I was fourteen years old in the summer of 1987 and hanging out with some neighborhood kids at one of our officially designated hangout spots (the corner under the willow tree) when one of my friends pedaled up with a boombox balanced across the handlebars of his bicycle.
“Dude, the new Motley Crue tape just came out!”
“Dude, let’s hear it!”
(We said “dude” a lot back then.)
My friend pressed play and the cassette, pulling power from eight D-sized batteries, ramped up and began to play. For the next hour this small circle of friends sat outside on the street corner, getting our first listen to Motley Crue’s fourth album, Girls, Girls, Girls.
There are four members of Motley Crue, my favorite being Nikki Sixx. Lead vocalist Vince Neil dressed too much like a girl and drummer Tommy Lee wore too much lipstick for my taste. (Surprisingly, the whole “glam rock” phase skipped Oklahoma.) Mick Mars looked like he was from the planet Mars and we were never quite sure when he would return there. But Nikki Sixx man, Nikki Sixx was cool. He dressed like a linebacker from Hell and looked as cool as he did scary. He often appeared covered in fake blood, occasionally lit himself on fire, and he played bass — the only instrument I figured I had a chance of learning how to play. He also wrote all of the Crue’s lyrics and most of the music; even though the band performed the music, they were Nikki’s songs. Nikki Sixx has always been my favorite member of Motley Crue, and I remember thinking on that summer day that I would have given anything to trade places with him.
At that exact same moment, Nikki Sixx was 1,000 miles away, shooting up heroin, snorting cocaine, drinking half a bottle of Jack Daniels (every night), and wishing he were dead.
The Heroin Diaries (MTV Books, 2008) is a collection of Sixx’s diary entries that span one year, from the Christmas of ’86 to the end of 1987 when Sixx had his near-fatal overdose. (He was pronounced legally dead before receiving a needle full of adrenaline that ultimately rebooted his ticker, which led to one less dead rock star and one great song, Kickstart My Heart.) Most of the diary entries contain comments and reflections from his fellow band mates, former managers, ex-girlfriends (namely Prince’s ex-squeeze, Vanity), security guards, along with his mother, sister, grandfather, and Nikki himself. It turns out few of them care much for the Nikki Sixx of old, including the Nikki Sixx of today.
If it’s true that internal suffering leads to artistic success then it’s easy to see how Motley Crue has earned eight platinum albums and has sold 75 million albums worldwide. Each member of the band has his own demons, and the root of Sixx’s pain stems from his childhood. After his father walked out on his family when Sixx was three years old, he spent the next dozen or so years being shuffled back and forth between living with his mother (Deana) and his grandparents (Tom and Nona). The book contains a bit of he said/she said drama between the two camps with Tom claiming Deana was an addict and an unfit mother while Deana claims her family conspired to take her son away from her, but each time we read about Nikki waking up with a needle still stuck in his arm and wishing he were dead, you get the feeling it really doesn’t matter which family member was at fault.
With each turn of the page the monotony of touring and being but a part of a larger machine becomes more and more apparent. While on tour Sixx can’t wait to get home, and once he’s there he can’t wait to leave. When he’s being good on the road — and by “good” I mean “not doing heroin but still doing cocaine and drinking heavily” — Nikki spends his time hiding in his hotel room, playing guitar and watching MTV. The rest of the time (99%) Nikki along with Tommy Lee (his partner in crime) kill the boredom of touring by ingesting more drugs than you have ever seen in your life (on a daily basis), hanging out at strip clubs, being thrown out of strip clubs, punching anyone within arm’s reach in the face, lighting hotels on fire, and so on.
After he returns home after each tour ends, Nikki divides his time evenly between lambasting his dealers (“They’re like vultures! They won’t leave me alone!”) and having them deliver drugs daily to his doorstep (which he dubs “the Heroin House”). The combination of cocaine and heroin routinely floods Sixx with paranoia and delusions, at which point he retreats to his closet with his dope and loaded guns and sits there until the voices in his head tell him it’s safe. Sometimes this ends with him being convinced that “someone” (the police, his manager, his security company) is spying on him at which point he flushes all of his drugs down the toilet. Other times it causes him to get naked, grab his loaded shotgun, and hide in his garden while defending his home from “attacking Mexican midgets.” It would have been equally entertaining and dangerous to have been Sixx’s neighbor in the mid-80s.
After a while the diary entries begin to run together and the stories involving yet another set of nameless girls, yet another quest to get high, and yet another round of self-loathing begin to sound the same. Toward the end of the book I found myself skimming the more mundane stories (typically the ones not involving any sort of bodily fluid) and skipping to “the good ones.” Some of the entries are made more interesting by the name dropping; if you ever wondered what Nikki Sixx really thinks (or at least thought) about Whitesnake, Guns N’ Roses, and especially Jon Bon Jovi, you’ll find out. Also keeping things interesting is the repeated arrival of Prince’s ex-girlfriend Vanity, whom Nikki was “dating” at the time. Almost as toxic as the drugs, Vanity (who now goes by “the Evangelist Denise Matthews”) repeatedly shows up with cocaine to freebase. The cycle repeats throughout the book; they’re a couple until the drugs are gone at which point she’s tossed out with the rest of the used up paraphernalia. Vanity’s escapades (and comments) are so bizarre and kooky that I actually smiled a little when Nikki eventually punches her in the face.
In self-defense, of course.
The book culminates with Nikki’s nearly fatal overdose in the winter of 1987. While partying in a hotel room with Slash and Slash’s girlfriend Sally, Nikki allowed himself to be shot up with dope by a dealer. After the injection turns Sixx blue, the dealer hops out the window faster than Spring-Heeled Jack and with Slash on the floor passed out pissing himself (Slash pisses his pants in this book more than you care to know) it was up to Sally to try to save Sixx’s life. She couldn’t, but managed to give him mouth-to-mouth until the paramedics arrived and delivered two shots of adrenaline directly to Nikki’s heart, which ultimately revived him. For being the climax of the story the book moves through this story surprisingly quickly. By the time you reach this part of the book you will either be hoping Nikki Sixx has learned his lesson or that he will just go ahead and die, but instead he does neither by escaping first death and then the hospital, hitches a ride home with some groupies and celebrates by retreating to his closet and shooting up some more dope.
The book ends with a bullet list of things have happened in Sixx’s life since 1987. “I got better. I relapsed. I got married. I got divorced. I got on Prozac.” Despite everything he subjected himself to, Nikki Sixx is somehow still alive and rocking today, both with Motley Crue and his band, Sixx A.M. He is the host of the nightly syndicated radio show “Sixx Sense” and is involved in several other creative projects, including photography. After spending 400 pages reading about Sixx’s darkest days, it would be nice to read about a few of his successes as well. Maybe that will be covered in the next book?
The Heroin Diaries is as informative as it is entertaining. While there are moments of levity, more than fun, the book is an eye-opening look into the life of a junkie. And to think, I was once naive to think all my friends in bands were just tired all the time and really liked ice cream! If you’ve ever been around someone with a serious drug addiction, this book might give you a glimpse into what was running through their brains (especially if your friend was a millionaire.) It is amazing to read about how many people Nikki Sixx blames his addiction on other than himself.
Motley Crue’s 2002 book The Dirt was as scandalous as it was fun, but each of the three books following it written by individual band members (this one, along with Vince Neil’s Tattoos and Tequila and Tommy Lee’s Tommyland) has reinforced the old adage about the whole being more than a sum of the parts. If you want to read about Nikki’s depression, Vince Neal’s ego and Tommy Lee… well, being Tommy Lee, then these books are fine. Unfortunately, none of them measure up to The Dirt.
I recommend The Heroin Diaries to all Crue fans along with anyone curious about the life of an addict. Ultimately the book is a peek into the life of a gifted musician who, at this time in his life, was out of control. I learned a lot from this book, but the biggest thing I learned is that I would not have enjoyed trading places with Nikki Sixx back in 1987.