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The recent feature length adaptation of The Dirt, the warts-and-all memoir from the notorious rock group Mötley Crüe, served as a window for those unfamiliar with the Los Angeles scene of the 1980s and the debauchery that the city was awash with during a decade of excess. First published in 2001 in collaboration with journalist Neil Strauss, the tell-all memoir documented the rise to fame of four young wannabe rock stars and the outrageous lifestyles they would indulge in as the money and fame became readily available. Full of explicit tales of sexual deviancy and hardcore drug use, the book was every bit as shocking and entertaining as a biopic on a group as infamous as Mötley Crüe should be.
The 1980s were a different time, when sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll were glorified by the media and groupies would follow their favourite artists from city to city in the hope of spending a night or even an hour partying with rock stars. I’m with the Band: Confessions of a Groupie, which chronicled the adventures of self-confessed groupie Pamela Des Barres, would further highlight this world of young women willingly giving themselves to those celebrities which they adored. It would be into this world in the early years of the 1980s that Mötley Crüe would first emerge.
‘Her name was Bullwinkle. We called her that because she had a face like a Moose,’ declared frontman Vince Neil in the opening paragraph of The Dirt, clearly setting the tone for the stories that were about to follow. ‘But Tommy, even though he could get any girl he wanted on the Sunset Strip, would not break up with her. He loved her and wanted to marry her, he kept telling us, because she could spray her cum across the room.’ And thus the reader was immediately thrown into the shameless world of Mötley Crüe.
But as each album achieved Platinum sales and the profile of the band increased so did the drug use and Caligula-like lifestyle, with constant parties and no-strings-attached sex after almost every show. Even as a new decade dawned and the music industry began to change, with Neil having been dismissed from the band, this did little to tame their appetite for sin. ‘I bring the girls across the hall into the Nine Inch Nails studio, lay them out on Trent’s grand piano and say, ‘Dude, set up the mikes, get some grapes, roll the tape and have a seat. You’re not gonna believe this,” recalled drummer Tommy Lee in his own book Tommyland regarding one incident in the early 1990s. ‘The girls take grapes and stick them in the squirter’s pussy only to suck them out and stick in more. Soon enough, here we go, I can tell it’s squirt time again, so I turn to everyone and say, ‘Dudes, you’d better duck.”
With such shocking tales it is no wonder that The Dirt, Netflix’s celebration of rock ‘n’ roll excess, was met with a certain amount of criticism upon its release, particularly in light of the recent #MeToo movement, in which numerous celebrities have been accused of sexual misconduct or even rape. To some a movie which some felt glorified the sleazy lifestyle of rock stars should never have been made. ‘As much as there are rip-roaring stories about eating escargots with Quaalude chasers and setting themselves on fire, there are stories that reveal deep-seated misogyny that is frankly breath-taking,’ claimed one article by Esquire, while the Time stated, ‘It’s obvious that all the female nudity and the coked-up capers are there for gratuitous titillation; that’s hardly worth getting upset about on its own…What’s more disturbing is how all of the above coexists, context-free, with scenes like the one in which Tommy hits a fiancée.’
In their review Rolling Stone would raise the question whether or not in the current climate a film like this is even appropriate. ‘Put aside for a second whether it’s wise or necessary or correct to retell this vintage story of rock ‘n roll excess at all in the era we live in; the project has been in the works for nearly a decade, predating a sea change in thinking about men behaving badly and agency and reckoning with a legacy of movies, music etc. that’s affected how we view power dynamics between genders,’ said critic David Fear. ‘It’s been made regardless, partially because of the book’s status as a Bible of hair-metal hedonism, partially because no one dedicated to getting this made really gave a flying fuck about reading the sociocultural room and partially because Crüe’s fanbase have wanted their own Bohemian Rhapsody-style myth-making for ages.’
He continued, ‘We’ve grown up from that. But the one thing we never did, and I need to say this, is we never abused our power. That’s something that I think is important to know. Whatever we did was consensual. It was wild and it was fun – I mean, every band was going fucking crazy – but what if we omitted that because it’s not politically correct in 2019?’ When asked by interviewer Ian Winwood about whether or not Sixx is fearful of the #MeToo movement he added, ‘No. Here’s the thing: if anybody was abusing power, that’s one thing. But it was a time when everyone was living a life that is very different from today’s. That was then and this is now. No, we don’t have anything to worry about. But we would have done the wrong thing if we had made a film that worried about presenting us in a way that was politically correct.’