Lemmy, warts and all

The man is unreconstructed rock'n'roll: roadie for Jimi Hendrix, friend to Jack Daniels ('my kidneys did raise a feeble protest about 20 years ago'), father to countless children, collector of Nazi memorabilia. Oh, and keen chef. But only when he's got company
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The Independent Online

I'm due to meet Lemmy from Motörhead - the hard-rock band who once famously said: "If we moved in next to you, your lawn would die" - at a London hotel at 11.30am. His PR, Nik, is in the lobby when I get there. He is worryingly nervous. Lemmy now lives in LA and is staying here, yes. The problem? "You're the first journalist to get him before lunch time for about five years." Oh? "Yeah. He doesn't usually get up until 2 or 3pm. Nicky Campbell has been trying to get him on to his breakfast show for ages. I've had to tell him to forget it." What time does he go to bed? "Oh, 4 or 5am. He's always clubbing. He's like a big teenager. But we should be alright. He should be up. I called him on the way here. I called him when I got here. I've just called him again. That's three wake-up calls." Will he be grumpy?" I ask, feeling rather nervous myself by now. "Might be," says Nik. Gulp.

I'm due to meet Lemmy from Motörhead - the hard-rock band who once famously said: "If we moved in next to you, your lawn would die" - at a London hotel at 11.30am. His PR, Nik, is in the lobby when I get there. He is worryingly nervous. Lemmy now lives in LA and is staying here, yes. The problem? "You're the first journalist to get him before lunch time for about five years." Oh? "Yeah. He doesn't usually get up until 2 or 3pm. Nicky Campbell has been trying to get him on to his breakfast show for ages. I've had to tell him to forget it." What time does he go to bed? "Oh, 4 or 5am. He's always clubbing. He's like a big teenager. But we should be alright. He should be up. I called him on the way here. I called him when I got here. I've just called him again. That's three wake-up calls." Will he be grumpy?" I ask, feeling rather nervous myself by now. "Might be," says Nik. Gulp.

We go up to his room. Lemmy opens the door. He is 54 now. He still has the long, black hair - Dyed, Lemmy? "Yeah. Otherwise I'd look like Willie Nelson" - and the spooky, tattooed arms, and that brilliantly worn, warty face. He says he's thought about having the warts removed. I say he can't. They're too much a part of him now, surely. He says: "Yes, but they're hardly an asset, and they're a bloody drag to shave around." He is wearing a black shirt that strains to meet over his barrel chest, white pointy boots, and black jeans so frighteningly tight I tell him I fear greatly for his circulation. He says I shouldn't. "They're stretch material. Also, it helps with varicose veins. No support hose for Lemmy!"

Into the room. There are fag butts everywhere. Fag butts in a saucer by the unmade bed. Fag butts on a nice silver tray which, I assume, once had something to do with room service. He already has a Jack Daniels - a triple, from the look of it - on the go. Do you always start the day with bourbon, Lemmy?

"Yeah. I like the taste, basically, and it helps ameliorate the hangover from the night before."

"And then you just carry on drinking all day?"

"Yeah."

"Doesn't your liver ever protest?""If it does, I don't hear it." "Perhaps that's because your music (Motörhead are in the Guinness Book of Records as the loudest band ever) has made you rather deaf.""Yeah. It must be the deafness. My kidneys did raise a feeble protest about 20 years ago, though. Woke up in the middle of the night with the most terrible pain in my back. But then, after a few days, I was all right again. They must have thought: 'Oh, sod it, we'll carry on processing.'"

He is not about to get fit, no. "If a bus runs over you, does it care what diet you are on?" He is not about to take up golf, either. "Golf. I hate golf! I still can't believe Alice Cooper plays golf!" He doesn't like any sport, actually, except snooker. "But that's not a sport really, is it? It's just standing around with a wooden stick. Drink? Fag?"

He is, yes, marvellously (and unapologetically) unreconstructed. Authentically so? Perhaps. He has, he thinks, slept with 2000 women over the years. He has never married because "I've never met one woman that could stop me from chasing others". He has kids all over the place, including a son who was adopted at birth. "So I've never met him. I got his mother pregnant when I was 19 and she was 15. Her father called me a Welsh beatnik and threw me out. His mother found him three years back. He lives in Bradford, is 35, 5ft 2in, and completely straight and boring. A computer programmer or something. He'd been brought up by an elderly couple. She told him she was his mother and he put his head in his hands. She didn't have the heart to then tell him who his father was!" Aren't you minded to meet him yourself, though? "Nah. It would give him a nasty shock, wouldn't it? He'd probably have a heart attack. I'm not going to fuck up his life just to make me happy."

And the other kids? "There's a boy, Paul, now 33, who I see two or three times a year and another in France who is a maybe." I could get all sniffy about this, I know. How can someone get to their fifties and be so spectacularly unreflective? But, actually, I find I am rather jealous. How nice it must be to accept what happens to you without regret or lots of tiresome angst. And, no, he never gets tired of the lifestyle "What, get bored of travelling the world and making people happy? I'd thoroughly recommend it."

Lemmy formed Motörhead in 1975 and since then they've had their ups (their 1981 album, No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith, entered the charts at No1) and downs (in the early Nineties, they couldn't get a tour in this country), but they've never stopped to re-evaluate or change their sound. "We put out an album and if no one buys it we put another one out and we keep putting them out until someone fucking does." Ultimately, it's paid off. Lemmy is now, I think, rather fashionable again, in a post-modern, iconic kind of way. (Motörhead were even nominated for a Grammy last year).

However, this is not to say I like the music especially. Indeed, when, at home, I put on their latest CD - We Are Motörhead, which includes their new single, a version of the Sex Pistols' "God Save The Queen" - and even the cat shoots out the cat-flap, little paws over its ears. You don't, frankly, so much listen to Motörhead as get aurally beaten up and then left in the gutter for dead. Terrifying, it is. All screaming guitars and thrashing drums and a hoarse, yelling Lemmy going for it at breakneck speed. I did try to headbang, but it made my dentures rattle, and I then had to go for a long lie-down in front of Changing Rooms, followed by A Touch of Frost. So, not a fan of the band, although I might be a fan of Lemmy.

No, he isn't grumpy. Or scary. In fact, he's shockingly likeable. I wouldn't mind him moving in next door. My lawn wouldn't die. He might even offer to water it for me when I go away. OK, he's not reflective, but he's certainly bright and that combination - intelligence untempered by introspection - is, in this instance, quite winning. There is something impressively true and honest about him. He isn't educated - he was expelled from school at 15 - but he's widely read and does a lot of things you wouldn't expect him to. He can cook. "The last thing I made? Steak with béarnaise sauce on a bed of sauté potatoes. But, like most housewives, I don't cook unless I have company." He listens to classical music. "Grieg, Beethoven, Rachmaninov, although I have to be in the mood." No, he has yet to get into ballet. "Not my thing, although I quite admired Nureyev for getting away with it in his underpants for so long." He has strong opinions on most things. Tony Blair? "A gooning idiot. Anyone who smiles that much has to be." He likes animals. He'd like a dog, but is away too much. "I don't want to come back to a stiff furry ball in front of an empty dish." He collects Second World War memorabilia, particularly Nazi artefacts. Why? "It was just so weird that such a bunch of gangsters could get into power." He particularly likes SS daggers. "Daggers are so much more personal than guns." This sounds seriously menacing, I know, but somehow it isn't. I don't think he's a fascist underneath. Plus, as he adds: "I've got a black girlfriend in LA!"

He was born Ian Kilminster in Stoke in 1943. His first memory? "Holding on to the bars of my cot and screaming. I was probably rehearsing." There was no family life, as such. His father, a vicar, walked out when he was two months old and Lemmy didn't see him again until he was 25. "He kept writing to me saying he was full of remorse about his 'boy'. He couldn't even remember my fucking name. I went to meet him on the Isle of Man, where he lived. He'd been kicked out of the church. Was some kind of superintendent in a hospital. He was a creep with a bald head and glasses. I didn't' fancy him much..."

"What was his name?" "Sid. Sidney Kilminster! Horrifying! He said he was filled with this remorse, and wanted to help me. I said I was in a struggling band and he could help by giving me £1,000. He said I should train as a commercial travelling salesman. I said to him: 'It's lucky our pizza hasn't arrived. It would be your new hat.' I walked out and that's the last time I saw him."

When Lemmy was 10, his mother, Jessica, remarried and they moved to Wales. What's your mother like?, I ask. "Small and old and grey," he says. As a person? "Oh, she was always fiercely protective of me. When my stepbrother and stepsister bullied me, she'd rally round." How were you bullied? "Oh, the usual things. Chinese burns. The Indian rug trick." My brother, I tell him, used to write "Arsenal" on my forehead while I was asleep. He says: "We once wrote 'tosser' on one of our roadies while he was asleep. He went round with it for about three weeks because he never washed. He'd even say: 'That girl over there keeps smiling at me. I think she must really fancy me...'"

His transformation into rock star began when he discovered that boys at school who played in bands were surrounded by women, whereas he was not. "My mum had a Hawaiian guitar. I took it to school and it worked. Then, after a year, I thought I'd better learn how to play the thing. I knew I couldn't get away with just carrying it for too long."

Why were you expelled from school, Lemmy? "See this scar." He shows me the index finger on his left hand. There is a horribly deep scar circumnavigating the tip. "I had a cut already on this finger, right, when the head called me in for a caning. I asked him to cane my right hand, but he went for the left and opened the whole thing up. There was blood everywhere. So I took his cane and whacked him round the head with it." He got a job as a lathe operator in a Hotpoint factory. "And every time I see a washing machine, I still think, maybe one of my parts is in that."

Musically, he began as a roadie for Jimi Hendrix. "He was the perfect gentleman. Like me. I always open doors for women. It's just good manners. With Jimi, when a woman came into the room, he'd stand up as if he'd been goosed. And this even though he was a snake for women." A snake for women? "You've never seen anything like it. He'd take four girls into a room and they'd all come out smiling." Perhaps, I suggest, he gave them an M&S gift voucher. That usually does it for me. "I don't think so," says Lemmy.

Lemmy is quite a snake for women, too. Recently, even, astrophysicist Julie Watson - only joking! She's a Playboy pin-up! - told The People: "Lemmy once tied me to the bed for three days... it was an incredible session." Lemmy was livid. "I got my lawyers to write to the newspaper, saying: 'Our client wishes to protest furiously. It wasn't three days. It was two weeks and she was hanging from he ceiling!'" Brilliantly unreconstructed, like I said.

He decamped to LA about a decade ago, when things started going sour for the band over here. Depressing, Lemmy? Do you get depressed, even? "Yeah. Everyone gets depressed. But what do you do? You just go through it." He likes LA. "The bars close earlier, but the drinks are bigger." He loves his life, and could never retire. "What would I do that's better than this?"

We part affectionately. I get a kiss. I don't mind the warts. ("My mother always told me they were beauty spots, but I knew.") He is like a big teenager, yes. It's not that he's pretending to be young. It's more that he never grew up. He's still up for throwing TVs out of hotel windows. "It's particularly good if you can get it to land in the pool because then, first thing in the morning, everyone gathers round, scratching their heads, wondering how it got down there." I laugh admiringly. I could never throw a TV out the window. I might miss Changing Rooms followed by A Touch of Frost. Sad, I know. But, then, middle-age is mostly sad. Unless, of course, you're Lemmy, and simply refuse to have anything to do with it. You've got to hand it to him for this, at least, I think.

Motörhead's rendition of 'God Save The Queen' is released by SPV/Koch today

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