Written with the full cooperation of Mötley Crüe and several of their hangers on, The Dirt is aptly titled — its forays into the quartet’s private lives leave little to the imagination, and for rock lore junkies, it’s a fitting successor to both Stephen Davis’ 1985 tome ”Hammer of the Gods,” the Led Zeppelin bio that recounted backstage life in lurid detail, and Strauss’ 1998 collaboration with Marilyn Manson, ”The Long Hard Road Out of Hell.”
And while ”The Dirt” is an especially sleazy read (there are more references to throwaway sex than there are to music, including one particularly shocking hotel room moment involving two groupies and a phone), Strauss’ account is also a sympathetic portrayal of four damaged individuals whose nonstop misogyny and chemical carousing is matched only by a near karmic amount of personal grief and loss.
That such a conflicting portrait emerges is due both to the band’s candor and to Strauss’ decision to eschew the typical three act, ”Behind the Music” style structure of most celebrity tell alls. It must have been tempting to simply stick with the sexcapades and drunken binges, especially with the Crüe.
But by allowing the group’s individual stories to unfold slowly, Strauss humanizes the cartoonish, headline grabbing quartet, making for some rare introspective moments: Cocky frontman Vince Neil anguishes over the slow death of his young daughter from cancer, while hyperactive drummer Tommy Lee (whose famed relationship with Pamela Anderson takes up too sizable a chunk of the book’s final pages) touchingly recounts his dying father’s influence. Bassist Nikki Sixx is the most articulate and insightful of the four, and his troubled past functions as a visible catalyst for his self destructive tendencies.
Guitarist Mick Mars, the quiet loner with the weird mustache and sunken eyes, is The Dirt’s biggest surprise. The oldest (he’s age 45) and most thoughtful of the quartet, he at first appears to be on a quest to one up his younger bandmates with anger and detachment (not to mention with his drinking problem); it’s not until halfway through that he reveals how a decades long struggle with a degenerative bone disease shaped his life.
Despite such empathy inspiring moments, Strauss never tries to make the case that the Crüe are simply nice guys done wrong by society — not that the band would want us to believe that anyway. Instead, ”The Dirt” explores and questions rock’s decadent trappings, finding surprising notes of regret and anguish amid the pyrotechnic razzle dazzle.