Rock the house

May 23, 2001 at 12:00 am

Sebastian Bach -- the former lead singer of cheesy ’80s hair-metal outfit Skid Row -- is bouncing from room to room in his 4,500-square-foot New Jersey digs, showing off all the Kiss memorabilia he’s collected over the years: posters, autographed pictures, records, even a tot-sized Gene Simmons Halloween costume. He pauses briefly at a small fountain, the centerpiece of which is a foot-high bust of the Kiss bassist’s head, tongue extended as a viscous, clotted red stream gushes from its gaping mouth.

"I wouldn’t feel complete unless I had a ceramic contraption that puked blood 24 hours a day," Bach quips. He repairs to his refrigerator, where he keeps a Styrofoam cup sealed with aluminum foil containing a crimson gel that turns out to be some coagulated stage blood Simmons spewed during a performance on the band’s recent reunion tour. Bach then shows off some selections from his comic-book collection, and after he’s done displaying pricey Incredible Hulks and Fantastic Fours he closes the fireproof encasement they’re housed in. Emblazoned across the cabinet’s beige door is a Hammerjacks bumper sticker, its distinct yellow logo a familiar beacon for many a mid-Atlantic metal-head.

Welcome to the wonderful world of MTV Cribs. You can have your Martha Stewart, that tag-sale maven and anal-retentive Connecticut ice princess who lords her domestic perfection over us all. You can keep your swishy, glue-gun-brandishing Christopher Lowell, who balances out the Discovery Channel’s animal-snuff-film programming with midafternoon decorating tips for thrifty do-it-yourselfers. (Who knew you could make a bed canopy out of fabric remnants, plywood, and a staple gun?) Sure, theirs is an empowering message: Control your environment by altering your living space; express yourself through fabrics, paint and textures. But most such programs shrug off the issues of class and consumerism that simmer beneath their surface. And besides, who wants to do all that arts-and-crafts stuff on their downtime?

"MTV Cribs," which premiered late last year, is a mod "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" redux in which pop-music sensations and stars of screens both big and small give an MTV News camera crew a candid, comprehensive tour of their plush, up-market pads. The half-hour show is divided into three segments. In each, celeb hosts show off their interior living spaces, walk-in closets, the insides of their fridges, their garages and their backyards. "Cribs" is jumpily shot and edited in a manner that’s often ill-suited for its highly visual, detailed subject matter, but all the cross-cuts, jump-cuts, and quick pans and zooms jibe with MTV’s stylistic conventions.

From what I’ve seen on "Cribs," youthful celebs -- most of whom have come into money and success suddenly and relatively recently -- are all about beer taste on a champagne budget. Sigh. There’s no sweeter, cattier satisfaction in a have-not critic’s life than knocking how the fabulously wealthy squander their wads. I may not have the best decorating instincts, but I at least have the sense not to put a giant plaster-of-Paris swan smack dab in the middle of my dining-room table.

In one installment, hip-hop star Snoop Dogg shows off his backyard, which features a pool, a Jacuzzi, a dog kennel and a gigantic basketball court. The camera swoops over his expansive property, revealing a row of gray, industrial-looking electric transformers about 10 stories high towering over Snoop’s estate. Coils, wire and steel obstruct the view all the way out to the horizon. Wait -- I’m getting something -- a vision of Snoop Dogg on VH1’s Behind the Music sometime in the near future, whining about real-estate ventures gone sour and a depleted bank account. Doesn’t he know that the bottom has dropped out of the luxury-home market, particularly for those properties bordered by ghastly industrial edifices?

Questionable investments aren’t the only celeb dirt we’re privy to on "Cribs." There are many telling visual/lifestyle clichés on display within the show’s chichi universe: glass tabletops in every room, pinball machines, overstuffed leather sectional sofas, big-screen televisions, Cristal in the fridge, framed Rolling Stone covers on the wall, proudly displayed "Scarface" DVDs, luxury cars and vintage autos in the garage, kidney-shaped pools. So much of this stuff, in fact, that anyone with a classifiable, consistent design aesthetic stands out.

And, as sexist as it sounds, the individuals most likely to display visual flair are the women. "Baywatch" babe Pamela Anderson’s beachfront home is rustic and charming -- a bright, homey space augmented by distressed surfaces, garlands, candles and floral designs. The girls from Destiny’s Child have a natty collection of furniture, unique showpieces carved into fluid, organic shapes. "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch" star Melissa Joan Hart kicks back in a striking Spanish-style abode with a lagoonlike pool and Jacuzzi. No Doubt drummer Adrian Young seems to have some design smarts as well -- until you find out that bandmate Gwen Stefani suggested his stylin’ haremlike bedroom, with its silk, jewel-tone throw pillows and sari canopy.

Not all Y-chromosomed celebs are stylistically impaired, though. Techno sensation Moby’s loft space in Manhattan is stripped down and modern-looking. (Is that a vintage Eames-designed living-room set in the corner? Nice.) Singer Robbie Williams has a fancy marble-surfaced bathroom and a lush topiary garden on the grounds of his old English estate. Lit’s Jeremy Popoff has a kitschy vintage thing happening in his Orange County, Calif., rancher (he calls it "a ‘Jetsons’ vibe"): lots of geometric prints, sunburst clocks, a couple of egg chairs, silver Mylar wall hangings, a flagstone fireplace, a leopard-print couch, and a tiki shack by the pool. Sisqó’s pad was a disappointment. I expected the rumors I’d heard to be true: that he lives in a mansion somewhere in Randallstown, with a giant tiled mosaic of a dragon on the floor of his indoor pool. Instead, the Cribs camera crew visited him in Los Angeles, and the alleged pool ornamentation wasn’t on display. Maybe Sisqó’s Left Coast squat is rented. At least he had the good sense to hire a professional decorator.

Aside from their to-be-expected thrall with the concept of celebrity (and the full-blown narcissism expressed by all their framed magazine covers), most Cribs participants seem preoccupied with brand names. A show like this is naturally conducive to marketing opportunities and product placement, but Gen Y rockers don’t appear to be strong-armed into name-checking the kind of liquor they drink and cars they drive. They seem to do so voluntarily. In short, "Cribs" offers a different kind of star fix, one in which marketable, bankable personalities show that they’re consumers, too. They’re just like us, but cranked all the way up to 11.

Adele Marley writes for the Baltimore City Paper, where this feature first appeared. Send comments to [email protected]