the time. Moreover, the band's ravenous appetite (misogyny, drugs, umlauts) — along with its lack of even a hint of shame or self-awareness — was indicative of the gluttony that epitomized the '80s.
Ghostwriter Neil Strauss deserves combat pay for getting Motley's inner circle to reconstruct this glorious, ridiculous time; from L.A.'s club and flier scene to the newly minted power broker that was MTV; all the barroom fights and upside-down drum solos; the strippers and rehab stints and marriages gone bad. There's Neil's drunk-driving accident that killed a friend from another band. The poetry Lee writes to Pamela Anderson, from jail, months after their infamous sex tape. The time Sixx was declared dead from a heroin overdose, then woke up, left the hospital, and changed his answering machine to say, "Hey, it's Nikki. I'm not here because I'm dead." And the rise of grunge, Motley now on the dry end of the shifting tides of popularity, unable to understand: Where did we go wrong?
Supposedly a movie of The Dirt is in development. It can't possibly be good. This is too sprawling, too wild, an experience that's better off read and left to the mind's interpretation.
So go get The Dirt. Not a guilty pleasure, just a good dirty rocking read.
My Guilty Pleasure is edited and produced by Ellen Silva.