Nikki Sixx has written books about his heroin addiction, about Mötley Crüe, about his photography. But his latest literary endeavor is, in the comic book hero parlance, the rocker’s origin story.
The title of the just-published The First 21: How I Became Nikki Sixx says it all; The 205-page tome runs from his early family history in Italy to Dec. 9, 1980, when the then Frank Feranna Jr. legally changed his name to Nikki Sixx, two days in front of his 22nd birthday and a week before Mötley Crüe came together in Los Angeles. And he feels there was an advantage to chronicling the beginning of his life after having the rest of it documented so well on page and — thanks to The Dirt — on screen.
“A lot of things built up to this,” Sixx tells Billboard by Zoom from Wyoming, where he resides with his wife Courtney and their two-year-old daughter Ruby. “You don’t just wake up and roll out of bed and you’re Alice Cooper, 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 Mötley Crüe. Or maybe it’s something they can apply to their own journey.”
And, he adds with a laugh, “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, ‘Alright, I’m putting them in there’ because that was all part of the thing.”
Credited to both Sixx and Frank Feranna, The First 21 offers a detailed look at his pre-Crüe life, including an unstable home life, his father leaving the family, a sister born with Down syndrome, his mother dating the likes of Richard Pryor and Minnesota Vikings stars Carl Eller and Alan Page, living around the western United States with his grandparents after his mother abandoned him and early adventures with substances. The book, of course, documents how he fell in love with rock n’ roll and with writing, influenced by everything from pop, heavy metal and glam rock to Beat writers such as William S. Burroughs and Charles Bukowski. Sixx ultimately hopes that the book changes the narrative about him somewhat, showing that there were plenty of positives in what’s often been perceived as a dark and troubled childhood.
“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!'” Sixx explains. “The truth is some bad things happened in life and I carried a lot of bullsh-t around with me for a long time. But some strokes of luck happened, too. My dad left and I got to go live with my grandparents and their unconditional love. And we were fishing and hunting and traveling and living in the country a lot — modestly. I was having these experiences, some of which were probably not great for me I that we moved a lot, but I found myself in books and music and became a writer.
“If even one of those things hadn’t happened, would I be where I am now? I don’t know. It was a little like getting a second opinion. When you’re young, how do you even know how to do that? From where I am now I can see the value in some of these things I was maybe angry about before.”
Though the dark days of The Heroin Diaries would come years for later, there’s plenty of misadventure in The First 21. Sixx portrays himself as a hustler for all the right reasons — “You can’t afford bass strings? You gotta do something.” — starting at a young age reselling penny candy for a dime and continuing as a high school joint roller for friends. He got his first bass guitar by stealing it from a music store — only to discover he’d grabbed a Les Paul six-string by mistake. And while working for a carpet cleaning service in California he conned customers into buying special stain guard and then applying just water and pocketing the extra fees. His boss caught on and fired him — but not before playing Sixx a Van Halen demo tape he’d acquired.
“I said to my wife, ‘Hey, check out this section here,’ and she goes, ‘Oh, I didn’t know my husband was a criminal,'” Sixx says with another laugh. “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 be, like, ‘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.”
Interestingly, The First 21 — which is accompanied by a new Sixx:A.M. Hits compilation that includes a song with the same title — starts in the present, with a detailed chapter about Mötley Crüe’s reunion for The Stadium Tour, which was slated for 2020 and, after a second delay, is now slated to start next June 16 in Atlanta with Def Leppard, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts and Poison. (Sixx also reveals that David Lee Roth turned down an offer to be on the bill because he didn’t’ want to open for bands he influenced.) “We’re impatiently waiting for when we can start band rehearsal,” Sixx says. “We usually rehearse for about a month; That gives us a little bit of time to work on other stuff as well, setup and breakdown and stuff like that. The Stadium tour chapter was important for me to write because I wanted to know fans what we do, at least what I do, to prepare for such a thing.”
Sixx reports that frontman Vince Neil, meanwhile, is “on the mend” after suffering broken ribs and other injuries after falling off the front of the stage while performing Mötley Crüe’s “Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)” during last weekend’s Monsters on the Mountain festival in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. According to Sixx the festival crew didn’t put down reflective tape to mark the edge of the stage, which led to the fall.
“Without that it’s all completely black, so you can walk forward thinking there’s still stage there and fall off,” Sixx explains. “I’ve done that myself; Vince and I were 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. We’re all feeling good about it now, and we can’t wait, man.”