Review: This Is Gonna Hurt: Music, Photography and Life through the Distorted Lens of Nikki Sixx

This is gonna hurt-cover

Nikki Sixx’s second book, This Is Gonna Hurt, comes out in paperback today; it first appeared in hardcover in 2011. We thought this would be a good time to revisit Fleur’s review of the book from last summer (first published on August 30, 2012) and make some updates.

Fleur the Kiwi

In this book, as in his first memoir, Heroin Diaries, the journal of the year he spiraled out of control in a haze of heroin and cocaine, Sixx is incredibly introspective. The difference in This Is Gonna Hurt is 20+ years of work with addiction counselors, therapists, spiritual training, and other means to conduct honest self-study. He hasn’t stayed on the merry-go-round all these years.

This was initially intended to be a book of photography to shock and awaken us to the beauty in what is conventionally regarded as ugly, and before opening the book I was excited to see that. I was disappointed. Sixx writes about wanting to show us the ugly side of life, which he finds beautiful, but most photos are highly stylized and the models usually made up to be conventionally beautiful in face, if unconventional in body. I was hoping for the real and raw. The paradox between Sixx’s words about finding beauty in ugliness and his studio photos that purportedly illustrate that can seem hypocritical. His candid shots, on the other hand, of which I wish there were more, are strong in their rawness.

From the accompanying text, creative energy gushes in great blood-red waves. As I read, and afterwards, I fed off that energy, even stringing out the last few chapters because I didn’t want to finish. For several weeks after returning the book to the library, I missed it.  From about a third of the way through, I found myself inspired and motivated to tap into my own creative energy, after a very long dry spell. What came through strongest for me was that Sixx’s life has been and is devoted to embodying his full creative potential, to being true to that essence of his self. Living in your creative self is hard work, he shows, but, as is also abundantly clear, it is more than worth it (once you kick the heroin habit).


I read this book before reading The Heroin Diaries — I know that’s unorthodox — and then re-read it after I’d read The Heroin Diaries. What made The Heroin Diaries work for me was the rawness of Sixx’s voice and the immediacy of the events taking place. But in a lot of ways, that book was very much like a lot of other memoirs from rock stars of the ’70s and ’80s. Even the well-written ones tend to eventually feel like a laundry list: “Here are the drugs we did; here are the girls we fucked; and behind the music things were falling apart.” I don’t say that to diminish the powerful message behind The Heroin Diaries or the potential of any of those memoirs to help people who are dealing with addiction.

At the same time, those are memoirs that feel somewhat removed from my own experience, and in that respect, This Is Gonna Hurt felt like a breath of fresh air. The creative process, parental abandonment, finding your way in the world, relationships with long term co-workers and collaborators, romantic partnerships that have potential but just don’t quite work, all of these are issues that the vast majority of readers can relate to on a very specific level. The immediacy of Sixx’s voice remains intact in this follow-up, even though the tone and content are much more positive. Because so much of this book is drawn from his current life, I got the sense that This Is Gonna Hurt is even more personal in some ways. And this could lead us to a long discussion about the relationship between authors and readers and the books that bind us together.

The photography is, of course, a central element of the book. As an editor for a photographic journal in my non-DGT&G life, I found the photos and the commentary about the creative process that drives Sixx’s photography to be a strong draw. Sixx definitely has the goods as a photographer, and he talks about doing some interesting work with film and mentions working with wet plate format. In a photographic climate where using film instead of digital is considered a bold, even revolutionary act, you have to give credit to the guy who is using a difficult and complex method from the nineteenth century and keeping it alive in an artistic sense. I would have liked to see more technical detail about the methods and processes he uses, but I understand that’s probably best reserved for a specialized audience that may only include readers my age who are me.

The studio shots and still-life photos look like they’d be very much at home in the opening sequence of American Horror Story — highly stylized and gothic in their looks and motifs. I did notice an effort to create conventional beauty in subjects that are not conventionally beautiful, which comes across as paradoxical given the emphasis in the text on finding beauty in the parts of life that are disregarded as “ugly” by the mainstream.

Where Sixx’s photography really shines is in the candid shots of people on the streets, soldiers in red square, and prostitutes in brothels. Sixx tells the stories of how he obtains these photos in the text. At first I questioned the ethics of this kind of work — is it exploitative for the millionaire rock star to photograph homeless guys and prostitutes in exchange for a little cash? But upon looking at the prints and reading the argument that these are stories that need to be told, there’s a lot to be said for Sixx’s logic. I think if art is supposed to make the reader or the viewer think about these issues — and raise these kinds of questions — it’s doing its job. There’s real humanity in these shots, and it’s also visible in the self-portraits and portraits of Sixx’s bandmates from Sixx:A.M. and Mötley Crüe. The scary gothic stuff is cool in its way but in some ways seem to be trying too hard, but these are the shots that show the same depth of soul as the prose that accompanies them.

Fleur the Kiwi

Sixx set out to publish a book of his photography to shock and awaken us, and ended up shouting instructions through a megaphone for how to live a creative life. This is a man who has worked not tirelessly, but past the point of exhaustion his whole adult life to express his creativity — through songwriting (lyrics and music) and performing, photography, design (his clothing line with Kelly Gray, Royal Underground, which appears to be defunct), writing … even perhaps how he pours his breakfast cereal every day, who knows.

The point that comes through the megaphone is that he is LIVING life, not merely going through rote actions day after day. He is creating, turning vision into reality, over and over again. And he uses his creativity to fund itself and his life. He shows that you don’t need to be a starving artist. It’s OK to be a businessperson, to use your art — whatever form that takes — to add value to the world and your bank account.

The other message that comes through loud and clear is expressed succinctly in a passage a few pages from the end (p. 210 in the hardcover edition):

“I search for and usually find the positive in everything. […] What I choose to focus on will become my reality. In other words, your life is whatever you think about.”

Whatever you think about — bad or good, negative or positive — will become your reality. So forget the negative — negative thoughts are like sandbags, they weigh you down and hold you back. Forget the negative and find the positive and march forward, one step at a time on your creative journey.

Coming tomorrow … a full-length interview with Steve Slaughter of Octane Mob … his influences and the evolution of his sound …  his Spınal Tap moment … the fun of connecting with fans …

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