by Priya Panda
The day after I turned 21, I put on a pair of fuschia-patent leather stilettos and walked across a parking lot in Grand Rapids, MI, in pursuit of my heavy-metal idols.
It would be my third time seeing Mötley Crüe — the best hair band in the land and the reason I hold dear to Halloween, horror movies, and a fascination for all things dark. Seeing the Crüe this time would be different, though. I was now legal and I was on a mission to party with the big boys, if I could only get my hands on a backstage pass.
It had been years since I first discovered Tommy Lee, Nikki Sixx, Mick Mars and Vince Neil at the age of 14. They were pure evil in the form of a catchy pop song sprinkled with glitter, guitar solos, the spirit of David Bowie’s ’70s glam-rock, the dark subject matter of the Misfits and Black Sabbath rock ‘n’ roll. Suddenly, my high-school Zellers paycheques became devoted exclusively to the attainment of T-shirts, CDs, vinyl records, flags, pins, action figures and all things Crüe.
And so I found myself stumbling into a concert this summer to see my beloved band during their Red, White & Crüe reunion tour. It was the first time in six years that the original lineup would be together again, and it would be the first time I’d meet and discover what’s become of my heavy-metal heroes.
Dressed in an uncharacteristic outfit of extremely tapered jeans with rips in every imaginable area, a thin wife-beater, and of course, the crazy shiny pink shoes, I scanned the crowd for guys with tags or passes around their necks. It was backstage time, and I was sure that even though the band claimed to be sobered up and serious about the music, an addiction to partying would be hard to break. Maybe — just maybe — my heroes were still going strong.
In their heyday, each of the four band mates had his own collection of vices — alcohol, cocaine, heroin — but they shared one common vice: women. Backstage parties of legend were complete with hot tubs, open bars and countless busty females. Destruction and the sharing of women weren’t uncommon, sometimes involving arrests, fights and drug overdoses.
The time was slowly dwindling on the intermission counter. Just as the lights turned on, a man approached me, claiming he’d been hired by the band to find girls to hang out with backstage. “What’s up with those shoes, girl? Those are next level! Where do I remember you from again?” he asked, his shoulder-length hair tied in a ponytail. (He must have had a thing for ponytails since he decided to also tie up either side of his moustache in the same fashion.)
Awkwardly, about 80 girls — some wearing only ruffled underwear and nipple tassels; the conservative choosing clingy miniskirts and bra tops — packed into a fluorescent room.
What startled me most, though, was that many of the most extreme dressers were in their cougar years, looking like weathered relics from Mötley Crüe’s glory days. I started wondering: Did Mötley Crüe always hang out with old ladies, or were they just getting desperate lately?
For our pleasure, there was a table of what looked like Saran-wrapped weeks-old turkey piled on Styrofoam plates. The cougars freely indulged while the younger girls seemed reluctant to stray from their diets of celery, cigarettes and Ex-Lax. But where were the alcohol, the mounds of cocaine and most of all, where was my band?
What felt like hours later, the door burst open and Tommy Lee, looking like nothing short of a rabid beast, with his face painted white and his eyes completely encircled in red, greeted us: “What’s up, ladies! Let’s party!”
Immediately, Tommy — who was flanked by a personal assistant, a cameraman filming DVD footage, and a bodyguard — bee-lined it for the oldest woman in the room. She had damaged auburn hair, neon pink lips, age spots, and the biggest implants I’d ever seen in real life. As her shirt rode up, she revealed a C-section scar and her smile was like that of a kindly grandmother’s. She wrapped her arm around him possessively, proud of acquiring Tommy for the night.
The empty look in his eyes scared me and the remnants of his white paint had given his skin a blue hue. While the girls squealed around him, Tommy seemed to be in another world, barely reacting. He posed for photos and signed autographs, then rounded up the herd to exit while security held away the stragglers.
I was losing hope quickly. So far, partying backstage with the band who epitomized the “what happens at the show, stays at the show” mentality was certainly not all that it was cracked up to be.
The Tommyland “Undressing” Room contained two blonde strippers, roadies, me and my new friends and a British guy wearing a nasty satin jacket with a dragon on it. “Hey, I want to hang out with you tonight,” the Brit said, and an American cigarette was lit and passed my way. “If it wasn’t for those crazy pink shoes, I don’t know,” he continued, settling beside me.
Thankfully, things looked up when an apparently sober Nikki Sixx walked in, looking surprisingly healthy (especially considering a past incident in which he was pronounced dead from a drug overdose). “You’re filthy, does your mother know about this?” he said to giggling girls, who bent over in his face as he stared.
As things settled, someone suggested we move the party to the tour bus — and really, who was I not to oblige them? Nikki stopped me on my way out of the room. “Hey little girl, I heard through the grapevine that it’s your birthday. What do you want for your 21st birthday?” I couldn’t believe Nikki Sixx knew! I stumbled over my words and managed to request a picture. (I still kick myself that I didn’t ask for a song!)
On the luxury bus, we all piled awkwardly on the leopard-print bed and I shuddered imagining a time when various bimbos filled these spaces.
Soon the vodka disappeared and the exotic dancers were allowing themselves to be photographed naked, while a bootlegged copy of the Queens of the Stone Age album blasted.
Tommy came over as the alcohol hit me and spun the room. “Do you want to go to Illinois? Have you ever been there?” he asked, referring to the band’s next tour stop. I answered that no, I hadn’t, but asked how I’d get home from there.
His answer was astonishing. “I’m Tommy Lee,” he said simply, gesturing towards our lavish surroundings. “What do you think this came from?”
I couldn’t believe the audacity he had to say that. In the real world, Tommy Lee might have been an average-looking factory worker, but he lucked out. Sadly, I wondered if I was ready to leave the party.
As the tension in the air heightened, we stood up to leave just as he was starting to look extremely haggard and tired. Still, Tommy wasn’t partied out, even following us to the front of the bus until he was practically yelling at us out the door. “Hey where are you guys going? You’re lucky to be here! You’re the crème de la crème! The other guys don’t party like I do! If you leave you can’t come back!”
And those were the last phrases I heard Tommy Lee say as I ran away from the bus to meet my boyfriend.
I saw my favourite band in the world degenerating into a former shell of what they once were this summer. Mötley Crüe is the result of a lifetime of chemical, sexual and lifestyle indulgences. Vince Neil once wrote this in the band’s book, The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band: “When Mötley Crüe came on the scene, it was less as a band than as a gang. We’d get drunk, do crazy amounts of cocaine, and walk the circuit in stiletto heels, stumbling all over the place.”
But that was not the Crüe I met. Although the band toured together, the camaraderie had disappeared. While Vince was probably still testing out all the parts on his new wife (a wonder of modern technology) Mick was regaining strength for his ailing body. Meanwhile, Tommy could barely stand and Nikki was channelling his sexual tension by getting as perverse with women as possible without actual physical contact.
Despite the dreary reality of an ageing Mötley Crüe and a lack of backstage antics, though, the original kings of sleaze aim to please onstage. That’s what was easy to forget during the madness on Tommy Lee’s tour bus, but I promised never to forget that any time I hear a song by the best heavy-metal band in the land.