While rock historians imagine what Keith Moon or John Bonham could have achieved had they not checked out early, another legendary drummer (who despite his excesses managed to flip the finger to the Grim Reaper) is enjoying a heap of midlife success. His third solo album due in August along with a new TV show, not to mention a best-selling memoir and sold-out shows leading off the 2005 Mötley Crüe reunion tour, Tommy Lee hasn’t simply beaten the odds. He’s damn well thrashed them, making it improbable for any rock percussionist to follow. Did we mention he’s happy, too???
His latest album stands as a sonic accomplishment by itself. Tommyland: The Ride, due on store shelves August 9, is a highly listenable collection of rock-driven tunes, some infused with pop, electronica and other flavors, that chart the foibles of romance, celebrity and life in general. The album follows two distinctly different solo efforts: Methods of Mayhem (1999), a mélange of rock, hard house, industrial and hip-hop that reflected Lee’s desire “to do everything I ever wanted to do” after 20 years with the Crüe; and Never A Dull Moment (2002), a more focused, “from the heart” album including the tune “Blue,” written for his father who had recently passed away.
Tommyland: The Ride will satisfy rock devotees and others with its solidly constructed hooks and performances by such artists as Dave Navarro (Jane’s Addiction), Joel Madden (Good Charlotte), Carl Bell (Fuel), Derick Whibley (Sum 41), Andrew McMahon (Jack’s Mannequin / Something Corporate), Nick Carter (Backstreet Boys) and Butch Walker. The album’s first single, “Tryin To Be Me,” is a driving-rock grievance against fame in the age of cell phone cameras. Its second, the yearning, mid-tempo “Good Times,” will be the theme for Lee’s new NBC show, offering an appropriate paean to his Crüe roots.
Bearing Lee’s mark as a writing collaborator with his guest artists, Tommyland also bears his vocal skills, heard with Andrew McMahon on the equally wistful and hopeful “Hello Again,” as well as “Say Goodbye,” a breakup ballad which surprisingly shares the microphone with pop icon Nick Carter (“It turns out he’s a huge fan of rock music,” says Lee, who originally wrote the song for Carter’s solo album, then purloined it when The Backstreet Boys reunion sidetracked it). Another track revealing Lee’s willingness to lampoon himself is “Tired,” with Joel Madden belting the tongue-in-cheek chorus: “Tommy got tired of Pamela, Ed got tired of Salma, Puffy got tired of JLo and Ben did too,” working its way to the everyman complaint, “I’m just tired of you.”
Comfortable with poking fun at his own celebrity, it’s a purposely awkward, fish-out-of-water approach that defines “Tommy Goes To College,” the NBC reality show to premiere August 16. The show, which Lee also produces, finds him spending an unlikely semester in middle America at the University of Nebraska: finding a roommate, trying out for the marching band, cramming for finals and, of course, finding the time to party (allowing some lucky Cornhuskers to boast, “Dude, I slammed one with TOMMY LEE!”).
While the presence of a rock star in Lincoln, Nebraska had the desired effect, Lee experienced a degree of surprise when his American Literature professor elected during one class to dissect his autobiography Tommyland, which had recently landed on the New York Times best-seller list. The candid memoir recounts the personal details of an iconic rock rebel: from his childhood in suburban California to his meteoric rise as the drummer for Mötley Crüe, to his headline-making life in the fast lane. An unflinching glimpse behind the tattooed exterior of a man revealed as a passionate musician and devoted father, Tommyland remains in the Top 100 Memoirs of Amazon.com as of May 2005, more than seven months after its publication in October 2004.
And then there’s the reunion of Mötley Crüe, which has energized thousands of fans worldwide, recalling the zenith of the band’s fame in the ‘80s and ‘90s. The “Red, White & Crüe Tour 2005: Better Live Than Dead,” presented by VH1 and VH1 Classic, has already sold out U.S. arenas and is currently working its way toward Europe and Australia. It returns to the U.S. to hit more than 40 amphitheatres in August and September before wrapping up in southeast Asia this November and December. “After being away from each other for more than six years, I was real apprehensive about this tour,” says Lee. “But it was comfortable the first day we got together, and given the fan response, the whole thing has been way above and beyond my expectations.” Motley’s recently released anthology album, Red, White & Crue, is certified platinum.
A native of Athens, Greece who moved to Southern California with his parents two years later, Thomas Lee Bass surely raised expectations in his parents early on – when he was “tall enough to reach the silverware drawer” he wasted no time transforming eating utensils into drumsticks. While his parents provided young Tommy with drum and piano lessons, his father, a mechanic, showed an extra measure of support by giving up the garage and building his son a soundproof room within it to practice. The rest, of course, is rock history...
At 17, Lee teamed with bassist Nikki Sixx, guitarist Mick Mars and singer Vince Neil, naming themselves Mötley Crüe (the umlauts were intended to make them look tough). With a knack for creating fists-in-the-air anthems, the band recorded their first album, Too Fast for Love, which was released in November 1981 on their own Leathür Records label. An insanely catchy, riff-driven record, TFFL turned rock fans’ expectations upside-down and ultimately led to the formation of an entire glam-metal movement based in Los Angeles.
Picked up by Elektra, the Crüe released a string of classic albums in the ‘80s, beginning with Shout at the Devil (1983), controversial for its satanic elements, and Theatre Of Pain (1985), a slightly darker, more introverted record. However, Girls, Girls, Girls (1987) was as rock ‘n roll as anything they’d done before and, together with 1989’s enormous Dr. Feelgood, catapulted the band into the mainstream.
By the 1990s Mötley Crüe was a full-blown stadium act, with all the freedoms and hindrances that that entailed. Neil left the band in 1992 and it was Scream singer John Corabi that provided vocals for the 1994 album Mötley Crüe, which attempted to match up to the angst and power of newer metal bands. However, by 1997’s Generation Swine, Neil was back and the Crüe’s fortunes revived, leading them to issue Greatest Hits (1998), Live: Entertainment Or Death (1999) and a rarities collection, Supersonic and Demonic Relics (1999). By New Tattoo (2000), the band was working at full steam again, though with a notable exception: that of Tommy Lee, who by then was recording and touring with his own band, Methods of Mayhem, and ducking the paparazzi in the wake of his home video high-jinx with his then-wife, Pamela Anderson.
With each original member of Mötley Crüe contributing to their 2001 autobiography The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band, the book quickly took hold with readers and spent a record-breaking ten months on the New York Times best-seller list (it’s currently being made into a feature film, to be released this year by MTV Films/Paramount). Finally, the fans themselves persuaded Lee to reunite with his bandmates, initially to record three new songs for their 2005 anthology album, Red White & Crüe, then to launch an official “reunion tour” which has been met with resounding success.
Tommy Lee devotes most of his free time these days toward his two children, Brandon and Dylan. While appreciating a more normal life, he nonetheless bemoans the lack of originality among rock stars. “Everyone kind of sounds the same and looks the same. I mean, where are the Mick Jaggers, the David Bowies?” laments Lee, who also notes how comfortable rock performers have become. “In rock there’s got to be some element of danger, like, ‘Is this guy going to make it through the show tonight?’ Beyond the music, that’s what makes it exciting. Come on, guys! Step it up a notch! ”