How Nikki Sixx’s ‘Heroin Diaries’ Spawned a New Band and Album
Writing about his heroin addiction inadvertently led Motley Crue's Nikki Sixx to another musical habit.
Six years after the release of the band's best-selling 2001 memoir The Dirt: Confessions of the World's Most Notorious Rock Band in 2001, Sixx decided to dig a little deeper into his own story with The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star. The 432-page book, which became also a New York Times best seller, is a graphic and harrowing account of 12 months — from Christmas 1986 to Christmas 1987 — that Sixx spent in the grip of a near-fatal heroin addiction, culminating in an overdose on Dec. 23, 1987.
Sixx wrote explicitly about his family history, the band, his then-girlfriend Vanity (of Prince's Vanity 6) and more. While The Dirt had its comedically audacious flavor, The Heroin Diaries was anything but (Dr.) feel-good — and it was certainly a cautionary tale.
As the book came together, Motley Crue's manager Allen Kovac suggested Sixx write some songs to accompany the book. "Some" turned into a proverbial "elpee's worth of toons," and The Heroin Diaries Soundtrack was released on Aug. 21, 2007, nearly a month before the book. Each of its 13 tracks correspond to a month covered in the book, with three of the songs featuring Sixx's spoken-word passages lifted from The Heroin Diaries.
Listen to Sixx:A.M.'s 'X-Mas in Hell'
"That was the surprise of the whole thing," Sixx told this writer some years later. "We figured it would be a few songs at first, and it turned into a whole album. It just followed along with the plot of the book, kind of like a movie soundtrack would."
The project led to an entirely new band, too. Sixx recruited guitarist Daren Jay "DJ" Ashba, with whom he'd started Funny Farm Studios (and who would join Guns N' Roses two years later), and James Michael, a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who'd worked with Sixx and Ashba on albums for Marion Raven.
"We didn't think it was, like, a band or anything. We were just writing these songs to be a soundtrack for Nikki's book," Ashba later recalled. Michael added, "It truly was just this little escape for all of us to do what was in our hearts or passionate about, without having to comply to any rules of the music business. None of us anticipated it would be played on the radio or anything."
But that's just what happened. "Life is Beautiful," the first single from the newly christened Sixx:A.M.'s The Heroin Diaries Soundtrack, hit No. 2 on Billboard's Mainstream Rock chart and No. 25 on the Alternative Airplay survey. The music video was a hot property as well, and the soundtrack shot to No. 26 on the Billboard 200. "It was the damnedest thing," Sixx said. "I thought the book could be successful, especially after The Dirt. But the album? No way. It was this strange little side piece to [the book], and now it's a hit? Come on!"
Watch Sixx:A.M.'s 'Life Is Beautiful' Video
Despite the success, Sixx, Ashba and Michael considered Sixx:A.M. a studio project at best and insisted they had no touring plans. That changed in 2008, however, when Sixx:A.M. — who had released the X-Mas in Hell EP in June of that year — signed on as the opening act for Crue Fest, a summer 2008 tour package that also included Buckcherry, Papa Roach and Trapt. "I didn't want to do it," said Sixx, who pulled double duty with Sixx:A.M. and Motley Crue each night. "It was the promoters who were like, 'Look, this band hasn't toured, and it's really in demand. ... But then Motley started happening, so I figured Sixx:A.M. was gonna go on the back burner.
"And everyone was like, 'No, dude...' And then [Motley Crue] was very supportive," he continued. "The guys were like, 'Dude, it's a great record. Why not, man?' And it's something I've never done before, so I figured, 'What the hell, why not?'"
With help from Papa Roach drummer Tony Palermo, Sixx:A.M. performed seven or eight songs a night off The Heroin Diaries Soundtrack, which were also recorded for a bonus Live is Beautiful EP that appeared on a special deluxe edition of the album that came out in November 2008. The Crue Fest jaunt also instilled the idea in the trio that Sixx:A.M. would be an active, or at least semi-active, band moving forward.
"I think that when Sixx:A.M. went out and played off of The Heroin Diaries Soundtrack, we found that we pined and we wished that we had more songs like 'Pray For Me,' and a little more hard-hitting stuff," Sixx said. "So I think the answer to that was [2011's] This is Gonna Hurt and everything else that came along after that."
Watch Sixx:A.M. Perform 'Pray for Me' at Crue Fest
Sixx:A.M. followed up The Heroin Diaries Soundtrack with 2011's This Is Gonna Hurt — also a companion to a Sixx book of the same name — which debuted at No. 10 on the Billboard 200 and whose lead single, "Lies of the Beautiful People," topped the Mainstream Rock chart. Modern Vintage followed in 2014, and the twin Prayers for the Damned and Prayers for the Blessed arrived in 2016. The trio also released 7, an EP comprising seven acoustic renditions of songs off their first two albums, in 2011. "We got to do more — it was like the ultimate icing on the cake," Michael noted.
In 2021, Sixx:A.M. released the Hits compilation, which the band suggested could be its last word for a while, perhaps ever. At the time, Michael told Metal On Loud that the group was on an indefinite hiatus, especially in light of Motley Crue's Stadium Tour, which launched in summer 2022 after being delayed by COVID for two years. "We never know what we're gonna do in the future," Michael said, "but for now we're looking at this and saying, 'This is a good way to wrap this up.'"
Sixx, meanwhile, ventured yet again into the literary world with 2021's The First 21: How I Became Nikki Sixx. While promoting the book, he told UCR that he hopes the path he began with The Heroin Diaries has provided more than just entertainment.
"I hope I have been able to demystify this," Sixx explained. "Heroin in a lot of cases had been glamorized. You got the jazz guys and the blues guys, a lot of cool rocker guys who all ended up dead later. It was signing a deal with the devil. But at the same time, the best thing that ever happened to me was becoming an addict, because it walked me into sobriety, and without sobriety I wouldn't be the person I am now. But it would have been better to get there without [the addiction]."