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POP MUSIC

It's Not a Reunion

Motley Crue defined hard-partying, high-decibel, low-subtlety rock in '80s L.A. You thought that era had ended? No way, dude.

June 22, 1997|Mary McNamara | Mary McNamara is associate editor at the Los Angeles Times Magazine

The guys all love the hair. Vince Neil's hair. He's just dyed it red--cherry Popsicle red. "I got tired of being the blond one," he says. "Totally rad, dude," says Nikki Sixx as he slides next to Neil on a bench at the Reel Inn on Pacific Coast Highway. "Yo, Red," says Mick Mars from across the table. "Aww, man, awesome" says Tommy Lee. "Yeah," Neil says, "like, my psychiatrist saw it this morning and said I looked like Raggedy Andy. My psychiatrist, man. And I'm getting inked tonight," he says, describing the large gothic cross he plans to have tattooed on his chest, emblazoned with "Skylar," the name of Neil's young daughter who died of cancer two years ago. The guys approve of this as well--it's all part of their thing. The hair, the ink, the black leather, the killer shades--it's all part of the music. The music of being Motley Crue.

They haven't been Motley Crue for a while. Not really. Five years ago, after a decade of producing platinum records (including "Girls, Girls, Girls," "Shout at the Devil" and "Dr. Feelgood") that truly defied definition--heavy metal? glam band? punk pop?--Neil and the band "parted company." That is, he quit or they kicked him out, depending on who was talking about it; there were sheaves of vitriolic press releases all around, threats and slaggings and lawsuits.

While this did not have the social influence of, say, the dissolution of the Beatles, it marked the end of an era--the four members of Motley Crue, home-grown and reared on the Sunset Strip club scene, took the credo "sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll" very seriously. They blew up things onstage. They dabbled in satanic imagery. They wore lots of makeup, hair-raisingly tight pants and really big platform boots. They had drug overdoses and lots of car wrecks. They brought rock star hair to the West Coast. They stomped and swaggered and were surrounded by babes of note, including Heather Locklear, way pre-"Melrose Place." They were, in many ways, the boy id run riot.

The breakup was also upsetting for a small but loyal following of Crue-heads who, despite a subsequent album with vocalist John Corabi replacing Neil, and two solo albums by Neil, continued to clamor, mainly online, for a reunion.

Not that "Generation Swine," the new album out Tuesday is a reunion. (See review, Page 83.)

"This is not a reunion, no way," Sixx says. "That is so cheesy."

"I just went away for a while," Neil says.

"We just wished him out into the corn," says Sixx, referring to the famous "Twilight Zone" episode "It's a Good Life."

"Yeah, right on, man," Lee says. "That's it exactly. We wished him out into the corn."

"This is a 'vacation's over' thing," Neil says.

"The name carried on without him," Sixx says. "He carried on without us. But there is a validity to the original magic."

"It wasn't the same without these guys," Neil says.

"All these other reunions, greed's a major factor," Sixx says. "It wasn't for us. It's about the music."

And survival. While the reformed Crue continued to tour, the group wasn't exactly selling out Madison Square Garden--and its one album didn't burn up the charts.

"This is the only thing they could do," says Lonn Friend, the former editor of Rip magazine and an early Cruehead. He's now vice president of artists and repertoire at Arista Records. "Together, they went about as far as a band like theirs can. Apart, well . . . Motley Crue worked because of a certain chemistry. Maybe they can pull it off again."

*

Seated around a picnic table, they are an incongruous sight on a sunny California afternoon: the rocker hair--Sixx's and Mars' jet-black and abundant; Lee's recently purple, now brown but metallic; and Neil's bright red. Their sunglasses are on, despite the shade of a table umbrella; their arms and torsos are much writ upon; their clothing is standard '80s rock issue--black, sleeveless, what isn't leather is leopard skin, and there's lots of jewelry--matching Motley Crue bracelets, earrings, nipple rings, even a diamond glinting from Neil's right canine. But close your eyes and you're surrounded by a bunch of, well, California dudes. Brothers, maybe, from the way they finish one another's sentences, laugh at jokes that aren't quite told, all with an extreme but affable profanity (imagine every third word as an "expletive deleted") and that singsong surfer cadence that those who don't live here cannot quite believe is real. Like, [expletive], no way, dude.

"So we started to record with John [Corabi] doing vocals," says Lee, continuing the non-reunion story, "and we're like, 'What happened?'--'cause he's falling apart. And John says there's too much pressure: 'I'm pulling you down, get Vince back.' "

"Our jaws dropped," Sixx says.

"So that got the wheels turning," Lee says.

The wheels were a bit rusty--"Hey, I hadn't talked to any of these guys in, like, five years," Neil says. "There was still a lot of animosity," Sixx adds.

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