Lee's been a popular personality since the early '80s, when he and bandmates Vince Neil, Nikki Sixx, and Mick Mars burst onto the hard-rock scene with 1983's triple-platinum Shout at the Devil, their second album overall. (To date, the act has sold well over 20 million albums.) But Lee's marriage to, and divorce from, Melrose Place ultra-vixen Heather Locklear catapulted him to an even more exalted level of notoriety, and the ins and outs of his subsequent marriage to pneumatic former Baywatch babe Pamela Anderson have earned him a place in the Tabloid Hall of Fame. Moreover, the so-called "honeymoon video" he made with Anderson in 1995 is a true phenomenon of the cyber-age. Pam's deep-throating technique and Tommy's infamous money shot are presently available for viewing on literally thousands of graphic websites. When I typed their names into a computer search engine, I unwittingly opened a window into the endless variety of sexual practices: Among the addresses that popped up were ones using the key-word combinations "porn tiny girl smoking antiques china naked guy pics china guy pics free sex," "wet hot juicy teen pussy gay hardcore jerking men pics," and (my personal favorite) "cock monster cow barn farm sex monkey fuck horse rape animal dog love zoo."
Although Anderson bore Lee two children, Brandon and Dylan, their relationship went far beyond the exchange of bodily fluids. Violence was also part of the mix, and when Lee kicked Anderson in the back while she was holding one of their children, she went to the authorities. Lee had been in hot water before, but had avoided serious punishment: In January 1998, for example, he was ordered to pay a $17,500 fine and attend anger-counseling sessions for assaulting a photographer outside the Viper Room, a Los Angeles club, nearly two years earlier. After Lee was convicted for spousal abuse, however, the judge overseeing the case declined to slap his wrist, sentencing him to six months in the pokey instead. Lee was incarcerated May 20 and let go in early September, two months ahead of schedule. The early departure was a reward for what his keepers saw as good behavior.
In the time since, Lee has done his best to prove that he's a solid citizen, but that doesn't mean he's stayed out of the public eye. He participated in a "biography" that's been running on MTV for several weeks, and his name came up frequently in an article about Anderson that appeared in the November edition of Interview magazine. In the piece, Anderson claimed that Lee is in denial about their split, but the estranged couple remained a team when it came to a lawsuit filed against Internet Entertainment Group (IEG), a Seattle company run by Seth Warshavsky that has a reputation for catching celebrities with their genitalia exposed. (The firm recently turned a spotlight on the naked flesh of radio blabbermouth Dr. Laura Schlessinger and is now marketing Sex Lives of the Stars, a video that brims with revelations by the alleged lovers of everyone from Leonardo DiCaprio to Larry King.) IEG had been the first firm to release the honeymoon tape, which Lee and Anderson say was stolen from their Malibu home while it was being remodeled two years ago, but litigation was seemingly short-circuited when they signed an agreement allowing Warshavsky to broadcast the extravaganza on his site. Then, a few months ago, lawyers representing the twosome took IEG to court, arguing that IEG had violated the pact by distributing videos and CD-ROMs of the Anderson-Lee get-together, and by making it available in hotels via pay-per-view.
When I spoke to Lee, he declined to go into detail about the IEG matter beyond saying about Warshavsky, "I'd love to fucking strangle that motherfucker right now. That fucking son of a bitch." (Given an early December ruling by California-based Judge Dean Pregerson, who threw out Lee's lawsuit, he's probably even more unhappy now.) But the drummer was more than willing to discuss just about everything else, including his days in stir; Motley Crue's departure from its longtime label, Elektra; the players' decision to declare the independence of their imprint, Mstley Records, and issue a new disc, Motley Crue's Greatest Hits; the band's reputation with fellow musicians and reviewers; and the odds of him and Pamela ever sharing a camcorder again. In conversation, he certainly didn't come across as the type of person who enjoys solving complex mathematical equations in his spare time. Rather, he seemed painfully earnest, mouthing psychological catch-phrases in an effort to explain his downward spiral and what he sees as his current renaissance. And while he's upset to think that his image is ejaculating on a television or computer screen somewhere on the planet at this very moment, he doesn't seem to mind people knowing that he's not one of those rockers who has to stuff his crotch. After all, size matters.
Scene: I would think that, after all that's happened to you over the past few years, you'd be embittered about the press in general. Are you?
Tommy Lee: Yeah--I'm writing songs about them as we speak. I've been working on music, because I'm going to do a solo album/side project that I'm hopefully going to start after the beginning of the year. And I wrote a bunch of music while I was in jail. I had four months in there in solitary confinement to do a ton of introspection and think and write lyrics. I'd call my answering machine at home and sing melodies and leave them on the machine. I did whatever it'd take to make it work. But I wrote some pretty incredible stuff in there about what the hell has happened to me in my life, and living in the fishbowl, and also the change that took place while I was sitting in there. There's this really cool tune called "Metamorphosis" that I've been working on that's about the change that happens when you're in isolation for four months.
How did you end up in solitary? Because usually prisoners get put there for bad behavior.
Actually, that's called hard time in jail: When you do something bad while you're in jail, they stick you in the hole. And that's where I spent my four months. But for me, they did it for my safety, just to keep me away from everybody. But it was very hard time to do.
Did you have much interaction with other inmates, or were you kept totally separate from them?
I was separate from them, but I could talk a little bit. There were no windows or anything--just a twelve-inch-by-twelve-inch piece of glass in a steel door that I could look through, and I could talk to people and pass notes under the door and stuff. And I did talk to a bunch of inmates--people that were there for murder, people that were there for armed robbery. I met some fucking crazy people in there.
Did you get a sense that you were lucky to have been separated from them, because you might not have been safe, or did you think it was an overreaction and you would have been accepted?
I never got any bad vibes. People were really cool to me, and everybody wanted autographs and wanted to just talk--to ask me about my life and stuff. And I was interested in their lives: I was like, "Why did you kill that person? Why'd you do this, or why'd you do that?" So I think we would've gotten along really well. But then again, I'm glad that I was alone, because I would have never been able to do the sort of psychotherapy on myself if I hadn't been alone. People would have been talking to me the whole time and bothering me and stuff. So I'm thankful that I was alone and got to figure out what it is that Tommy really wants to be and who I am and all that.
What kind of changes did that process take you through? Did you look back and feel that you'd made some mistakes?
Oh yeah, there's those. And I found things that I loved about myself, and I found things that I hated about myself.
Can you share some examples of either of those?
Spiritually, I was always looking for something and never really took time to find out what it was I was looking for. And I found it in there. I'd like to keep that private. But I also learned something else about myself--that I really enjoy reading. I never did that before. I'd read occasionally, but I was stuck in there, and the only thing I really had were books. So I read about forty books while I was in there.
What kind of books did you read?
I read everything. Relationship books, childcare books . . .
Like Dr. Spock?
Dr. Benjamin Spock--he's the one who wrote what a lot of people see as the classic childcare book.
No, I didn't read that one. But I read this one really cool book called . . . shit, I can't remember the title now. Maybe it was Like Father, Like Son, or something like that. See, I'm a new father, so I don't claim to know everything about being a father--but I definitely make every attempt to be one. So I was doing some research on that, plus reading spiritual books, self-realization books, relaxation books. You name it, man. I read a shitload of books there.
It sounds like the isolation may have done more for you than your anger counseling did.
It was pretty hardcore. When I was sitting there alone, I sort of realized that I could have handled that situation a lot differently, and I wouldn't have been sitting here at all. I could have just walked away. You know?
In the liner notes to the new album, you write, "Remember, there are lessons to be learned at every crisis, and if life deals you lemons, don't bitch about it. Start making lemonade." Is that what you learned while you were in there?
Absolutely, man. Absolutely. People trip when something horrible happens to them, but it is happening, I believe, for a reason, and at every crisis, there's something positive to be learned from that. There's no better teacher than experience. You can read whatever you want, you can talk to whoever you want, but unless you go through it and deal with it, you don't really know what it's about.
When you walked out of jail, did you feel that you were a better person than you were when you walked in?
I can't say that I felt like a better person, but I know that I learned more about myself. And I had a really difficult time when I got out, because decompressing for me was really fucking weird. You go from living life outside and free and doing whatever you want and coming and going as you please to nothing. And when you come out of four months of nothing . . . Well, I'll tell you what--the world gave me a fucking anxiety attack. I jumped into my friend's car and the traffic lights and the cars going by on the freeway and everybody fucking hauling ass . . . They were going way too fast for me. I wanted to go back.
How long did it take you to reacclimate to everything?
I spent a week at home and I sort of just hid. I didn't really get together with a bunch of friends, because I didn't know how to react. And then I went to Hawaii for a week and really decompressed and took in sunsets and walked and worked out and sort of slowly came back. And then I went back home and started visiting with friends and family and all that.
Are you going to change your approach to the rock and roll lifestyle because of what happened? Because that's about as fast as it gets.
I know--but I still have a good time. That's just the way I am. I have fun at everything that I do. That's the way it is out here. We have a good time and we play and we travel from city to city doing what we do.
And you don't think that's going to lead to trouble?
If I even sense that there's going to be trouble, I fucking run. I'm on probation, so I can't get into any trouble. My fun is regulated and monitored by me. Know what I mean? So I'm in control now.
Tell me about the label, Mstley Records. It's been around for a while, but why did you decide to run it yourselves instead of hooking up with another major?
One day Nikki and I were sitting on the bus, and we were really disappointed with Elektra, our record company. We'd made probably one of the best albums of our career, which was the record before this greatest-hits record, Generation Swine. We put a year and every bit of love we had into that record, and we made every single song melodic and a hit. No album filler, no crap. That record is unreal from top to bottom, but it didn't sell. So we were sitting there scratching our heads and going, "We don't get it. What the fuck is going on?" And it was even more frustrating because our record company was not supportive of us. I'm not racial whatsoever, but there was a black lady, Sylvia Rhone, in charge of Elektra then, and she didn't get us at all. She's a really big R&B lady, and I love that stuff too, but--well, I just don't think she cared for us too much; let's put it that way. So Nikki and I told our manager, "Man, you've got to get us out of there. Get us the fuck away from that company."
You still owed them albums?
We owed them two records and they owed us a lot of money for those two records. So we said, "Give us this amount of money and all of our masters and we'll walk." And we did. We got all of our masters and everything we'd ever filmed, from the beginning. You name it. And we were fucking jumping up and down. I mean, there's only a small handful of bands that have even come close to walking away with all that.
Why is your first CD a greatest hits album? Were you trying to remind people of what you'd done musically rather than allowing them to concentrate on all the other personal matters that have been getting so much attention?
No, we just felt like it was time. We went around and did a bunch of gigs and asked all the fans what they wanted from us next, and all of them said either a live album or a greatest hits record. So we decided to give our fans what they want, instead of being stupid. Really, you've got to give them what they want.
That doesn't mean that you don't want to continue to make new music, does it?
Oh no. Jeez, we would've loved to go in and make a new record. But it worked to our benefit to put the greatest hits package together. We didn't have to sit in a studio and make a bunch of music.
Do you think you've gotten enough credit for the music you've already made?
Just in the last year or two, it seems like we have been. I was talking to Billy Joe, the guitar player from Green Day, and that dude was going on and on and on about how Motley Crue was the soundtrack to his life. He said, "Tommy, Too Fast for Love and Shout at the Devil--those fucking tapes never left my car. I grew up on that. You don't even understand." And I felt like "Wow," because that guy was telling me how when he went to rehearsal or wherever he went, that tape was stuck in his car. And Marilyn Manson and that guy from Korn, Jonathan Davis--they're huge Crue fans. More and more I keep running into people who are like, "Dude, you guys fucking started this mess." You know?
Does it bother you that a lot of critics still aren't fans?
Not really. I think people are their own judge--and I don't think they pay too much attention to what anybody says in print about a record or a concert. I mean, I never read it, and I'm still a fan. If I hear word-of-mouth on the street that something's good, I go buy it. I don't read a review to help me make up my mind. I let the music do the talking; I always have. So I don't mind that those people have never really said good things about us, or even about our musicianship, even though everybody's a great player in the band. They never give us props, you know, but that's cool. Well, I shouldn't say that. Hey, it would be really nice, but you know, I'm not going to lose sleep over it. That's for sure.
Are you losing sleep over what's happening with Pamela? How are the two of you getting along?
On the new album, you thank her and Brandon and Dylan and then add, "God, please bring my family back together." But it sounds like that's a ways off.
Yeah, that's definitely not happening. I don't want to diss her, because she's the mother of my children, but Pamela has a lot of issues and a lot of problems to face and deal with that she's not. She's doing everything in her power for some reason--I'm still not sure why--to make it extremely difficult for me to see my children on the road. She's just really making things difficult, and really for no reason. There's no reason that the kids should be used as pawns now, and I'm afraid that's happening, and I'm disappointed. I'm disappointed in her--very, very much.
Are those things that you're hoping to work out with her, or is there no communication at all?
We're at the most pathetic stage of communication on the planet. We're talking through a mediator. Before that, we had two meetings. One went pretty well, but the second meeting she walked out of. She didn't want to hear reality. That's sort of her MO. If she doesn't like what's going on, she just runs. And one of these days she'll learn that you kind of have to deal with reality.
Do you think the two of you need to have a cooling-off period?
Cooling off and getting some help are two different things. I would never go back into that relationship the way it is now. I've done my work and I'm a very different person right now. Unless that was sort of evident on the other end, I couldn't go back.
At the same time, your honeymoon videotape is all over the Internet. Does that make you angry to think that people are clicking on that all day, every day?
It doesn't make me angry. Well, yeah it does--but I have a handle on my anger now. I don't let it fucking tear me up. But I feel violated, you know.
Is there a positive side to it, though? I mean, at least everybody knows how well-hung you are.
(laughing) Oh fuck.
Any jealousy from your fellow bandmembers in the men's room?
No. But that's pretty funny.