The current Motley Crue movie ‘The Dirt’ shows a time when excess was the expected norm for bands of this stature. For those who didn’t live through that period when bands like Motley Crue were elevated to superstar status, (and excess was part of the MO), it can be challenging at best to comprehend how this type of behaviour not only existed, yet was encouraged – even more so in today’s ‘me2’ climate. Yet exist it did.
The Dirt, which doesn’t include as much creative licence as the Queen movie, is meant to tell how it was. It doesn’t celebrate or promote the excess, rather it serves to illustrate that that’s how it was. Being superstars in the 80s gave bands like Motley free licence. People expected them to be bad boys, so they obliged. Whilst its easy to look back and see how contrived and indeed fictionalised a lot of this stuff was – it was the stuff that fed a generation of testosterone charged suburban teens – the main feeders of HM in all its shapes and sizes. Excess was also synonymous with G ‘N’ R yet they were nowhere near as obnoxious or obvious as the Motleys.
In an age when there was no internet, bands like Motley Crue were lifted to megastar status through magazines, radio and, significantly – MTV. It’s a known fact that without a little nudge from MTV, Guns ‘N’ Roses’ Appetite LP could have stalled at 200 000 units. Yet MTV got behind the ‘Welcome To The Jungle’ video, it soaked its way into the suburbs and the band became the biggest band in the world – and arguably, the last of the big rock stars.
I remember reading an interview with former Geffen A&R man Tom Zutaut (who was responsible for signing both Motley Crue and G ‘N’R) to major label deals. In the article, Zutaut makes some accurate and interesting points about the music biz today. Signficantly, he somwhat debunks the theory that Kurt and the other grunge bands killed off ‘hair metal’ and all that LA poseur excess. He states, “If anything, it inspired bands like Mötley Crüe to make better records. “Wild Side” and “Dr. Feelgood” came out after Nikki Sixx saw GNR and declined to produce them. So if anything, GNR raised the game, unlike Nirvana and Alice in Chains and many other shoegaze bands, who killed rock & roll in the stadiums. But GNR inspired it. Aerosmith had a renaissance after GNR opened for them and hair metal got better because of Appetite”. To be fair, as the man who signed G ‘N’ R, his comment is biased, yet 30 years after G ‘N’ R exploded, his response to the question of how Appetite stacks up against music today is quite accurate.
There aren’t any more rock stars. It’s about celebrity, not art. Music as an art form is mostly lost, and it’s been replaced by a giant hit-making machine where Bruno Mars, Katy Perry and Beyoncé, who don’t write their own songs, are now the new “rock stars” in the same vein as the TMZ-fueled non-musicians like the Kardashians. If you dig deep enough, in the voluminous amount of obscure music on the net, you can find some great music being crafted by true musical artists. But there is no shelf space for it. Every now and then something good will accidentally find a crack in the star-making machinery. But the big music companies A&R through mainstream media. The smaller labels feed a niche on low budgets. Much of the best music resides on a server somewhere hidden or lost from the world. Appetite for Destruction was one of the last times, if not the last time, rock & roll was real, with a budget for exposure. It was the last time major-label rock record-making was funded as an art form.