I’ve seen Motley Crue nine times in the last five years. I’ve purchased plane tickets in order to travel to Crue performances. My love of the band is so well-known that people often come to me with motleyish questions.
“On that first reunion tour in 2005, I could see how Vince Neil might have been out of shape,” a friend said recently. “He didn’t know things would go so well and it could have been a one-time-only event. But now, all these tours later, why is he still only able to sing every third or fourth word of a lyric? Can’t he get it together? That’s just embarrassing.”
“Because,” I replied, “he famously does not give a fuck.”
And that is precisely why I should not have been surprised at level of outright awfulness of Neil’s memoir Tattoos & Tequila: To Hell and Back with One of Rock’s Most Notorious Frontmen.
But I was.
This book sets a new standard in offensively cashing in on the hard rock and heavy metal memoir craze. Critics lampoon the money grabs of Gene Simmons and KISS. But even the long-tongued-marketing-master doesn’t rub shit in his fans’ faces to the degree that Tattoos & Tequila does.
The book begins with an introduction from co-author Mike Sager who explains that Neil missed the first appointment to work on Tattoos & Tequila. Later in the introduction, he explains that “Sunday football took precedence over interview time. Occupying his usual reserved table at the sports book at the Red Rock Casino, Resort & Spa was clearly a higher priority than this autobiography.” Clearly, the book buying public isn’t entirely stupid and we recognize that frequently celebrity memoirs are the product of management teams and public relations stunts. However, it’s rare that one of those books actually brags about it.
Sager, it’s worth noting is a talented, highly experienced, and well-published writer. Unfortunately, he wasn’t familiar with Neil and the Crue prior to writing the book. As a result of Sager’s lack of heavy metal knowledge and Neil’s presumed lack of interest in proof-reading, the book features major mistakes that standout like a mis-fretted C chord.
For example, in the early nineties, Neil led a solo outfit that consisted of rockers who weren’t household names but were well-known to fans of the genre. The group consisted of Steve Stevens and Dave Marshall on guitar, Robbie Crane on bass, and Vikki Foxx on drums. “Foxx didn’t last long; she was replaced by my old buddy Randy Castillo,” the book states. Problem is, Vikki (Vik) Foxx is a man, baby. It’s easy to guess how this mistake happened: The singer mentioned the percussionist’s name in an interview, Sager didn’t know the genre enough to realize that Vikki is not a female in this instance, and then Neil never bothered to edit the manuscript.
We don’t have to guess that Neil didn’t pore over the manuscript with a red pencil because he flat out tells us that he ain’t gonna do it. He explains that dyslexia makes reading a challenge, which is certainly understandable. No one expects him to be Harold Bloom. But I might suggest refraining from telling your fans — the very people who paid twenty something bucks for this book — that “I probably won’t read it myself.”
The rocker isn’t the only one who seems to lack a critical gaze. In one section, Neil’s mother, Shirley Ortiz Wharton, makes a concerted effort to correct what she considers a misstatement in The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band. She explains that although her son’s earliest rock groups did play at house parties where the parents were present, the singer’s father did not hang out with the kids. “He was a grown man. He did not dance with little girls.” However, a few pages later, Neil himself states, “Dad had a great time dancing with the girls.”
Parts of Tattoos & Tequila are presented as an oral history and parts of it are presented as a memoir. The fact that it can’t really settle on a genre is yet another one of the book’s problems. But if Mom goes out of her way to say one thing and Son goes out of his way to the exact opposite, shouldn’t someone address the discrepancy? In an oral history, where everyone has their own opportunity to speak, contradictions are to be expected. But this book is Neil’s. It’s his story. And to leave the pages littered with contradictions and mistakes reduces the overall quality to the equivalent of a garage band demo recording, not a multiplatinum polished release.
The presence of The Dirt lingers in this book, like the buzz in your ears that lasts for days after a loud concert. While bandmates Tommy Lee and Nikki Sixx have tried to cover different territory in their nonfiction projects, Vince Neil basically sticks to the same straightforward biographical plot. He even mentions The Dirt several times, sometimes with affection, other times with criticism. The title of Neil’s solo literary endeavor is even an allusion to the book his band produced years ago.
As this particular book progresses, Neil seems to present himself as more businessman than rocker, discussing his tattoo parlor, tequila business, airline, and other ventures. Tattoos & Tequila is just one more product in the ever-growing Vince Neil mini-empire. “So forgive me if it’s a bit hard for me to slice open a vein and let my blood run red all over this page for you,” he writes. “Somebody thinks it’s a good idea for me to tell my story, so I’m gonna tell it.”
We know these memoirs are products. We know they are opportunities for musicians to make a few bucks and increase their public profile. But you don’t have to flaunt that fact.
Vince Neil has generated mixed emotions among Motley Crue fans for decades. Some of even the most devoted followers have considered him to be immensely unlikeable. Personally, I was always on the fence. I remembered those wonderful tours back during the eighties, around the time of the group’s Shout at the Devil album and how Neil was one of the baddest fucking frontmen in the world. For years, I defended him to friends who laughed at his makeover shows on cable television. Unfortunately, Tattoos & Tequila: To Hell and Back with One of Rock’s Most Notorious Frontmen sealed the deal for me. It’s the only book I can remember where I wanted to get a refund.
In the future, I’ll undoubtedly give Motley Crue the band more of my entertainment dollars. But I won’t ever do so for Vince Neil again. Tattoos & Tequila represents the worst of the heavy metal book trend.