BROOKE GLADSTONE: Rock stars. They light up the night sky like the gods of yore only to be snuffed out in a whirlwind of drugs, debauchery and tortured metaphors like this one. At least that's the formula for the popular VH1 program Behind the Music. The show is so popular, the storytelling formula so iron-clad, the tales so familiar that to think of the story of a popular musician is to think of Behind the Music. But what about when it doesn't work? Joining me now is New York Times pop music writer Neil Strauss who along with the members of the heavy metal band Motley Crue wrote a weighty collective biography of the band called Dirt. Neil Strauss, welcome to the show!
NEIL STRAUSS: Thanks.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now I think one notable thing about the book is that it veers away from the tried and true Behind the Music formula. That's generally a three-act play.
NEIL STRAUSS: Right, the - you know, the rise, the fall, the redemption, you know and all - you know and the, the tearful apology - I was wrong - at the end.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And how many acts does your back, The Dirt have?
NEIL STRAUSS:[LAUGHS] It's probably got about 30 acts per Motley Crue member. I mean it's real life. Sometimes people don't always learn from their mistakes.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So for some of them at least, no redemption at all.
NEIL STRAUSS:Right. Or, or a little redemption -- some parts are redeemed; some parts aren't redeemed. You know I think whether it's you or me or Motley Crue you learn from a-- some mistakes but then you go ahead and you make new ones.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Some of these people don't seem to learn a damn thing.
NEIL STRAUSS:Yeah, exactly. I mean you're amazed that these guys are still alive, and even while I was working on it, they're still getting arrested; they're still-- [LAUGHS] you know - causing all kinds of mayhem --
WOMAN: problems, what, what have you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What do you think of Behind the Music's treatment of most rock groups?
NEIL STRAUSS: Well you - I think I mean it's the prob--problem that anyone has whether you're a band or, or a TV producer, you, you, you do something that works and then you decide, hey, that's our formula. So that's why the Motley Crue episode which was one of the early ones works so well, and after a while you almost feel like people are going on Behind the Music so they're wr-- scripting their three-act before they're going on - it's - so the, so the later ones are less effective.
And you see them almost trying to move away from their formula now like Behind the Music of the '80s are a concept now.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But the Behind the Music they did on Motley Crue, they were redeemed at the end, weren't they.
NEIL STRAUSS: [LAUGHS] Yeah, exactly.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Are you saying VH1 lied to us?!
NEIL STRAUSS:[LAUGHS] Yes. I think - thi--this is what I sort of -- am starting to learn a little bit -which is this - that it's okay to talk about all the drugs and decadence you've done, as long as you pretend like you're not doing them any more. I mean having spent some time with some of the musicians who appear on other episodes of Behind the Music, you know I know that they're hi--high on camera talking about how they've cleaned up.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What do the musicians think of that form?
NEIL STRAUSS:I guess it's a little self-exploitation for publicity -- I mean I think they'd all be glad - you know - they'd all be glad to be on it as long as you're redeemed at the end, it's all okay.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But they don't buy it - they don't believe it.
NEIL STRAUSS:No, they, they, they believe it. Like when they see it, they believe it. You know the media has a way of making something seem true and I'm not saying that, that, that it's a lie but it's definitely-- you know I'm sure you shape it to fit a - you know you shape it to fit a format.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So let's go back to The Dirt -- what kind of structure were you going for there?
NEIL STRAUSS:[LAUGHS] The structure of The Dirt was-- if you read it, you're not going to s-- you're not going to think about it or care about it, but As I lay Dying by William Faulkner, that was my inspiration because you know it's a book about a family traveling to bury their mother, and each different chapter is told from a different family member's point of view, and you know some are lovable, some are crazy, some are-- retarded [LAUGHS] - and I'm not going to - I'm not saying that about the band of course.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Of course.
NEIL STRAUSS:[LAUGHS] But-- you get the different pieces of the story -- some of them contradict - some of 'em don't make sense - but between it you get a-- whole in three dimensions, and, and that's what I was trying for, and in As I Lay Dying along the way different neighbors might comment from the - an outside perspective on the, on the passing of this-- Motley party and you know so I had different strangers comment on Motley in that way. I told them when I was starting it - I, I said like this, this is my idea for it - are, are you, are you down with doing it in this structure.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And did they say rad?
NEIL STRAUSS:[LAUGHS] They said, rad, dude. [LAUGHTER] It's not like I always take a band and then apply a-- literary construct to it, but with Marilyn Manson The Inferno was the model, [LAUGHTER] and the idea was he was kind of trying to show his-- fall from innocence to this-- twisted, dark persona of Marilyn Manson. So we plotted the falls along the lines of the different circle in The Inferno, and that was something he actively participated in.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So Dante for Marilyn Manson-- [LAUGHTER] and Faulkner for Motley Crue--
NEIL STRAUSS: [LAUGHS] Exactly.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: -- I guess that leaves Jane Austen for Michael Jackson.
NEIL STRAUSS: [LAUGHS] Yeah, exactly.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Thank you very much!
NEIL STRAUSS: Sure.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Neil Strauss is author of The Dirt: Motley Crue.