Picture this: You’re a portrait photographer hired to take a Christmas card photo for an upper-middle-class family circa 1985. There’s dad in a Tom Selleck mustache and blue blazer, mom in perm and pearls and little sister in a floral print Laura Ashley dress. Then there’s the seventh-grade son in his black, long-sleeve Mötley Crüe Theater of Pain T-shirt. Mom’s pleading with the boy, dad’s pissed beyond salvation, and sis is giggling, but the kid won’t be cajoled. The shirt stays in the picture. This is the power of Mötley Crüe. This is the power of Vince Neil.
Say what you will about Neil and tour mates Poison and Skid Row—and I’m sure you have plenty to say (sexist, misogynistic jerks with demonic/shitty/cheesy music)—but these guys informed a generation about the values, culture and excess of rock and roll. Via MTV, small-town rural teens learned that riding room service carts into hotel pools, exposing one’s breasts to a crowd of 20,000 and smokin’ in the boys room were cool things to do. And, like Led Zeppelin before them, bands like the Crüe (and Ratt, Def Leppard, et al.) continue to confuse a generation of spellers.
Now the rural towns of Western Montana will have a chance to see the flesh-and-blood versions of the MTV icons they worshipped a decade and a half ago. For those who grew up in towns like Darby, Arlee or Alberton, this will be a chance to see things as they were in the heyday. Unlike the bloated, blotchy, balding Jani Lane of Warrant and the Stephen Pearcy-less Ratt—part of last year’s more decent than decadent Rockfest—Neil still looks like the guy in the white gloves belting out “Home Sweet Home,” and Poison has regrouped its original line up. Aside from a little age and a lot more lozenges to ease the vocal chords, Neil promises the crowd a vintage show.
“You’re going to think you’re back in the ’80s watching the way the shows were back then,” he told the Independent. “You’re going to know all the songs and you’ll see the shows as they were put on.”
That means a stage show embodying the clichés of metal—lots of leather pants, virtuoso guitar solos, shouts of “put your hands up,” smoke machines, pyrotechnics and booze.
While country gods (Willie Nelson), folk gods (Richard Thompson) and rock/folk/country gods (Bob Dylan) often pass through Montana, the metal gods have tended to stay away. Nothing against Thompson or Dylan, but usually it’s the Missoula transplants, not the locals, who bring in the balladists. Rural folk (and those from Eastern bloc countries) have always grown up on harder stuff—whether it be Crüe, Maiden or Limp Bizkit (ah yes, the tradition of misspelling continues). These are the people Neil sings to. Yet, memorable as Montana is, he can’t remember if he’s ever rocked the Treasure State.
“I’m sure I have,” he claims, “but I just don’t know.”
It might piss Montanans off to think that Vince Neil doesn’t remember the Big Sky, but, with a little twist, his answer exudes rock star cool. Maybe he has a terrible memory, or maybe, just maybe, he was so loaded on Jack Daniels and jet fuel he’s forgotten his ’82 gig at the Top Hat.
With a little fantasy and the rebirth of hero worship, it’s easy to see Neil as a man living the dream of life on the wild side. He lives in Vegas (undeniably rock starrish), isn’t on speaking terms with any of his old band mates (also undeniably rock starrish) and says that his crowd is still “80 percent girls” (while girls won’t admit it, they’ve just gotta love men with more make-up and longer/taller hair than they). But any bowing at the altar ends with the former teens. Asked if the guys in Poison or Skid Row are in awe of him, Neil says no.
“All of us respect each other for what we’ve done,” he says. “I’ve been friends with the Poison guys and Skid Row guys for years, so it’s just like traveling the country for the summer with your buddies and going to rock shows for a living.”
Talking about his tour mates and the summer shows, Neil seems almost humble. It’s insanity to say so, but it’s almost as if he loves playing music as much as he loves the sex and drugs.
“When I’m home I miss it,” he says. “I’m just lucky that I’m in the position where I can go and find a tour every year and play rock and roll.”
Humility almost turns into wussiness when he’s asked the compulsory “What kind of music do you listen to now?” question.
“It just depends on what kind of mood I’m in,” says Neil “I listen to everything from the Sex Pistols to Frank Sinatra, from AC/DC to Mozart.”
Then he pulls out the save.
“Mainly the bands I listen to were the bands I grew up with, like AC/DC, Bad Company, Deep Purple and old Van Halen.”
With the words “old Van Halen” the air of legitimacy returns. If he had said “Van Halen,” implicitly including the Hagar years, we could have had trouble. But pointing out that it’s old Halen (read: Diamond Dave) he grew up on reëstablishes that his rock star priorities are in order.
Even while humbly talking about whom he grew up worshiping, Neil knows he’s cool. He knows he’s a rock god. While Missoula may not agree with him, plenty of Montanans will.
“This will be even better than it was before,” he says of the show. Then with real confidence: “These fans are hungry for this.”