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“The First 21: How I Became Nikki Sixx” (Hachette, 224 pp., out now) lists both Sixx and Frank Feranna – the musician’s real name – as its authors. It’s a fitting duality for the superstar Mötley Crüe bassist, who centers his memoir on the formative years of his life.
Unlike “The Dirt,” the 2001 Mötley Crüe bestseller and subsequent Netflix film that chronicled the sordid shenanigans of one of hard rock’s most cherished bunch of hell-raisers, “The First 21” is a deeply personal plunge into Sixx’s dysfunctional upbringing.
An absentee mother. A youth spent with his grandparents on a farm in Idaho. Learning to play bass and moving to Los Angeles to live with his aunt and uncle (then the president of Capitol Records). Clerking in record stores and selling used lightbulbs. And eventually joining a band with Blackie Lawless – later of W.A.S.P. – and kick-starting a life of rock ‘n’ roll mayhem.
The journey from Feranna to Sixx – a name he maybe, sort of, stole from another local musician who had dubbed himself Niki Syxx – is a fraught and complicated one. But it’s a story that Sixx shares with humor and honesty.
He also wants fans to understand the depth of his own musical fandom. Aerosmith tops his list, followed by Cheap Trick. He is not, as detailed in the book, a Rush fan.
In a lively conversation with USA TODAY, Sixx talked about fatherhood in his 60s, what he learned about his family history, and why he’s stayed sober for 21 years.
Question: You start the book talking about the now twice-postponed Stadium Tour. Do you think it’s going to happen next summer? (Note: this interview was conducted before singer Vince Neil injured his ribs in a fall off a stage.)
Nikki Sixx: Yes, I do. We didn’t want to go out this past summer because we didn’t want to expose our fans to possibly getting COVID, and 80,000 people all with their mouths open singing “Shout at the Devil” doesn’t sound like we would be doing the right thing for our fans and our crew. Do I believe COVID will still be here next year? Yes. But we’ll have to do the best that we can do. The bigger question is, what does ‘23 look like? Can we go to Europe or South America? Right now, our eyes are on the tour starting in June, band rehearsals in May and all the set design starting months before that. I start physically training the first week of December. At 62, it’s a little different than 22.
Q: And how does being a dad again at 62 factor into your stamina level? (Sixx and wife Courtney Bingham welcomed Ruby Sixx on July 27, 2019.)
Sixx: I love being a father. It’s very exciting. I take (Ruby) out on the river. When my other kids come to visit – they’re all in college and working – we go out on the lake and hiking. (At the start of the pandemic) I pulled everyone into our L.A. house for three months and it got us closer. Then we sold our house and moved to Wyoming. Ruby is a bit of glue between the kids and us.
Q: “The First 21” is technically your third book, but really your first memoir. Why did you want to look back to those really early days now?
Sixx: I was sitting out on the land – 20 acres of my property look down into a gulch – and I was looking at the mountains and where I grew up and having these thoughts about my childhood and fishing. I went inside and wrote this little couplet that turned into a poem for my family, and one of the lines was, “Once I learned to fly, I forgot how to stop.” I wanted to do this book right up to the day I changed my name to Nikki Sixx.
Q: What discoveries surprised you?
Sixx: I never really had 100% of the story of the early years because my mom was not truthful and downloaded a lot of info into my head that I found out during this book was not even close. Even my sister (Lisa) with Down syndrome - she was born and they took her away. She was (home) 11 months and then she was gone and my dad left. So when I’m talking to my aunt and uncle, they were like, “Something happened and your dad left.” This was not the story I was told and I wanted to be transparent about that discovery.
Q: Your family – going back to your roots in Sicily – is obviously very important to you. I think a lot of people will be surprised to know that as a young man you were living in Idaho and working on a hog farm.
Sixx: I mostly wrote the book for my family. Not to be macabre, but 30, 40, 100 years from now, our family will have a little documentation about what their dad, grandfather, great-grandfather did those first 21 years. My kids have all reached out to me and said it was such a fascinating read; they only saw me as Dad, not as a rock star.
Q: You’re also in your 21st year of sobriety. Is it something you talk to your older kids about?
Sixx: They’ve never seen me loaded; they only know Dad as sober. We’ve talked about all of it and we’re really open about it. I know they’re proud of their dad because I chose them over addiction. I didn’t choose the music industry over them. I chose family because I felt like a tumbleweed for a lot of my life. I didn’t have a dad I could reach out to at 10 p.m. or a mom I could spend time with, so I was winging it. I like to be present for them.
Q: Tell me about the Sixx: A.M. hits album coming out to coincide with the book.
Sixx: In the song “The First 21,” we wanted to capture coming-of-age things with a chorus that is a very ‘70s type of approach. Talking to my family, we discovered tons of 8mm film, so I transferred all of it and we’ve turned it into a lyric video. So the whole project is pulling us back. If you weren’t there, come back on this journey and remember family and self-discovery and courage. In those first 21 years, I believe whether you’re Magic Johnson or Keith Richards, we all had a moment when you went, this is what I want to do. And that tipping point is in the book.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Nikki Sixx: Mötley Crüe rocker talks new memoir, 21 years of sobriety