Mötley Crüe: Full metal racket

Mötley Crüe are back - rich, arthritic, face-lifted, telling Fiona Sturges that the party days are over. Then Tommy Lee arrives...
Click to follow

It's a sunny afternoon in Wichita, Kansas and I have a date with one of the most notorious rock bands of the Eighties. The cavalcade of juggernauts has already arrived and the crew are working furiously backstage to set up for the night's show. Instruments are unloaded, banners unfurled and video screens hoisted into place. Out the back of one lorry emerge four Harley-Davidsons, each buffed and polished ready for one of the band's many dramatic entries on to the stage.

It's a sunny afternoon in Wichita, Kansas and I have a date with one of the most notorious rock bands of the Eighties. The cavalcade of juggernauts has already arrived and the crew are working furiously backstage to set up for the night's show. Instruments are unloaded, banners unfurled and video screens hoisted into place. Out the back of one lorry emerge four Harley-Davidsons, each buffed and polished ready for one of the band's many dramatic entries on to the stage.

Much has changed since Mötley Crüe last hit the road. The guitarist Mick Mars, who suffers from the degenerative bone-disease ankylosing spondylitis, has had a hip replacement, while singer Vince Neil has a new face courtesy of the VH1 reality show Remaking: Vince Neil.

Fortunately for the band, musical tastes have changed too. It's largely due to the success of The Darkness that glum rock is out and glam rock is back in. Of all the metal bands that dominated the Eighties, Mötley Crüe, once described as "savages" by their manager Doc McGhee, were the loudest, the filthiest, the most obnoxious of them all. If ever a band were due a comeback, it's them.

Their story, as detailed in their best-selling autobiography The Dirt, takes in sex, drugs, hospitalisation, prison and death. Since it was published in 1998, The Dirt has become the most notorious rock biography ever, eclipsing even Led Zeppelin's Hammer of the Gods in terms of sheer depravity. No detail is spared as it recounts Neil's 1984 conviction for vehicular manslaughter after a drink-driving accident in which his passenger, Razzle from the band Hanoi Rocks, was killed; bassist Nikki Sixx's bender in Hong Kong that ended in a near-fatal drug overdose; or drummer Tommy Lee's turbulent marriage to Pamela Anderson, during which a tape of them having sex was released on the internet, and which collapsed after three years with Lee serving six months' jail for spousal abuse.

When it came to compiling the book, Neil says, the band made a deal with each other. "If you behaved like an asshole, you're gonna look like an asshole. You can't gloss over the bad parts and make the good parts better. We all look like fuckheads in that book."

In the six years since the band split, they've each found different ways to pass the time. Neil, now 44, has been performing as a solo artist and continues to pursue his twin passions of golf and motor racing. Last year, he bought a wine estate in northern California, Vince Vineyards, through which he is soon to launch his own brand of cabernet sauvignon. Lee and Sixx have kept themselves occupied with musical ventures, Sixx with the now-defunct Brides of Destruction and Lee with Methods of Mayhem. Lee has just completed his first solo album Tommyland: The Ride, for an autumn release.

As for the guitarist Mick Mars, the oldest in the band at 54, his time has been spent trying to find ways to live with his illness. Stick-thin and hunched up in the corner of a huge sofa in his candle-lit dressing room, he cuts a sad figure. The hip operation helped ease the pain in his back, though his neck is still permanently bent forward. The only way he can look directly at me is to lean right back in his seat and put his feet on the table. "I want to be straight. I don't mind being stiff but I want to be straight," he says blithely. "You know what I see when I walk? Ass and legs. I love to look at ass, but I wouldn't mind seeing some faces too."

The band are now committed to two years of touring: Kansas is the penultimate date in their American tour, after which they go to Europe, Australia, Japan, South America and then back to the US. All being well, the plan after that is to record some new material.

Mars travels with a full-time assistant and has a customised hospital bed on his tour bus. Asked why he would put himself through such a gruelling workout each night, he replies: "What else can I do? Sit at home and do nothing? This is what I do for a living." He notes that money is also an important factor since his ex-girlfriend launched a $10m lawsuit. "She's suing me because she says I promised I'd take care of her for the rest of her life. What can I do? It's hard to trust people. I'm wary of getting into any relationships now."

Of course, there were doubters who predicted that the band wouldn't get beyond the rehearsal studio. Neil and Lee were sworn enemies after their split in 1999, and the rest of the band were barely on speaking terms. Now, despite the fact that they travel on their own buses, have separate dressing rooms and conduct interviews individually, they maintain they get along better than ever. "It's different now," Mars says. "The rest of them have figured out how to be mature and talk to each other more. Back when we started, I used to try and point them in the right direction, but it was like raising teenagers. Whatever they wanna do, they do."

"Me and Tommy have been friends for 30 years, and in those 30 years we've fought," Neil tells me later in his gleaming, maple-clad bus. "But we've had some group therapy and we don't hold grudges. The press keeps it going longer than the band do." Dressed in jeans and a faded T-shirt, Neil looks less like a rock'n'roll demi-god than a middle-aged trucker, albeit one with the skin of a 25-year-old. As he tells it, it was the fans who demanded their return through an internet petition; he was in the midst of a solo tour when word arrived that the other guys were interested in reforming.

Musically the band is as relevant now as it was 20 years ago, he says. "Otherwise all our shows wouldn't be sold out. I think what younger bands do now isn't relevant at all. There's no showmanship, there's no entertainment value. It looks like a fan has walked on stage, picked up a guitar and started playing. Whatever happened to the good old days of the true rock star?"

Certainly, time doesn't seem to have dimmed the fervour of the gathering crowd, which embraces everyone from midriff-baring teens to fortysomething dads. An hour before the gig, there is a "Mötley marriage" - a fairly regular occurrence, according to the band's manager. Only Lee turns up to watch, which means that few eyes are on the happy couple throughout the five-minute ceremony. Afterwards, the band present a more united front as they host a meet-and-greet with Wichita's fan-club members, a strangely decorous affair in which 30 or so Crüe devotees wait in line to pose for pictures with the band. Just like in the old days, the women make a beeline for Neil; Mars barely gets a look-in.

In his dressing room, Sixx says he is under no illusions about their longevity. "This day will come and go just as it did before," he says. "None of this is for ever." Despite having used heroin for more than 15 years - his heart actually stopped beating after the Hong Kong overdose - Sixx looks a lot younger than his 46 years. He's given up drink and drugs; smoking is his only vice now. "I feel more in tune and more able to live in the moment than ever before. Tomorrow I don't care about, and yesterday - the whole history of the band - means nothing to me. If I can live like that, I'm happy."

Sixx dismisses suggestions that the reunion is really about money. "From around 1986, I've never had to worry about any of that. We've made many millions of dollars as a band and I was smart in my investments. I don't make music for money, I do it for art."

Of all the band members, Sixx's personal life appears to be the most stable. He and his wife, the ex-Baywatch star Donna D'Errico, have been married for eight years. Neil tied the knot for the fourth time in January to his girlfriend Lia Gerardini in a Las Vegas ceremony officiated by MC Hammer.

Since his marriage to Anderson dissolved, Lee has stayed determinedly single. "Hell, yeah" he grins, pouring me a glass of wine in his dressing room. "And I'm taking advantage of it." The drummer has just flown in from Las Vegas, where he spent the previous night watching a Coldplay gig and partying with friends. His pasty complexion would suggest that he hasn't slept. Along for the ride is Tara Reid, the bottle-blonde actress and star of American Pie, who right now is a little the worse for wear. "Be nice to him," she drawls, giving Lee's thigh a squeeze. "You have to promise to be nice."

I give her my word and she wanders off, leaving Lee to ponder his and the band's future. He imagines Mötley Crüe following The Rolling Stones' example and touring every few years into their dotage. "Every night I look out at the crowd and it's completely awesome. I can see 45-year-old dads holding their 12-year-old kids up on their shoulders. As long as those people want to come and see us, I want to keep on playing for them."

Lee still likes to drink and stay out all night, though in recent years he's made an effort to slow down. "I'm one of those people who feels like they're missing something when they're sleeping. I've got so much energy, I drive myself crazy sometimes. But I've got two kids, so I have to wear many hats - Tommy the dad, Tommy the rock star, Tommy the mellow guy. I'm a Libran, which has the symbol of the scales. I think I've finally figured out how to balance everything."

Lee says that he's given up trying to shield his children, Brandon and Dylan, from the details of his past. "They're too young now, but they're going to read the book, they're going to see the video of Pamela and I having sex, and there's going to be a lot of things I'm going to have to sit down and explain. I'm going to have to tell them that their mother and me were in love, and this thing happened and some jackass stole the tape, mass-produced it and put it out there. I'll tell them that's what I did in my life and they can learn from it. Or not."

Does he have any regrets? "Not at all. All those episodes have been a learning process. I think that all the things that happen to you are meant to make you grow or learn or stop or start. And anyway, we've had a blast. I wouldn't swap my life for anything."

In the unlikely event that the myth of the most debauched rock band ever begins to fade, Mötley Crüe have recently sold the film rights to The Dirt. They're reading the scripts and making the necessary amendments. The band are all co-producers, says Lee, "just to make sure that they get it absolutely right. You know who I want to play me? Johnny Depp. I love everything he does. I watched Edward Scissorhands on my bus the other day and I was fucking crying."

While the rest of the band are philosophical these days about the fascination with their soap-opera lives, Sixx, probably naively, is adamant that the music is what really matters. "I don't think about chocolate bars and Keith Richards getting blood transfusions when I'm listening to 'Brown Sugar'," he says. "I don't think about these things, but I know all the stories and they certainly add to the mystique of the Stones. In the end, however much we raise hell and screw up, for me it's always the music that comes first."

The best-of album 'Red, White and Crue' is out now on Mercury. Mötley Crüe play Glasgow SECC on 14 June and then tour