Pop: Nothing Succeeds like Excess, but Don't Try This at Home ; Were Motley Crue Really Beaten Up by Redneck Transvestites? Did Charlie Parker Really Take That Many Drugs? Steve Jelbert Questions the Annals of Bad Behaviour
Jelbert, Steve, The Independent (London, England)
ANDREW MARR'S recent comments about the death of the novel and the supremacy of non-fiction were widely publicised, although as the BBC's political editor, Marr presumably spends his time dealing with fictions so convoluted that even the most experimental authors must seem a doddle in comparison.
He has a point, though. Fact and fiction are more closely entwined than ever. Take the works of James Ellroy, recreating and reinterpreting American history, or WG Sebald, whose deceptive digressions contain large chunks of complete invention presented as historical truth.
Then there's Motley Crue - The Dirt, subtitled "Confessions of the World's Most Notorious Rock Band", a magnificent collection of scurrilous tales involving drugs, booze, sex addiction, lady mud- wrestlers, internecine warfare and general stupidity.
But while enjoying yet another story of Vince Neil's serial shagging or Tommy Lee's, er, serial shagging, more sceptical readers may find their credulity stretched to breaking point. This isn't a criticism of this fine addition to the pantheon of sleazy rock memoirs, which is certainly far more entertaining than any of their records. It's just that one feels that in their eagerness to tell a good story, some episodes might have been somewhat embellished.
Were the Crue really beaten up by redneck transvestites? Did one of them really nail someone's ear to a table? These sound more like Monty Python sketches watched on the tour bus. Anyone who saw the Seinfeld episode where Kramer sold his life story to pad out Elaine's boss's autobiography, and was then legally unable to hold court at the bar, will recognise the absurdity.
As the band's bassist Nikki Sixx says of the incomparable Ozzy Osbourne: "There was nothing Ozzy hadn't done and, as a result, there was nothing Ozzy could remember having done." A biographer of, say, Anthony Powell or TS Eliot does not face this problem, though of course all Ozzy stories are true, and Sixx tells some great ones.
It's always been thus when recounting tales of debauchery: the truth becomes completely lost over time. So Motley Crue's undeniably impressive drug consumption becomes truly monstrous, though appropriately vague, in the retelling.
It's nothing new. Supposedly, Charlie Parker's idea of a good night out started with eight or 10 sirloin steaks (big American ones, not your weedy British version), followed up with, oh, an ounce of heroin, all washed down with a gallon of cognac. …