Of all the hard-rocking hair-metal bands of the 1980s, perhaps no band encapsulated the decade's excess like Mötley Crüe. Singer Vince Neil, drummer Tommy Lee, bassist Nikki Sixx and guitarist Mick Mars wore leopard spandex, slept around and took so many drugs that Sixx once legally died of an overdose (he's still alive). They also made music. Nine year's after the group's collective autobiography The Dirt, Neil has come out with Tattoos & Tequila: To Hell and Back with One of Rock's Most Notorious Frontmen, a memoir that details what he says is his side of the story. The book deals candidly with Neil's flaws, including his failings as a husband and his role in a 1984 car crash that killed his friend Razzle Dingley. Neil spoke to TIME about the band, the '80s and girls, girls, girls.
What set Mötley Crüe apart from other bands of the era?
Back in the old days, any money we made which wasn't a lot we put back into the band, with theatrics. Like lighting Nikki on fire no other bands did that kind of stuff. We were always about "$10 ticket, give them a $100 show."
You and Axl Rose and David Lee Roth all have this high-pitched, reedy delivery. What influenced that?
It's just the way my voice comes out. Nothing I can do about it. I wish I had a Ronnie James Dio or a David Coverdale voice, but I don't.
So why don't you think people sing like that anymore?
Bands change. The different generation of bands in the '90s, they were writing songs in different keys. That changes the way you would sing it.
How do you feel about grunge? There are a lot of hair metal people who don't like grunge at all.
Well, it was something new, when it came out. I don't particularly like the style. I'm an arena guy. I think as a singer you should run around and try to excite the crowd. Their style is to stand there and play really no show. And that depressed me.
There's a saying that opens the book: If you remember the '80s, you weren't there. What was it like in the '80s, for the parts you remember?
Well, that's the same thing they said in the '60s. The funny thing is, it was always the people in their early 20s in the '60s that said that, and the people in their early 20s in the '70s said the same thing. I was in my early 20s in the '80s. I think if you're in your early 20s, you're not going to remember anything.
Exactly. But for the '60s, we've generally decided what the decade was: civil rights, Vietnam, hippies. The '80s are more unwritten.
It was a scene. I was born and raised in L.A. and all of a sudden the music scene just burst into Hollywood. And we were lucky enough to be one of the young bands that were up and coming at the time. It was a cool scene. The streets were packed with guys who were in bands or wanted to be in bands, and with girls who wanted to meet a guy who looked like he was in a band. So it was fun for everybody.
You say in the book that your favorite thing about being a rock star was that you got a lot of girls. Is that a fair assessment?
That's the only reason guys get into music because you get girls and free beer. It wasn't about fame or anything. You want to get laid and you want to get drunk.
There's an old saying: Whatever you would do with yourself if you had $1 million is what you should do with your life. What would you do with yourself if you had all the beer and women you had as a rock star?
Right now, I still love being in a band and I still love singing. But back then? If you asked me when I was in high school, I would have said, "I'll just lay on the beach give me the girls and the booze."
In the book, you mention that you would want to open a jet-ski shop.
Somebody asked me what I would be doing if I wasn't a rock star. I said I'd be the guy that rents out the jet skis to you. When I'm on the beach at a resort and there are the guys doing that, I'm thinking to myself, "What a great job." The only thing in the world you have to worry about is whether those jet skis are running or not. To have a life with those kinds of problems? That'd be pretty cool.
You're semiestranged with the rest of Mötley Crüe, but you're still the front man of the band and you still tour with them all the time. How does that work?
We're still family. We still, basically, love each other. It was a business decision for me. When I was depending on how you look at it fired or I quit the band [in 1992], I was a part of Mötley Crüe Inc. And I chose not to come back into that [in 1997]. I looked at myself as a free agent on a football team. I didn't have to be worried about any corporate decisions. All I had to do was show up and sing.
In 2005, you had a reality show on VH1 about getting plastic surgery. Not many people from your generation have been so open about it. Why were you?
It was a point in my life where I wasn't doing anything. I remember getting a phone call, I was sitting at the pool at the Ritz-Carlton, drinking which I'd been doing for the last few months gaining weight and not doing anything productive. And the phone call [to do the show] came and I was like, "Maybe this is the fire under my butt that I needed." And it worked. It was nothing to be ashamed of.
Your book has a happy ending. If you're not riding off into the sunset, it's at least you more stable and more mature. But since you've written it, you've gotten divorced and had run-ins with the law. [Neil was arrested for a DUI in June.] Do you think that undercuts the message at the end?
No, because you're really only getting one side of a story on things that have happened to me recently. Until you get the full facts and stuff, you can't go by that. Things have been great in my life except I'm getting divorced. That's the main one.
I guess you can't rewrite the ending of the book, but is there anything you would say differently now?
When you're a couple and you've been together for 10 years, things happen. I wasn't going to say, "Oh, I've got a book coming out, so we can't split up." Or, "Hold the book! Let's rewrite some stuff here." You can't do that. It's life.