During my lengthy career as a journalist, I've encountered few things more annoying than overzealous publicists who sit in on your interviews, and even interrupt in an attempt to steer the conversation towards a particular topic (or away from another one).
But those of you who have read Part One, Part Two and Part Three of my January 2002 interview with Motorhead mainman Lemmy Kilmister will have likely already surmised that there were no publicists involved, overzealous or otherwise, in our lengthy rap session. Ever his own man, Lemmy simply showed up alone, and talked until he didn't feel like talking anymore.
Thankfully, he clearly felt like talking a lot that Sunday, so I kept feeding him questions. However, the sheer amount of bourbon he fed ME made it increasingly difficult to stay on track as the afternoon rolled on — as my non-sequitor question about his dental work may indicate. I've often kicked myself since for forgetting to ask him anything about his late-sixties psych band Sam Gopal, his friendship with our mutual (and now also-departed) pal Mick Farren, his relationship with Plasmatics frontwoman Wendy O. Williams, and about a dozen other things. But by now, we were well "off script" — and Lemmy had some interesting questions for me, as well...
ME: Is it hard to get up for yet another tour?
LEMMY: I like my band, I like my job, I like what I’m doing. I actually like it. I like being on the road. I like being with the crew, the whole idiot circus rolling down the road; I’m still in love with it, you know. And that’s why I’m doing it, really; I’m not doing it for hit records, because I know they’re over. Be nice to have one, but I’m not holding my breath! [laughs] But to be onstage, and to play to people and have them sing the words back to you… and to have kids come up to you and say, ‘I would have committed suicide if it wasn’t for you, you got me through a real hard time in my life,’ you know? Or to have people name their kid after you, and it’s a girl! [laughs] You have such an effect on people’s lives... And let’s not forget that rock and roll fed the world when the government wouldn’t, remember that? So let’s not have a go at rock and roll, man; let’s have a go at the fucking government, because they’re always the one that will not give you any money, whatever your circumstances. I love being in rock and roll. It’s a good fucking job, and I do it really well, I know it! I know it inside out, and I know it upside down. I KNOW rock and roll. And I’ve thought to myself that I still have a few years left, where I will surprise you, possibly outrage your girlfriend, and possibly fuck her on the bus after the show, if you’re not careful. [laughs]
See, I always play from the point of view that I’m in the crowd, and I just got up from the audience to play. And that’s still true! I was in the audience, and I did get up and play, and I stayed up there for this long, and that’s great. That’s a good place to come from. And you understand that you should never go beyond the fact that you are mortal. You’re nothing in the big scheme; in the big picture, you’re a dot in the newspaper of life, so it doesn’t really matter what you do. But if you’re going to do anything, try to do something to make the world a better place for your passage through it. And I’ve brought joy to a lot of people, and I’m happy with that. I’ve pissed a lot of people off, too, but I’m happy with that too, because they’re assholes! [laughs] So fuck ‘em, yeah!
Did you get new teeth?
Soon. These are temporary. I’m going to get the bolts driven into the jawbone, and then they’ve gotta heal for about six months. I’ve never had time! Interviews always come up, and it’s like [mushmouth mumble]… I had a plate in there bolted to my old roots, and it came out while I was eating a hamburger in a strip joint. Most embarrassing, you know! I covered up real good, though. [laughs]
Do you see yourself doing this past sixty?
See, I knew that question was gonna come! Do you see yourself doing THIS past sixty?
What do you think you’re gonna do instead?
I’ll probably be in my garret somewhere, writing books.
Yeah, maybe. Well, I think I’ll still be writing, in any case; I just don’t think I’ll be interviewing musicians at age sixty.
Yeah? Are you SURE?
No... no, I’m not.
[Laughs] See, you can’t ever tell!
But if that happens, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.
That’s right, it wouldn’t. You get all them free albums, too! What would you do? Buy albums and be a novelist? I don’t think that stacks up very well!
Well, I’ll be sixty years old, and so I probably won’t care about the new music that’s coming out, anyway.
See, I used to think like that. And now I think to myself, ‘In four years, I’ll be sixty.’ Four! And that tends to put things in perspective. Like I said, I got away with it…
So, do you have any regrets?
No. Not for a moment. It takes up too much time, and it’s too late, anyway. There are things that I’ve learned through my mistakes that are invaluable. You have to fuck up, you know; otherwise, it’d be boring. Just think about it — a perfect life, just swimming through it. Ugh! ‘What else happens?’ ‘Nothing! It’s perfect!’ ‘Oh, okay…’ The trouble with America, you see, is that it’s spoiled rotten, and deprived at the same time. The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer, and it’s getting to that stage where you’re going to have breakdown altogether; the whole thing’s gonna collapse, some day. But because it’s so big, it’s only going to be regional; so you’re going to have some bits of the country that are ruled by martial law, and other bits that are still okay. Everybody will want to go to the okay bits, but they can’t, because it’ll be too crowded… So what do you think about the gun thing?
Gun control, you mean? I guess I have mixed feelings…
Yeah, I guess that’s the only honest reaction there is to that. You come from guns…
No, my family has never owned any guns.
But you come FROM guns, too, because it’s your heritage.
Yeah, I guess you could say that America was built on guns.
It’s built on genocide, too! The most successful genocide in history. A murder most massive… The whites started scalping, actually; it was ten bucks for a Cherokee scalp, wasn’t it? I sort of see myself as one of those crossbreed, "squaw man" fellows, you know? Because I was going out with a black girl in 1967, right? And all our friends split. All her black friends split, and all my white friends split; we were all by ourselves, and that was just fine. And she died on heroin, another one. Nineteen, pretty as a picture. And she didn’t even die of an overdose. She’d just had a shot at her granny’s place, because I wouldn’t let her fix; she used to sneak of to her granny’s for a bath, because we didn’t have hot water in my place. And she drowned in her own bathwater. Nineteen. That’s what heroin will do for you, right there. Drowning in your own filthy bathwater. Well, fuck that for a future! I don’t believe that suicide is acceptable, even if it is accidental. [laughs] And heroin is certainly suicide, man. Elegantly wasted? Well, fuck you! I mean, look at Clapton; it took his music off him, right? Before heroin, he was a fighter; after heroin, he was a ‘being chewed’ person.
Or look at the Stones — they haven’t made a good record since 1978.
Some Girls, eh? I didn’t even like that one. That was the start of the rot, I think. The last good one was what, Exile On Main Street? Goat’s Head Soup?
Maybe It’s Only Rock and Roll.
Yeah, alright, I’ll go for that, but it was only half-good. There’s been good tracks on every album, but it’s not enough. And they’re ‘The Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World’? Only after the Beatles! [laughs] The Beatles were the greatest rock and roll band in the world, and there’s no doubt about that. Believe me, I can tell you stories about the Beatles; we could be here all night. But the Beatles, when they happened, it was immense! They had the top twelve records in the United states, all on different labels! Vee Jay, Capitol… And Brian Epstein sold all their merchandise for a dollar to some gay guy he met in a bar. You had Beatles wallpaper happening before the year out… But they were HUGE, man. I mean, in England, the Daily Mirror had a page every day on what the Beatles did that day.
You can’t blame George Harrison for becoming such a private person after that…
Not at all; after that, I wouldn’t have ever gone out of the fucking house again. They were following them into the toilet with cameras. Nobody will ever know how hard that was. I mean, I know how hard that is in MY level of fame, which is nothing compared to the Beatles. It must have been monstrous.
Though I'm sure you still can’t go out without someone going, ‘Hey, Lemmy!’
Yeah. But the day they stop doing that, I’m done. For the Beatles, it was a nightmare.
What do you think is the enduring appeal of Motorhead?
I don’t know. Because it doesn’t always appeal to ME! [laughs]
Is it because you’ve always stuck to your guns, and never really gone off-course?
Well, we’ve given you a few surprises. ‘1916’ was a surprise, that last track was a shock to the soul of a lot of die-hard Motorhead fans. ‘How can they do that? A song without any guitars?’ It’s a beautiful track, you know. One kid told me, his great-grandad was still alive, and he was at the Battle of the Somme; he said he played this old man that track, and he cried. I don’t mean to cause the old guy any grief, you know? He went through it, and I didn’t. I’m just a dilettante, really. But I’ve gotta say, I was glad to hear that, because it means I got it right.
And that track on Bastards, ‘Don’t Let Daddy Kiss Me Goodnight’ — ‘Serial Killer’ is the same thing — it’s putting yourself in another guy’s brain, another situation. And I can put myself in a twelve-year-old assaulted girl’s brain, just as easy as I can put myself inside a serial killer’s brain. We never heard any protests about ‘Don’t Let Daddy Kiss Me,’ but I bet we hear them about ‘Serial Killer,’ ‘cause it’s ‘nasty’. But the other one was nastier. Awful thing. That’s the worst crime in the world, to rape your own children. Because where can they go? There’s no escape.
Same with those kids who are molested by priests.
See, that’s another thing. If you’re a priest, you get forgiven by the parents of the rapee! They put you in charge of the choir! What is that Catholic nonsense? People are weird. People are assholes, actually. There’s not much mitigating circumstances with people. And this isn’t just America; that’s the whole world. We went to this club in Bangkok; we had two days between America and Japan, and we stopped off in Bangkok. We went to this club, and there’s these eleven chicks onstage, and all of them are the most beautiful chicks you’ve ever seen in your life. They’re half Thai and half Cambodian, or whatever; beautiful girls, tall, and they have tits as well! And they’re putting lit torches out in their fannies; one girl put a block of razor blades in there, and pulled them out on a string, and then cut paper with them. Another one with a big dildo was swinging on a trapeze, and this chick was kneeling on a table with her asshole held open; she got knocked off the table a couple of times before they got the dildo in. And all these Japanese business men are going nuts in there! I don’t think that’s sexy, I’m sorry! I don’t find that sexy AT ALL. They had a good statue of Ganesh there, though, the elephant god.
You mean, the one who must be placated with fresh fruit?
Is that right? Fresh fruit? He never eats it though, does he? Fuckin’ thing just sits there, watching it go bad. Ganesh is a jealous god — he’s jealous of your bananas! [laughs] Who’s your favorite band?
The Kinks? They were funny.
The Who being a close second.
A VERY close second!
Up until 1972-73, at least; after that, not so much.
Who’s Next is the best album they ever did, I thought. ‘My Wife,’ man, what a rocker! Yeah! I love John Entwistle — he’s such a sicko! Best bass player I ever saw, Entwistle. McCartney’s the second, though. He keeps giving in to the wimp in him, but he’s a great bass player. And he sang ‘Long Tall Sally,’ how could you fault the man?
Anybody who loves Little Richard is all right.
That’s right, because Little Richard is the greatest rock and roll singer ever. You agree?
The perfect rock and roll vocal. It doesn’t get any better. And it was all done in the back room of a furniture store in Macon. Three mics – one for the piano and the vocal, one for the seven-piece band, one for the room. They had Otis Blackwell on TV; he said he had to spend about four hours getting his mics in the right position, and then they could do as many tracks as they wanted. That’s the first violin bass I ever saw, the Gibson violin bass. Great band, rocked like shit! In 1972, they did this big rock an roll revival concert in London; it was Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry and Little Richard, all three of them. And Chuck Berry looked like an old man, and Jerry Lee looked even older. Little Richard looked seventeen, dressed in a suit covered with mirrors! He was wonderful! He was carried on on a litter by twelve grenadier guardsmen! He’s such a gay fuck, but we had no idea at the time. I wouldn’t have cared, anyway; I have no problem with gay people, as long as they’re not slidin’ up my leg. I’m very happy-go-lucky in that way. I don’t care if people are sinking fish-hooks into each other’s lips, as long as they’re happy.
I do think that the Who from 1965-1968 was the most perfect band in rock history.
I saw them then. I saw their first gig in Manchester, which was at The Oasis. I was in the Vickers at the time, and our whole band went down there, and our drummer was a real mod in the making. That’s when Moon wore the target shirt, and Entwistle had the Union Jack jacket with all the medals on it. And when Townshend turned around and smacked the amp with his guitar, our drummer went ‘AAAAAH!!!’ I’m sure he came in his pants; he looked like he did, anyway! And all the way home, he was like, ‘Oh man, did you see the way that they looked? Did you see the way they moved? Did you see the way they were dressed?’ There was a constant harangue for us all to get our hair cut… He left the band in the end, and vanished into a great deal of obscurity. [Stops and waves at a couple of women walking by on the street below.] Oh, they’re too old for me! [He laughs, then pours us some more whiskey] You getting drunk?
I should say so.
So am I. Isn’t it wonderful, boys and girls? And it costs us nothing! ‘No thanks, darling, I’ve had dinner – five glasses of it!’
You live around here, yeah?
Yeah, right around the corner. If you want to see the Nazi collection, you can come ‘round afterwards. I tell you what I DID do — you know about the Jewish cops in the Warsaw Ghetto, who would put other Jews on the train in exchange for six more months more freedom? I got one of those cop's cap badge, with the Star of David on it, and I gave it to my attorney’s wife in London; they’re both Jewish. She had it cleansed by a rabbi, and buried in a Jewish cemetery in Highgate. So I did something — however infinitesimal though it is, compared to the crime.
I completely understand why you collect the Nazi stuff —
It’s history. It’s the biggest thing that’s ever happened.
— but I’ve met younger musicians who collect that stuff because they think it makes them more 'dark'.
[Laughs] Well they’re just dense, you know. They don’t even know enough to scratch their ass. Forget them. See, it isn’t Hitler you’ve gotta hate; that’s not who you’ve gotta watch out for. The Hitlers of the world are very rare. We have to watch out for the people who did it for him, without any questions asked. Normal people who didn’t want to lose their jobs. Those are the people you have to watch out for, and the world’s always been full of them. ‘I’m not gonna lose my job! I’m not Jewish!’ Bingo. Or like, ‘The Indians are in the way. Look at all that arable land! They’re not doing anything with it!’
[Laughs] Manifest Destiny — kill everything, and live on its land. 'God really wants us to! I was talking to Him last night, and He told me!' It’s a funny old world, but I wouldn’t want to paint it… [laughs] I’m happy to be here, but you never know; things could change in an instant.
On a completely different topic, what’s the weirdest thing a groupie has ever asked you to do?
It didn’t happen to me, actually, but the funniest thing I ever heard anybody ask anybody was back in my Vickers days. There was this girl called Carol Kaminsky, and she used to hitch-hike up and down the road from Manchester to Liverpool, and get picked up by bands and fuck ‘em. She was really into it; some birds are, no matter what the feminist breed say. Some chicks just really like to fuck guys, famous guys. And Harry our singer brought her back one night, and there was four of us in one room. And he was fucking her for about an hour — it was really a good one, she was a real goer — and she suddenly lay back and said, ‘Piss on me, Harry!’ We were all Northern boys, so it was like, ‘Eh? Yer wot?’ ‘Piss on me! Piss on me!’ ‘Piss on yer? Fuck off!’ Harry went and slept on the couch, horrified. And I went over and fucked her! And Mugsy, our bass player, he used to get out of bed after fucking birds, and he’d go to the toilet in the dark. He'd switch the hall light out, and after two beats, the roadie in the next bed would get in bed and fuck her again; Mugsy’d get in HIS bed and go to sleep! [He laughs, then offers me a cigarette, which I decline.] Did you never smoke, or did you give it up?
No, I never smoked. I’m glad, too; I think about all the money I’d have wasted…
But what do you spend it on instead that’s better?
Fair enough! [Vigorously shakes my hand] Good answer. Of course, you can smoke certain records! [laughs] So you’ve mostly just drank to excess?
Yeah, mostly just stuck to drinking and smoking pot.
Well, you’re still sitting up straight, you’ve done all right today. I mean, I’ve seen people, they come in and have a drink with me; a while later, it’s like, ‘You all right man?’ I’m still sitting there, and they’re like, ‘Huarghhh!’ You've done pretty good for a journalist. Most of your kind would have been under that table hours ago...
So when you think of it, you're part of a very small and exclusive club of rock survivors. Iggy Pop —
Yeah, Iggy's one. Ozzy, Keith, Townshend, and Entwistle too, for that matter. I mean, Entwistle was farther off the rails than Townshend. Him and Keith Moon were always together; they had a partnership. Moon once arrived at the Speakeasy spread-eagled naked on the front of his Bentley; his chauffeur Dougal drove him down there. He got off the hood, and ran downstairs into the Speakeasy. John and Yoko were eating down there; Moon came over, stuck his dick in Yoko’s dinner, and said, ‘Hello John, how are you? Want a drink?’ For all her movies about tits and bottoms, Yoko was as prudish as anybody. Bottoms — what a great film, eh? [laughs] People got away with murder in those days.
And John just played off Moon's dick in the food like it was no big deal?
Yeah. [laughs] John was like a centurion. He was flappable on the inside, but you can’t show yourself to be vulnerable in a situation like that, because then they’ll get ya. They did that Philippines thing, the Beatles, where the crowd beat them on the way to their plane. How horrendous — Britain is riding on my back; it’s not this guy in the embassy, WE'RE the ambassadors! See, the Beatles, they were the best band ever. Because even under all that pressure, they consistently turned out albums that were like a different band, and you had to actually listen to them to get into them. People seem to have lost that — everything’s instantly accessible, and that’s a great loss. Because there’s so much pleasure to be derived from really trying to understand a song, one that’s different from what you normally listen to. The Beatles were always different, and they educated you musically, with stuff like ‘I’m So Tired,’ ‘Revolution No. 9,’ and ‘Tomorrow Never Knows.’ Magic, magic stuff! Each record was better than the last, except for Let It Be — that was the only fuck-up they had. And actually, there were good songs on that; they just weren’t done well, because they were fed up by then. But then, after that shit, they did Abbey Road!
Do you recall the first time you heard the Beatles?
When they brought their first album out, I was sixteen, and it was like magic. ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ — ‘One, Two, Three, Four!’ — it was just like magic. The harmonies came in, and I thought I was going to go nuts. It was just right, it was rock and roll, and it was perfect. And then ‘Boys,’ what a great track! To do backing vocals that good, and to do a song off a Shirelles B-side… that was all one-upmanship in Liverpool, as well. We used to go to the Cavern and see all those bands, because it was only sixty miles from where I lived, in North Wales. Before that, it was all Billy Fury and Marty Wilde, those English rockers. I had this rumpus room thing in the garage, and this chick drew a beetle on the wall. I said, 'What’s that?’ She said, ‘They’re this new band up in Liverpool, you’ve got to see them.’ I said, ‘I’ll come up, if you put me up for the night.’ She said, ‘Alright.’ So really it was lust that drove me to the Beatles.
How was the show?
It was at the Cavern, and they were fucking tremendous. They walked on, and it was like one person, indivisible. And they were never as good alone as the sum of their parts. George used to sing ‘Too Much Monkey Business’ onstage; Paul would do ‘Besame Mucho,’ and used to throw sandwiches into the audience. This kid in the audience yelled, ‘John Lennon’s a fuckin’ queer!’ Because everybody knew that Epstein fancied Lennon. And John said, ‘Who said that?’ He didn’t have his glasses on, so he couldn’t see shit. He put ‘em on, and said ‘Who said that?’ the kid said, ‘I fuckin’ did!’ John said, ‘Hang on!’ He took his guitar off, went down in there, and hit the kid in the nuts about three times before he hit the floor. Bang! Bang! Bang! [laughs] And the kids was on the deck, spittin’ teeth. John was like, ‘Right. Anybody else?’ Then he got back up, and they did ‘Hippy Hippy Shake’!
Unfortunately, this was the point where the last of my tapes ran out. But we kept on drinking and talking out on the hotel balcony — topics included Gene Vincent, Lemmy's rockabilly side project called The Head Cat, and Scott Walker — for at least another hour. The Scott Walker conversation ("He was a cunt, but a talented one" Lemmy assured me) led to us doing dueling Scott Walker imitations, and we were belting out "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore" together with raised right hands to the nonplussed passersby below when hotel security barged in and not-so-kindly informed us that it was high time we left.
Lemmy reiterated his invitation to come 'round and see his Nazi memorabilia, and though his pad was literally only two blocks away, he insisted that we take a cab. Chez Lemmy was a thing of wonder, a smallish apartment in a crappy 60s-era apartment building off the Sunset Strip that was absolutely crammed to the rafters with WWII memorabilia (including British and American stuff, not just Nazi) as well as books and videos on military history. Ten pairs of custom-made white cowboy boots stood at attention along one of the walls, and the floors and furniture were completely obscured by porn mags, empty beer cans, Jack bottles, cigarette packs and other detritus; I didn't even dare to look in the kitchen. Lemmy graciously made room for me to sit on his living room couch by removing a giant stack of faxes from one of the cushions.
"Here, you're a collector, you should enjoy this," he said, popping a cassette into a battle-scarred boom box on one of his bookshelves. The voice sounded familiar to me, but I couldn't immediately place it; "It's Love Sculpture," he said. "'Seagull.'" As the ballad swelled into its waltz-time chorus, Lemmy began to lip-synch soulfully along to Dave Edmunds' plaintive vocal, hands arcing slowly and gracefully through the air to the music, a sentimental tear clearly shimmering in the corner of his eye as he followed the song to its conclusion. It was a beautiful moment, and an oddly heartbreaking one, as well; I still tear up a bit to this day thinking about it.
After the song ended, we continuted talking music and looking through Lemmy's collection of daggers and medals until — having mostly limited myself to Coca-Cola since arriving at his place — I felt lucid enough to make my way home. Close to nine hours after our chat originally began, I thanked my genial host for his time and hospitality and bade him farewell. Lemmy handed me a card on my way out, a business card with the ace of spades on it and his home phone number, and told me to give him a call sometime.
I kept the card in my rolodex until a few years back, when I lost it in a move; I thought a few times about ringing him, just to see if he wanted to hang out and spin some records — the man was clearly an ardent student of rock, as well as military history, and I'm sure he had some great opinions (if not stories) on nearly every prominent British band of the 60s and 70s — but never did. I deeply regret it now, but I'm also not sure that my liver could have survived a return engagement. I may have held my liquor pretty well "for a journalist," but dear lord, did I feel like utter dogshit the next day...
I've thought a lot about this interview over the years, and of course it's been on my mind a lot more following Lemmy's passing. It's especially interesting to me to go back and read his thoughts on mortality; in light of what he told me that day, it really isn't surprising that he soldiered on with Motorhead for nearly fourteen more years. The man played his final gig on December 11, 2015; seventeen days later, he died of aggressive brain cancer. I can still hear him chuckling in his gravelly voice, "Like I said, I got away with it."
There's been a flood of tributes to the man in the wake of his death, with many of those who knew Lemmy praising him for his warmth, his humor, his generosity, his intellect and his soulfulness, as well as his ability to resolutely stick to his musical and philosophical guns in a world where most of us creative types usually bend, if not break. Though I only spent eight or so hours with him, I have to second all of that, and more; I caught a clear glimpse that day of the genuinely delightful gentleman beneath the tough-as-nails, bullet-belted exterior, and I'm honored to be able to share that glimpse here. Lemmy was the real deal — not an ounce of artifice about him — and a true original. The old pirate has sailed off for the last time, and sad as we all are to see him go, we should also reflect on just how lucky we were to have him with us in the first place.
Above is a photo we took together nearly a decade later, following a short video interview we did at the Rainbow for the now-defunct Shockhound website. (And no, he didn't remember me — I didn't expect him to — though he did smile when I mentioned us getting kicked out of the Bel Age for singing Scott Walker songs.) Obviously, it's a photo I will always treasure, but there's one Lemmy-related thing I have that means even more to me. Somewhere in my basement, there's a box full of CDs that have survived my many moves and liquidations — CDs that I either wrote the liner notes for, or were autographed by the artists. Somewhere in that box is a copy of The Head Cat CD that Lemmy signed for me that amazing day in 2002 — "To Dan," he wrote, "Love and Biscuits, Lemmy". I think I need to go dig it out and stand it up on my desk.
Bless ya, Lem. You were the best.