In 2002, the members of Mötley Crüe published The Dirt: Confessions Of The World's Most Notorious Rock Band, an engrossingly salacious autobiography of the '80s glam-rock group. The book quickly became a bestseller (a film version directed by Larry Charles is due out in 2009), reinforcing Mötley Crüe's already substantial legacy of debauchery.
But The Dirt had too good of a time celebrating that lifestyle to address its vast dark side, which Crüe bassist/primary songwriter Nikki Sixx examines with startling frankness in his new memoir, The Heroin Diaries: A Year In The Life Of A Shattered Rock Star. The book collects Sixx's diary entries from Christmas 1986 to Christmas 1987, a year he spent mostly out of his mind on a variety of substances, primarily heroin. While Sixx does his share of partying in The Heroin Diaries, he spends more time sitting in a closet with a shotgun, convinced the police are coming—or enduring some other drug-induced psychosis. Most journal entries are followed by current-day commentary from the people involved, from bandmates to Sixx's grandfather to his ex-girlfriend (now a born-again Christian minister), and more. It's the anti-Dirt, full of despair and self-destruction, but also traces of hope—which Sixx hopes will inspire other addicts. (A portion of sales will be donated to Covenant House, which helps runaways.) Shortly after The Heroin Diaries' release, Sixx spoke to The A.V. Club about the bad (his childhood), the good (speaking on Capitol Hill for National Alcohol & Drug Addiction Recovery Month), and what's behind door Number 2.
The A.V. Club: Do you have any regrets when you look at the book now, like not being able to enjoy Crüe's success at its zenith?
Nikki Sixx: We had a really good time, to be honest with you, when we were out there doing what we were doing. That particular year, the reason I time-capsuled it was because the bottom for me, personally, had started to fall out, and I didn't know why. I was able to ask a lot of questions inside the actual journals that I really didn't have an answer to. Twenty years ago, I didn't know what the hell was going on. I'm lucky to have been through enough time to have figured it out, and I thought it was time to expose that for people who have similar issues.
I'm finding that people reading the book are saying, "You came from one background, I came from this background—you were a rock star, I was a CEO. I didn't have a heroin/coke problem, but I had a pill problem. But I also fell from grace, didn't know how to get recovery, and I am now in recovery." People tell me that their kids read it and told them they'll never do drugs—"This book really shows me where it goes." It's interesting that different layers to this story are touching different people, and to me, that's the greatest gift, besides the money going to Covenant House. For me, the questions got answered after these journals were written. Also, all the commentary from parents, bandmates, girlfriends, and friends, that helps paint the picture too. You can now go, "No wonder this guy was so fucked-up. No one in his family can even tell him what really happened." And I still don't know.
AVC: It's interesting to see your mother and grandfather giving completely different versions of the same story. What were you hoping to get out of that?
NS: I wasn't really hoping to get anything out of that—I just wanted them to tell their version of the truth, because I felt like they needed a forum. And what it shows is that a dysfunctional family can have a massive impact on youth. Those formative years, from about zero to 7, those are important years. For me, they were completely fucked-up. I know people who have had worse—the kids that we work with at Covenant House have had worse. They were on the street, and they can't get off the street. For me, my choice was eventually to run away from home.
AVC: So it was about showing the effects of a bad home life?
NS: Yeah, a lot can happen. People don't look at that. They think, "Oh, my kids are going to be fine. My kids are resilient." But at a certain point, the damage starts. They start to feel pain—and when they feel bad, they start to take painkillers. We want to kill the pain.
AVC: How much of that has informed you as a parent?
NS: Oh, massively, massively. Every day, I wake up, and the first thing I think of is my kids. Then I do what I do with my life, which is to be a creative person no matter what I do—I have a clothing line with Kelly Gray that's doing really great, and I'm a photographer, a songwriter, and I have the band Sixx:A.M., which did a soundtrack to the book, and then Mötley Crüe. Then the day ends, and I'm back to my kids again. Because I know that these years, I'll never get them back.
AVC: How old are your kids?
NS: Well, I've got 16, 13, 12, and 6-and-a-half.
AVC: Teenagers—that seems like it would be brutal.
NS: [Laughs.] You know, sometimes they say the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree. In my case, I am pretty fortunate. They're pretty balanced, cool kids, going through pretty much the same thing all the other kids go through. There's nothing unique about me as a parent. I am a parent. My kids are kids. We do the best we can do. I don't think they know a lot about what I do, other than that I am in this crazy band, Mötley Crüe.
AVC: Sixteen and 13, that's around the time kids start doing drugs. As someone in recovery, how do you approach that?
NS: I approach it the same way I approach it with anybody I'm talking to about the book: Behind door Number 1, I can tell you what's there. And behind door Number 2, I can tell you what's there. Behind door Number 1, there is death, destruction, insanity, jail—it's not a pretty picture. Behind door Number 2 is our life now. In the end, I can only enforce the law so much underneath the roof of our house. In life, I can't enforce any laws. I can only say, "Read the book. It describes your choices—pick it." I am not a preacher. I don't want to stand on a soapbox and tell people, "Don't drink. Don't use drugs." With my kids, I say "Don't drink. Don't do drugs." But when they turn 21, they can drink. I hope they never use drugs, but people make their own decisions. When they're old enough, they are going to have the chance to make their own decisions. I just hope I have given them enough love and support, and the ability to come and talk to me if they need to.
AVC: It's tough to say with addiction if it's nature or nurture.
NS: They say that alcoholism is a disease, and that it gets passed on from generation to generation. Trust me, I've told my kids about that: "You've got the crazy gene in you, guys. When it comes time to kick back with the buddies, drink a beer, and watch a football game, just realize that there will be a day when that thing turns on you. So you better keep an eye on it." Because I have a lot of friends who come from alcoholic families, and they aren't alcoholics, because someone explained it to them. When I was in Washington DC, they really talked about the difference statistically between families that talk about drug addiction and ones that don't. The kids that can say "I see where this is going" have a much better chance of not becoming addicts, because they have been educated, if only through their parents. For me, I never knew what addiction was. I just knew my heroes, like [New York Dolls guitarist] Johnny Thunders, did heroin. I didn't have a father, it looked good to me. If I had read Johnny Thunders' book The Heroin Diaries, I don't think I would have done heroin.
AVC: When you read the book now, do you feel like someone else wrote it? The darkness that's a part of it, does it still feel close to you?
NS: It's absolutely another person. It isn't me. Part of the tempo of the writing is very much me. I sort of have a dark, twisted, offbeat way of writing, which I see coming up in my kids. It's funny, on Halloween, one of my daughters said, "Halloween isn't supposed to be happy, dad, it's supposed to be dark. " No smiling pumpkins at the Sixx household! [Laughs.] Darkness can be funny. It can be quirky. There are different ways that that stuff comes out as a creative person. But the actual conflicted, twisted, decaying, rotting soul? That's not me. No more.
AVC: The diary is 20 years old. You're going to be 50 next year, right?
NS: You just had to bring that up, didn't you?
AVC: Does it make you feel especially reflective, now that you can join AARP?
NS: [Laughs.] I feel when I look in the mirror that I see a 30-year-old, and I am sticking to that story. I just can't see it. Until the shit starts to fall apart, I'm going to be convinced that I am in my 30s.
AVC: In the book, you say that you're frustrated that you haven't made the Guinness Book Of World Records for your life yet. What do you mean by that?
NS: I've got so many mountains to climb and goals to conquer. I've got so many scars I want to leave on the planet. I just feel like I'm not there yet. I feel like I am just getting started. Going to Washington DC? That was really cool—I'm putting that one up there with pretty cool shit that I've gotten to do. Getting the phone call, "Hello, Congressman Kennedy is on the line for you"? I'm driving down the road saying, "They have the wrong number." I laughed. We talked about making a difference, and it felt really good. I'm in Hollywood right now, and a hooker just walked right in front of my car. Life just doesn't change down here. I am on Yucca and Cahuenga, and hookers are at work at 12 in the afternoon on a Monday.
AVC: There is something kind of comforting about that—it never changes.
NS: Yeah, the underbelly. I get it, but I can't live in it, and I can't participate in it. I get my camera and go down to shooting galleries, where people are smoking, selling, shooting up, snorting coke. I go down and give them money, and I photograph them. I don't know what it is. It's like I can't read Junkie by William Burroughs enough. It's something I've been working on. I promise, one day you'll call me and say, "Nikki, what did you do today?" And I'll say, "I've been watching Mary Poppins and playing golf." No, I can't promise you that. I'm not going to do it.
AVC: At the press conference for the book, someone referred to you as a role model. Writing a book called The Heroin Diaries that details your descent into drug addiction, then being called a role model, is an odd juxtaposition.
NS: I've seen some weird-ass shit in my life, and this is as weird and fulfilling as it's ever been. It's really a nice feeling, because I can go down to Covenant House and see the kids who are so excited about the music program, and see people are excited about participating in this whole thing. It's a really nice feeling. How lucky can one guy get? I was a runaway, and then I was in one of the biggest bands in the world. I've sold out every arena. I've sold millions and millions of records. When you have so many things, and you have no idea why, you think, "Maybe I'm supposed to do things for other people."