Lemmy: Motor mouth
For 30 years, Lemmy has been famous as the bourbon-swillin', fast-talkin' frontman of Motorhead, the world's loudest band. And it's not just an act, as Fiona Sturges discovered when she met him at his local in LA
Saturday 15 October 2005
Lemmy is already at the bar immersed in a game of space invaders. I motion to get things started but Steve holds up a cautionary hand. "He'll let us know when he's ready," he whispers. Who is he, I think to myself, the flaming Pope? Another 15 minutes pass, during which Steve and I exhaust our powers of small talk. Eventually Lemmy picks up his drink, comes over and sits on the stool next to me.
"Humph," he grunts. "Didn't know I had an interview today."
This is Lemmy apologising, I think. Part biker dude, part troll, the patron saint of heavy metal is dressed in his usual garb of black cowboy hat, black boots and jeans so tight you can see every contour of their contents. The trademark facial hair is all present and correct, out of which poke the famous warts.
Lemmy has lived in Los Angeles for 15 years. "Home is in here," he says, tapping his temple. "Where you live is just a geographical preference. I like it here because the sun shines a lot and you don't get the cynical fucking English bitching about everything. I find the Americans quite refreshing. Everybody sneers at the 'Have a nice day' thing but it's a lot nicer than having your change thrown at you." He's been disappointed in England "since about 1964. It's never recognised any of its own talent, it's never done anything to promote anything but the status quo. It'll always be stuck with rotten politicians. England had a history once but now it's got nothing."
Is there anything you miss about it, I ask?
"Yeah, cheese," he says.
"They can't make cheese over here to save their fucking lives."
Right. Anything else?
"A few people I suppose. But mainly the cheese."
This year marks 30 years in the business for Motorhead. Musically they have resolutely refused to move with the times ("To change our sound would be prostitution," says Lemmy), and have instead let the times move with them. In the early Nineties they couldn't get a gig in the UK and for two years were without a record label, though lately their tinnitus-inducing hard rock has become fashionable again.
Lemmy insists that their shows are now attended by as many teenagers as old-timers. This year the band won their first Grammy award, albeit for a cover of a Metallica song ("they still manage to stick the knife in even while giving us a prize").
Lemmy turns 60 on Christmas Eve but he won't hear of retirement. "What have you got that's better than what I do? I get to travel all over the world, I get to sleep with women of all colours and religious persuasions, and I get to play the music I like and make people happier than they were when I arrived. It's a good way to make a living. You find me a better one." He gets quite worked up at the suggestion that he might be getting too old for the job. "You wouldn't say Beethoven was past it, would you?"
No, but Beethoven wasn't wearing skin-tight trousers and yelling himself hoarse every night.
"So fucking what?" he thunders. "The Beatles are the classical music of rock'n'roll. And rock'n'roll is far more widespread than classical will ever be. So I don't see why there should be a point where everyone decides you're too old. I'm not too old, and until I decide I'm too old I'll never be too fucking old. And anyway, what's wrong with my trousers?"
Nothing, I say. They just look a bit, well, constricting. "They're fine. They stretch, see?" He pinches a bit and pings it back on his thigh. "And they're good for the varicose veins."
Still, should his musical stock plummet once more, Lemmy wouldn't be short of career options. Since the rehabilitation of his fellow ex-pat Ozzy Osbourne, ageing rockers, especially the unreconstructed kind, have never been more in demand. But despite having had several offers, he isn't interested in a television career.
"I live on my own," he says, "so it's going to be pretty boring watching me eating my breakfast and playing video games all day, isn't it? And anyway, I'm not after the money. I'm after being in my band, making good music and meeting as many women as I can." f
Lemmy reckons to have slept with more than 2,000 women in his time and has never settled down because "I've never met a girl who could stop me looking at all the others. If I did I'd marry her. I'm not going to get married and play around. That's bullshit. If you get married you should be faithful." He's got two sons - 38 year-old Paul, who works as a record producer and whom he sees from time to time, and another who was adopted at birth. "He's a computer programmer in Bradford," he says. "His mother went up and found him. She's a social worker and wears these diaphanous paisley smocks. She said he put his head in his hands when she told him she was his mother so she hadn't the heart to tell him who his father was."
Aren't you curious to meet him? "Nah. I figure if I go and meet him for the sake of my curiosity, it might ruin his life. It's better for everyone if I don't. I never met him so I don't miss him."
Haven't you ever yearned for family life, Lemmy? "Fuck no," he exclaims. "I went out with a couple of girls with young babies. I can give a baby a bottle with one hand and roll a joint with the other, but I never wanted any of that. Changing nappies is horrible. Kids are generally rotten until the age of about six, when they become people. No, it's not my scene."
Luckily, Lemmy is happy enough in his own company. When he's not touring he collects Nazi memorabilia (his prized possession is a Luftwaffe sword worth $12,000), watches the Discovery Channel and reads copiously. At the moment he's re-reading a Len Deighton trilogy. "There are a lot of good books around. People don't read any more. It's a sad state of affairs. Reading's the only thing that allows you to use your imagination. When you watch films it's someone else's vision, isn't it?"
He's happiest when he's touring, which he does for seven months of every year. As far as he's concerned, the band is his family. He still wakes up to a bourbon and coke and smokes all day, just like he did 30 years ago. Jimi Hendrix first introduced him to acid when he was working as his roadie in the late Sixties. He reckons everyone should try it at least once. "It made me realise what other people are about. Not that I'd recommend my lifestyle to anyone," he adds. "They wouldn't survive it." The only drug of which he disapproves is heroin. "The only thing I ever saw anyone die on was heroin. Let that speak for itself."
But just lately Lemmy's dissolute lifestyle has showed signs of catching up with him. This summer, following a show in France, he collapsed backstage. It turned out he was suffering from severe dehydration.
"It was about 150 degrees on stage and our music takes a lot of energy," he says. "I got through the show all right but then 'Boom!' I was gone. It's always a shock when your body refuses to carry on for a while but it's an occupational hazard. If you work in a factory you run a heightened risk of getting your arm chewed up. And it's a lot better being dehydrated than getting your fucking arm chewed up." Now, Lemmy's single concession to healthy living is a daily dose of the sports drink Gatorade. When I suggest cutting down on the boozing he stares at me like I've just thrown up on his boots. "Listen honey, if you didn't do anything that wasn't good for you it would be a very dull life. What are you gonna do? Everything that is pleasant in life is dangerous. Have you noticed that? I'd like to find the bastard that thought that one up."
All things considered, Lemmy's in remarkably good shape. Following the collapse, he had a full medical and was told that everything - his lungs, liver and kidneys - was in full working order. That doesn't seem fair, I say. "Well, you've got to get some reward," he drawls. "I'm going to leave my body to medical science fiction." At this he claps a hand on my shoulder and nearly kills himself laughing.
Lemmy was born Ian Fraser Kilmister in 1945 in Stoke-on-Trent. According to rock mythology, he became Lemmy because of his repeated requests to "Lemme a fiver". His father was a vicar who walked out when Lemmy was just three months old. His mother later re-married and the family moved to north Wales.
At 15 Lemmy was expelled from school. When I ask why he raises a grubby index finger and points to a deep scar just above the knuckle. "You see that? I had cut my finger and it was taking ages to heal. I was up for two strokes of the cane from the headmaster, one on each hand. I said, 'Can I have them both on the right?' but he went straight for the left and whacked it. The whole thing burst open, blood everywhere. So I grabbed the cane off him and smacked him round the head with it. That showed the bastard."
His love of music came from his mother who is now 90. She used to play Hawaiian guitar alongside his uncle who played banjo. "She also taught me how to have good manners and be a decent person, and you can't ask for more than that." His stepfather, who was a washing machine engineer, got him a job as a lathe operator at the Hotpoint factory in Llandudno. At the time Lemmy thought he would eventually breed horses for a living "but then I heard Little Richard and that was it. Rock'n'roll came to me. I sold my two horses to a girls' school in Abergelly where they were spoiled rotten. I bet they died happy as clams."
During his teens the Beatles were his favourite band. "They would come on stage and you were just awestruck," he remembers. "They had that presence, which is very rare. Hendrix had it, Ozzy Osbourne has it to an extent. You've either got it or you haven't." His first band was The Rocking Vicars who performed in Finnish national costume. In 1971 he joined Hawkwind but was booted out after a spell in a Canadian jail for drug possession. Four years later he started Motorhead and has since given us such memorable tracks as "I Am The Sword", "Die, You Bastard", "Overkill" and, of course, "Ace of Spades".
Lemmy was never meant to be the singer but "got stuck with it" after the first one bailed out. "I'm an egomaniac," he says matter-of-factly.
"I like being the centre of attention as much as anybody so I didn't mind. I was in it for the girls, to tell the truth. I think if more musicians told the truth, that would be the reason why most of them are in it. When you're young and you're desperate to get laid, you work out that being a bricklayer isn't that attractive. I was never going to be a doctor or a lawyer, so being a musician seemed to be the best of what was on offer."
He regards his lost education as "something of an advantage. When you leave school with no qualifications you learn to live on the edge a bit, and you learn about hard graft. I think it's much better than spending five years in college and coming out knowing nothing of real life."
Lemmy may dress like an overgrown teenager but his values are quite old-fashioned really. He thinks people should read more, and that husbands should be faithful to their wives, and that you can't beat an honest day's work. He also mourns the days when children were taught proper manners (this from the man who kept me waiting for more than an hour). He has an opinion on just about everything. Bush is "an idiot" and Blair is a "sad little poodle". Calling the waitress "babe" is just him being friendly and if I can't see that I must be seriously uptight.
He's fiercely opinionated and impossible to argue with, but you don't ever doubt his conviction, which has to be a good thing. As we get up to go, he remarks: "As you go through life's rich tapestry, you realise that most people you meet aren't fit to shine your shoes. It's a sad fact, but it's true. A good friend is someone who'd hide you if you were on the run for murder. How many of them do you know?" I don't know, I say. Maybe one. "Well, there you go. This is me. What you see is what you get. If people don't like me or what I have to say, then fuck 'em. And that's my final word."
The album 'Inferno' (SPV) is re-issued with an accompanying DVD in November. Motorhead start their UK tour on 30 October at the Colston Hall in Bristol. For information and tour dates visit www.imotorhead.com
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