A helpful key to understanding rock ’n’ roll rebellion these days would be to look at Tommy Lee and understand that it is a medium made up of sales pitches not songs. To become a cultural trademark — here, Tommy Lee as rock ’n’ roll star — is all about a marketable attitude consistent with that which sells records. If anyone can define arts careerist by way of example — under the guise of badassness — it is Tommy Lee.
Just over two years ago, the Mötley Crüe dropout professed to be down with the ghetto street massive and all things “bling,” rapping with his wigga knock-off combo Methods of Mayhem (featured fetid rapper Ti-Lo). Now, with his first solo record (the overproduced ego-hug Never a Dull Moment) Lee rids himself of his trendy ebonized mien and the millionaire mook is now trafficking sexless suburban white-boy metal angst — that horrific blend of rigid angles and mathematical lines that is completely free of curves and movement. The “new” sound has more in common with Limp or Linkin than anything Mötley Crüe.
Funny how the Crüe fancied itself this big sexy arena rock band, and how so many kids bought into it. The band was really all pomp and circumstantial timing. The Crüe was never sexy, just a bunch of trend-trawling gimps who looked more like footballers in drag than the rock ’n’ roll saviors they passed themselves off to be.
The Crüe was good old-fashioned right-wing propaganda; the massive scale of their shows, sales and sexism was pure Reaganomics. I was fond of reading interviews with Nikki Sixx where he claimed that he and his Mötley mates cut their teeth on bands like Television and Talking Heads. Yeah!
We ventured to the lovely Emerald Theater in Mount Clemens last Wednesday to see Tommy Lee on the rumor that Kid Rock and Pamela Anderson were going to show, thus causing some sort of upheaval. I mean, who could resist an edifying pop-culture train wreck like that? It was too bad when Rock and Anderson were no-shows.
My guess is the pair would have been entertained. Particularly when the boobs plopped forth.
Witnessing Lee — the 40-year-old father of two and convicted wife abuser (and infamous drug addict/alcoholic/ layer-of-porn stars) — produce a camera and cajole chicks into lifting their tops was a new low in old peepshow entertainment. The whole shirt-lift looked and felt both archaic and staged; a handful of girls arrived on shoulders just moments before for the porno op, then disappeared from said shoulders soon after. Aside from Lee’s straightforward show of contempt for women, the display was as sexless as the show and the songs. The “show me your tits” scene simply cast women into the easy role of many-mawed chicks good only for sloppy shags and cheap porn.
In front of a packed house last Wednesday night, the brazenly nonessential Lee (playing guitar) burped up a blathering set of largely indistinguishable nü-metal (“Hold Me Down”) and the obligatory teary-eyed ballad (“Blue”), without so much of a hint of strut or swagger. For a rock show it was a paler shade of white. There was lots of feigned angst and pain though, and coming from Lee, a multimillionaire who has had 10 times the opportunities you and I will ever have, it was laughable. Rather embarrassing really, ’cause effectively, Lee is competing with guys like Papa Roach who are 15 years his junior, probably too young to even remember the Crüe during its moneyed reign. Lee’s three-piece backing band of hop-up-and-down mooks drew heavily from a well-nourished database of nü-metalist clichés: think Limp Bizkit or Slipknot with sinewy limbs and smaller heads.
Yet, keeping the rock faith alive, it’s always good to see anyone singing along to his own prerecorded vocal track — Britney style — as Lee did. No wonder his voice was perfectly pitched; that fact alone should have raised a pierced eyebrow or two.
I saw Cheap Trick at the Harley Fest in Sterling Heights a few nights later (best shirt quote witnessed: “If you can read this shirt, the bitch fell off”), and call ’em ancient classic rock or what have you, the band at least maintained a sense of dignity, of integrity. Cheap Trick, in front of a half-filled Freedom Hill, played an all-hit set — one that stretched from “He’s a Whore” to “The Flame” — with an aplomb that helped secure that rock ’n’ roll in some pure sense can still work. A mix of sincerity, songwriting and a sense of command made the evening worthwhile, despite the opening set from Sponge. Sponge front man Vinnie Dombrowski’s rock-arrogant messianic complex was unbearable — particularly when he took to walking on fans’ hands with arms outstretched. Last time I saw the guy he was in a country band. So where’s his trademark?Brian Smith is the Metro Times music editor. E-mail him at [email protected]