So we all know I’m a music fan. I was fortunate enough to get to see Alice Cooper and Mötley Crüe earlier in the summer. In a nutshell: an amazing show. It also apparently unleashed my creative side in terrifying new ways.
It also got me thinking. I live a lot of different types of music. I grew up with a classical vocal background. I did the whole musical theatre thing. I fell head over heels in love with classic rock, glam rock, hard rock, etc. I will never not love David Bowie or Led Zeppelin – in a lot of ways they define my creative tendencies. I’m still furthering my musical education and hope to until the day I keel over. I have my guilty pleasures, but my core interests are life’s blood to me. They’re pure energy, the things that can get me through a day, readjust my attitude, or make me ponder things that lead to creative ideas of my own. Music is a huge part of my life.
I am also a fairly headstrong, independent person. I don’t like labels and I don’t necessarily qualify this as just a gender thing, though I do think I throw people by being a dichotomy of interests and being a
chick, gal, babe, woman with a questionable sense of humor. So, this is my definition for how I view life and try to conduct myself: I personally am of the opinion that all people deserve to be safe, to have choices they are allowed to make, to have options even if they choose not to use them, to be compensated based on their work and talent. Not one aspect of their personage (be it skin color, gender, orientation, disability, genetic conditions, physical alteration, etc) should affect any of that. People are people. ‘Nuff said.
The only reason I bring this up is because in a roundabout way, Mötley Crüe has turned me into a far more empowered and empathetic person than the one I started out as.
I know, right? Hang onto your butts, it’s going to be that kind of post.
It has been brought to my attention off and on that it is a conflict of interests that I like certain bands. This started in my 20s when I really got into Led Zeppelin, but it really gets mentioned when people walk into my work space and see me sewing something while rocking out to a lot of hard rock or metal, but mostly Crüe. I will proclaim it until the end of time that their music is perfect to sew to, but I’m not sure they’d be thrilled to hear it (Whether or not at least one occasion has involved a giant fan and me playing air guitar on a T-square while on top of a cutting table…I plead the fifth).
On one occasion not involving a fan and air guitar, someone came in, stopped, and proclaimed: “Oh my God…I didn’t know you were THAT kind of girl…”
I had to self-edit through about forty replies to begin with, because I was feeling charitable. The person in question meant that I seemed too nice (ugh, that word), to be a hard rock fan and was a little horrified when I presented them with proof of my music collection. Still…
Okay, seriously? Why, what kind of woman am I? Please tell me, just what kind of person does that make me? A music lover? Someone with good taste? Someone with her own interests? And why should my gender determine what I listen to? Apparently my parts never got that memo.
I never know how to take commentary like that, and I get irritated when it’s hinted that I should give up something I love because of another part of my personality. I am definitely equal parts romantic and badass, feminine and tenacious wolverine who will not give up when I have a goal. I don’t like boxes, I don’t cop to labels, I just do not want to be defined by some pre-determined role. My friend Susan refers to me as Cinderella in motorcycle boots, and that’s probably a fair assessment. I tend to embrace all the things and not feel bad about it.
Admittedly, the strong woman and music lover once conflicted a lot. Now to preface this, let it be said that although I try to conduct myself fairly appropriately in public as an author and artist, those who know me well know that it takes a lot to offend me. In some ways, Olde School is probably a better gauge for the ten thousand facets of SJ. There are heartfelt parts to me, I’m not afraid to go dark, and admittedly, there’s a reason that I write characters like Ippick and Clyde – my sense of humor can easily go that way.
I have a penchant for certain types of rock folklore and I love reading music bios. So it’s weird that there was a time when I will admit that I found past interviews/stories about Crüe really offensive. I’m not saying I still agree with everything they’ve ever done, but at the time it felt like I was obligated to get mad because I was this strong, independent gal and oh my god how could they say this and all of that at any time in their life ever, no matter the context or situation – HOW DARE THEY.
I don’t know why I didn’t get equally offended about other bands, male or female. It was almost as if things were presented to me like I was supposed to hate this group (ah, media). The thing was, I had actually grown up with a lot of their music. Long story short, parents can’t police everything, and growing up in the eighties, I got a hell of a musical education that I didn’t even know I was getting until many eyebrows were raised when I was a preteen who knew the lyrics to Girls, Girls, Girls (This somehow didn’t get me in nearly as much trouble as teaching The Sibling the words to Rebel Rebel when she was five…).
That was the thing: I loved the music, but I felt like I shouldn’t. I’m not sure where I got this idea, but I have a few guesses. Part of it is probably from growing up as a small town minister’s kid. Whatever your feelings on religion (and I have many diverse ones), it’s one thing to grow up with the shadow of morality waiting to step on you every time you turn a corner. It’s extremely hard to grow up when people who you know and trust are reporting back to a parent any potentially questionable thing you’ve done or said throughout the day, and you’re never quite sure who you can trust. I ended up toeing the line until college because I was terrified of what would happen otherwise.
In some ways, I think as I became an adult, part of me resented people who seemed to get away with doing whatever they wanted. It was easier to feel like I was better or right because I was doing what I was supposed to be doing…even though I had started making my own mistakes and testing my limits by the time I started getting huffy. Plus, admittedly, there’s always going to be a part of me that’s semi-jealous of male vocal ranges. Instead of trying to join a band or experimenting with different vocal coaches, it was easier for me to not appreciate my own skill set, blame my classical background, and gripe about how easy other people had it. Besides, they were saying awful things anyway so why shouldn’t I just roll my eyes and smirk when something went wrong?
Yes, I know that’s dumb and incredibly offensive. I wouldn’t wish that kind of thought process leveled at me on my best day, I wouldn’t dare act like that to anyone I passed on the street, yet I had no problem lobbing that at these guys who I just assumed deserved it. I know, I’m digging myself deeper. Bear with me.
At the end of the day, a lot of my personality is all about not being boxed in by one set of thought or the other. I want the freedom to be who I am, scars and warts and all, and I want to be appreciated because of it. Yet not only would I not give others who hit a nerve that same courtesy, I was willing to let that part of my behavior be determined by boxes: people should be like this and because they aren’t they must be awful. I would probably have even admitted that I wasn’t being fair or making complete sense, but it was easier to gripe about being stuck in my own situations when there was someone else unrelated to blame.
I told you, I have my jerk side.
And then one day I turned a corner in the library and ran into Nikki Sixx’s This is Gonna Hurt. Literally. It nearly fell on my head. Curious, but assuming it wouldn’t be worth checking out, I flipped through it in the aisle, then found myself still sitting in the aisle an hour later. His photography drew me in, mesmerized me, and the rest of the book held me captive in the best possible way. That book is all about embracing the uncomfortable, finding beauty in what you might shy away from, finding beauty in all aspects of others and yourself. It’s a very blunt and brutal sort of encouragement, but it was exactly what I needed to be clubbed in the head by at that point. It also gave a huge insight into who he is as a person, at least through what the pages show the reader.
And then it hit me like a giant punch in the face that ripped my heart out through my nostrils: I had never thought of Mötley Crüe as actual people.
I had stopped being angry about their existence years ago – I don’t have the energy to keep up that kind of game, but I’d never gravitated back to the music or tried to see things from the other side, either. Still, do you get how horrifying that realization is, to suddenly acknowledge that you’ve willingly denied that other people have the right to have their own life experiences, that you actually have the capability to think something horrible like that about anyone? That’s so incredibly not fair, and not a concept I would have thought I embraced even a little bit. It was not my proudest moment and it made me wonder where else I’d carried that assumption in my life.
I had never considered that there were reasons or things that each member was going through or anything else that would have caused anything they were doing or saying, yet suddenly I was identifying and empathizing with a lot of Sixx’s words. I’d seen them as this thing, this one-dimensional thing that said and did things that made me uncomfortable, things that I didn’t agree with at certain times in my life (never mind my own life opinions have changed considerably in the past ten or fifteen years). I realized that while I tried to be open and understanding, I could be closed off in my life, intent on seeing things my way without exploring all possible angles. It was a brutal realization that I was probably causing a lot of my own misery and irritation. I had just gotten through a rough-ish patch where I’d put myself back together physically and felt like I was being overlooked creatively, and now I was being shown in full black and white that I still had a lot of growing to do. Ouch cannot even begin to describe that epiphany.
To this day I always take This is Gonna Hurt with me when I travel. I’ll probably do a post on that book soon, as well, because it continues to be a huge influence in my life. I have photos of certain pages on my phone, I’ve had photocopies of pages hanging in various offices and workshops. That book has gotten me through a lot, it has challenged me to be better, and I always, always recommend it on panels, to creative friends, and anyone who will listen. Unless I run into Sixx (or any member of Crüe, honestly, because I’ve been humbled by their journey in general) one day and actually can work up the nerve to talk to him/them, it’s as close to an apology for being an idiot as I can give, and as close to a thank you as I can probably give, as well.
It’s also a huge testament that you can be influenced and have your life changed by all kinds of people, and everyone’s life experience can mean something to someone else. In interviews I usually say something like every person that passes by you is a story, you shouldn’t take anyone for granted – it’s a view I’ve always had to some extent, but I think this whole revelation helped me realize that I can go beyond wondering to appreciating and empathizing and helping people around me.
At any rate, it was time to rise to the challenge thrown down. I took a deep breath and went back to what I still missed: the music. I don’t think a lot of people accept how truly good their music is. It draws from so many backgrounds and influences, it can be elaborate, and it’s just massive, crushing any imitations from back in the day. I slowly let myself appreciate their work and fall back in love a little at a time. I also started reading a little more here and there, beyond the random interviews in books that were supposed to make you bristle about “outsider” behavior or paint a particular picture of. I think it’s also important to acknowledge that at the end of the day, I don’t know these
dudes people, I don’t know why things were done or said, and while it’s very easy to paint a picture as to why you shouldn’t like someone, you can disagree with people about certain things without holding it over them forever. Who does that really end up affecting, anyway: the people who are successful who don’t know you exist, or the person you’re staring down in the mirror?
Because I was working on an urban-fantasy revamp of a Hans Christian Andersen story mixed with demonic deals and rock hijinks at the time, I finally started reading The Dirt, if only for some weird-misplaced moral support. I’d avoided it for a long time, assuming I wouldn’t have time to get through it. I read it in like two days. And not one dirty story made me even blink. Maybe I was just annihilated by writing my novel. Maybe I was approaching things with new eyes now that I’m older. Although I did start to wonder about myself when I got three-fourths in and found that I saw where a lot of anecdotes were going before they played out.
I’m not condoning everything that’s ever been done in Crüe’s history, but I don’t have to. I don’t know that they would take the same course now, but those were things that had to happen for them to get to where they are today, just like I’ve had to go my own path to be me. It isn’t a matter of “oh my god you’re evil, you’re wrong, you should do this, you should do that…” or even about me laughing or rolling my eyes at stuff. I’ve grown up with some issues, screwed up some, and somehow found a healthy bit of grace and magic. I absolutely cannot point the finger at anyone.
The thing is, after reading The Dirt, it wasn’t the smarmy recollections that stuck with me, but the emotional undercurrents between the lines. There are some incredibly moving bits there and those were the things that really affected me and made me feel. Having lost two siblings early on and seeing what that does to parents, I can only imagine what Vince went through. Having had my own weird year of medical mystery, I know I could never hope to have the inner strength Mick Mars has had with his health problems. If growing up having people report my stupid teen antics drove me nuts, I do not want to think of how hard Tommy has had it with the tabloids. And the sheer amount of crap Sixx has waded through to do all that he’s doing…yeah, I’ve got nothing to complain about, and it’s nice to know that it’s acceptable to have that much of a drive to do creative work. It brought home that that band is composed of four people I only know a little bit about, but it’s enough to appreciate that their journey has not been an easy one.
So somewhere along the line through all of this, a lot of that bitterness or anger at their success or things that they said once upon a time…fell away. I don’t even know why I felt that way in the first place, except that I thought I was supposed to, that I had to blame someone for my own conflicting emotions and struggle to learn to be myself. I could dislike specific instances, but there was no reason for me to dislike them.
And actually, seeing them move on from the drama, seeing how hard they fought with their label and how they figured things out and continue to keep pushing forward really inspired me to take a deep breath and keep going through some difficult times that I was having. I’m not at their level, no, but as a designer, as a writer, as an artist, I fight my own battles daily. I started demanding more respect at production meetings and not backing down when people wanted to dismiss things that came out of my mouth as token crazy whatever, even though I had the experience to back it up. While of course I have to take criticism from editors and others, I will gladly have a conversation about the choices I make. I ask a whole lot of questions now, especially about business. There have been times I’m the token girl on genre panels that people usually associate with males, so you’d better believe I’m going to make sure people know I know what I’m talking about and take pride in and have love for what I do. I’ve always been creatively aggressive, but if anything, Crue gave me permission to be even more.
I’ve learned to stop blaming others and instead shut up, get to work, and take no prisoners. Discovering Bowie’s music when I was sixteen made me feel like I wasn’t alone in having ten million interests and wanting to fuse them all together. If he saved my creative soul, then in a major way Mötley Crüe has taught me how to put aside blame, excuses, and regrets and keep fighting as hard as I can to preserve it.
They also made me realize that I can be an okay person and not take anyone’s crap. There’s nothing wrong with fighting for what you believe in and speaking up for yourself. Now I’m not saying that I wouldn’t get that lesson from a female artist, but they just happened to be the ones that caught my attention and made me think, and they just happen to be
dudes male people. They made me finally understand that I could unashamedly be more than one aspect of myself, make mistakes, and keep on going. I don’t have to be just my ideals or just a writer or just a costume person or just a music fan. I can be all of those, because I’m not one to follow something blindly across the board, whether it’s a line, a creative person I admire, or a way of life. I don’t gravitate to artists who do that, and they most definitely do not.
Our opinions may differ on some things, but that’s fine. You’re not supposed to blindly follow every aspect of everyone. That’s not what life is about. And if you do follow or neglect blindly, you might just find yourself falling off a cliff or missing out on things that may just keep you sane and fill you with love and satisfaction. You might miss the opportunity to fully develop into who you are. That was almost the case for me. If people want to freak out about the fact that I like a lot of different things and I’m a walking dichotomy, fine, be my guest. I don’t need to fight you on it or debate it. I know what I like and I don’t want to fight something that doesn’t need fighting.
All I can say is it was a pleasure and an honor to finally get to see them live. It was an amazing show, a fitting way to start the beginning of the end. I was there with everyone else, dancing and shouting along, singing and gaping with my jaw on the ground. And I truly am thrilled that I’m able to love the tunes again, appreciate their journey, and I wish them nothing but the very best.