Recent Picks From the Summer Crop
The DirtConfessions of the World's Most Notorious Rock Band
by Tommy Lee, Mick Mars, Vince Neil, and Nikki Sixx with Neil Strauss
ReganBooks, 431 pp., $27.95
Who'd of thunk a Mötley Crüe biography would be best read with a dictionary at arm's length? But it winds up it's Black's Law Dictionary, not Webster's, that makes the best companion to The Dirt. In the face of sexual and pharmaceutical excess, unabashed violence, and fatal car crashes, overdoses, and disease, only the least inquiring of minds won't be tempted to seek reference on statute of limitations, definitions of rape, and suggested sentencing guidelines. Somehow defying everything you thought you knew about literacy, Mötley Crüe may well have delivered the most unexpurgated, tragic, and enthralling rock & roll story ever told. Even at a slightly excessive 431 pages, the book's conversational tone and remarkably candid brutality make for a literal guilty pleasure -- a feat made all the more amazing when you consider VH1's Behind the Music has already forever raised the bar for rock star confessionals.
By slightly modifying the oral history process, The Dirt easily bests the typical paint-by-numbers confessional. Even with what must have been heavy-handed "guidance" from The New York Times' Neil Strauss, bassist Nikki Sixx guitarist Mick Mars, frontman Vince Neil, and drummer Tommy Lee convincingly spin their narrative by literally taking turns penning dozens of short chapters each -- crafting a remarkably graceful narrative out of four sets of equally crude and self-effacing recollections and admissions. To Sixx, it's about surviving overdose after overdose in the luckiest band in rock & roll; to Lee, it's about using a prison sentence to contemplate two decades of killing the pain with drugs and stupid human tricks. And to Neil, it boils down to getting laid, getting drunk, getting ousted from the band, and watching his daughter die of cancer. (Mars missed too much of the Eighties holed up alone with a bottle of whiskey to contribute much of anything.)
Perhaps because the book so wisely refrains from attempting to put undue influence on the music itself, The Dirt's entertainment value easily transcends the band's. Liking Mötley Crüe isn't the issue as often as it is merely being able to stomach the details. A version edited for school libraries would be short indeed, but despite the vulgarity and disrespect (for women, manners, and international law), the real testament to the power of the narrative is that raging egos and addictive personalities can be presented sympathetically. Particularly in chapters on their frequent trips to rehab and Neil's daughter's death, each of their meditations on low self-esteem, abandonment issues, and self-medication are surprisingly eloquent and thoughtful. So surprising, in fact, that The Dirt winds up being not just a cheap thrill, but enough to make you actually respect the men ... and to pity their lawyers.