Book Review: Sex, Drugs, Ratt & Roll: My Life In Rock by Stephen Pearcy

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Everybody has heard about the excess and debauchery for which the 80’s were known, myself included, but never before have I seen it presented in such gritty, shocking, and honest detail. Stephen Pearcy, the former lead singer of the hair metal giants Ratt, puts forth his memoir, Sex, Drugs, Ratt & Roll: My Life In Rock, which chronicles the span of his life thus far. He tells of everything from his humble beginnings in Southern California, to dealing with an abusive, drug-addicted father, to developing his love for music, to the drive and persistence that led him to build a band that nearly took over the world, to spiraling downward into his own addiction, and beyond. Anyone who lived through the 80’s, or is a fan of the rock music of the time, is undoubtedly aware of the wanton sex and drug use that went on within the scene’s biggest bands, and Stephen Pearcy is here to tell you that every last bit of it is true.

Pearcy has a very lyrical way with words, making the book a fast, easy, and intriguing read. The book has a great flow to it, and is surprisingly well-written for a man who within its pages admits to drinking, smoking and snorting everything under the sun at a consistent pace for over three decades. Because the writing is so forward, and because his memories are still so vivid, the seemingly unbelievable stories that Pearcy tells become believable. You won’t know what to think of him from page to page, or even from paragraph to paragraph. He’ll charm you. He’ll disgust you. He’ll make you laugh. At times, he’ll even make you feel bad for him. Through most of the book, he speaks very highly of his bandmates, including bassist Juan Croucier, who had been plucked from the band Dokken at the perfect time, the double-axe guitar attack of Robbin Crosby and Warren DeMartini, and drummer Bobby Blotzer, referring to them as his “brothers”. Of course, with a band that enjoyed such a meteoric rise to fame, there was to be an eventual plummet, as exhaustion from years of touring the world, in-fighting over money, and abject substance abuse issues tore the group apart from the inside out. Pearcy makes no bones about any of that, it’s all here.

There is an incredible amount of dialog in the book, which makes the reader wonder how much of it is remembered as close to verbatim as possible, and what had to be paraphrased or simply made up just to fill in the gaps. Again, considering that the book was written thirty years after the band first hit it big, and that Pearcy’s brain has been addled by booze, pills, blow, and eventually heroin, it’s a wonder that he remembers much of anything at all. I won’t give away too many of the stories, but a few entertaining ones to look out for are Pearcy’s first meeting with David Lee Roth outside of an early Van Halen show, tales of Eddie Van Halen asking to hide bottles of vodka in Pearcy’s freezer (and also the bushes outside his house), to keep his former wife Valerie Bertinelli  from finding out that he was a drunk, and Pearcy’s awkward, stuttering meeting with Michael Jackson. There is much detail about the band’s first tour bus, which they dubbed “The Rolling Hilton”, which was loaded with booze, drugs, sexually-transmitted diseases, and five smelly men for months on end out on the road. Drugs were not the only thing that Pearcy and his bandmates were addicted to, not by a long shot. The band kept a constantly-updated scrapbook of sorts, with Polaroids of women they had their way with while out on tour, complete with physical descriptions, how the sex was, and any possible contact information that could be gathered. Pearcy, in his late 50’s when the book was published in 2013, still refers to the countless women he had sex with as “chicks”, or even worse, “trim”. Now, groupies for rock bands in the 80’s had a specific mission, and most, if not all of them were willing to give up their bodies to get backstage, but it’s important to remember that they were still human beings. There is one pretty awful story about what Pearcy and one of the band’s guitar techs did to a drunken groupie who had passed out in the hall outside of Blotzer’s hotel room. I’ll reveal no more details about that one, but the image will be burned into your psyche for all of time once you read it.

At the core, however, Pearcy was human too. At times, he could be very humble and gracious, and his rock-solid work ethic was more than commendable. He writes of the year he spent in the hospital, after being hit by a car as a teen, and originally being told by doctors that he would never walk again. He relates how hard he struggled to kick his newly-formed heroin addiction after his daughter Jewel was born. He tells much of his interest in fashion, and his love for drag racing, which is something he might have done professionally if he hadn’t become a rock star. He and his band suffered the same fate as many of their peers as the 80’s ended, as Nirvana and the Seattle grunge wave swept in and killed hair metal, just as that genre had done away with disco before it. The nation grew tired of all the spandex, hair spray, guys wearing eyeliner, and never-ending guitar solos and moved onto something new.

There is actually surprisingly little written about the death of Robbin Crosby, who after several failed stints in rehab, died by way of heroin overdose. Since Pearcy referred to Crosby as his brother and his partner in crime, I expected a bit more exposition on that tragic end to the very talented guitarist. Crosby let himself get out of control, ended up with HIV, which later turned into full-blown AIDS, and ballooned up in size, while his guitar playing suffered greatly. That is all discussed quite a bit in the book, but anything about his death was brief and left towards the end of the memoir. If you’re interested in the band, or in the music scene of the most decadent of decades, Pearcy’s book is a very fascinating and engaging read. Be prepared to be shocked, saddened, intrigued, angered, and at times, laughing hysterically. As a final parting note on the book, I was never privy to what a coked-up, horn dog of an old man Rodney Dangerfield really was.

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