It's been over a week now since Lemmy Kilmister died, and the reality of his passing is only starting to set in for me. Even with his recent health problems, the man seemed so elementally indestructible — and his footprint on the rock landscape was so massive — that the idea of a world without Lemmy was (and remains) impossible to fully wrap my mind around. The man lives on, though — not just in the uncompromising hard rock of Motorhead's back catalog, or in his lasting musical influence, but in the Paul Bunyan-esque tales of his larger-than-life existence that will continue to be told over adult beverages for decades to come.
I've told a few of those tales myself, some of which I had the pleasure of hearing first-hand from the man himself back in 2002, when I interviewed him for REVOLVER magazine. Hammered, Motorhead's sixteenth album, was about to be released, and it was arranged that I would meet him at noon on a Sunday in late January at the Bel Age hotel in West Hollywood, where the magazine had booked a room for a photo shoot and interview. By this time, Lemmy had been living full-time in L.A. for over a decade, and had become a fixture at the Rainbow Bar & Grill (just a few blocks from the Bel age) when he wasn't laying waste to stages and eardrums around the world.
I arrived at the Bel Age to find the photo session already in progress — just Lemmy and the photographer, no managers or publicists — and an already-open handle of Jack Daniels resting on the coffee table, along with a 2-liter bottle of Coca-Cola. Lemmy appeared to stand about ten feet tall in his cowboy boots and hat, and he seemed more than a trifle annoyed with the photographer, who kept trying to "bro down" with him on such manly subjects as motorcycles and barroom brawls. I expected Lemmy to be short with me, as well; but once the photo shoot was done, the intimidation factor began to fade as he pulled up a couple of chairs around the coffee table and cordially offered me a drink. I'd woken up too late to have a decent breakfast, but I sure wasn't going to refuse a drink from Lemmy on the grounds of an empty stomach...
I expected our interview to take around 45 minutes, tops — a pretty standard amount of time for a chat with an artist promoting a new record — but I brought an extra cassette along with me, just in case. Even so, Lemmy and I would run out of both tape and bourbon before the afternoon (and our truly epic conversation) was done; likewise, the hotel would run out of patience with our carryings on and give us the unceremonial boot. Alas, I'm getting ahead of myself...
Pieces of this interview were used in my subsequent Revolver feature, and I previously ran the whole thing a few years ago on my now-semi-defunct blog La Vie En Robe, but Lemmy's recent passing made me want to air it out again, along with some additional notes where appropriate. So read on and enjoy — Parts Two, Three and Four will be posted in the coming days...
ME: Did I overhear you tell the photographer that you’re getting your moles removed?
LEMMY: Yeah. I’m tired of ‘em. They get bigger as you get older, and I’ve been shaving around them long enough. But they’re deep, you know; it’s gonna be difficult to get ‘em out…
You should donate them to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Yeah, in a block of lucite! [laughs] I could sell ‘em on the internet, like that [porn star] chick who sold her labia. She’s fucking cute, that Houston! She took on 500 guys in an afternoon, and she still looks wonderful. But the one I like is Midori, the black one; I like black chicks. She’s fucking amazing! She’s one of the new [porn stars]; most of ‘em burn out in about three months.
Have you ever dated a porn star?
Oh yeah, a few. That’s another thing you could never do in England — there aren’t any there! I dated Jasmine St. Clair, and Purple Passions, a black girl. I’ve dated a few ex-pornstars; dated a lot of strippers. Jasmine St. Clair’s a really beautiful girl.
Some musicians I've interviewed seem to be of the opinion that dating porn stars is more trouble than it’s worth.
Depends. You should try it! Don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it!
What’s your secret with the ladies?
Chase ‘em! How can you catch ‘em, if you don’t chase ‘em?
But is the chase still better than the catch?
Always. And never move in with them; that’s the death of it. Because as soon as their knickers are on the table for the fifth day in a row, you’re pissed off at them, you know — ‘What the fuck is this?’ All those terrible habits that you never notice when you’re just dating, all that farting and slurring and like, boogering and stuff…
At this point in the interview, we are interrupted by the photographer, a Scot, who is packing up to leave. Lemmy riffs a bit on the man's Glaswegian accent.
The worst thing I ever heard a Glaswegian say, it fucking scared the shit out of me: We were at this club, and two guys were talking to each other. One of ‘em said, 'You fuck with me again, McGibbon, and the sides of your body won’t match!' I thought, 'Urgh, what does he have to do to do that? Does he tear him in half, mutilate one side, and then sew him back together?' [laughs] Y’care for another drink? [He pours more Jack Daniels into my cup.] I drink from the moment I wake up in the morning. I can’t even get drunk anymore. I just like the taste! [laughs]
PHOTOGRAPHER: Do you drive?
Mm-mmm. I last drove in 1966. A 1952 Chevy; fuckin’ great car, man, but you couldn’t get parts for it.
PHOTOGRAPHER: Why did I think you rode bikes?
Because people think I ride bikes.
ME: Didn’t you have some sort of bike accident during the filming of the ‘Killed By Death’ video?
No, it just fell over on me! [laughs] That happens to Hell’s Angels — actually, it’s worse for a Hell’s Angel! [laughs]
So, the Motorhead image is very much boozing, fighting, fucking —
Well, you’ve had a drink and a half already, haven’t you? [laughs]
How much of that image is for real?
[Whispers conspiratorially] All of it!
Yeah, absolutely. What else are you gonna do? Go home and play fucking cribbage? The only reason I’m in this business is for the chicks, anyway. I started playing guitar in 1958, because I saw this kid bring his guitar to school, and he was immediately surrounded by all these birds. It was like, ‘Oh, I see! Gotcha!’ My mother had a guitar, see; she used to play steel, and in those days steel guitars were shaped like Spanish guitars. It was hanging on the fuckin’ wall, so I put some strings on it and took it to school. And it worked — I was surrounded by girls! [laughs] Two weeks later, I started learnin’ to play, because they expect you to play after awhile! You’re just posing with it, and it’s like, ‘Well, let’s see you play something!’ ‘Oh no, it needs new strings…’ [laughs] Had to go home and look at Bert Weeden’s Play in a Day, you know, which I never got anything out of. The neighbor next door showed me three chords, and that’s all I needed.
What was your first real guitar?
The first guitar I had after that was a Hofner Club 50, which wasn’t a bad guitar, as it goes. And then I got a horrendous guitar, I don’t know what possessed me — I got an EKO guitar. It was a solid-body with like ten push-buttons; I took the switchplate off, right before I got rid of it, and only two of the buttons were hooked up. [laughs] The rest were pure fantasy!
It just looked cool!
It didn’t even look cool, actually; it looked awful! And then I traded that in for a Harmony Meteor, which is a great guitar — it was the one with one pickup, like the Stones used to use. And then I got a Gibson 335, which was never much cop, and then a Tele, a maple-necked Telecaster. Then, when I joined the Rockin’ Vickers, they had a ‘house guitar,’ which was a Jazzmaster; I didn’t like the neck on it, so I put the Tele neck on the Jazzmaster, and it was fucking brilliant! Best guitar I ever played. And of course it looked so exotic, too — ‘What’s that exotic guitar that man’s playing over there?’ And then I gave up playing guitar for awhile, because I was no good at it. I was really not much good at lead guitar; I was a great rhythm guitarist, but that went out.
You mean when Cream and Jimi Hendrix came in?
Yeah. It’s the great forgotten instrument of Rock and Roll. I always thought that was a shame, because being a good rhythm guitarist is a craft, you know? The best I ever heard was Lennon; John McNally out of the Searchers, he was GREAT rhythm guitarist!
How do you rate Keith Richards as a rhythm player?
Yeah, he’s good too, but he’s lead as well, you know; he does both. But for a guy who just plays rhythm, Lennon was it.
So you gave up guitar for awhile in the late 60s?
Yeah. I was a dope dealer for a bit, and then I got the job with Hawkwind — largely through my job as a dope dealer. [laughs] Fancy that! My first bass was a Hopf, which was a German thing. I bought that off Del Dettmar who got it at the Heathrow auctions, the Heathrow airport auctions. And then I got a Rickenbacker, and that was it; I’ve got about ten of them, altogether.
You’ve never deviated from Rickenbacker basses since then?
No, never. They’re such an easy bass to play for a guitar player-turned-bass player. I can’t play Fenders and Gibsons, those huge necks. I don’t know why they make them that way, you know?
At what point were you roadie-ing for Jimi Hendrix?
’67. He had already broken in England. We did a few radio shows, and then we did the tour with The Move. The Move were huge, then.
Yeah, awesome band — I love the Move!
Yeah, they were very good. How does this look — The Move, Hendrix, the four-man Pink Floyd with Syd Barrett, Amen Corner, The Nice with Davy O’List, the Grease Band who were called Eire Apparent at that time, and then a local band. All that at your local theatre, for seven-and-six a night! In old money, that was like 30p, which translates to about 35 cents! [laughs]
Yeah, man; those were the fuckin’ days! You couldn’t see anything like that now; you couldn’t even get a bill like that into a theatre. The Move and Hendrix had both been Number One within the last fortnight, and The Floyd had the top album at the time, a psychedelic thing, you know. Amen Corner had ‘Gin House’ at Number One for a few weeks. You could have a festival with bands like that now!
Did the bands get along on the tour, or was there a lot of rivalry?
No, it was fun. There wasn’t that much rivalry — the only real rivalry in them days was us against the police. Which I think is much more sensible.
It’s true — why fight each other when you all could be fighting The Man?
Yeah, right! [laughs] Because there’s your real enemy; these guys are all in the same business as you, just trying to make a buck, so you should support each other. I always hear bands slagging off other bands, and I don’t feel easy with it, you know. Because we are all fighting the same people, and they don’t understand it. You see it at the Grammys now, in their little fucking bowties. Queensryche sitting there at Radio City in bow ties, the first Grammys we went to. They said, ‘Hi, Lemmy!’ ‘Queensryche?’ They said, ‘Yeah!’ I said, ‘Wow. Who’re you dressed up as?’ [laughs] I said, ‘You’re dressed as the enemy, aren’t ya? A collaborator!’ I’m in The Resistance, myself. I mean, I dressed like this when I wrote the song, so why dress up like those cunts? All they’re doing is stealing our bread. Fuck ‘em! I don’t have to dress like my father, in a badly fitting tuxedo… Fate worse than death! You deserve to be despised, walking around like that. I mean, once upon a time — you wouldn’t believe it now — Clapton was quite a rebel. But as soon as he got one of those Grammys, bingo! He’s got the bow tie, he looks like someone with a head transplant!
To me, Clapton is the epitome of —
Yeah, exactly! He’s no better at this point than Phil Collins.
Yeah, he’s no better. I mean, [a song about] your DEAD SON? Are you that hungry? And the people who bought that record — are you that hungry for someone else’s grief? Or do you just want to see a rich person fucking up? [laughs]
Did you interact a lot with Hendrix in those days?
Yeah, I used to score acid for him. I’d get him ten [tabs]; he’d take seven and give me three. And you had to take them; you felt like a churl if you didn’t! But I’d usually take one, and hide the other two behind my ear for later… I mean, those days were very special, man. Those days were the last time that we believed that we could change things for the better. We really believed it. There were a lot of people who went off the fuckin’ high side, who lost it; but at the same time, I wouldn’t have undone my experience of it, because it was amazing. Acid in those days was astounding; nowadays it’s all speed and artificial psilocybin, isn’t it? Acid in those days was pure. I got one of the first trips from Owsley! Hendrix was over here in LA at the Hyatt, and he gets this phone call: ‘Hi, I’m Augustus Stanley Owsley III, and I’d like to know if you’d like some LSD.’ He came back to London with 100,000 tabs in a fuckin’ plastic bag! He gave me about 10,000 hits! You know, ’10,000 for Mitch, 10,000 for Noel, 10,000 for Lemmy!’ [laughs] We were eating them like sweets on that tour; everybody was fucking tripping, everybody! I mean, Syd never came back from that tour; I think Syd’s still doing that tour in his head, you know? ‘Oh, Norwich?’ [laughs] It was such a great time. Everyone between twenty-five and seventeen seemed to be tripping at that time.
How did you guys keep it together, to make it to gigs and stuff when you were constantly tripping?
You get used to anything. And that was another great thing about it — it taught me to function, no matter what happened. When I was in Hawkwind, we got spiked by two different groups of hippies in the same night with angel dust; and then we had to go onstage, in Cleveland of all places! It was like, ‘What’s this? That’ll make some noise!’ [laughs]
Of course everybody in the audience was probably tripping, as well.
Yeah, yeah, that helped. You did the wrong note, they’d just think it was a jazzy interlude, you know? ‘Oh, wow!’ [laughs]
Were the Rockin’ Vickers mods?
No, we were longhairs. We had vicars’ collars and the black shirts, right? Finnish national costume smocks, which were bright blue with all this felt embroidery; skintight white jeans with a lace-up fly, which was very awkward if you had to piss before the show; and Laplander reindeer skin boots. Those were my favorite — I tried to keep them after I left the band, but they weren’t going for it. We looked weird, you know? This was before acid, even, and we looked fuckin’ weird. We used to come onstage and do this high-powered set, and then we’d smash all the equipment up and fuck off with it whining. That’s where I got the ‘guitars whining’ thing from… We had cabs with false speakers in ‘em, and we used to just smash the guitars through the middle of that, and leave them hanging there screaming, and just walk off. Great band, you know? But having said that, it was just up north of England; south of Birmingham, nobody’d ever heard of us. In the north of England, we were getting 200 pounds a night, which in those days was big money. We was doin’ good, man — big fucking flat in Manchester… Another drink?
The acid generation really did change a lot of stuff, whether you realize it or not from this distance. I mean, we contributed in a large way to ending the Vietnam War. We got out in the streets — there wasn’t all this lazy hippy syndrome, you know. We were activists. There were riots in every city in America; it was mental here. And they tried to pass it off as race riots, when it was really about the whole deal.
Yeah, Martin Luther King getting shot, RFK getting shot…
I know, those poor fuckers. Sacrificed to the last fucking gasp of Republican nutters.
Last gasp, my ass; we’re still dealing with them, aren’t we?
George Bush, what a lucky man. He was just about to go down when that World Trade Center thing happened; he talked his way back in on top of a pile of rubble, the dirty bastard. I don’t like that man! Repeal the emissions laws? I beg your pardon? [laughs]
The guy who really scares me though is John Ashcroft…
Yeah, him and Cheney. Cheney wants a big war, bad; he won’t be satisfied with just Afghanistan. And he’s got nothing to lose, because he’s dying; he just wants to go out with a big hurray, you know.
Even after he dies, they’re going to keep his head alive…
It’ll be talking to you out of a bottle, yeah! [laughs] Remember They Saved Hitler’s Brain? Great movie! And they put it in a blonde chick’s head! Whoever wrote that deserved an Oscar just for thinking of it! “I have a good idea, possibly a TV series…”
Again with the acid…
Did you ever take acid?
It's been a few years, but yeah.
Some, but I started in the mid-Eighties, so I don’t think I ever got my hands on the kind of good stuff you used to take…
No, probably not, no. But there’s still some similarities — that thing where you go, ‘This isn’t working,’ and then your mouth fills with saliva, and then it’s like, ‘Look at that wallpaper!’ [laughs]
I honestly always had a much harder time dealing with mushrooms.
I always throw up on mushrooms. I didn’t like it much; psilocybin was all right, but not just shrooms. Mescaline’s all right, but you had to be really lucky to get some good stuff.
So you did tons of acid in the sixties…
I did tons of everything, except heroin. I just didn’t fancy a drug that would make me go face down in my food [laughs], and then give me convulsions if I couldn’t get anymore. I don’t need drugs like that!
There’s the theory that the CIA pumped heroin into the inner cities during the early 70s...
I really don’t believe that. I think that’s a bullshit conspiracy theory. Maybe they did latch onto it after it happened, and I’m sure they did infiltrate it into other countries, but I don’t think they put it in this one. I don’t think even they are that stupid, you know? I mean, to what end?
Well, just to make everybody complacent.
But it doesn’t — it makes them into junkie fucking bandits! [laughs]
But then that’s all they’re worried about — they’re not concerned with the bigger issues.
Yeah… I mean, the ‘War on Drugs’ was lost back in 1968!
Was Hawkwind a big acid band, as well?
Sure, yeah, always. I mean, that was its chief premise — space rock, inner space…
But were Hawkwind hippies?
No, man. We were fucking terrifying, just a terrifying band. We used to lock the doors so that people couldn’t get out! [laughs] Pitch black, right, and five strobe lights facing the audience, not the band. We’d use the slow strobe — that’s the one that gives you convulsions. They passed a law in England that you couldn’t do the fast speed, and they got it wrong. We used to give people epileptic fits on a regular basis! And we had this thing that went out of human hearing both ways. If you go up out of human hearing, your balance goes, and you fall on the floor and vomit; and if you go below human hearing, your sphincter loosens and you shit yourself. [laughs] That’s what those sonic weapons are about, that they’ve been researching for years. It’s very effective, and we did it to people on a small scale. We could pick people out, too — ‘That one there, look! WEEEEOOOOOOWWW!’ We used to throw acid on the audience with bottle droppers. They were insane days. You never think your good time is going to end, you know. But it always does, and whatever replaces it is never as good, somehow. Why is that? [looks up to the sky and raises his middle finger.] Thank you, O Lord!
But isn’t some of that just nostalgia, the ‘good old days’ syndrome?
Yeah, but it WAS the good old days. It was better! Trust me! Hendrix, The Move and The Floyd for seven-and-six a night, and acid as well? And no AIDS, and chicks wanting to fuck your brains out all over the place, and they’d discovered the pill the same year they discovered acid? Better, all right? MUCH, MUCH BETTER. No fucking contest!
If you hadn’t been booted out of Hawkwind in 1975, would you have stayed with the band?
Oh yeah, I never would have left them. It was too much fun! But it wasn’t much fun talking to the rest of them. There’s a one-upmanship with drugs, you know? ‘Oh, we’re doing acid, so we can’t do speed.’ Who says? I can! And that used to piss them off. Dettmar got me into the band because he was the only speed freak, and he wanted a buddy to stay up all night with him and get weird. So we did that for a couple of years, and then he left the band, so I was the last one. Last man standing — or, more like it, last man running on the spot. And it was just a matter of time, you know.
So they didn't just kick you out because you’d been busted for speed?
No, that was just their excuse. The only reason they got me out of jail was ‘cause my replacement couldn’t get there in time! They’d have left me, I’m sure… Unfortunately, they went straight down the toilet after they fired me. Straight down without even a parachute! They picked the wrong guy to replace me. A jazzy guy who’d put one foot up on the drum riser to play his bass solo? That’s not the guy to replace me! We were on our third American tour, and we were doing good, you know. We were playing big places; we played the Cobo Hall in Detroit, which is all right for your third tour. We had this party at the Hayden Planetarium, and the comet Kahoutek was supposed to come over the same night we played. Everybody went out on the roof, and it wasn’t visible, but we had this party there with all kinds of people, like Stevie Wonder was there. There was this big lump of moon rock there in the lobby, and his aide is touching his hands to it, going ‘Moon rock, Stevie, moon rock!’ Jan Hammer was there, and that’s where I met Alice Cooper for the first time. All these people showed up, and then you couldn’t see the fucking thing.
After Hawkind, did you immediately form Motorhead?
I got fired in May, and I had Motorhead on the road by August. Got out there quick, because I figured, they’re fickle and might forget you. And they do, you know; how many bands have you seen break up with great promises of solo careers, and only one shows up? The rest of them, forget it.