Nikki Sixx used to be the bass player for Motley Crue, a hair metal band most people old enough to remember have tried hard to forget. Motley was huge in the mid-1980s. I didn't realize how big until I read the diary entry in which Nikki whines that his manager sent his latest paycheck to his home while he was on tour. The check is for $650,000. That's probably more than really talented American bands of the 1980s like Husker Du made in their entire career. The Motley Crue era, then, was not a shining moment in pop history. In that sense, Nikki makes a fitting narrator. This is literally a tale told by an idiot. Everything about it is stale, forced and second-hand. Even the title is an echo of Jim Carroll's much better addiction memoir, The Basketball Diaries, which derived from Burroughs's Junkie, which came out of Genet, whose dramatized self-immolation stories derive ultimately from Byron.
So, awful as it is, this illiterate jumble actually represents a remarkable cultural moment: two hundred years of Byronic narrative have finally trickled down to the base of the demographic pyramid. Nikki accidentally tells the key truth when, in a moment of stylized self-pity, he calls himself "a dreg." I've never heard that word used in the singular before, but it fits. This guy is the ultimate dreg. He does decadence strictly by the numbers. He even considers killing his girlfriend, because after all, Sid Vicious killed his girlfriend. And there's no pleasure in it. Part of that is probably the big lie in American culture that celebrity decadence is always about "pain." But Nikki really doesn't seem to like sex that much. The only part that he really seems to enjoy is the drugs, and since he's incapable of effective description, you have to infer his pleasure from the sheer doggedness with which he gets high.
And of course his drug narrative is full of lies and bathos. The most interesting lie is the deflection of blame to heroin, when it's clear that Nikki was never a junkie. He's a cokehead, a classic L.A. white-trash cokehead. So why is this called The Heroin Diaries? Because Nikki's publisher realized cocaine is too sleazy and too 1970s to interest anybody. Heroin, which only entered the middle-class California druggie's repertoire in the 1980s, still retains some of its exotic, forbidden appeal.
Occasionally he slips up, admitting that he does much more coke than smack: "I'm not having [my dealer] bring smack very often but my coke intake is up 1,000%." And since Nikki's typical binge ends in paranoia, with our hero locked in the walk-in closet of his mansion hearing voices outside, it's clear that it's the coke, not the smack, messing with him.
Pretending to be a junkie rather than a cokehead moves Nikki up in class. Opiates have been the drug of choice for an astonishing number of the really talented people of the last few centuries: Coleridge, de Quincy, Poe, Novalis, Mary Shelley and her husband, Donald Goines, Jean Cocteau, William Burroughs and Jimi Hendrix. Prescription opiates are still the choice of L.A.’s upper class, which is why when one of the stars is arrested, her purse is always full of perfectly legal Percodan or Demerol. (If you’re a star, you see, you can get special prescriptions which are issued after your arrest but dated weeks before.)
Why, then, has heroin kept its bad boy image? It comes down to prohibition. Injected black-market heroin can and often does kill, because the user doesn’t know the purity of the dose until it’s already in the bloodstream. But why do people inject heroin at all, rather than consuming pills like the stars do? Because only stars can get those pills. The rest of us have to take our chances. Under black-market conditions, dealers will always import the most potent opiate, heroin, in the tiniest quantities—quantities so tiny that the drug must be injected to be effective. Only then does the user find out whether, and how much, the drug has been cut. If people were still free to smoke opium in legal dens, or buy Bayer heroin at the corner pharmacy as they could a hundred years ago, accidental overdoses would be very rare.