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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

Until the lawyers took over. If you get enough lawyers involved, even the most pissed off rockers will start talking to each other, if only to avoid talking to the lawyers.

"They were all positioning themselves financially, dragging it out, running up costs," Sixx says.

"They're all worms," Lee says.

"So finally we got Vince in a room and started talking about the music, and everyone starts to smile," Sixx says.

They're smiling now, waving away the smoke of Neil's Cuban.

"Didja see the cover? Didja like the album?" Lee asks. "It's awesome."

Neil pulls it out of a bag somewhere--the cover is a sneering swine chomping on a cigar. The rest of the band points out the resemblance to Neil's smoking countenance; there are so many stuttered "dudes" and so much good-natured swearing you expect someone to lean over and tousle his hair or give him a noogie.

The album, released by Elektra (the group's label since the beginning), is and isn't a departure from vintage Crue. Like their previous oeuvre, it's loud, brash, often abrasive, with a backbeat that could possibly fibrillate a cardiac patient. There is still a lot of what your parents would characterize as screaming, and the sound generally transports the listener to sticky-floored, smoke-filled clubs where dancing is a contact sport, the walls vibrate and you never put your beer down.

*

The guys are very proud of their new album--not just because they like the way it sounds but because they did it themselves.

"We did a lot of experimenting on this," Sixx says. "I don't know why we didn't do this stuff before."

"There's a lot of new sounds, new technology," Lee says. "And it wasn't made in a conventional studio. We made this record from our houses."

"Totally garage band," Sixx says. "We started rehearsing in this studio in the Valley and it was like total sweatbox, so we went over to Tommy's."

"We'd bought all our own stuff," Lee says. "So we're like, 'Why are we here?' So we split."

"We didn't have a process," Sixx says. "It was chaos."

"People in every room doing whatever," Neil says. "You just wandered from room to room seeing what the music was up to."

"You never knew what was going to happen," Sixx says. "Like my son Gunnar came by and I said, 'Sing,' and it was so cool. Magic happens when you're not thinking about it, not thinking about that red light. 'Cause you never think, when you start out, that you'll be in a studio having someone watching the clock and saying, 'This is what you're going to do.' And there's nothing for you to do but resort to massive amounts of drugs."

"Which we did," Neil says.

"Totally," says Mars, who is, it would seem, a man of few words.

The booze and the dope. If nothing else, Motley Crue stands, perhaps a little gray around the temples, as survivors of rockerdom. The group--formed in 1980, when bassist Sixx and drummer Lee quit their respective bands in search of something that wasn't punk but had that edge--was named by Mars, whom Sixx and Lee found through a classified that began: "Loud, rude, aggressive guitar player."

"That was it, totally," Sixx says. "Mick shows up, we're living in this complete dive, wearing our girlfriends' clothes, completely [expletive] up. Sooo Motley. I wanted a band that would be like David Bowie and the Sex Pistols thrown in a blender with Black Sabbath."

After hooking up with Neil, Motley Crue debuted at the Starwood in January 1981, and soon was playing the civic center circuit. The band's first big break came when it opened for KISS on a limited tour; after 10 days, KISS asked the guys to take a hike.

"They were on their way down; we were on our way up" is how Sixx remembers it. "We absolutely drew blood."

Then came the Ozzy Osbourne U.S. tour in 1984.

"It was a full-on fight to see who would top each other, on stage and off," Sixx says. "We would set ourselves on fire, literally. Our egos and drug abuse were absolutely out of control. It was a wonderful time."

"Motley Crue was the ultimate decadent arena band," says Friend. "They had no lofty political statements; they were just about taking your girlfriend to a concert and having a great time. They were the fairy tale part of rock 'n' roll--the size, the volume, the larger-than-life stars."

This particular fairy tale had more than its share of dark forests and tragic turnings: In 1985, Neil pleaded guilty to drunk driving and vehicular manslaughter in an accident that killed Nicholas Dingley, the drummer for Finnish rock group Hanoi Rocks. In 1987, Sixx almost died of a heroin overdose. There have been arrests for assault and drunk-and-disorderly, other nonfatal car wrecks.

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