Sunday, April 28, 2019

The Dirt and the Resurgence of Mötley Crüe

It’s 2019, and lots of people are talking about Mötley Crüe. Who could have guessed an ‘80s heavy metal band that retired in 2015 would set the internet ablaze in 2019? It’s been a month since The Dirt premiered on Netflix and I’m still seeing posts from people who are watching for the second or third or fourth time. (The Crüe's resurgence is no fluke. The band was featured in a 2014 Fast Company article 5 Brilliant Business Lessons from Mötley Crüe- Seriously.)  

All kinds of people, not just Crueheads or heavy metal fans, like this film. The reviews usually read something like “Yeah, there were timeline problems and it was cheesy, but it was entertaining and I watched till the end.”

The raves, unsurprisingly, come mostly from long-time fans.

All types of people liked the movie, even folks you think would have no interest in even watching it.

People in industrial bands, intellectuals, people who lived in L.A. in the early ‘80s but didn’t like the metal scene, and many under 30s with a cursory knowledge of the band, liked the film. Most people took the Netflix movie at face value. This is a biopic about Mötley Crüe, based on the 2001 best-selling book “The Dirt”, not a somber candidate for the Criterion Collection.       

Snobs who believe that only certain types of music and entertainment are valid, or that anything from the past that wasn't politically correct should not be remembered or chronicled, hated the movie.

The Timeline, Actors, Fact-checking, etc.

A little fact-checking with the book version of “The Dirt” shows that the movie’s a bit more authentic than apparent at first sight. The fight during the band’s first show at the Starwood happened pretty much as portrayed in the film. Vince Neil did bang Tom Zutat’s girlfriend, but it was in a trailer at the US Festival, not in a dressing room at the Forum. 

McGhee never brought Nikki’s Mom into the picture. The band fired him after the Moscow Peace Festival in 1989, when Bon Jovi, another band McGhee managed, played a full set with pyro, while the Crue play a truncated opening set.

The fourth wall narration in the film explained that the Crue actually had two co-managers, that McGee didn’t really meet the band at their shitty apartment, and allowed the celluloid “grouchy” Mick to provide some counterpoint to the rock ‘n’ roll excess.

And it was Thaler, not McGhee, who got the ill-fated Entertainment or Death tattoo.

Tommy, as played by Machine Gun Kelly, is a likeable, hyperactive kid in the movie. In the book, Tommy comes off much cruder, unless he’s in love - then he becomes a total teddy bear.

Nikki, as played by Douglas Booth, was pretty spot-on most of the time. He even nailed Nikki’s distinctive speaking voice, although it did waver from the original here and there.  

Vince (Daniel Webber), had the swagger of the pre-fame Vince down, and handled the tragic scenes well, especially the emotional scenes with Skylar. The young actress who played Skylar was so heartbreaking in those scenes. “Daddy, don’t let them cut me again.”

Mick (Iwan Rheon) stole the film with his snarky, fourth wall comments. Mick Mars as Motley Crue’s voice of reason. Well, it’s a thankless job, but somebody had to do it.

The Dirt clocked in at an hour and forty eight minutes. You didn’t have to see the movie  to know it would be a quick cut, “best of” – all the  major scenes from the book, punctuated by the band’s music, with everything tied up in a neat package at the end.

Sure, the band’s history could have worked as a series, including more in-depth scenes from the Japanese train fiasco, Vince’s trial, Tommy and Pamela,etc., but then the trolls would complain it was too long and boring! A series would have given the filmmakers more room to humanize the characters and show them as “grown-ups”.

The Groupies

The women who gave bands blow jobs under the tables at the Rainbow accounted for a small percentage of the young women in 1980s Los Angeles. They were mostly upper middle class girls from the Valley or Orange County trying to outslut each other to see who could do the most guys in bands. These young women wanted to be there. They weren't victims. 

The movie version of The Dirt opens with a raucous party at the band’s Hollywood apartment in the early ‘80s. Vince is banging some guy’s girlfriend in the bathroom (an event which occurs with alarming frequency, as we find out later).

However, the main event takes place in the living room, where Tommy pleasures a girl as a crowd parties around them. Then the money shot occurs as the girl squirts across the room.  The woman, known as Bullwinkle, opened the book, too. When you begin a movie with female ejaculation, where do you go from there? Hold my beer (or heroin or coke spoon), the Dirt replies.

There’s enough sex, drugs, and tragedy in this hour and 48 minute film to fit in a series

Nikki’s on H (with lots of close-ups of needles entering veins)
Nikki’s temporary death and revival with two adrenaline shots to the heart 
Everyone’s banging everyone else’s girlfriend
The obligatory hotel-bashing
Young Nikki slices his arm open and blames it on his Mom
Vince kills his friend Razzle in a drunk driving accident
Vince’s young daughter dies of cancer
Mick’s Ankylosing Spondylitis (arthritis of the spine) gets worse; he has hip replacement surgery
Heather kicks Tommy out because of his dalliance with a porn star

 And, of course, who could miss the Pearl Jam Ten album cover on the side of the rehearsal studio on a rainy day? That was a harbinger of doom for all ‘80s metal bands, not just Mötley Crüe.

Guest Appearances
Ozzy (Tony Cavalero) snorting ants had to be included in a film at some point. Even though you know what’s going to happen, the “ugh” factor is strong when viewing the reenactment. (The peeing part probably didn't happen, however.)

David Lee Roth (Christian Gehring) makes a blink and you’ll miss it appearance. Yes, DLR would be so out of it in the early ‘80s – a mirror would crack over his head without him noticing it.

Heather Locklear (Rebekah Graf) only makes a few appearances, and it’s uncanny how much Graf resembles '80s Heather. Tommy did mistake her for Heather Thomas, but they met at  an REO Speedwagon concert, not Vince’s party.

Tom Zutat (Pete Davidson),  the A & R rep who signed Mötley Crüe to Electra, is portrayed as somewhat of an earnest klutz. I’m not sure if that jives with his real-life persona. 

 Also, the biker chick who asks Mick if he’s in the band during the opening party sequence is played by Brittany Furlan, Tommy Lee’s new wife. (They got married on Valentine’s Day 2019.)  

Nostalgia and a Personal Take

When I first moved to L.A. in 1983, I didn’t know anyone. I hung out at the Troubadour – until I discovered the local punk rock scene and my whole life changed. Of course, I’m not sure that would have happened if Vince Neil hadn’t guest-starred with Top Jimmy at the Cathay de Grande one night.

I remember the accident that killed Razzle. I was living in L.A, at the time, looking forward to seeing Hanoi Rocks in L.A. at the Palace – or was it the Whisky? I had a copy of “One Step from the Move” displayed by my stereo. The onscreen Vince’s dialogue about “it could have been any one of them” driving drunk and killing Razzle rang true. L.A. rocker dudes in the ’80s were rarely sober. Any combination of hard rock/metal dude passenger/driver could be deadly at any given moment.

I was back home in Chicago for Nikki’s death and reanimation. By this time, my beloved rebels were now Enquirer fare, with everyone from my younger brothers to random teenage girls listening to Girls, Girls, Girls. By 1988, even Satan had gone mainstream. Teen girls on the bus had pentagrams drawn on their PF flyers along with the names of their favorite bands (Poison, Bon Jovi, Mötley Crüe).

When Dr. FeelGood, the band’s only number one album, was released, I was in New York, working for a music publisher. Then Mötley Crüe defected to the alternative/grunge sound with their self-titled album. Vince had quit/gotten fired, and John Corabi replaced him. It didn’t sound like classic Crue, sold over 500,000 copies, but was considered a flop. (Many fans now consider the album to be one of the group’s best.) I always liked it.

Throughout the ‘90s the band became mainstream celebrities, and appeared on many talk shows. I saw them many times on Regis and Kathy Lee. Now, it didn’t hurt that Tommy was married to Baywatch babe Pamela Anderson and Nikki to Donna D'errico. That aspect took main stage in the press, with the music secondary. 

I found out I liked a lot more songs than I thought, even lesser-known ones. We’re not talking the greatest rock songs ever, but fun party anthems. “Bad Boy Boogie”, “Same Old Situation”, everything from the first two albums, even “Saints of Los Angeles”.

The Critics gave The Dirt a 39 per cent score, based on 64 reviews. “Rock bad boy lore as endless bore”, writes Rolling Stone. “An ill-advised remake of Spinal Tap”, says the New York Times, “painfully dated and pointless”, says another review from The Playlist. “A terrible movie about terrible people,” says Stereogum.( 95% of  6124 audience reviewers liked it.)

Critics never liked the Crüe’s music or persona so it makes sense that they wouldn’t like a movie based on their exploits. The first batch of reviews was especially brutal out of the gate, and seemed to criticize the subject matter as much as the actual filmmaking. How dare you even make a movie about an out-of-control 1980s rock band in politically correct 2019?

Somehow, the neatly-tied up ending the meeting at the bar (the real meeting took place in an office with lawyers present) fit in with the fast-paced movie. A more complicated ending (and character arcs) would have only made sense in a fleshed-out series.

The Calm After the Storm 

I searched in vain for a download of one of the Sixx Sense shows on my hard drive. I’d saved the show because Nikki had said something really profound. And now I can’t remember it, or find the file. He talked about looking up at the night sky with one of his kids, that’s the only part of the show I remember.

Years ago, I read an interview with a rock star (Don Henley, I think, but it was so long ago I could be wrong) who talked about how hitting rock-bottom changes people, allowing them to survive and prosper.

People who succumb to drugs and/or depravity and then come out the other side, often have an understanding of life’s true meaning  that others lack, the interviewee (whoever it was) said.  Maybe that’s why I find a lot of Nikki’s comments today to be so profound.