In the late eighties, I was a mullet-headed, mischievous, badly-behaved, emotionally-affected soon-to-be teenager. My interest in girls and rock music was beginning to supersede that of school achievements and Little League. I was a fifth grader obsessed with heavy metal and Sunset Strip Aqua Net culture - one that flowered with a curly mullet, stripes shaved in the side, a sizable cassette tape collection and Columbia House debt, and stonewashed denim jackets with Guns N' Roses, Metallica, and Motley Crue back patches (fellow JamBase writer/childhood friend-in-metal Robbie "W.K." Krevolin wore a Def Leopard Pyromania backpatch). While my peers stayed up past midnight on Saturdays for Saturday Night Live, we were waiting on Rikki Rachtman for MTV's Headbanger's Ball. Though I lived in the cozy confines of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, something told me I belonged on the seedy side of Sunset Boulevard.
For a long time, my parents would not allow me to attend any concerts, but after a while they relented, and my life as I knew it was never the same. Since I was only twelve years old, my father had to accompany us, but we were going to see Motley Crue!
Motley Crue :: Back In The Day
My first concert that I decided to go to on my own remains the true "first day of the rest of my life." Live music and the adventures that accompany it have commandeered my life and identity for the past fifteen years. The birth of a passion took place at the Spectrum in Philadelphia - a venue that would later house many glorious Grateful Dead and Phish shows. But it was born with the Crue, twice - first with Faster Pussycat supporting, the following time with Warrant. And my dad, well, he drove us there.
There is nothing like arena rock bombast, none greater than that of the Motley Crue's Dr. Feelgood tour. At twelve, I was well-versed in Motley lore - the poverty and punkish freedom of the Sunset Strip beginnings, the comedic occult influence of the brilliant sophomore effort Shout at the Devil, the US Festival triumph of 1983, and the descent into the black holes of rock and roll excess (which is marvelously described by the band and author Neil Strauss in their must-read autobiography The Dirt). There was also singer Vince Neil's conviction for vehicular manslaughter in the drunk driving death of Hanoi Rocks drummer Razzle, the now infamous overdose of bassist Nikki Sixx, who was shooting dope with Guns N' Roses drummer Steven Adler and Ratt's late Robbin Crosby, and of course there was drummer and resident badass Tommy Lee's ever-dramatic life of blondes, booze, blow, and blows. Theirs was a story and a world all its own. It was as if Motley read the Led Zeppelin bible Hammer of the Gods, and attempted to live out the hedonistic tales every day of their lives.
The whole Motley juggernaut was like a tragic soap opera, and it was my earliest experience of feeling a connection to a band through their music and their personas. It would be another two-plus years before I would see the Grateful Dead perform for the first time, which redirected my interests north of the Sunset Strip toward the Bay Area.
Motley Crue :: Still Back In The Day
Under the guidance of renowned rockstar rehabilitation counselor Bob Timmons, the Crue had sobered up for Dr. Feelgood, (no really, they did) and the entire tour was supervised. It lasted over two years without any member falling off the wagon. At the time of this concert in 1989, this show was groundbreaking in its massive production, which included many stage changes, obscene amounts of pyrotechnics, and voluptuous blonde chicks singing backup dressed as nurses. Tommy Lee traveled around the rafters atop the arena, drumming on a motorized electric drum set wearing only a black leather-studded jockstrap and a mane of long hair.
This was my introduction to rock and roll, and unlike the musically superior Guns N' Roses, Motley Crue was able to transcend from their albums and photo sessions to deliver the goods over the top in the live setting. Though the songs themselves are relatively elementary in composition, their performances were legendary because of the whole package - musically tight and well executed with all the bells and whistles. These nights in Philly way back when were solid evidence that the sober Motley Crue on the Feelgood tour was the peak of the Sunset Strip scene. It was to be their final days on top.
Motley Crue :: 2005 Press Shot
Soon after, Vince left the band, and Motley began a steady decline that bottomed out when Tommy Lee saw prison time for spousal abuse. He left Motley Crue soon after, and though Vince had returned, Motley just wasn't cool anymore.
Soon it would all be gone, along with most of the huge bands of their genre. In 1992, there were countless bands of big hair, Ibanez guitars, and eyeliner power ballads. The airwaves were littered with carbon copies of the most popular bands (similar to what the jam scene has experienced). Soon MTV began to show a video from some Seattle band Nirvana called "Smells Like Teen Spirit," and shortly thereafter the movie Singles and its soundtrack were released. The tides were turning away from LA and north toward Seattle. Flannel shirts replaced leather pants, grimy mops of hair and scruffy beards were in, big hair and pink guitars were out. It was heroin instead of cocaine. Most notable were changes in the subject matter and production value of the studio recordings, which now sounded like they were recorded in a garage. They were stripped-down live performances devoid of showmanship or pyrotechnics. It was all over for the Sunset Strip scene.