After pausing our chat to make an emergency excursion to the bathroom (triggered by the fifth or sixth Jack-and-Coke I've consumed since this interview began), I return to find Lemmy chopping up a line of speed on the hotel room coffee table.
"D'ye do DRUGS, mate?" he asks.
"Uh, not that kind," I respond to his thoughtful offer.
"Well," he chuckles, before hoovering up a two-inch long, one-inch thick rail of powder, "this is the only kind we've got!"
Perhaps its because of the copious amount of bourbon he's already downed, or maybe a line of speed is just Lemmy's version of a mild cuppa joe, but the amphetamine seems to have no outward effect on him, whatsoever. We take our drinks out to the balcony and continue our interview.
ME: What's the story behind the Motorhead logo?
LEMMY: The artist, Joe Pategno, he met our manager in a bar somewhere, and our manager hired him to do our logo. I told him I wanted something between a rusty, decaying robot, and a knight-errant with armor. And he came back with the face with the horns on the head, with the chains between them; it looked really soppy, you know. So I said, ‘Why don’t we put the horns in the mouth?’ He came back with the logo, and we’ve never changed it, although he’s done a lot of good variations on it for the [album] sleeves.
Did he also come up with the font for the lettering?
Yeah. I said, ‘Do it in gothic, and put an umlaut in there — make it look mean!’ I got that from Blue Öyster Cult — Blue Öyster Clit! [laughs] There was that dreadful gig with Blue Öyster Cult in London. It was about the third show we ever did — Larry and Lucas were still there — and nobody’d heard of us. But it was promoted by the press as local boys against these upstart American gunslingers, and we really fucked it up. I will say that they did a three-hour soundcheck and we didn’t get one; but we played like cunts, as well. And the next day, Nick Kent didn’t say we were ‘the worst band in the world’ — he said we were ‘the BEST worst band in the world.’
That’s certainly an important distinction.
It is! And in the NME categories that year, we got our own category. ‘Best Worst Band — Motorhead.’ So it took us two years to fight our way out from under that one. But then again, Nick Kent became a junkie, and I didn’t! [laughs] Hey, Nick! Still a junkie? Cheers! [Raises his whiskey glass.] To Rock and Roll, man. Whatever it takes!
So there were a couple of rough years at the beginning, but then Motorhead seemed to rise pretty quickly in popularity starting with the Overkill album in 1978.
See, you can do that in England. If you have enough word of mouth, it doesn’t matter if you’re not getting any press; you can play the shows, and people will follow you a hundred miles to the next show. In America, you can’t do that; you need the radio, and we’re never gonna get on the radio here. WE got us on the radio with Sony! Fuckin’ Sony were such assholes, man. We had that song ‘I Ain’t No Nice Guy’ [on 1992's March Or Die] with Ozzy and Slash on it, a good ballad, and we said, ‘Can we get AOR?’ They said, ‘Oh, we asked AOR, and they wouldn’t have it.’ I said, ‘ You’re fucking lying — you haven’t had time to do that!’
So what happened?
We got two [independent promo] guys with phones, and they got us on 80 AOR stations in a month, right across the country, four in regular rotation. So I said [to Sony], ‘Can we have the money for a video? Ozzy and Slash will be in it.’ And they said no. So we did our own video for eight grand; it’s not the greatest video, but it certainly ain’t the worst. And then they held it up at MTV; Sony wouldn’t sign the release, and so it died on the radio. And do you know why? Because WTG Records [a sub-division of Epic] was a tax loss. They signed a shitload of bands, and then one day we went in there, and everybody was gone. It was a tax scam. We weren’t supposed to have a hit; they were ringing up DJs in Kansas, saying, ‘Don’t play this — we didn’t give it to you!’ They can afford to turn down a hit record. That’s the trouble with conglomerates! A hit record would have ruined their tax shelter. And that’s what’s wrong with those people.
One of the things that I loved about the 1916 album is that you sounded really re-energized on it. Was that the result of relocating to the States?
Part of it was, yeah. Me and Phil was supposed to move here for good, and Wurzel as well. Me and Phil did move over here, but the other two, their wives didn’t want to. And then Wurzel developed this phobia about America; he became very English, suddenly! [laughs] I mean, he was a blues fan. I said, ‘Blues and Rock and Roll was invented in America; what’s up with you? America’s fucked, but so’s England! Look at the good side, Wurzel!’ So then we got Mikkey in, and Wurzel kept making bad remarks about Mikkey to the fans, ‘The Swedish Cunt,’ and all this stuff. Very weird. And one tour, he traveled on the crew bus; he didn’t ride on the band bus. You’d get to the gig, and he’d been there since catering set up, and he was drunk already.
What brought you to L.A., other than the weather?
Well, we’d got a US deal with Sony [through WTG], and I wanted to keep my eye on them, really. And we were done in England; if we’d stayed in England, Motorhead would have lasted maybe another seven months. So I said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ And I’m not sorry, not for a minute. I can’t imagine living in England now. Everytime I go back, the prices have gone up.
Although you can’t say ‘Cunt’ in public here, like you can back home.
You can — it’s just totally frowned upon! [laughs] I did away with all my social invites within about two weeks here, just cracking one-liners. I just horrified them. And people pretend to be horrified here, don’t they?
I don’t think that’s just L.A....
Yeah. The Midwest is worse. They’re horrified of everything! They’re horrified of being alive!
So, tell me about this new record, Hammered.
The new record is wonderful! You should all buy at least ten copies each, so we can become millionaires and live in houses in the hills there, make a studio in our basement and never come down. [laughs] I think it’s a good record, and I think it’s a good enough album alongside all the others. We’ve always done the same thing, because the original idea was a good one! Why abandon it because the fashions changed? We’re not going to start sounding like fucking Eminem, you know? I mean, all this rap stuff is just complaining over a stolen drum beat, isn’t it? What the fuck is it all about?
That was my main problem with grunge — all the complaining.
I don’t mind grunge; at least it’s still rock and roll, with a few guitars in it. But there WAS a lot of complaining. It was all heroin, that’s why. Seattle, you know! And that scene really collapsed in on itself. Some of that Nirvana stuff was wonderful, but a lot of the grunge stuff was really dirge-y. What was that band with Layne Staley? Alice In Chains? My god! Music to slit your wrists lengthwise by! When we played with them, they had a couch [laughs] at the side of the stage for Layne Staley to go lie on; when they were playing their solos, Layne would go lie on the couch. I don’t know; that just doesn’t seem to be what it’s all about, does it? They had a lot of good ideas, that band, but he gave it all up for his smack habit. Jerry [Cantrell]’s all right; he seems to have a grip on things.
My favorite track on Hammered is 'Brave New World'. Was that written after 9/11?
Well, it was, but it wasn’t about it. It’s about the way that governments don’t care about you, and that’s what we’ve got to look forward to — more of the same. And they throw all the lunatics out on the streets. What the fuck kind of decision was that?
That was a Reagan administration decision, as I recall.
I know, but no one’s repealed it. And those poor bastards are still out there. The ones you see sleeping in boxes are the survivors; how many died in the first winter of that — alone, friendless, and fucking uncared for? It’s the government’s fault, and nobody ever mentions it.
I love the line in the song about Christ coming back. ["If Jesus showed up now he'd be in jail by next week."]
Oh, yeah — I mean, a guy in a nightshirt, a vagrant, no money, doesn’t even speak the language? Long hair, beard and sandals, probably no underwear, preaching the gospel to you in old Hebraic? Don’t think so, man. ‘Vagrant! Inside!’ Or deported! With his luck, he’d wind up on the West Bank again. [laughs] You ever notice that the Russian version of the Cross has a footrest on it? Ours doesn’t — Protestant, you see. ‘Let him suffer!’
Do you think Jesus was a real person?
Yeah, obviously. But I don’t think he was anything like he’s portrayed. I mean, the Bible was written, like, four hundred years after he fuckin’ died! [laughs] It’s like Richard III, this hunchbacked monster that killed the princes in the tower. And Richard III was not a hunchback, he was not a monster, he was a very well-liked, popular guy. It’s just that William Shakespeare wrote the fucking play, and he was working for the Tudors! Richard was the last Plantagenet king, and Henry VII was the first Tudor.
Did the new album come together pretty quickly?
Yeah, we usually work pretty fast. Though it was really fucking haphazard, like we always are. Every time we have rehearsals, I seem to get sick and miss about four days; I just get to know the songs in the studio. Because Mikkey puts down the drums first, and Phil just does a chord at the beginning of every verse, just to keep it together. Then we usually put the rhythm guitar down, then bass, then vocals, then leads. Or occasionally leads before vocals. But whatever, it works; we’ve done it that way for about four albums, now. I mean, you wouldn’t know it wasn’t live!
Tell me about the track 'Serial Killer,' which has that guest vocal turn from wrestler Triple H...
‘Serial Killer’ I’ve had for about eight years, but I couldn’t ever think of anything to do with it. Finally, I opened up to the idea of doing it as a spoken-word… I didn’t know if it would work or not, but if it didn’t work I’d have just thrown it away. But it worked out okay. And then Triple H, we got to know him, and I thought, 'Why not have him do it? He’s a big, manly chap!' [Starts riffing on the "This is not manly!" line from the Bonzo Dog Band's 'We Are Normal'.] Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, you ever hear them?
Sure — ‘Urban Spaceman,’ ‘Equestrian Statue’…
[Sings] ‘Here comes the Equestrian Statue!’ Fucking great! [laughs] That last one, The Doughnut in Granny’s Greenhouse, especially…
It's funny, Neil Innes is really better known in the States for The Rutles than for anything he did with the Bonzos.
Yeah, he always did Beatles-ish stuff, anyway. And I think he got to know George, who introduced him to the Pythons. He’s part of the Python team, now. And that Terry Gilliam — what a strange American that is! He’s not like an American, is he? [Gurning a la Gilliam in Monty Python and the Holy Grail] ‘He’s dead, sir!’
I know you’re fascinated by military history. If you’d been born a hundred years earlier, do you think you’d have been a career soldier or mercenary?
A hundred years earlier, that’d have been 1845… there wasn’t much else to do, was there?
Off to Crimea with you, then?
Yeah, something like that. Die of dysentery first day out, probably. Thrown overboard as ballast… I don’t know; you don’t know what you’d do, but I was always one for running off and being a pirate. In the old days, instead of being in a rock band, you’d run away and be a soldier or a pirate, to get off the farm, or whatever. It was always about going somewhere and doing something else. Maybe the circus, you know?
Your whole persona has always been about —
War, injustice and sex. I can’t think of anything else to write about!
But you’ve never been someone to let other people tell you what to do.
Oh, yeah; I’ve always been one to retain artistic control. Otherwise, what have you got left?
But wouldn't that quality make you a terrible soldier?
Yeah, it would. Unless I was an officer! Officers did very well at the Battle of the Somme — hardly any of ‘em killed. ‘Send in some more!’ That was a miserable fucking battle. You’ve got a fifty-six-pound pack on your back, walking with a rifle across your chest into certain death. What were they thinking?
That's one example of why World War I fascinates me so much more than World War II...
Because of the manic fucking waste of humanity?
Yes. Plus, it was the first mechanized war — they had tanks and planes for the first time, and they didn’t really know how to use or deal with any of it.
They were still trying it out, yeah. They had the female tanks, the tanks without the gun on ‘em.
Plus, it was a more innocent time, in some ways.
They were innocent going in, but they weren’t coming out. And then America, England and France invited Germany to start another war, by dismantling their entire army and economy…
Back to WWI for a second: I'm curious what your thoughts are on the "Angel of Mons" [an incident in which angels and phantom archers were purportedly spotted coming to the aid of British soldiers in a battle against the Germans].
Collective hallucination. Those do happen, you know. When a man’s pushed to his final fucking level — which they were, all of them — and you’re living in Hell… They were in Hell, just near as you can fucking get. There’s nothing worse than you could do to anybody than put them on the front lines in 1916 or 1917; that was the worst you could get. I mean, the mud was so deep, it could swallow a horse. That’s quicksand, you know? And you have to walk around in that, exist in it, AND fight? Fuck off! The Germans — great diggers, the Germans really are. Their bunkers had electric lights, libraries, and water. The cavalry were sitting two miles behind the front lines for four years, waiting for a charge. Never happened. ‘Oh, the weather’s not very good today, chap!’ They had the worst two years of rain in human memory, too. That’ll cheer you up! Everything shot to shit around you; bits of bodies all over the place, stinking; rats the size of fucking puppies running around; trench foot, dysentery, your friends being killed all over the place. Disease running riot, and you’re supposed to fight, as well? I don’t fucking think so. It’s the worst war, I think. In World War II, they got to you quicker; you didn’t have to stand around and fucking wait for it. And the bombing raids with Zeppelins — what were they thinking? Wait until dark, then float over the Channel in huge bags of flammable gas? And you KNEW they had incendiary bullets! Who passed that? [laughs]
You were born in England in 1945; so you pretty much grew up with the shadow of WWII on your shoulder, right?
It meant nothing to me. Swastikas don’t mean shit to me; swastikas have been around since before human memory, in all cultures, too. I got a book of swastikas at home; it’s got all these pictures of old swastika products — Swastika Surfboards, Swastika Matzohs — all these things with Swastikas. Oh, it was big in America, the Swastika, in the 30s. There’s a town called Swastika in Canada, in Ontario. There’s swastikas on a lot of public buildings in Glendale! It was big in America; it was the insignia of the 45th Armored Division — it was a yellow Swastika on a red diamond. They were a red Indians division; they became the Thunderbirds after they saw Hitler.
When did you get into collecting military memorabilia?
When I came over to the U.S., because it was all over the place. G.I.s brought everything back that wasn’t nailed down.
Even more so than in England? Because when I was living there as a kid in 1974, all my friends’ dads had Nazi helmets that they’d brought back from the war.
Yeah, but there were more G.I.s, and the Americans were the first into Bavaria, where a lot of this shit was. The Russians got a lot, the Americans got a lot, but the British only had North Germany, which was never that Nazi anyway. And they could just bring home one souvenir; they didn’t have the thing where you could bring all the shit home with you, like the Americans did. I mean, one guy sent home a Focke Wulf 190 in pieces, and reassembled it on his deck in Pennsylvania! Several guys sent jeeps home in bits and reassembled them…
So this is a relatively recent hobby for you...
Yeah. People say ‘You’re weird for collecting Nazi stuff,’ but I don’t see why. I mean, most of the people who collect this shit are doctors and dentists. The most expensive dagger you can get, of all this German stuff, is the SS Honor Dagger with a Damascus blade and this special scabbard — they cost a hundred thousand bucks! It isn’t neo-Nazis buying that shit — neo-Nazis are off in the woods in Mississippi, and they ain’t buying no hundred-thousand-buck dagger! But when you become a collector, it means you get serious about it. And the more I found out about Nazi Germany, the more interesting it got. Because it’s very strange that those hoodlums should get to power. That ‘war hero’ Hindenberg jobbed ‘em in there. He thought that little corporal named Hitler would be Postmaster, maybe; two years later, he’s Chancellor! How? It was his speeches. The best speaker of all time, probably; he made the same speech for twelve years, and they ate it up...
Also, people forget that in those days, there was no TV. Not many people had radios, and the Nazis gave you a radio for two marks — of course, it only carried Hitler’s speeches! [laughs] But it was magic, you know, to hear this box speak. I remember the first TVs coming out in England, right? We had the first TV in our village, and all the kids in the village would come over to watch it. So put that fifty years back in Nazi Germany; it’s an agrarian culture, and it’s magic time, these people sitting around in their farm house listening to this voice. And it was a good voice, too. It was hectoring and strident, and it wasn’t very good grammar for Germans, because it was an Austrian voice, with the wrong pronunciation of a lot of words. They would have laughed at that voice on anybody else, but he was a good enough speaker to make it work. And that’s pretty good, mate, because you can’t conquer a bad accent! And what he said was boring in the extreme — he was a boring man — but he had that charisma.
Which clearly came across in Hitler's personal appearances, as well.
Can you imagine, the Nuremburg rallies every September? If you were in the Hitler Youth, you marched to it from wherever you lived. And you would get there, and see this whole city of tents, with thousands and thousands and thousands of guys who looked just like you. It must have been, like, magic time, the feeling of ‘We are one for the common good!’ It was a good luck symbol, the swastika; that’s what they used it as. And all these new flags and new uniforms, and you get to be a super boy scout, and there are 182,000 of you! I can remember enough of how I felt at age 12 or 14 — goddamn, you would do anything! You’re 12, what the fuck do you know?
And when you’re coming from such a deprived country…
Yeah, and Hitler gave you a job, you’re eating biscuits all day, and everybody’s working again… I make no apologies about being fascinated by Nazism. I actually think if you’re NOT fascinated by it, then there’s something fucking wrong with you.
Well, that goes back to what you were saying earlier, about people being horrified by anything that’s not P.C...
I know! As if they didn’t hear about it before? ‘Concentration Camps were bad!’ Well, we know THAT, motherfucker! I mean, I would have been the first one to fight the Nazis. Because I’m not exactly Nazi material — I have a black girlfriend, for a start! My great, great grandfather’s name was Moses Simpson, so you never know; he was a leather worker, so he probably was a Jew. So, Shalom! [laughs]
Well, we all come from the same place, anyway…
Yeah, we fucking DO, man; we all bleed red, anyway. And the American soldiers, who fought against the persecution of the Jews in World War II, they come back here and wouldn’t let Jews into their country club. And Jesse Owens, who showed Hitler what democracy was all about, he still had to sit in the back of the bus. Poor bastard!
They wouldn’t let blacks and whites fight in the same divisions of the US Army until Korea.
I know! And you had blacks and whites fucking shooting each other in Nuremburg, during the trials! That’s the thing about irony — it’s so ironic! [laughs]
So how’s your health, man?
I dunno; I seem to be okay.
You haven’t had to slow down at all?
Well, I figure if you slow down, then you’re prey, you know? [laughs] And it’s kind of depressing being prey, waiting for something bigger to come along and bite you…
I was talking to Ozzy last summer, and he said he’d heard that you weren’t well.
I wasn’t well, for a little while. It was probably exhaustion…
But you’re still drinking, doing speed, all of that…
Well, what the fuck? I’ve gotten away with it so far; I’m 56! I know I’m gonna die — I might die tonight! [laughs]
But you’re 56, and you can still go on the road for 150 shows a year?
More than that! So fuck ‘em! ‘Hello, doctor! What fucking advice have you got for me this week? Oh, I shouldn’t go on the road? Well, see ya!’
At this point, Lemmy asks me to turn off the tape recorder, and reveals that he's actually recently been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, and has been given a stern talking to by his doctor about curbing his habits. But he's not ready to go public with his diabetes yet, so he requests that I keep all mention of it out of the REVOLVER article.
You and Keith Richards have the most legendary constitutions in rock.
I always thought Keith poisoned a lot of people by the publication of what he was doing, you know. Because heroin is not a drug to recommend; I don’t give a fuck if you’re the best junkie in the world. And he can afford an unending supply of it, right?
Plus, he can make sure he only gets good stuff.
Yes, that’s true. And if he needs to get his blood done, or whatever, he can afford that, too. The average guy on the street is buying off a bad dealer who could give a shit. Heroin’s a filthy fucking drug, you know. I’ve always thought Lou Reed must have killed so many kids with that one song; he’s another fucker who should be tried for murder.
I’ve known way too many people who’ve wanted to be Keith Richards or Johnny Thunders…
They wanna be a junkie, yeah. I knew John really well, you know. John was clean when he came to England with the Heartbreakers; I think Jerry [Nolan] was still doing it a little bit, because Jerry never fooled anybody. Maybe Johnny was fooling me, I don’t know. He got the habit when he was in the Dolls, when he was hanging out with Dee Dee Ramone. One of the best bands I’ve ever seen was Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers. They were fucking great, man; they were kick-ass; they were tight as shit! They were ‘Tight as a crab’s asshole,’ as they say — and that’s watertight! I saw them at the Roxy, you know, and they were brilliant. And then, at the end, people were going to see John just to see how many songs he’d play before he walked into the orchestra pit. He died very badly. Stripped naked in New Orleans, they left him lying there in the hotel. And that’s what junk will do for ya. It will get you friends who will leave your body naked and rotting in a hotel room, fucking leg out of there. Well, hot dog, you know? I hope my friends are better than that. But there’s no guarantee…
Motorhead's always been associated with speed…
Yeah, but I never said it was a good idea for YOU! I said that I liked it. I’ve seen people go nuts behind it, but I’ve also seen people take it and not die. If it’s between heroin and speed, I’d say, ‘Take speed!’ But actually I’d say, if you don’t need either of them, don’t do either of them.
What about that whole "Speed Kills" thing?
Man, that was put out by people who were dying on smack! [laughs] Speed kills? Not as good as heroin will! I don’t recommend any drugs, man. I always say, if you can get away with it without doing drugs, just do that, you know? But when you’re doing fifty-three shows back to back, ‘round about show thirty-six you don’t want to do it no more. [laughs] And that’s not an excuse for me being a speedfreak. It’s like, it was a utilitarian thing; you can’t do that shit on cocaine, or you’d go nuts. And heroin, as we have seen, is not really conducive to performing. So if you have to get your legs up onstage when you really don’t want to, speed’s the thing! And that’s why so many people take it — and a lot more did it than owned up to it. It’s not fashionable, it’s not ‘groovy’, it was never expensive enough to be fashionable. [laughs] On the Bomber tour in 1979, we did fifty-five shows, with two days off in there somewhere. You can’t do that just on being a human; it don’t work, sorry! You’ve gotta do something, and we chose speed. And I’ve been very pleased with it, so far. [laughs] It’s worked for me, but if you’re doing less gigs than that, then you might not need it. Just do it without it, if you can do it without it. Why not? It’s a lot of expense saved, believe me.