Being a rock star isn’t always the Dionysian lifestyle it’s portrayed to be, according to Stephen Pearcy, founder and vocalist of the seminal hard rock band Ratt. Yes, you get to travel round and round the world, party with hot, young groupies, and be worshiped by thousands who buy your albums and t-shirts and go to your concerts. But there are just as many lows as there are highs: the endless, excruciating monotony of touring, inevitable tensions within the band, drug and alcohol addictions, and a fickle public that can quickly abandon your band in favor of one that’s newer and younger. The party does in fact end, and before you know it, you’re in rehab and wondering why your record label dropped you like a radioactive porcupine. Reading autobiographies such as Pearcy’s ‘Sex, Drugs, Ratt & Roll: My Life in Rock’ (co-written with Sam Benjamin) paints a pretty bleak picture of a band’s life on the road.
Of course there are good times, and they are usually such that most people cannot even comprehend. Pearcy and the boys in Ratt saw and did things that would rival the craziest antics of Ozzy Osbourne, Mötley Crüe or Guns N’ Roses. For shock value alone, you’ll get way more than your money’s worth out of Pearcy’s book. ‘Sex, Drugs, Ratt & Roll’ definitely lives up to its title. Indeed, some of the stories told here are so sleazily course that many readers might feel their stomachs churn. In addition to graphic descriptions of sexual antics with groupies – and the STDs that sometimes festered after these encounters – and the horrors of drug addiction, there are tales about drunkenly cutting through umbilical cords, slitting a rat’s throat, and Ozzy doing… something nasty to a pair of shoes. In between all these grisly interludes, however, is a thoroughly fascinating and compelling story of a singer’s rise to fame, fronting one of the best hard rock bands of the 1980s, and the rollercoaster ride that followed.
Like seemingly most rock stars, Pearcy grew up dirt poor in a broken home. His father, a drug addict who no doubt passed that gene down to Pearcy, beat him frequently and severely. And as if his teenage years weren’t bad enough, he was struck by a car while riding his bike, resulting in a hospital stay that lasted half a year. It was there, however, that the seeds of rock stardom took root, when a stoner friend loaned him an acoustic guitar to pass the time with.
Everything fell into place after that, so much so that it seemed Pearcy was destined for greatness. It was still a lot of hard work and it did take several years to eventually get to the top, but after heeding the advice of Eddie Van Halen and moving from San Diego to Los Angeles, the stars seemed to align. Not only did his band Mickey Ratt quickly move up the Sunset Strip club hierarchy (though Pearcy readily admits he had to do some things he’s not proud of in order to facilitate his career), he became good friends with bands that already made it, like Van Halen and Mötley Crüe. Mickey Ratt didn’t last very long, but Pearcy didn’t waste any time putting together an even stronger band, with a simpler moniker of just Ratt. World domination soon followed.
Ratt has always been pigeonholed into the hair metal genre – and they bear a lot of the blame because they incorporated so much spandex, makeup and hairspray into their image – but musically, they were more akin to bands like Aerosmith, Van Halen and AC/DC. It’s amazing how much talent Pearcy was able to surround himself with. Not only was the classic lineup of Warren DeMartini, Bobby Blotzer, Juan Crocier (who Ratt were able to steal from Dokken, a band that was already signed!) and the late Robbin Crosby all phenomenal musicians, but former members included guitar god Jake E. Lee and half of the Rough Cutt roster. Despite being one of the premiere bands of the time, however, Ratt’s tale is almost identical to the majority of their peers: a meteoric rise to the top, followed by substance abuse problems, members quitting, abandonment by the bulk of their fan base in the wake of grunge, and eventually being dropped by their record label. Pearcy describes the ride in unflinching, clinical detail.
Even though Ratt’s story follows a familiar arc, it also contains a cornucopia of interesting revelations and trivia, many of which were completely unknown before the publication of this book. Scattered amongst tales of groupies, parties, drunken hijinks and death is a treasure trove of information for fans of this type of music. Readers will learn that Michael Sweet of Stryper wasn’t such a good Christian while haunting the Sunset Strip; O. J. Simpson threatened to cut off Crosby’s hands if he didn’t stop seeing Tawny Kitaen; Eddie Van Halen was once Pearcy’s neighbor and would hide his booze at his house so Valerie Bertinelli wouldn’t know he was drinking so much. And how many people knew that Jake E. Lee auditioned for Ronnie James Dio before getting the late Randy Rhoads’ gig in Ozzy’s band?
‘Sex, Drugs, Ratt & Roll: My Life in Rock’ is a very quick read. It’s only 306 pages, but could’ve easily been a lot longer. As a result, not all Ratt fans will be 100% satisfied with a condensed Reader’s Digest version of Pearcy’s life story. Those fans with musical talent might be bummed to learn that Pearcy focuses primarily on the lifestyle of the band, and doesn’t go into much detail regarding Ratt’s albums (he does mention a very interesting fact about Crocier’s bass playing on ‘Detonator’ though). There is no mention at all of the 1999 self-titled album either, and the only non-classic members of the band that get a shout-out are Michael Schenker and Robbie Crane, who also played in Pearcy’s band Vertex in the mid-90s. These are pretty trivial nitpicks, however. ‘Sex, Drugs, Ratt & Roll: My Life in Rock’ is essential reading for anyone who misses the days when hard rock was a party.