It's December 2017 and I am about to navigate my way through my 11th Christmas without troubling the local heroin/crack dealers or indeed the fella from the off–licence (that’s liquor-store in English for our friends across the pond).
I’m waiting to get a call from Los Angeles to have a chat with a fellow musician, who is also on this particular path and has been for over 15 years already.
We have therefore, what I might describe as a level playing field, which is a remarkable situation to find ourselves in, given that our relative musical endeavours are, what you might call, a little different.
Mötley Crüe sold over 100 million records during their career, toured arenas and stadiums worldwide and took enough drugs to wipe out a small country or kill Donald Trump’s ego.
My own band, Hightown Pirates, are not quite as successful as far as album sales go (yet!) nor are we currently making enquiries about the availability of Wembley Stadium this summer, but we're no strangers to excess.
“ Three in the morning, I was crouched naked in my closet thinking the world was about to burst through my door. I peered out the closet and saw myself in the mirror. I looked like an Auschwitz victim, a wild animal.”
The Heroin Diaries. Nikki Sixx.
So yeah, been there, done that, don’t do it anymore, just for today an all that jazz/metal/uplifting rocknroll whatever.
On a more personal level, as far as Nikki Sixx and I go, I found something in his memoir which seems to me to be a nice way to get a bit of identification.
His diary entry for Christmas day 1986, finds him crouched naked under his Christmas tree with a needle in his arm in his rock-star mansion in Van Nuys California. My own festive treat that day had been to take two hits of acid, the second coming 20 mins after the first, convinced I’d been ripped off. I was living in the slightly less salubrious environs of Venice Beach, Los Angeles, and spent most of that day, tripping my tits off, paranoid as fuck, trying to figure out a good time to go outside and phone my mum from a call box to pass on season’s greetings. I never managed to, utterly convinced as I was that ‘they’ were waiting for me outside...
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Anyways, 31 years later, I’m home alone sipping a cup of tea and Nikki Sixx phones me for a chat.
SM: Hey Nikki, how are you?
NS: “I’m doing alright man, I’m doing alright, driving along the freeway in California, the winds are blowing, the fires are still burning, the dreams are crashing, welcome to Los Angeles!
I ask him how long we’ve got for our chat and he kindly gives me 30 minutes, after which he has to go and meet Slash to record something for a radio show.
I enquire whether his PA has made him aware of my own, somewhat shabby-by-comparison ‘back-story’ of addiction and recovery. He is, and we briefly indulge in a bit of mutual back-slapping and both laugh when I tell him as far as I’m concerned, the only real difference in that particular area is that he had a better budget than I did.
I share my ’86 California Christmas story. He laughs.
NS: “Oh wow, yeah man, I guess we were both in hell at the same time with things not about to get better anytime soon man.”
The ice broken, we begin in earnest
I mention a quote from an early chapter in 'Heroin Diaries' that says: ‘The trouble with asking questions is that you often get an answer you don’t want to hear.’
I tell him this was one of the first lines in his book that really stuck out for me because, both of us and indeed many other addicts, seem to find the ‘truth’ about what might be required to extract ourselves from the cesspit of addiction, to initially be more unpalatable than the daily grind of sitting naked under Christmas trees with a needle in your arm or hiding in a closet paranoid and suicidal.
SM: I guess the ‘rooms of recovery’ allow us to identify with others and then become more able to hear a solution, right?
NS: Right, right and you know, I love that because you think you’re alone so often with your craziness, it’s like, people ‘sin in silence’ in addiction, we’re just in it, not telling anybody we know, we don’t wanna be doing it, but we’re in that downward spiral and that becomes the battle.
SM: I was just looking on your Twitter feed and it’s a good indication of what recovering addicts sometimes face, there’s a Tweet from someone saying they’re
'Sick to death of all this heroin addiction bullshit.'
To which your measured response was 'not as sick as the poor souls fighting the addiction. So It seems that there is still a real misunderstanding about addiction, you know, I’m guessing plenty of people would look at your life, now and then and say, ‘What the fuck has that guy got to complain about etc.?’
NS: 100% true, let me tell ya, right after we did the Dr Feelgood album (over 7 million sold), Bob Rock, who produced the record and always liked to really push me creatively, which I fucking loved, called me and said something like ‘ Hey Nikki, now that you’ve sold tens of millions of records, played every stadium and arena, you got a big house and all the ‘wow’ stuff, what the hell you got to write about now?’ So I told him, 'hey Bob, just because I lay my head down in a 10,000 foot ‘jail’ doesn’t mean I don’t have demons.' Yeah, I had a big house, but when I go to bed at night, it felt like a jail, you know, I hadn’t figured it all out yet right? People think you just make a decision one day to quit right? Forget the back-story, it’s not really important, you know, everybody else thinks 'hey man, you’ve done it you quit, congratulations right? Whereas for me, it was more like, 'I made it? No, it’s more like the starting gun just went, I’ve been on the sidelines, but now, just because I’m on the ‘track’, it doesn’t mean I’m gonna win the race, now you gotta start. Now the work begins. That’s the thing most people don’t understand.
SM: I agree, we have an expression over here, I’ve heard it at recovery meetings.
'If you wanna know why you took drugs for so long, stop taking them and you’ll find out’
NS: (laughs) Ha ha, I fuckin’ love that, so true.
SM: There is currently, what can only be described as an epidemic of opiate abuse in the USA at the moment and it seems to me, that addiction is possibly one of the most significant ‘levellers’ society has experienced? I’ve worked in statutory drug-services here in the UK and met people from both ends of the social/economic spectrum and it’s obvious, addiction has no ‘respect’ for ‘what’ or ‘who’ you are.
NS: True, it’s like, it may be the coldest winter in a decade, then someone gives you that ‘blanket’ and that’s what the drugs are, you know, it’s like ‘thank-you, I can survive the winter now.' The bottom line is, sadly that the winter is still gonna come and keep coming and sooner or later, there’s no amount of ‘blankets’ or pills or shots or snorts or booze that’s gonna make that ‘winter’ go away. The only thing that’s gonna make it go away, is that you gotta build a strong ‘house’, a strong ‘house’ that’s stronger than the winter and that takes work.
SM: And I think I’m speaking for both of us and others when I say we need to involve other people to help us do that right?
NS: Absolutely, we can’t keep it all a secret, it’s like you said earlier, in meetings, we get identification right? This thing called addiction, let me tell ya, ‘we’, are just garden variety addicts, there’s nothing special about me. At my worst, I’ll take, snort, drink anything I can get my fuckin’ hands on, just like you or any other addict.
SM: Yep, I’m reminded of a friend of mine who once shared about injecting gravy granules, he’d been out all day trying to get £10 to score. He finally gets his baggie and goes home, opens it up, as he said it..
“It looked like gravy granules, it smelt like gravy granules, but fuck it, I’m gonna whack it up anyway, just in case they cut it with some smack.”
NS: Ha ha. Yeah and that just goes to show you how ‘not’-special we are. You know the fuckin' queen of England is gonna get strung out on heroin if you gave it to her enough times.
SM: Yeah but she’d be getting the good shit though right? No gravy for her.
NS: (laughs) Don’t get me started on politics and all that man..ha ha. Then I’d really lose my shit!
SM: Sure, I agree. So, there’s another line from your book, that possibly resonated with me more than any other,
“The dying could be easy; it was the living that I didn’t know I could do.”
NS: It’s true, when I think back on all those years of ‘living’ that I missed, all the ‘experiences’ that got cancelled because I was shooting up in my closet, hiding, thinking nobody understands, maybe I was right, most people back then probably wouldn’t understand. I mean, I didn’t understand either. Eventually, we actually start ‘living’ and it’s like, oh my god, that’s beautiful, something normal to other people, like a sunset, someone will say, ‘what, you never seen a sunset before?’ and I was like, 'not through these eyes.'
SM: Yeah, remember when you just got clean and you find yourself crying at literally fucking everything? You know, standing somewhere, sobbing at a fucking tree or whatever.
NS: Ha ha, fuck yeah!
SM: You know, it’s like this, in my opinion anyway, we ‘mature’ as humans by experiencing emotions, so when we’ve spent years avoiding most of them by using drugs every day, we just don’t grow up emotionally. We really have no idea how to live in certain aspects.
NS: When I got sober, I was very immature, sure I had the ability to write songs and be in a band, but as a man, I still wasn’t ‘there’ yet. Even in my 30s, it took me a long time and you have to work at that.
SM: Me too, and there’s another line in your book which was spoken to you by one of your counsellors, which says, ‘In recovery, we are learning to soften our hearts’, to let other people ‘in’, to trust others emotionally?
NS: Years ago, not so much now, but just after I got clean, I was often asked by music journalists, now that you’re sober, can you still write music? My answer to them was always, that, often, music writes itself, meaning it’s kinda out there already. I’m always hearing notes, melodies, I’ll hear something on the radio, like a melody-line and then the singer comes in and I think yeah, I could sing it better than that and you know...
SM: Such an addict thing that, I could hear the bloody Beach Boys on the radio and think to myself, yeah, my harmonies are better than that…for fuck's sake, I’m clearly still nuts!
NS: Right! But the thing for me is this, when you’re loaded, your emotions aren’t as mature, like we already said, so you might hit an A chord and the thinking is narrower, like, this is only gonna be a love song or a hate song, but in sobriety, the thinking is more open than that, there’s other options, other songs.
SM: Given the context of this conversation, this might seem like a strange person to quote, but I remember reading an interview with Keith Richards where someone asked him, how did you write all those great songs, his reply was something like, ‘ You don’t write them, you just get in the right ‘space’ to receive them’.
NS: 100% correct. I have a guitar and a little amp where I sit first thing in the morning and drink coffee, I just sit there and kinda noodle before I’m fully awake. It’s just another way of channelling stuff right?
SM: I’ve gotta ask, what time does Nikki Sixx get up in the morning these days?
NS: Around seven this morning. Nobody’s up, it’s quiet, but this morning, musically, nothing came out. But that’s cool, maybe later today I’ll pick up the guitar and something will. So, in your case and mine, we’re sober, right, so we’re open to it and you know, when that ‘thing’ happens, it’s like pure joy. I love the word joy. My heavy metal friends are like, 'don’t use that word', but fuck it, for me this is what it’s about. When I’m watching a band and they’re heavy as fuck, tight, onstage and I’m watching ‘em thinking look at all the joy they’re spitting off that stage and making people dance, sing and mosh, I fucking love it man. It’s energy. Sobriety allows me to have more energy.
SM: Couldn’t agree more, when Hightown Pirates got the opportunity to make our debut album last year, some of us are in recovery and we all looked at each other in the studio and it was like, ‘right! Let’s fucking HAVE this right now, this is the sound of redemption and joy!’ Then we got a review in Q magazine which actually said,
“'Dry and High' by Hightown Pirates, is a joyous, anthem-laden affair, propelled by uproarious guitar riffs, the shock and awe of still being alive.” Man, I was in tears when I read that.
One of the things you wrote in the updated edition of your book is that you feel a certain responsibility to the wider recovery community to be positive and talk about the other side of addiction, recovery, not being boring right?
NS: I spent a bit of time with Linkin Park a while ago. They were caught up in some situation where Chester, Mike and the band wanted to go one way and the business people wanted to do something different. I knew Chester well and he’d call me and we’d talk often, so I enjoyed being there with them. The guitarist said to Chester he really enjoyed me being there because it made him feel so ‘grounded’ and Chester goes, ‘Nikki does that for all of us’ and it made me feel so good about sobriety, that a band that can be so private, trusted me in that way, to say the right things, that I’d understand what they’d put into their album and why they took the direction they did and what they said was a beautiful thing, because, with sobriety comes responsibility. In the past, there was a lot that I said and did, that I know I can’t take back, stuff I said to bandmates, fights, you know, that stuff, where you’re thinking, I ‘coulda done that better, but now, I’m doing my best and look what I just heard from these guys, from what Chester just said.
SM: So true, a good friend of mine told me in early recovery that ‘we’ can read all the self-help books we want, but at the end of the day, the only way we can get the thing we lack the most after years of addiction (not veins, self-esteem) is to actually do estimable things.
NS: I want to be clear though, a lot of people think that if a person in recovery is successful at something and they’re giving back to society, it’s a different level of ‘giving back’, that’s bullshit though. It doesn’t matter what you do though, it doesn’t make your effort any more important than the guy who works the subway or whatever. It’s important that people hear that though ‘cos people sometimes say to me: “it’s so great what you’re doing with your charity and the stuff you do, I try sometimes but I’ll never make the same impression as you.” But here’s the truth. The person who has to work two jobs and can barely take care of their wife and kids etc... Well, that one person that they try to help in early recovery, might go on to cure cancer, so you know, we never know, we all just do our best as best we can.
SM. Yeah mate, I guess we sometimes call that 'keeping what we have by giving it away.'
We're told we’ve run out of time so I throw in few final questions, just to finish on a musical note, so to speak.
SM: Aerosmith or the Stones?
SM: Led Zeppelin or The Who?
SM: The Who.
SM: Velvet Revolver or The Velvet Underground?
NS, Ahh man , that’s not fair, I’m good friends with the guys from Velvet Revolver. Besides, it’s not a fair comparison anyway.
SM: The Velvet Underground it is then! And It’s good to know we can agree to disagree on plenty of subjects, eh?! Thanks for talking to me.
NS: My pleasure.
And with that, Nikki Sixx drives off along the Los Angeles freeway to go and hang out with Slash, while I head out into Hackney in the rain to walk my dog, thinking to myself as I go, that given the way people listen to music these days, it’s probably unlikely Hightown Pirates will ever sell 50 million albums. But given the remarkable things I have witnessed and heard in my years of sobriety, I still reckon there’s a chance we might get to play at Wembley one day. Failing that, one of our songs has already been played at Anfield this season, something definitely worth celebrating and certainly a lot more enjoyable than hiding in a closet smoking crack and injecting heroin.
Nikki Sixx is an American musician, radio host, photographer best known as, co-founder, bassist and principal songwriter for Mötley Crüe.
Buy Heroin Diaries via Amazon
Simon Mason's book Too High, Too Far, Too Soon: Tales from a Dubious Past is on Amazon
Hightown Pirates' album via Discogs