Ever since the Christmas of 1974, when my Uncle John introduced me to the weird and wild wonders of his EC Comics collection, one of my favorite holiday pastimes has involved chilling out with a stack of old horror comics while listening to Christmas music. I fully understand that it might not be everyone's cup of eggnog — and I'm not even that much of a comic book collector, myself — but there's something about paging through a particularly choice issue of such gory, twisted 1950s classics as Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror and The Haunt of Fear while listening to John Fahey's The New Possibility (or the Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass Christmas Album) that really puts me blissfully in the Christmas groove.
This year, though, I've been spending less time with my EC reprints from the 1990s (most of which I've read at least two dozen times by now) and more time with issues of Ghosts, a DC title that I read semi-regularly back in the 1970s. Sub-titled "True Tales of the Weird and Supernatural," Ghosts wasn't as well-written (or as gruesomely rendered) as its EC forebears; but the artwork was usually quite solid (even borderline psychedelic at times), and the stories were usually good for a scare or two — at least for a young horror fiend like myself. I've really been enjoying giving them another look, not least because of all the ads they include for Topps baseball cards, X-ray specs, novelty t-shirts, and war games from the Helen of Toy Company (Tank Trap! Task Force! Woods Edge!), all of which I vividly remember drooling over during my childhood.
I have no memory, however, of "Eyes From Another World," a two-page story from the July 1975 issue that recalls the rash of UFO sightings that occurred in the US during the years immediately following World War II. Though it's kind of an unremarkable piece in itself, it does include brief accounts of UFO sightings by such celebrities as Sammy Davis, Jr, Muhammad Ali, Arthur Godfrey and Buddy Rich. And the panels with Sammy and Buddy's flying saucer encounters are just too good not to share with you here...
Pretty cool, huh? Certainly a lot cooler than AMF Voit's nylon baseball bat, which is advertised on the back of the issue. I'm really glad nobody ever gave me one of those for Christmas — I would have been immediately laughed out of my local little league.
Anyway, I'm gonna get back to my comics. May you all have a relaxing, fun and (if you so choose) funky holiday season. Catch you in 2017.
The holiday season is once again upon us, and along with it the scramble to find the perfect gifts for the ones we love.
Well, if you've got a baseball fan on your Xmas list, why not get them a hardcover first-edition of my book Stars and Strikes: Baseball and America in the Bicentennial Summer of 1976, autographed and personalized by the author himself?
That's right, folks — just send me $30 via PayPal (see link below), and I'll send you a copy of my critically-acclaimed journey into the heart of the Spirit of '76. The Big Red Machine, Billy Martin's Yankees, Mark "The Bird" Fidrych, Charlie Finley's fire sale, Oscar Gamble's haircut, Bill Veeck's wooden leg, the White Sox shorts, Phillies Fever, Ted Turner's Ostrich races, the first free agent re-entry draft — it's all here, along with Salem witches, Jimmy Carter, the nationwide Bicentennial celebration, the Ramones' first album, Frampton Comes Alive, Taxi Driver, Rocky and (of course) The Bad News Bears, along so many other crazy things that made 1976 such a memorable and important year, both for major league baseball and the USA as a whole.
The $30 covers shipping and handling (offer only applies to the continental US, so contact me for shipping rates if you're in Alaska, Hawaii or other countries); be sure to let me know your giftee's favorite 70s team or player when you're checking out via the PayPal link, and I will find a way to work that information into the signature.
I only have a limited amount of these hardcovers left, so act like Mickey "Mick the Quick" Rivers and snap 'em up while you can!
On a chilly Friday afternoon in February 1989, my friend Carl — whom I knew from WVKR, Vassar College's radio station — invited me to take a ride with him over the Mid-Hudson Bridge to New Paltz and do some record shopping. Carl said he knew of a little place near SUNY New Paltz that stocked a lot of cool Sixties records; and since "Peace, Love and Fuzztone," my WVKR show on Friday nights, was all about cool Sixties records, he was definitely speaking my language.
Twenty-seven years on, the name of that store has perhaps understandably slipped my mind, but I vividly remember what I bought there that day: An original pressing of Love's incredible Four Sail LP (which I'd never even seen before, and which in time would become my favorite Love LP), a really cool Big Beat compilation of US pop-psych called Baubles Vol 1 — Down to Middle Earth, and issue #6 of Kicks Magazine.
Truth be told, the third item was something of an afterthought. I'd seen earlier issues of Kicks around, but never picked one up — probably because I perceived the mag as being heavily Fifties-centric. Not that I had any problem with Fifties music, per se (I'd loved doo-wop, Buddy Holly, Little Richard and Elvis since I was 12); it's just that, having spent much of my college years on a heavy garage and psychedelia kick, the very idea of pre-LSD music seemed kinda quaint to me. Of course, being a Bo Diddley fan, I should have known better than to judge a book (or a 'zine) by its cover...
Actually, it was the cover of Kicks #6 that convinced me to give the mag a shot. I had no idea who Ronnie Dawson, Arch Hall Jr., Sonny Burgess, the Rockin' R's, the Rumblers or Sparkle Moore were; but I definitely knew who Bobby Fuller was — I'd already spent many hours teaching myself "I Fought The Law" on guitar — and I'd heard that he'd died under some pretty weird circumstances. "The Bobby Fuller Story"? Sign me up!
Carl and I made it back to Poughkeepsie just in time for my radio show, so I didn't get a chance to dig into my new magazine until the next day, which I spent serving as a volunteer "extra" on a friend's student film. Having lots of downtime between shots, I devoured Miriam Linna's amazingly deep dig into Fuller's life and music, laughed my ass off at "Mr. Corned Beef Rising," Billy Miller's phony interview with Jim Morrison (who, according to the mag, was still alive and running Jim Morrisberg's Deli), marveled at the fact that they had a column ("Fish Fry") wherein Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators shared his favorite recipes, and generally tried to absorb all the incredible info packed into the issue's pages. Miriam and Billy were clearly tapped into something cooler than I'd ever imagined existed; this was no American Graffiti/Happy Days nostalgia-fest, but a window into an alternate universe where Esquerita was bigger than Little Richard, Arch Hall Jr. was an Academy Award-winning actor, and Andre Williams' greasy discography was far more compelling and life-affirming than anything Eighties MTV had to offer. I had to know more...
And I wasn't the only one, not by a long shot. When Billy died this past Sunday, leaving us behind after a brutal battle with multiple myeloma, kidney failure and diabetes, my Facebook feed was immediately filled with heartfelt tributes to the man, with many of my friends crediting him and his wife Miriam with changing their lives through the music that they tirelessly championed, sold and released via Kicks and their Norton Records mini-empire. Some of my friends knew him well on personal level, and I wish I could say the same thing — since, by all accounts, he was a truly dynamite cat. But even though I didn't really know him, even though our only real connection was via the U.S. postal service, I still feel compelled to testify to his awesomeness by remembering the mighty mark he made on my own musical tastes and listening habits.
I'd read an interview with Miriam and Billy in RE:Search's Incredibly Strange Music, Volume 1, where Billy mentioned the "Satisfaction Guaranteed Grab Bag" service that they offered through their Norton mail-order catalog — basically, you could tell them, "Here's fifty bucks — send me your craziest doo-wop 45s," or sleaziest instrumental 45s, or whatever, and they'd hook you up. So, in 1994, about a year after the interview was published, I included a letter with my latest Norton order (some Link Wray and surf music comps, if I recall correctly), asking if they still did the "grab bag" deal. "You bet," Billy wrote back to me. "Just let us know what you're in the mood for — we won't send you no crap!"
Off went a $100 check to Box 646 Cooper Station, NY, NY 10003, with instructions to send me a hundred bucks' worth of doo-wop and R&B 45s about drinking, eating and carrying on. A week or two later, I received a sweet stack o' wax that not only fit the bill to the proverbial T, but also blew my ever-lovin' mind and sent me down a Fifties R&B rabbit hole that I'm still enthusiastically exploring some two decades later. And I'm gonna "spin" some of 'em right now for you, in Billy's honor.
Amazing stuff, right? And Billy knew this kinda shit backwards and forwards, and made it one of his many life's missions to turn the rest of the world onto it. "Some people accuse us of being into nostalgia and being narrow-minded because we don't listen to the 'latest' music," he said in the Incredibly Strange Music interview, "but it's not nostalgia — I wish I'd heard all these obscure records when I was a little kid."
Indeed, the well from which he and Miriam drew this incredible music still seems almost bottomless... and amid the darkness and despair of this last week, this is the kind of stuff that's repeatedly lifted me out of my doldrums and made me feel alive and even happy again. I suspect it's because these records weren't made by superstars, but by real people — people who were struggling to make ends meet, who found their joy, release and meaning in the music they made. When Billy would rail against the likes of Sting and Duran Duran in the pages of Kicks, it wasn't just because he hated their music; it was because popular music as a whole had entirely lost touch with the magic that happens four or five kids from down the street walk into a cheap-ass recording studio and sing their hearts out into a single microphone.
My heart goes out to Miriam and all of Billy's family and close friends; I hope they can find some comfort in the fact that he brought so much joy and fun not just to their lives, but to people like me who barely knew him. Rest well, Billy; thanks again for all the kicks.
On Monday, August 8, I'll be doing my only Chicago-area book-signing for the paperback edition of Stars and Strikes: Baseball and America in the Bicentennial Summer of '76 , in conjunction with a rare 35mm showing of one of the biggest film hits of 1976 (not to mention the greatest baseball film ever made): The Bad News Bears.
This joyous event will take place at Chicago's legendary Music Box Theater, located at 3733 N. Southport Ave. in Chicago. I will be co-hosting the event with WGN radio's Nick Digilio, and copies of Stars and Strikes will be available for sale in the lobby via those fine folks at The Book Cellar, my favorite local indie bookstore. Tickets for the screening are $12, or $9 if you're already a member. The actual screening begins at 7 pm, and will be followed by a discussion of the film led by Nick and myself.
If you've already read Stars and Strikes, then you know how much this film means to me; the one-two punch of The Bad News Bears and the sudden emergence of spectacular Tigers rookie Mark "The Bird" Fidrych went a long way towards making ten-year-old Dan transfer his obsession with war comics and G.I. Joe dolls to all things baseball-related. If it wasn't for the Bears and the Bird, my life might have taken a much different path, and I almost certainly wouldn't have written Stars and Strikes or Big Hair and Plastic Grass many years down the road. So it's a huge honor to be able to present this wonderful film — whose slyly subversive script still holds up remarkably well 40 years later — on a big screen.
If you've never seen the film before, or it's been years since you've watched it, here — via a piece I wrote for Rolling Stone this spring — is a little reminder of why it remains the greatest baseball movie ever made.
There are no Cubs or White Sox games scheduled that night — so if you're in or near Chicago, I hope you'll come out and say hey. Buttermaker would have wanted it that way, man...
It's been said that a baseball game will always show you something that you've never seen before. The most memorable part of last night's Tigers-White Sox game at U.S. Cellular Field was certainly unique, though neither I nor any of the other 32,527 fans in attendance were actually able to witness it.
I refer, of course, to Chris Sale's pre-game uniform-slashing incident, in which the Sox ace — apparently troubled by the prospect of having to pitch in the evening's collared throwbacks from the second Bill Veeck era — did his best Jason Voorhees impression on the team's '76-style uniforms, resulting in a scratched start and a five-game suspension from the front office.
This, in itself, would have been enough weirdness for one evening at the ballpark. In all my years of loving, researching and writing about baseball, I've never even heard of a player throwing this kind of a tantrum over the uniform he was supposed to wear. Certainly, there were members of the 1963 Kansas City A's and the 1969 Seattle Pilots — to name two early adopters of colorful uniforms which flouted the bland "home whites/road grays" tradition — who were significantly less than happy about the fashion statements that their teams were making.
“There was a lot of grousing about the uniforms," wrote Pilots hurler Jim Bouton in Ball Four. "I guess because we’re the Pilots we have to have captain’s uniforms. They have stripes on the sleeve, scrambled eggs on the [bill] of the cap and blue socks with yellow stripes. Also there are blue and yellow stripes down the sides of the pants. We look like goddamn clowns.”
Still, Bouton and his Pilots teammates went ahead and wore their "captain's uniforms" (at least until until Bud Selig and his cronies stole the Pilots from Seattle and moved them to Milwaukee) without incident. Ditto for the 1976 White Sox, whose Veeck-designed uniforms — truly the most unique unis of baseball's most fashion-forward era — were being celebrated last night.
The '76 Sox wore uniforms featuring collared jerseys that were meant to be worn un-tucked; Veeck believed that this unusual look would give his players players more comfort and flexibility in the field. White Sox utility man Jack Brohamer (more on him in a sec) told me last year that the '76 uniforms "made it look like we were in jail," but the players still went along with the concept, even during the three games that August when Veeck asked them to take the field in short pants.
Obviously, as the author of Stars and Strikes: Baseball and America in the Bicentennial Summer of '76, I have a special fondness for those '76 White Sox uniforms; while I can completely understand someone else's aesthetic aversion to them, they are so iconic, so emblematic of the welcome whimsy that Bill Veeck brought to the game, that they practically transcend criticism at this point. They're like the visual equivalent of Peter Frampton's talk-box solo on "Show Me The Way" — goofy as all hell, yet also guaranteed to transport me back to one of the happiest summers of my life in a nanosecond.
Which is why, along with the fact that our beloved Detroit Tigers were in town, that my wife and I went with some friends to "The Cell" last night. Not only were the White Sox giving away '76 throwback jerseys to the first 20,000 fans who showed up — which unfortunately turned out to be sullied by the Xfinity logo on one of the sleeves — but the team was also going to take the field in the full '76 throwbacks, as well. Or so we thought...
We arrived in time to catch the tail-end of the Tigers' batting practice, and while I was a little disappointed to see that the Tigers were wearing their usual road uniforms instead of 1976 road throwbacks, I know that visiting teams don't always get on board with their opponents' promotions. I was further disappointed a few minutes later to learn via Twitter that Chris Sale had been scratched from his scheduled start; he is, after all, one of the best starting pitchers of the past few years, and you always want to see the top guys in the game do their thing, even if it means additional challenges for the team you're rooting for. But there's been a lot of talk in recent days about the White Sox trading Sale to a contending team, and it seemed like maybe this was the team's (albeit clumsy) excuse to keep him out of action and free of harm before they had the chance to deal him.
But then, when the White Sox finally took the field after a minor rain delay wearing their early 80s "Winning Ugly" throwbacks instead of the '76 ones, I felt kind of ripped off. Don't get me wrong — I am fond of those uniforms, as well, but that's really not what I'd paid to see. Figuring that this must have been some kind of screw-up on the part of the team, I tweeted out the following joke:
At least, I thought it was a joke. But an hour or so later, when I got a text from a friend saying, "I want one of the cut-up throwbacks! Can't believe Sale did that!," I checked social media and realized that Sale had indeed blown a fuse over uniforms — only, it was the '76 ones that he didn't want to wear...
There was a strange energy (or maybe lack thereof) to the game itself. No longer facing one of the game's best lefties, the Tigers should have been able to tee off against a succession of bullpen arms led by Matt Albers, the beefy journeyman reliever who'd already pitched the previous two nights, but it was not to be. Numerous scoring opportunities were squandered; and while Miguel Cabrera and Nick Castellanos did knock in two of the Tigers' three runs, Cabrera, Castellanos, Ian Kinsler and Victor Martinez went a combined 2-for-14. Only Cameron "Extra Cheese" Maybin seemed completely impervious to the evening's oppressive humidity, going 2-for-3 with a walk, two stolen bases and two runs scored. I love that guy; the Tigers would be in a far worse position right now without Kinsler and Maybin at the top of their lineup.
The game was also delayed by three thunderstorms, two of which (including the final one, which caused the 3-3 contest to be postponed until today) were the most insane I'd ever witnessed at a ballpark. We'd somehow lucked into buying field-level tickets that were actually under the mezzanine overhang, so we were able to watch the torrential downpours and sky-piercing lightning flashes in relative comfort, and (mostly) avoid the crowds that were slowly shuffling "zombie apocalypse" style through the packed concessions areas. We also spent a lot of time watching the jumbotron on the centerfield scoreboard, where they were flashing a lot of 1970s Sox pics and trivia, and at least one major gaffe:
Yeah, Jack Brohamer was the only White Sox player to hit a home run while wearing short pants. But it happened in 1976 — you know, the year that the White Sox were supposed to be paying tribute to, until Chris Sale freaked the fuck out? — not 1979. (The Sox didn't even wear shorts in 1979, fer chrissakes.) Well, at least they got Jack's name right; I found out later that my friend Michael was at the game, and his family put up a birthday message to him on the jumbotron in the eighth inning, but the Sox put the message up with the wrong middle name...
Speaking of screw-ups, an interesting, er, wrinkle to the Sale slash-fest emerged today in this article by Jon Heyman:
Wait, what? The throwbacks were made out of "heavy wool"?!? Either Heyman's reporting is inaccurate — today's throwback uniforms typically come in the same lightweight synthetic blends as the regulation unis — or the White Sox are absolutely insane. Why would you make throwback uniforms out of wool, especially when the originals that you're throwing back to were made out of lightweight poly?
But maybe that's just how it's all going at The Cell these days. There's been weird energy around the White Sox since the bizarre Adam LaRoche incident in spring training — which you'll also recall Sale unnecessarily losing his shit over — and they've seemed pretty unfocused since their 17-8 hot start in April. Maybe it is indeed time to fire Robin Ventura and/or Kenny Williams, and deal off Sale and anyone else they can get some choice prospects for, and just start over. And, at the very least, maybe it's time for Sale to reconsider his priorities. I'll leave the last word here to my friend and colleague, Cardboard Gods author Josh Wilker, who summed the whole fiasco up quite nicely, and invoked my favorite White Sox pitcher in the process:
Just FYI: My book Stars and Strikes: Baseball and America in the Bicentennial Summer of '76 (now out in paperback!) isn't just about what happened on the diamond — it also contains plenty of musical action from that crucial year, as well.
Fr'instance: 40 years ago this month, noted Yankees fan Johnny Ramone plays three-chord monte at Plaza Sound in New York City, where the Ramones are tracking their debut album. The self-titled LP requires only four days and $6,400 to wax; released in April, it will receive mixed reviews and chart no higher than #111 on the Billboard Hot 200, but will eventually be hailed as the most influential punk rock record of all time — and for good reason.
The man pictured above is Mike LaCoss, former hurler for the Reds, Astros, Royals and Giants from 1978-91. Last week, I had the pleasure of guesting on Trip To The Mound, a podcast Mike does with Roy Giovannoni for the iBaseball channel. I was "there" to talk about Stars and Strikes (now out in paperback!), but our wide-ranging talk wound up covering everything from sabermetrics to thrash metal — and I also got to pick Mike's brain a bit about his experiences with the Big Red Machine. Go HERE to listen to the whole thing...
Also, for those of you who can't get enough of my yakkin', I did two radio appearances last week with some old friends: Rich Kimball of WZON in Bangor, Maine, and Ray Steele of WIBC in Indianapolis. Both gents really know their baseball, and I am immensely grateful for their enormously supportive of my books through the years. Go HERE to listen to my chat with Rich, which includes some Lemmy- and Strat-O-Matic-related tangents; and go HERE to hear my chat with Ray, in which we talk about Mark Fidrych, Dick Allen, and whether or not you'd rather have Bill Veeck or Ted Turner as the owner of your favorite baseball team.
The first time you see your new book in print is a huge thrill — but it's an almost equally huge thrill to get a paperback edition of said book in the mail, because it means that enough people bought the hardcover version to make a paperback printing worthwhile for the publishers. So I'd like to thank everyone who has already bought Stars and Strikes: Baseball and America in the Bicentennial Summer of '76 for making the paperback possible!
And for those of you who haven't bought it yet — or already did, and dug it enough that you'd like to buy many, many copies for your baseball and pop culture-obsessed acquaintances — the paperback edition officially hits the streets via St. Martins Griffin on February 9. You can pre-order copies from Amazon or Barnes & Noble, or of course from your friendly neighborhood indie bookseller.
I probably won't be doing a ton of reading events in support of the paperback — full-scale book tours require copious amounts of time and money — but I'm sure I'll schedule a few things in Chicago and the Midwest before the summer is out, especially since 2016 is the 40th anniversary of the Bicentennial. Watch this space for future updates!
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.