BY SERENA FRENCH
If you were the parent of a teenage girl in the 1980s, Nikki Sixx was your worst nightmare. As the bassist and songwriter of Motley Crue, he was both Dr. Faustus and Mephistopheles, spreading debauchery and destruction around the world with drummer Tommy Lee as one half of the Toxic Twins. On Christmas in 1987, Sixx died, briefly, of a heroin overdose, the very one (of six) that set him on the long road to coming to his senses. Newly sober, Sixx wrote or co-wrote every song on “Dr. Feelgood,” which went on to become the bands first No. 1 album, and soared to new heights of rock stardom.
The rest is history as detailed in 2001s “The Dirt,” one of the most notorious rock autobiographies ever spilled. (The book was written with Motley Crues other members.) Since then, the band has enjoyed a resurgence with a younger audience, a hit album in 2008 and new hobbies to replace heroin. Sixxs first book, “The Heroin Diaries,” documented the worst year of his addiction in an antidrug effort that went on to become a New York Times best seller. He started a luxury clothing line, Royal Underground, with Kelly Gray, a former CEO of St. John; has a syndicated radio show and a second band Sixx: AM whose releases coincide with his books; and tweets avidly about his blue man-pedicures.
His follow-up book, “This Is Gonna Hurt: Music, Photography and Life Through the Distorted Lens of Nikki Sixx,” started out as a showcase for his photography of societys marginalized from prostitutes to back-alley addicts. But it ended up being partly a self-help book, with more confessions about his hard-knock youth, band conflicts and struggles in love. He dedicated the book to his sister with Down syndrome, who he never knew. Sixx will celebrate Motley Crues 30th anniversary at the Sunset Strip Festival in August, and will appear the same month for a speaking engagement at LAs Annenberg Space for Photography.
On the eve of Motley Crues circus coming to town, Sixx talked to fashion editor Serena French about suffering for art, Alexander McQueen and why the old libertine would like to control what his teenage daughter watches on television.
SF: I was wondering, with the book out now for a couple of months, whether you had heard from other people having a similar experience with an institutionalized sibling.
NIKKI: I think thats not uncommon for [those who grew up during] the 1960s. Im coming to hear that story more often than not, where I thought I was alone with that. Ive heard amazing stories, fantastic stories. Ones like that, then Ive heard where people have said their parents took a different road, and you know, have dealt with something that was almost impossible to deal with. And in the late 50s, early 60s, there wasnt a lot of information on how to deal with people as far as taking care of somebody in your home, in your life, without having any kind of supervision. I became a lot more forgiving through the writing of my book of the situation, where for years I carried around a lot of resentment.
SF: Youve wrestled with abandonment issues you write about that in your book. What impact does that have?
NIKKI: Im not a psychiatrist. Ive definitely been through enough therapy to kind of have a pretty firm grip that you do get to a place in your life where you go: You know what? S–tty stuff happens, man. Sometimes bad stuff happens to good people, and sometimes good stuff happens to bad people, [laughs] and its kind of life. At some point you put the bags down and go, “Im tired of carrying this.” And you look for solutions, and sometimes, you dont even get any. You dont even get any resolution you just gotta move on, man. Gotta keep moving. Gotta let it go. And I tell you, theres a freedom in that.
SF: Youve written about her before in “The Dirt,” so why revisit it and dedicate this book to her?
NIKKI: There was a difference in “The Dirt,” where it was the story of a band, a gang, four characters, colorful characters, that came from all these different places, and it was sort of a backdrop of my life, part of my life. But when youre writing your own book as an actual writer and you sit there and struggle with every single word and issue, all the feelings come up. It is part of my reality; I couldnt leave it out.
SF: Is it because of her connection to your photography?
NIKKI: I think there was a huge connection to my photography and my studio. My studio, Funny Farm, is some people call it a very dark place. People come to it, they say, God, its like Bela Lugosis living room. Its a tomb. And I say, God, to me it just feels like home. As an artist, theres this part of me thats like, what does this mean? What does all this mean? Because you see, I did all this. This wasnt done for me. My life isnt done by a designer. I didnt go to a tattoo shop and say, I want to look a certain way to fit a certain mold. I did everything in my life to myself including stick the needles in my arm. Nobody held me down and did it. So then you have to become responsible for your own actions. Or you have to try to have an understanding of, what does this mean? That I stand naked in front of the mirror and see that my body is tattooed from head to toe: What does this mean? What was I saying? What was I saying with my studio like this? What am I saying when I shoot these pictures? What am I saying when I say, “If you want to live life on your own terms, youve got to be willing to crash and burn” on “Primal Scream.” Self-analysis, you know.
SF: They say a life well-examined is a life well-lived.
NIKKI: I definitely love photography and enjoy it, and I think I cant promise you but I think I might have gotten to a bottom of a wound.
SF: You think so?
NIKKI: Such grandiose statements always backfire on me.
SF: Youll edit that one out, then.
NIKKI: Itll just be a razor blade that will cut me later.
SF: You can look forward to that.
SF: You can shine a light on these issues that society, as a previous interview said, still cant deal with: people who are less than perfect, like the people you photograph in the book.
NIKKI: I had a sad moment today sitting in a hotel room in New Orleans. I got to spend the day off yesterday in New Orleans, my camera around my neck, my girlfriend by my side. We had this beautiful day, and were photographing people and taking in the art, the architecture, the food, the music, and were sitting there and I turned the TV on and some reality show was on and everyone was screaming at each other, yelling. It was some celebrity house/cook-off/ rehab [show], and my head just fell and my girlfriend goes, “Whats wrong?” And I said, “I just dont think Im cut out for this world. I sometimes think, maybe Im wrong.” She goes, “What do you mean, youre wrong?” And I go, “Everybody loves cheese.” And I go, “I dont get it. I just dont know if Im cut out for this.”
SF: Maybe youre just tuned to the wrong channel.
NIKKI: I dunno, man. I keep looking, but I keep finding . . . F— it. To me I try to put a f—ing spotlight on it and, at the book signings, I saw 14-year-old, 15-year-old kids crying, saying theyre not going to be bullied anymore, theyre not going to let people put em down anymore, theyre not going to let people tell em that theyre gay because they wear fingernail polish, theyre not going to let people tell them theyre ugly because theyre 2 pounds heavier than Miss Perfect. And I was just like, so moved, and I guess there was a part of me that thought there would be grandiose brushstrokes from the world after my book and band album came out and people would really be like, Oh my God! … I remember going on “Dr. Drew” with Amy Purdy, the double amputee, and I thought: People are really going to wake up now. But the Kardashians are still f—in there! And I dont know what to do other than buy a Gatling gun, you know?
SF: I guess the lesson is that you cant control everything.
NIKKI: I hate that. I wanna control everything.
SF: You and me both.
NIKKI: I found another wound. I found another wound [laughs].
SF: I think you knew that one already, though . . . Do you know Alexander McQueen, the designer?
NIKKI: Yes, very well.
SF: Have you seen the show [of McQueens work] at the Met?
NIKKI: No, I want to so badly. Ive seen pictures, and its just unbelievable.
SF: Its a beautiful show, beautifully presented. I think youd really enjoy it.
NIKKI: Yes, the stuff that Ive seen is unbelievable. As clich as it, some of my favorite things are my Alexander McQueen scarves, that I cherish, and they always hang out of my back pocket on stage. And every now and then someone in the front row will get really close to grabbing em, and Im like, you know this could end up really bad for you. I dont care about anything else you can take my guitar, anything. Not that. I really did look up to him as an artist.
SF: Theres an interesting quote from McQueen in the exhibit: ” I find beauty in the grotesque, like most artists. I have to force people to look at things.”
NIKKI: Wow, love it.
SF: So it seems similar to the mission you had with this book.
NIKKI: Yes, yes.
SF: Because its also a self-help book, yes?
NIKKI: I think its helping us look at ourselves so in that sense, yes.
SF: And anecdotally, youre talking about feedback youre getting from kids and then your fans, and youre connected to them quite a bit on social media.
NIKKI: Its so heartwarming to me. I have [so many] suitcases and boxes full of letters that I cant get to read em all. I will eventually. Unbelievable letters from these book signings. Just blows my mind, and the stuff that people post even on Twitter and Facebook. It really gives me hope. Like David Bowie gave me hope when I was a kid, I feel like theres some kid getting some hope from this. It touches a lot of senses. It touches your eyes and your ears, and it touches your skin and it touches your heart. You can taste it, you can smell it. The book and the album, its real. And I struggle with anger and I struggle with being snarky and sarcastic and biting the very hand that feeds sometimes because Im just like, “Really? You guys really dont get it?” and then I realize thats what drives me. I love it when people draw lines in the sand. And even though I wanna be f—in Zen-Buddha-all-got-it-f—in-together guy, I still love a fist fight.
SF: But you choose to exercise it through the arts, lets say.
NIKKI: [cackles] Mostly.
SF: So in the book, youre not only challenging the idea of whats beautiful, but youre also in search of some sort of authenticity, would you say?
NIKKI: I think I always am. I struggle with what I think reality is, you know, and I always have. Its great being sober and a father because I am so opened to so many things. My kids were with me on the road, and there was something on TV and … and I said [to my 17-year-old daughter] with my nose in the air Ugh, I cant believe youre watching this. And she says, “Why? I think its funny.” And I said, “Oh, actually, it is funny,” and then I sit down with her and I enjoyed watching some stupidity. So I guess its this thing with me where I take myself very seriously; at the same time, Ive realized that its not always so serious. So as long as Im in turmoil, theres some hope for me as an artist. Maybe my last breath, Gods gonna say, “OK, heres some Zoloft, youre good.” Until then, I think its not gonna be easy. I just dont think its gonna be easy.
I was in a recent show and I wont name the city and I said to my singer it was between songs and I said, I f—ing hate this place! Every guys got a white shirt with a gold chain. It might as well f—in be its Ed Hardy land! This is the antithesis … This is everything I hate. This is the arm pit of the f—ing world. This is the anticreative f—ing centerpiece of everything. I hate this place.” And hes like, “Oh.” And Im like, I cant help it, Im a f—ing art snob, Im a snob. And Im always going to be that guy in a band. I write, and then I try to work it out, and then I try to become peaceful, but then I get engaged in anarchy and then I become humorous, and its like this weird Im not sure where my heads at. Im somewhere between William Burroughs, Hemingway and a high school dropout. Its like a f—in mess [laughs]. I just wanna go to sleep [laughs].
SF: Youve been doing photography for 12 years now you picked it up in place of your addictions, yes? Congratulations, by the way, on your 10-year [sober] mark.
NIKKI: Thank you, thank you I love that. You know, I think that anything I do, I do with addictive behavior, and Ive sort of come to the conclusion that I should get an award for that. I used to be like, Ok, Im overdoing it [laughs]. Im overdoing it. Im into gardening. Im overdoing it. I have five thousand gardenias. Im like, no, I should get an award for that. Because Im an overachiever [laughs] in my f—in weird way. And its fantastic. So if I go into photography, Im an overachiever, or a writer, and a songwriter and a father and a lover, and I love being all all that there is and soaking it all up, you know? Its really quite wonderful. Thank God theres a program for people like me, and other addicts, because we do need to keep it in check.
SF: [Motley Crue guitarist] Mick Mars doesnt subscribe to that view [programs and therapy]. Its like, you just decide to stop, and you just stop.
NIKKI: Yeah, yeah. I do know a lot of people like that, but you know, those of us that love to diagnose other people also like to diagnose ourselves. So it could be actually very exciting, because every single day you learn something new. In my case, every time I stumble upon a new verb or noun, I think I wrote it, and then I have to write a book about it and everything becomes very exciting. In my heart, everythings very exciting, very creative and thats, like, an ongoing thing. Kind of like puppy love with creativity.
SF: You said misery drove you insane as a teenager, and it informed the imagery in the book, and I was wondering if you feel you have to suffer to be creative.
NIKKI: Um, its sure nice when I dont suffer. It feels like … I cant write a sentence that isnt dripping in something either blood or sarcasm or tears to really to connect to me. I feel that if I just write that the sky is blue, its not enough. I dont know if its the learned behavior, or if I actually like to add the bits and piece to it that make it more substantial.
SF: So youre a bit of a drama queen, then?
NIKKI: Im a full drama queen. I love that! A full drama queen!
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