Most of those who know me understand the fact that if you engage in a conversation with me regarding music, invariably I will assault you with several assertions, the most pertinent and significant one of all is the identity of the greatest band to ever grace the face of the planet, The Beatles. I’ve felt this way ever since my sophomore/junior year of high school which also marked a significant time period in which my musical tastes broadened and I started to develop a critical ear. Before this time, I was much more interested in a genre of music that has disappeared from the mass consciousness but is still alive and well amongst just about everyone who even comes close to matching my age. It is this oft neglected but never forgotten genre that consumes my mind this evening as I was treated to a superb performance on one of the greatest channels on television today, Palladia. I never heard of Palladia until I moved to Port St. Lucie and started receiving Comcast cable and realized I was fortunate enough to have access to a channel that devoted 70% of it’s airtime to live concerts from around the world. There is no musical bias as it has included such amazing artists as Springsteen, Green Day, Kings of Leon, Snoop Dogg, Silversun Pickups, The Roots, and amazingly shitty artists the worst of which might be a joint concert of Kenny Chesney and Steve Miller. If there is a concert festival held in Hell, those two would be at the top of the bill. But lucky for me, tonight they showed nothing that can be remotely considered shitty. In fact, they showed a performance by one of my first musical loves and what I believe to be the greatest hard rock band of all time, Motley Crue.
I say this not because they have the best hard rock music in and of itself. For me, that would undoubtedly go to Guns n’ Roses, if only for Appetite for Destruction. But if you look at the stereotypical Rock n’ Roll band, you have to equate sex and drugs with it and no band did, has done, or ever will do that better than the Crue. The performance I witnessed tonight only convinces me more that this is the case. But let me start from the beginning.
Initially, I was drawn to 80’s pop music and………well……….all right………if you must know……Neil Diamond. My first tape was Duran Duran’s mostly live album Arena and I loved every second of it. I also loved The Cars, The Police, Madonna, Michael Jackson, and any other 80’s pop band that hit the airwaves. But the first musical expansion came to me when I first heard Motley Crue’s “Home Sweet Home”. Actually, it was probably the video that I was most transfixed by which has come to be one of the greatest videos I've ever seen.
I found it strange, amazing, beautiful, scary, and even arousing (seriously, the one guy nearly pulls that one chick’s shirt off, but the camera cuts out at the last second. I remember a friend telling me he saw the video late at night once and they showed that part all the way through so that you got to see a brief shot of that fan’s boobies. I now know that was totally not true, but I believed it for years). I still feel today that this their greatest song and that the guitar solo is one of my all-time favorites. Particularly because of the complimentary nature of Sixx's bass playing which forms a stellar foundation for Mars' guitar licks. It never gets old and only gets better.
I loved this band right away and had to have their album Theater of Pain, but my mom would have nothing of it. This was the beginning of the mass censorship that would go down in my household, culminating in me purchasing a VHS copy of Pulp Fiction despite the fact my mom told me I couldn’t get it. I was 18 at the time and thought since I was an adult; I could make my own decisions. I was wrong. My mom got pissed and made me take it back. I traded it in for a copy of the Beatles’ Help and subsequently bought Pulp Fiction on DVD a few years later. True story. Now, every time my mom comes over, I have to hide that DVD for fear she'll make me return it. False story.
Anyway, I told my mom I wanted this tape by the Crue and she would not let me. The best I could muster was having my brother dub Home Sweet Home and Smokin’ in the Boys’ Room on a mix tape. I’m not sure where he got a copy of the very album that was banned from my house, but nevertheless, I had the two songs I wanted most. To this day, I’ve never owned a copy of Theater of Pain. A part of me feels sad about that, but another part thinks it’s one of those things that make the whole thing so intriguing. The one album I could never have, and I still don’t know what’s on it.
A few years later I got into a big argument with my brother while visiting our family in Florida. He was put in charge of me and my little sister as our parents went out to dinner. I don't remember what the fight was over or why I was so upset but I eventually said something to my brother in the likes of "Why do you hate me?” Then he went off. "Oh, I hate you do I? If I hated you, would I have bought you Motley Crue's Girls, Girls, Girls for your birthday?!" He made a good point. I stopped crying immediately and looked up at him in shock. He bought me what? It couldn't be true. I thought I couldn't own anything by this band. After all, they worshiped the Devil, or at least, that was the rumor and was the reason I figured my mom didn't want me listening to them. I could not own their music, but here my brother was telling me that in a few short weeks, I would own my own copy of forbidden material. And he wasn't lying. I still don't know why my mom allowed this gift, for the theme of it was far more detrimental than Theater of Pain, but for some reason she did and I was the luckiest kid alive.
Hair Metal was now my thing and I couldn't get enough of it. Poison, Cinderella, Skid Row, Slaughter, Tesla, Quiet Riot, Warrant, and Def Leppard were all I cared about. Hell, I even dug Nelson and Christian metatlheads, Stryper. I remember people chastising me for liking it so much but I thought it was great. This was all before I owned a CD player so all those albums are on tape. It's actually interesting if you compare my tape collection with my CD collection. Not because of the number of CD's I own, but mostly because of the first CD I owned, Pearl Jam's Ten vs. the last tape I owned, Tesla's Five Man Acoustical Jam. There was a distinct break with the direction in which my musical tastes went.
The only other Crue album I ever owned (aside from their Decade of Decadence CD compilation) was Dr. Feelgood. After that, they started loosing their luster to me. The 90's were upon us. Nirvana and Pearl Jam were right around the corner, Hair Metal was dying, my tastes were evolving, and Vince Neil was kicked out of the band. I've listened to those tapes again and although they bring up a lot of memories, they're still not as good as the stuff I'm listening to today. But that doesn't mean I've lost my respect or affinity for them, for as I mentioned before, they're the best hard rock band ever.
A few months ago, a co-worker loaned me a copy of a book called The Dirt which was written by the members of the Crue along with their managers, producers, and roadies to give a first hand account of their careers. It's absolutely mesmerizing. The numbers of stories involving ridiculous amounts of drug and alcohol consumption are too many in number and too unbelievable to describe here, but just know that the fact that these four dudes are still alive could quite possibly qualify as the eighth wonder of the world. Their sexual escapades are equally as amazing as they plowed through every strip club (and woman) on L.A.'s Sunset Strip. In the book, the band members proudly talk about sleeping with some of the most disgustingly ugly women they've ever seen, but because they were all hopped up on coke and Jack Daniels that made it OK. They met, slept with, and married porn stars. They got into fights, got arrested, went on week long benders and accomplished feats that no human being should be able to do. Vince Neil killed a passenger in his car while driving under the influence and only served a few months in jail while Nikki Sixx's heart stopped for nearly five minutes in a heroin overdose while he recounted being able to see the whole ordeal through his spirit above the ambulance. Sixx was treated at a nearby hospital, but he was so amped to get more drugs that he escaped the hospital, was picked up on the road by a couple of female fans, and proceeded to shoot up with him only a few hours after his overdose. If that isn't rock n' roll, I don't know what is.
And amidst all the drugs and sex and fighting (which according to their book seemed constant) they still created some great rock songs with amazingly good riffs that still resonate today. A few months ago I chaperoned a trip to Universal Studios in Orlando with my school's senior class and had the best roller coaster experience of my life. I waited in line for 45 minutes with a colleague 15 years my senior. When I got to my seat in the coaster, I pulled the lap bar over and locked it in place. I looked down and found a small computer screen looking up at me asking me to choose a genre of music. I was perplexed to see this as I wasn't quite sure where it was going, so I went ahead and chose "Rock". I was then asked to select a song from what appeared to be about eight choices, but after seeing the top choice, I knew I needn't look any further. For that choice was the Crue's Kickstart my Heart. I think my exact words were "Oh, hell yeah!" as I selected the song. The next thing I knew, the opening riff of Mick Mars imitating a manual transmission shifting gears started blasting in the headrest behind me and I laughed the whole time as one of my favorite songs from my childhood took me away on an amazingly awesome roller coaster. When the ride ended I looked over at my elder colleague and asked her what song she played, to which she replied "The same one you did". I'm pretty sure she saw me get all excited when I selected the song and she just followed suit. And she didn't seem disappointed in the slightest. So the next time you go on a roller coaster that asks you to pick a song, go with Kickstart my Heart. You'll thank me later.
But back to the concert I saw tonight on Palladia. It only reinforces my assertion of the Crue's kingly status in the pantheon of rock and roll greatness. First, the concert opens with two half naked women, who appear to be little more than glorified strippers, crawling out of a box. One proceeds to lay the other one down, spread her legs, and lightly tongue kiss her at which point Vince Neil appears from under the stage. How can a show start off better than that? The Band plays some of their best songs including Looks That Kill and Shout at the Devil which have some of the best Hair Metal riffs ever. The most notable part was also one of the most rock n' roll things I've ever seen. Neil, Sixx, and Tommy Lee all ride out on the stage on motorcycles revving their engines as poor Mick Mars stands there weakly due to his medical condition known as Ankylosing Spondylitis which is a pretty painful degenerative back disease. I always felt bad for Mars, for while Lee, Sixx, and Neil all went out to drink their faces off and sleep with half of L.A.; Mars hung back as kind of the outcast of the group. In fact, he's barely shown in any of their videos and gets a fraction of the pages in The Dirt compared to the other three. It's kinda like that Sesame Street sketch where they give you four pictures and ask you which one of the four is not like the others. There were always three people at the beach and one in a rainstorm. Mick Mars was the dude in the rainstorm for the Crue.
Anyway, the band ride their motorcycles on the stage, take their places, and Neil walks up to a particularly slutty looking "dancer", grabs her leg, extends it up and out, licks her leather boot, and then smacks her on the ass. Mars plays the intro to "Girls, Girls, Girls" and two strippers, sorry, "aerialists" descend from above wrapped in stripper clothes hanging by chains. The band plays their famous ode to strip clubs and the lovely ladies who are employed by them while Neil sings (quite well, actually. After all these years, the guy still has the pipes) to the first stripper as she humps him and grabs his crotch. Along with the airborne strippers, neon lights, crazy good guitar riffs, and shots of the crowd I was treated to arguably the most rock n' roll performance I've ever seen.
The only thing that could have made this more Rock n' Roll is if before the song the band funneled a beer and did a few lines of coke off the stripper's ass. Everything else is in there. Incidentally, the shots of the crowd were fascinating as the entire concert consisted of constant shots of middle aged scantly clad women drinking large cups of beer while pressing their chests towards the camera with their tongues sticking out, or dudes raising their hands up in the double horn rock and roll salute with their tongues sticking out. This all made for a much more enjoyable viewing experience. It was just so ridiculous, it was lovely, and it was so Rock n' Roll.
As you can tell, I could write about Motley Crue for a long time, for there is much to say. But I will end this here with the reminder that Hair Metal is still a viable musical genre and should not be forgotten. I'm also pressed to recognize this four piece outfit as one of the most important and influential bands for me in my musical evolution and I will always hold a special place in my heart for them. Also, if you want an amazingly entertaining read, pick up a copy of The Dirt. You won't be disappointed in what is the quintessential account of the quintessential Rock n' Roll band.