Friday, March 1, 2013

Review: The Heroin Diaries by Nikki Sixx (3.5/5)

By Ryan St. Onge

As I get older, I've become much more discerning about the culture I digest. I'm 37 years old and I have a family, a job and hobbies. I can't read, listen and watch everything (unless someone pays me to do so). With the seemingly bottomless amount of culture out there to peruse, you have to set parameters lest you drown in the tsunami of books, music, television and film that comes out every year. So I've become a bit picky with my culture. I maintain a strict diet of nutritious culture (a term I have not yet had time to define, but I'm hoping strikes a chord enough so that you know what I'm talking about) and try to avoid junk culture (i.e. reality television, nonsensical Hollywood blockbusters, radio-friendly pop music and bad YA fiction). I do this by asking myself before hand: "will anyone remember this in 5-10 years?" If the answer is yes, then I'll give it a shot.

Some might call me a snob, and that's fine. I have no problem with that. A snob, with all its negative connotations, implies someone who is judicious and shrewd in their choices and life is too short to waste on things covered by Perez Hilton and TMZ. In fact, whenever I hear someone invoke those terms (along with others including but not limited to Paris Hilton, Dancing with the Stars, The Bachleor, Twilight and any television show that ends in the word "Wars") I instantly think less of their culture choices and will think carefully about following up on anything they recommend. Harsh, I know, but like I said... I'm not interested in wasting my time on crap.

Which is why my lifelong love affair with glam metal makes almost zero sense. Glam metal is the very definition of junk culture. Glam metal from the 1980s is formulaic rock at its worst. If you don't believe me, go listen to every album ever recorded by Poison, Warrant, Extreme and Whitesnake and get back to me. Bet you don't get past Cherry Pie.

Oh sure, my musical tastes have expanded over the years to incorporate everything from Bluegrass to African music to minimalist techno (I even own a copy of Trout Mask Replica, though I admit that I don't get it). But come Saturday night when a couple of beers have lubricated my sense of decency I like nothing else but to crank up Cinderella, Ratt or my all-time personal favorite: Motley Crue.

Full disclosure: Motley Crue's Shout at the Devil was the very first album I ever owned, and I owned it on vinyl (yeah, I'm that cool). I got it for my 8th birthday and I played the living shit out of that record for years. I remember that the album was all matte black with a glossy black pentagram on the front (I still cannot believe that my mother bought it for an 8 year-old). The album folded out to reveal the four members of the band. I knew they were all men because their names where men's names, but they sure looked like girls. But holy fuck did they look cool with all that leather and metal. I wanted desperately to be that cool. And of all the guys in the band, it was Nikki Sixx I wanted to be.

Even after I discovered Nirvana and moved on, I have remained a Motley Crue fan my entire life. I wrestle with this because despite their reputation as the dirtiest, nastiest, most reviled band in a dirty, nasty and reviled style of music (metal) and their perceived place as noting more than a musical sideshow (Vince Neil and Tommy Lee's foray into the realm of reality television didn't help matters) I still, to this day, believe that they have a canonical place in the history of music, and I'll fight anyone who says otherwise. OK, sure, they aren't the best musicians and their music is uneven but they defined what a band should look and act. Motley Crue personified metal. They were everything. And the reason for this was Nikki Sixx. Without Sixx, Motley Crue was simply Ratt, The Scorpions or (good God!) Dangerous Toys. Sixx, the bassist and primary songwriter in Motley Crue, was the man who brought the band together and was the driving force behind this rise to stardom. He seemed to drag the band, whose exploits seemed to indicate an ambivalence to fame and fortune, kicking and screaming into the limelight and held them there even while his physical, personal and psychological life crumbled.

Nikki Sixx
Say what you will, but for a seven year stretch between 1983 and 1990 Motley Crue was arguably the biggest band in the world. Sure, they are/were misogynistic, drug-addled maniacs, but they were the logical extension of trashy, glam rock established by the likes of The New York Dolls (and if you've never listened to The New York Dolls, do yourself a favor). But in that span, they recorded four multi-platinum albums (Shout at the Devil, Theater of Pain, Girls Girls Girls and Dr. Feelgood) even though their primary songwriter (Sixx) was descending deeper and deeper into heroin addiction, an addiction that would take him to the brink of death on a fateful evening in late 1987 when he ODed and was declared dead.

The Heroin Diaries is essentially Sixx's diaries from Christmas 1986 through Christmas 1987 which coincides with the recording of Girls, Girls, Girls (Motley's sleaziest album by far), the subsequent tour and the worst days of Sixx's addiction and depression. It's a diary, and one written by a guy who was either freebasing or recovering from a night of freebasing almost 300 of those 365 days so I'm not really going to discuss the caliber of the writing. It was a personal journal for God sakes. The subject matter however, is dark, repetitive and downright scary. The Heroin Diaries takes you into the deepest recesses of six's mind at a time when he himself thought he was losing it. As an added bonus, there is commentary from the primary players (Nikki, his bandmates, various record execs, friends, family and his then girlfriend, Vanity) after most of the entries to provide context.

I know that rock and roll biographies and autobiographies always seem so indistinguishable one from the next what with their expectedly lurid tales of sexual and narcotic one-upmanship but this one is different in that it was written first hand and largely under the influence of the substances that musicians tend to glorify once they sober up and look back. The Heroin Diaries deserves recognition for its brutal honesty, not about music or the industry but rather about Sixx himself and the way in which he deals with his addictions day in and day out (and the way in which he hides his addictions). It is the most candid look into the psychotic mind of a junkie that I have ever read (this includes Naked Lunch and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas).

One thing, however, troubled me about The Heroin Diaries. It's a shame that either the publisher (MTV Books?) or Sixx himself thought so little of these diaries that they were packaged as a full color book with photos and graphics on every page. The paper itself is magazine glossy and the entire package unfortunately takes away from the gravity of subject matter. These are the intensely personal ramblings of a rock and roll junkie and deserved better than a pseudo-magazine. I would have liked to have seen this published correctly, by a more literary press who might have given the diaries the treatment they deserved as an insight into the mind of a rock and roll junkie and as a piece of pop culture history.

Motley Crue may look the part of junk culture, but they most certainly are not. It's high time we all owned up to the fact that they played an important role in the evolution of rock and roll, glam and metal and stop selling them short by taking their output and treating it like an article in Metal Edge Magazine. Nikki Sixx may not be a musical genius but he's done enough by now to garner some serious respect.

About the ReviewerRyan is a Canadian citizen lost somewhere in Asia, which is a terrible place to be lost if you like reading English books.  He gets by via second hand book stores and his Kindle.  If given the choice (though he rarely is) he prefers literary fiction and non-fiction.  Oh yeah... and zombies.  Ryan has been an avid reader of zombie lore for over 20 years.  That's either awesome or utterly sad.  You can choose.  And if you want to see what else Ryan has been reading, you can visit his personal blog, Reading in Taiwan.


  1. This sounds interesting. I read The Dirt by Motley Crue and found it crazy, fast paced and totally entertaining. I like Hollywood memoirs that are brutally honest. This surely doesn't sound like it needs to be printed on glossy paper though.
    Great review.