Silly Little Show-Biz Book Club is Nathan Rabin’s ongoing exploration of books involving show business, with a special emphasis on the very bad and the very sleazy.
“Cherry Pie” vixen Bobbie Brown had the fortune and misfortune of embodying an entire era in pop music. Her scene-stealing tour de force as “hot girl who gets sprayed with a giant firehose, in what might, in fact, be a double entendre of some sort” in the music video for Warrant’s “Cherry Pie” made her not only the beautiful blond face of hair metal, but also its foxy legs, bare midriff, and deep cleavage.
“Cherry Pie” didn’t become seminal iconography for the hair-metal movement despite being egregiously dumb, sexist, smug, and snickering. No, it became seminal iconography of the hair-metal movement precisely because it was so dumb, sexist, smug, and snickering. The video perfectly symbolized a musical genre built on a wobbly foundation of hairspray, spandex, dumb humor, androgyny, sex, and swagger that a lot of folks couldn’t wait to see end. So when Nirvana delivered an unexpected death blow to the Mötley Crües and Warrants of the world with the release of Nevermind, a lot of rock ’n’ roll true believers were overcome with schadenfreude at the prospect of all these oversexed and under-educated dude-bros suddenly falling out of fashion.
The problem with embodying an era is that once that era ends, you can’t help but feel like a relic of a bygone age. You’re no longer the video vixen of the moment: You’re yesterday’s news, a pop-culture dinosaur. Brown came to the hair-metal party so late it was almost over, even though “Cherry Pie” made her the seminal hair-metal vixen, with the possible exception of Tawny Kitaen. Kitaen similarly cemented her status as an MTV siren by marrying David Coverdale, the lead singer of the band (Whitesnake) whose video she starred in—just as Brown married, then divorced, Jani Lane, the troubled lead singer of Warrant.
Only a year transpired between the blockbuster release of “Cherry Pie” and the zeitgeist-shifting cultural atomic bomb of Nevermind. Dirty Rocker Boys—Brown’s wonderfully dishy, shit-talking tell-all about her wild years as a preeminent siren of the Sunset Strip—opens in the mid-’90s with Brown in a profound personal and professional meltdown.
She’s just discovered that her fiancé, Tommy Lee, has married her doppelgänger Pamela Anderson. In a fit of self-destruction, Brown rampages around Los Angeles in a furious quest for drugs and sex, anything to help her forget the pain of her soulmate publicly tying the knot with her biggest rival.
Brown hooks up with a young actor named Leonardo DiCaprio, whom Brown assures us is so prodigiously gifted in the “enormous penis” department that he puts Tommy Lee to shame. Alas, a cautious DiCaprio insists on using a condom before receiving oral sex and a disgusted Brown kicks the boy to the curb. Undeterred, she continues her adventures by going to the palatial estate of a deeply dorky Kevin Costner for some night-time fun that goes awry when Brown accidentally sets a fire in the bedroom.
We then hurtle back in time and track Brown’s evolution from a down-home Southern girl with an eye for the fellas into a much lusted-after sexpot of the Los Angeles hair-metal rock scene, one of the true queens of glam-metal. Dirty Rocker Boys is on some level about the double-edged sword of hot-girl privilege, about the endless license given to women who fulfill our culture’s impossible conception of female beauty.
Brown writes about going through her golden late teens and 20s assuming that everything would work out for her. If she entered a pageant or a talent competition like Star Search, she assumed she’d win. If she was in a video, she assumed it’d be a hit. And if she was around a heterosexual man, famous or non-famous, rich or broke, she assumed that he wanted to have sex with her.
Dirty Rocker Boys is also, casually, an exploration of how power and fame corrupts men and reduces so many of their relationships to mere transactions. Style-wise, hair metal trafficked in androgyny to the point where it could be difficult to tell the male rockers from the groupies. But in terms of gender roles, things were Neanderthal-primitive. Men made money and fucked groupies; women spent money and were professionally thin, sexy, and desirable. More than once, one of Brown’s partners not so discreetly informs her that she’s gaining weight, and in the seemingly lawless world of rock ’n’ roll decadence, the iron-clad rule is “don’t get fat.” As long as she was young and thin and lusted after, the rules didn’t really apply to Brown, and they especially did not apply to Brown’s even richer, more famous, and more powerful partners.
Alternately charismatic and creepy man-child Tommy Lee figures prominently in Brown’s story, just as he looms large over the history of hair metal. Early in their courtship, Lee tells Brown that he’s going to go home and masturbate while thinking of her, then calls her up and loudly announces that he’s just achieved the magic of orgasm. If a regular person were to behave this way, the person on the other end of the line would likely be creeped out to the point of contemplating charges of sexual harassment against the onanist loudly discussing, and then demonstrating, his masturbatory endeavors. But rock stars are not like regular people, so Brown finds Lee’s boyish enthusiasm and complete lack of boundaries and self-control playful and sexy. It isn’t long until Lee has replaced Warrant’s Lane and one of the twin brothers from Nelson (Matthew, the one who didn’t repeatedly try to coax Brown into a semi-incestuous threesome—that would be his evil twin brother Gunnar, in case you’re keeping track) as the love of Brown’s life. Lee’s all-too-predictable betrayal scars Brown the most, injecting her into a world where every joke, every sniggering reference to Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson’s sex tape is a constant reminder of her most agonizing romanic heartbreak, which was still a fresh wound when Tommy and Pamela’s naughty home video became the sex tape seen around the world.
The validation and approval of Brown’s endless string of famous boyfriends, lovers, and admirers was extremely conditional: to last not until the end of time, but until she started to get cellulite or wrinkles or her suitors found someone hotter. Her power was in her sexuality as a much lusted-after young woman. By transforming her crazy and wonderfully sordid sexual and romantic history into a salacious tell-all, she’s tapping into a different but related power: the power to not just name names, but to pile on humiliating, incriminating details. This isn’t a righteous power, necessarily, but it is fun and even liberating. Here, Brown gets tardy revenge on all the rich Hollywood assholes who treated her like a disposable sex object when she was at the height of her fame and desirability.
Among her partners, Brown at one point hooked up with Rob Pilatus of Milli Vanilli infamy. Once again, Brown was with the man of the moment, just before things went horribly awry:
[Rob’s] mood swings were erratic, he rarely slept, and his hygiene was poor. Very poor. At the end of the night, he was generally too coked up to have sex. And on the rare occasions where he was sexual, he usually liked the attention focused on his ass.
Pilatus died in 1998, but Brown doesn’t seem too concerned about talking ill of the dead. The deeply troubled Lane eventually lost a decade-long battle with his demons, most notably alcoholism. Brown still writes that he angrily and drunkenly introduced her to anal sex while she was eight months pregnant.
Even the men Brown likes and finds fascinating tend to come off like insane degenerates. Late in the book, Brown finds herself enamored of Dave Navarro of Jane’s Addiction and Red Hot Chili Peppers fame. On her first trip to his house, Navarro (who Brown tells us is even more into masturbation than Tommy Lee) announces that he needs to finish fucking a groupie he’s also photographing (who turns out to be one of Brown’s friends, awkwardly enough), so he’ll be with Brown in a moment. To help her pass the time, Navarro helpfully gives Brown a videotape of himself masturbating in slow motion, although she doesn’t specify whether Navarro was simply being very slow and deliberate in his furious self-satisfying or whether the video was simply playing on a slow speed. Hopefully subsequent editions will clear up this confusion.
Then Navarro casually tied the cord from a toaster oven around his arm and started shooting up heroin. For a lot of people, this encounter would not only be a deal breaker, but a series of deal breakers. But Brown, who is out of her mind on speed much of this time, is intrigued by this curious man and his unconventional ideas about how to impress a potential girlfriend.
A truly satisfying show-business fuck-and-tell (my name for books I’ve covered for this column, like You’ll Never Make Love In This Town Again, or the various books of Karrine Steffans) should make at least a half dozen powerful men deeply uncomfortable, if not downright mortified. By that standard, Dirty Rocker Boys is a roaring success. Befitting a book partially about one of the authors-subjects of the Mötley Crüe tell-all The Dirt, Dirty Rocker Boys delivers in Texas-sized quantities. As far as gossip goes, it’s pure, unadulterated, and super potent, like the speed Brown was using in the mid-’90s.
Dirty Rocker Boys is exactly what I want out of a tell-all. It’s unapologetic in its sleaziness, delightfully irreverent, sexed-up, superficial, and a whole lot of fun. It’s what hair metal ideally should have been—a preeminent guilty pleasure and a source of naughty, raunchy fun—but so infrequently was.