CLEVELAND, Ohio – Nikki Sixx is no stranger to Billboard charts – or to book bestsellers lists.
The Motley Crue co-founder and bassist has written about his band, his heroin addiction, his photography and more in tomes such as “The Heroin Diaries,” “This is Gonna Hurt” and the band biography “The Dirt.” His latest literary endeavor, however, is his origin story.
“The First 21: How I Became Nikki Sixx” – which topped Amazon’s rock-music books chart after its October release – is just what its title says, 205 pages of how Frank Feranna Jr. went from wayward youth, raised partly by grandparents, to rock star, with fascinating experiences in life and music. It’s illuminating and insightful, wrapping up in 1980, when he legally changed his name two days before his 22nd birthday and, of course, went on to shout at the devil and develop an intimate and nearly fatal relationship with Dr. Feelgood …
Sixx, 62, who resides in Wyoming, has accompanied “The First 21″ with “Hits,” a compilation from his side band Sixx: A.M. He and his wife Courtney are working on a children’s book, while Motley Crue is set for the twice-postponed The Stadium Tour next summer with Def Leppard, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts and Poison. Not bad for a kid who used to make money rolling joints for his high school friends.
You and Motley Crue have been synonymous with L.A. for so long. How’d you get to Wyoming?
Sixx: We just took advantage of one of the most horrible things that’s happened on our planet, with the coronavirus, and how we’ve all had to adjust our lives. We moved (to Wyoming) and all of a sudden there’s less clutter, there’s less schedules, it’s more about this family. And this idea came up for the book and I had the time before we go out and do Motley Crue to write new music with Sixx: A.M. and get the book done. It’s been really cathartic and really exciting. For this little moment in time in a very busy life I was able to just focus and write. And, God, I love writing.
This seems like the kind of book you couldn’t have written before getting to this particular point in your life.
Sixx: A lot of things built up to this. You don’t just wake up and roll out of bed and you’re Alice Copper, y’know? You don’t just get your first guitar and, wow, you’re writing ‘Brown Sugar.’ It’s a process, and I wanted to talk about that process so that other people can see how bands become the way they become or how I became the way I became and eventually formed Motley Crue. Or maybe it’s something they can apply to their own journey.
Like your other books, “The First 21″ is very honest – painfully so in some cases. Were there moments were you felt like pulling back or doing a tighter edit?
Sixx: Nah. I mean, what do we have to lose from being honest, other than maybe a few photos with a bad haircut? There’s some photos in the book where I was like, ‘All right, I’m putting them in there’ because that was all part of the thing. But human beings are having a human experience, an imperfect experience. I just wanted to share some of the positives and negatives in what we did along the way and just let it flow, man.
What do you understand about that part of your life now that you didn’t before?
Sixx: I really liked going back to pre-being born and understand where my family came from and how they got here, as immigrants from Sicily. My dad was born in San Jose, Calif, the same place I was born, but he was a big, extremely proud Sicilian, handsome, charismatic and now, I found out, creative man. For me to be able to say that to you feels really good ‘cause for a long time I was repeating what my mom said, which was ‘Your dad was all bad things …’ For so many years I felt like, ‘I’m from the loins of badness of someone who didn’t love me and someone who didn’t care and someone who abandoned me.’ That was a lot for me to carry around as a young man. I’ve been digging on this and working on it for years, and the stories were not all true. To know that now, like I said, makes me feel really good.
You don’t necessarily come off as angry or vindictive though.
Sixx: I didn’t want to write this book from the point of view of ‘I’m gonna get a guillotine out and I’m gonna let everyone have it ‘cause I was mistreated.’ The truth is some bad things happened, but some strokes of luck happened. I mean, I got to go live with my grandparents and we were fishing and hunting and living in the country a lot. And what I started to find in the research for the book is those were some impactful moments. There was time to dream, time to read, time to go talk to the old lady across the street and hear her story. A lot of bad things turned into good things, and I wanted to show that in the book.
It seems like without your grandparents you would’ve gone even further off the rails and maybe never become Nikki Sixx.
Sixx: That’s right. I had unconditional love from my grandparents, and I knew that. We lived modestly growing up, and I only tell people things like we lived in a trailer in the desert – not like ‘woe is me,’ but it’s just part of my story. My grandparents were trying to make a living and take care of me and themselves. They put me first, and I felt that. My grandfather never complained, and I just always remember hearing things about how you work hard and you don’t complain. So whatever I did in my life, there’s a million odd jobs in the book which is fun ‘cause we’ve had all that stuff when we were hustling. That was the grounding part of it.
You were certainly resourceful as a youth – rolling joints for money, cheating customers at places you worked to pocket some extra cash. There was a real life of petty crime going on there.
Sixx: (laughs) I said to my wife, ‘Hey, check out this section here,’ and she goes, ‘Oh, I didn’t know my husband was a criminal!’ And I go, ‘Whoa, is THAT what you got out of it?’ She said, ‘Well, that’s what you wrote. You did this, you did that, you did this.’ I went back and looked at it and it’s like, ‘Yeah, that’s what I was doing, but … I was constantly hustling for the dream. There was a lot of petty stuff, but I’m sure if I’d been caught I couldn’t (say) ‘But officer, I was doing it in the good name of rock ‘n’ roll and I’m gonna form a band someday that you guys are gonna love.’ They’d be like, ‘Cuff him!’ But literally, it was down to, ‘What will we do to be able to get what we want?,’ which was get the band on stage. You can’t afford bass strings? You gotta do something, right?
If you ran into the kid you’ve written about in this book now, what would you say to him?
Sixx: The obvious answer is, ‘Well, I would tell him not to do drugs,’ but I don’t think you could tell anybody not to do drugs in the ‘70s and ‘80s. And in some ways being an addict was the best thing that happened to me, ‘cause it walked me into sobriety. But I think the first thing I would say, which is something you should say to anybody who has something extremely painful in their life, is get a second opinion. If you go to a doctor and they say, ‘Hey, you’re gonna die,’ then I’m getting a second opinion, right? So here I’m getting a second opinion on my family. I carried a lot of bulls*** around with me for a long time. So I got a second opinion and I learned that I actually had some good times – a lot of good times, with some good people. So, yeah, take a minute, do some digging, some research, and take that second look and maybe you’ll be surprised.
It’s been nearly six years since we’ve seen Motley Crue live. What can we expect from The Stadium Tour next summer?
Sixx: We’re impatiently waiting for when we can start band rehearsal. We usually rehearse for about a month; that gives us a little bit of time to work on other stuff as well, set up and break down and stuff like that. The Stadium Tour chapter was important for me to write because I wanted to (tell) fans what we do, at least what I do, to prepare for such a thing.
Vince Neil has had a tough year, including falling off the stage in Tennessee back in October. Has that jeopardized things in any way?
Sixx: Nah. I called him up and said, ‘Vince, what happened?’ and he told me and we started laughing about one time we both fell off the stage at the same show. But he was really lucky; he said if it wasn’t a song that he was playing rhythm guitar on it could’ve been his head, which would’ve been a worse injury. The guitar broke his fall. But he’ll heal up, and we’ll be ready to go on tour in June. This tour’s been (postponed) twice; we just didn’t have enough information at the time, with protocols and all, to go and do a stadium tour this year. We’re all feeling good about it now, and we can’t wait, man.