Motley Crue "The Dirt”
As I type this, I am viewing the Netflix biopic on Mötley Crüe, The Dirt for the FIFTH time. As they say, only God can judge me. I will fully admit that even by my sometimes obsessive standards, that's excessive. Even more so because as recently as last Friday, when I hit play on the Netflix app on my phone to watch it for the first time, I was convinced that this movie was going to SUCK. Like, I thought it was going to be really really bad. How bad you ask? Well, have you ever seen the made-for-VH1 biopic Hysteria? The one about Def Leppard? The one with Anthony Michael Hall as Mutt Lange? Yeah, THAT bad. So to say my expectations were set low is an understatement. The Dirt crushed those expectations and left them in the dust.
First, some backstory: my history with Mötley Crüe starts at the age of thirteen. I was a Catholic school kid with an ear for music that set my religion teachers' Spidy-senses a'tingling – Ozzy, Kiss, AC/DC, Van Halen – but The Crüe was something new..something even more “risky.” I had read about the band in Hit Parader magazine for several months, maybe a year or more, and their bass player Nikki Sixx seemed like an interesting character. I hadn't heard any of their actual music however, because I grew up in a place where the latest Heavy Metal records weren't so easy to come by. Usually, it involved a 20-minute car ride to the “big city” of Portsmouth, Ohio, and a trip to the one record store there, which was called The Record Shop. But then one day I walked into our local Rink's department store, went to the music section, and saw a BLACK album, with an even BLACKER pentagram emblazed on the front, with a small red Mötley Crüe logo above it, and the words “Shout At The Devil” below.
I can't remember what album I went there to buy that day, but I only had money for one purchase, and I left with the Crüe. I took it home and played it, and the music blew me away as much as the album cover did. I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that my first hearing of The Beatles song "Helter Skelter" was through the cover version on this album. Over the next few months Mötley Crüe leaped to the top of my favorite bands list, along with the other bands I've mentioned already. They took the Van Halen “LA vibe” and combined it with forbidden Satanic imagery and a seemingly obsessive need to fulfill every rock band cliché in the book. They were everything I wanted to be when I grew up! That's right. My biggest dream as a teenager was to jump on a bus when I turned eighteen, and head to Hollywood to start a band – a dream that was pretty much envisioned in the video for Guns 'N' Roses' “Welcome To The Jungle” years later. But Mötley Crüe had already done all that, and I worshiped them for it.
I rode the Crüe train hard throughout High School, but by the time college rolled around, I was starting to dig into more “serious” music like Thrash Metal and Alternative Rock. I finally gave up on them musically after the Girls, Girls, Girls album, in no small part due to bands like the opening act for my first Crüe concert, Anthrax. That show, at the legendary Buckeye Lake Music Center (so legendary that it was once called Legend Valley) was one of my first experiences being part of a festival size audience. The Crüe, Whitesnake, and Anthrax packed 50,000 people onto that hillside, and every single one of them rocked their asses off throughout the day. It was the greatest thing I had ever been a part of. I had recently cut my hair for a job, and I made a vow that day to grow it back out again, this time for real and not in the mullet style I had worn before the cut.
I saw the GGG tour an additional time (no Anthrax this time), and I would see the band a few more times over the years, including their “Carnival Of Sins” tour, and their Farewell Tour (note: as of this writing they are one of the only bands to stay retired after a Farewell Tour), but I really was barely even a casual fan anymore. I may have paid attention to their press, and that's it. Due to a string of bad decisions made by various band members, it became almost as much fun to bag on them as it was to have once been a hardcore fan. For better or worse, they had a long-term appeal, where it was fun to love them, and it was fun to hate them. But in the end, no one can really take away the massive success the band achieved through years of hard work and by just sticking around. They carved their spot on Rock Mountain, and they did it their way.
When the band released their best-selling “autobiography” (probably as much fiction as fact) called The Dirt over a decade ago, the chatter began immediately about the eventual movie adaptation. Through the years various directors, producers, and actors have been attached to the project. It became somewhat of a lasting meme that the movie would never get made, and if it did, it wouldn't be any good. Fast forward to 2019. The movie did get made. And what a treat it turned out to be.
The film adaptation turns out to be a somewhat generic, but sort of timeless rock & roll story of four misfits who somehow find each other and end up creating something huge, sometimes in spite of themselves. Throw in a healthy dose of 1980's movie tropes like “The Party Film,” “The Buddy Flick,” and yes, even “The After School Special,” and you end up with a movie that captured the period in a fun time-capsule sort of way, paying homage to many of the pop-culture elements that made that decade so much fun to begin with. The casting is outstanding, especially Machine Gun Kelly's performance as Tommy Lee. I don't know if Mick Mars in real life is anything like the way that Iwan Rheon (of HBO's Game Of Thrones fame) portrays him, but if he is, then he's my new favorite rock star (cranky old men unite!).
And the actor playing Vince Neil reminded me so much of a local singer that I used to go see on a regular basis that it was somewhat distracting. But even in that, what was entertaining to me is that I witnessed club shows involving said local singer that strongly resembled the band's early club show in the movie. Just another element that triggered memories of my own musical experiences in the 80's. I think more than anything, that is what I loved about the movie. It really does “take me back.” All this is not to say that the movie is just a big Feelgood film...ahem. It's plenty serious at times, even if it falls into the aforementioned After School Special territory. And it's most definitely NOT safe for kids. Especially if you as a parent haven't had “the talk” with them. The sex, drugs, and rock & roll quotient is off the charts in this movie.
There are valid criticisms that I have seen leveled at the movie. The timeline is off (cue Bohemian Rhapsody comparisons), there's a ton of the story left out, some characters are missing or are caricatures of their real-life selves, the drug use and promiscuous sex is glorified and played for laughs at times. But how else do you tell the story of this band? With a Netflix series? Interesting premise, but in the end I think that may have been too much of a gamble for the network. Based on the attention that the movie has received, I think the producers are vindicated in their choice to make it a standard two-hour film. And regardless, none of the criticisms have spoiled my enjoyment of the movie. In fact, I think in the long run this movie is going to be seen as a stroke of genius. No, I'm not saying it is Citizen Kane, but it's the right movie for the right band. You want to know what my biggest issue is? It's that the inevitable Van Halen biopic, which I have been waiting for my whole life, is going to look tame - or worse - like a knock-off of The Dirt. I will go even further and say that any band with an “LA Story” to tell is going to have their biopic measured against this one.
I guess in the end I'm still a Homer for The Crüe.
Google: Kevin Montavon Pencilstorm - for cool results.