damage case

  MOTÖRHEAD

  by Chuck Eddy

'Overnight Sensation' cover "We're still here, because we shoulda died a fucking long time ago, but we didn't" — That's Lemmy Kilmister, about his band Motörhead, on No Sleep At All, a live album recorded in Finland in 1988. Nine years later, Motörhead's still alive: At Lemmy's 50th birthday party at the Whiskey in L.A., Tom Arnold, L.A. Dodger Mike Piazza, and porn star Ron Jeremy (whose "Freak of the Week" rap video Lemmy cameos in) all dropped by, and Metallica dressed up as "the Lemmys" and covered Motörhead songs. "It's a life, not a job — not something you do from nine to five," Lemmy says. "I'll do it as long as people want me to." Which might be quite a while: Some Motörhead webpage was wondering recently who would win in a fight, God or Lemmy? "God probably," Lemmy concedes. "He's got more people on his side than I do."
...alcohol he believes has kept him healthy like all those grandpas from Soviet Georgia who live to be 150 by gulping daily fifths of vodka.

Still, he admits, "You can never re-create the blind thrill of being on stage when you were 18." Thirty years ago, Lemmy was getting his blind thrills being on stage with the Rockin' Vicars, "not really a garage band, more a showbiz group in black with collars like vicars." The Vicars' first 45 was a cover of "It's Alright", a sort of larval-stage Pete-Townshend-penned version of the Who's "The Kids Are Alright". From there, Lemmy worked as a roadie for Jimi Hendrix (a job eventually inspiring Motorhead's "We Are the Road Crew", the best song about roadies this side of Jackson Browne.) By the early '70s he was playing bass in the eternally droning British guitar-groove ensemble Hawkwind: "Underneath all the electric saxophones, they were basically just a three-piece rock band. In concert they'd do songs for 22 minutes. But I'd never laugh at them; it was a great band to begin in."

In 1975, though, Hawkwind sent Lemmy packing, attributing the pink slip to his bust at the US/Canada border for possession of cocaine (which Lemmy insists was actually speed.) "It just wasn't the right drugs," Lemmy tells people perplexed by the idea of one of the planet's oldest acid-rock institutions booting somebody out for indulging in chemicals. "Hawkwind were just on acid all the time"; he hasn't ingested said drug since that era, preferring amphetamines and the alcohol he believes has kept him healthy like all those grandpas from Soviet Georgia who live to be 150 by gulping daily fifths of vodka. When your liver has that much booze in it, Lemmy figures, "No diseases can get past it."

Still, if you ask Lemmy if Hawkwind were hippies (whereas Motörhead wound up being more like Hell's Angels), he'll answer "No, they were fascists." Upon leaving the ensemble, he formed Motörhead (briefly known as Bastard) with Lucas Fox and Larry Wallis from the verbose and vigorous weirdo-rock trio Pink Fairies. Covering ZZ Top numbers and produced by rockabilly goat Dave Edmunds, Motörhead began basically as a hard pub-blues garage threesome, not musically far from Chiswick Records labelmates like the 101'ers (featuring future Clash hero Joe Strummer) and the Count Bishops. In 1977 (in the wake of hearing the Ramones, Joe Carducci theorizes in his treatise Rock and the Pop Narcotic), with Fast Eddie Clarke replacing Wallis, Motörhead amphetamized their sound and became (in the poetic words of Martin Popoff's metal-album guide Riff Kills Man) "the first metal band who weren't trying to look good, play good, or record good."

Motörhead's first gig was opening for a band called Greenslade; they opened for Blue Oyster Cult early on too. For the most part, Lemmy laughs, "The early audiences were amused — All these blank people standing with their mouths hanging open, just like when we opened for Ozzy's tour in 1982. Nobody's gonna be eating chicken out of a basket when we're up there." Somewhat more receptive were the punk-club audiences of the Damned (with whom they collaborated on a few cuts in 1978) and Adverts (whose members wear Motörhead jacket patches on the jacket of their great 1978 debut album.)

"I like Seattle grunge; to me it just sounds like four geezers rocking out. I liked Nirvana, and Kurt Cobain, though he was obviously a weak man."

"People call us heavy metal because we have long hair," Lemmy scoffs. "If we had short hair, they would've called us punk. They just look at the surface, the clothes; they didn't want to look at what we really do. We're a rock band. I am rock 'n' roll; I've seen the whole thing. I remember Elvis's first record. Heavy metal is people who shriek and plod around. I think we have more in common with the Band — When we first started we were playing "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl", and all these Yardbirds-style songs. I wanted to be the MC5. We bend, like dance music. Except it's too fast to dance to." He may have a point there — Lemmy insists Motörhead is a democracy, but since he's the ubiquitous spokesperson by choice or not, they certainly seem like a bassplayer-led combo, and they sound like one too. Fast Eddie Clarke tended primarily to use his guitar as rhythm — to bolster basslines. Old Motörhead always had a beat that swings.

"I never liked Ace of Spades much," Lemmy confesses, dismissing the 1980 album generally considered (by me among others) Motörhead's greatest ever (and one of six early Motörhead platters just now remastered in CD form by Dojo Records.) Then he pits it against a collection they put out 11 years later: "1916 pisses all over Ace of Spades. Our new stuff is much more varied, not just 'let's do it in two weeks and say we're done.'" For instance, the trio's new Overnight Sensation has an epic called "I Don't Believe a Word" where Lemmy starts out not bellowing but almost crooning, and the final track "Listen to Your Heart" comes as close to a wimpy close-harmony power ballad as any Motörhead cut ever. "It's my Everly Brothers influence," Lemmy tells me.

Which would all be well and good if my favourite track on Overnight Sensation wasn't "Murder Show", the one track that seems like it could have been on Ace of Spades. I like Motörhead when they sound like a rock 'n' roll band, like early Bob Seger or speeded-up Chuck Berry; I'm not so crazy about them when they sound like a metal band, like speeded-up Iron Maiden (who Lemmy claims he's never really heard — okay, I don't know — speeded-up Vanilla Fudge then.) So to me, their oldest stuff is best, and their worst has mostly come out since 1983. Boogie-woogie piano made "Don't Waste Your Time" the only song on 1995's Sacrifice CD that sounded catchy, not merely noisy.

"Nobody asked why the Beatles would come out with a different sounding record every time," Lemmy points out. Maybe so, but it's still hard to figure exactly what purpose Motörhead serves in 1997 — after 16 years of thrash and grunge fusing punk and metal 'til we all throw up, there's no void to fill like there used to be. By now, there's something conventional about what Motörhead does, and my theory is that, as their style becomes more commonplace, they want to branch out and be unpredictable. Lemmy doesn't exactly agree: "I like Seattle grunge; to me it just sounds like four geezers rocking out. I liked Nirvana, and Kurt Cobain, though he was obviously a weak man. But I don't think we were the original grunge band — I don't think we were the original anything."

Motorhead - Phil Campbell, Lemmy, Mikkey Dee
"We haven't learned anything in the last 2000 years. Nothing's changed except the technology. People get dressed up as the S.A.S. and get all this equipment just to kill a fucking helpless deer."

Lemmy rightly dismisses most speedmetal as "crap, just clubbing you over the head with it all." Metallica he's got more mixed feelings about: "I don't think they should do those eight-minute-long songs; I think it's a mistake — I never liked it in Hawkwind, either. But I saw them at Lollapalooza, doing their short songs, their new ones, and they were fucking unstoppable." To top it off, Metallica closed Lollapalooza shows covering Motörhead's "Overkill"; meanwhile, Lars Frederikson sometimes wore a Motörhead T-shirt during Rancid's set. Lemmy found Rancid entertaining, too: "sort of like Jimmy Pursey" (of the late-'70s rah-rah Clash-wannabe tube-station-anthem gang Sham 69.)

Lemmy also told me a dumb tactless joke that goes "If a black guy and an Indian woman had a son it would be a Sioux named Boy." I'd just told him that the lyrics to his patricide threat "Poison" on 1979's Bomber album — "He used to be a preacher / Never taught me nothing but scorn / If I ever catch him on the street yeah / I'll make him wish he'd never been born" — remind me of "A Boy Named Sue" by Johnny Cash. "My father left when I was three months old, a pretty fucking bloody trick," Lemmy vented. "I finally met him when I was 25, in some restaurant. He was in charge of the Middlesex Hospital, and the only plan he offered me to make up for all those years was a position as a representative on the road." Lemmy got up and walked out before his old man could spell out the details.

Lem also happens to be a bit of a Nazism-fanatic; an avid collector of daggers, for one thing. "Part of it is the pageantry of it — They had hundreds of different organizations, all with their own insignias. And they were here and gone in 12 years, and Germany's real small, but they changed the whole fucking world, so it would never be the same. The boundaries of countries are different. Hitler was a magnetic speaker, and he came out of nowhere to take over a country he didn't live in. As a person, though, he was so boring — A vegetarian, no smoking or drinking. And a short haircut... Wars are always the most interesting parts of history. Nobody wants to hear about agrarian reforms." Which explains why so many Motörhead albums have titles like Overkill, Bomber, or March or Die, and why they used to use a replica of a World War II jet as a lighting truss.

Mr. Kilmister is far from a Nazi himself — "I'm an atheist and an anarchist. I'm anti-communism, fascism, any extreme." He's always written protest songs, of a sort; my friend Chris has noticed remarkable similarities between Motörhead's "America" ditty (on 1982's Iron Fist) and Spinal Tap's. And though Lemmy admits fans might not pick up on all the messages, Overnight Sensation might contain the band's most politickled statements ever. "We haven't learned anything in the last 2000 years. Nothing's changed except the technology. People get dressed up as the S.A.S. and get all this equipment just to kill a fucking helpless deer" — this is the topic of "Eat the Gun", the new CD's most crazily caveman-primitive cut. Despite covering "Cat Scratch Fever" in 1992, Lemmy is not interested in discussing gun control with Ted Nugent: "I don't think running around the woods in a loincloth killing deer with a bow and arrow makes you more of a man."

The one woman he'd most like to work with but hasn't yet is Janet Jackson: "I wanted to do a version of 'Black Cat' with her, but Sony wouldn't let me."

"Cat Scratch Fever", Lemmy confesses, is the only time Motörhead has ever given in to the repertoire demands of a record label. And record labels, in Motörhead's life, have been a nonstop pain: Chiswick refusing to release early recordings in 1976, legal tangles with Bronze in 1985 and GWR in 1989, WTG dropping the band then ZYX barely distributing Bastards in 1993. "I'm not a business man, I'm just in a good time band," Lemmy hollered in 1979's "All the Aces". "You don't let no one know just where the money goes / Because of parasites I ain't got no rights." "All we used to say is that we want autonomy," he fumes. "We don't want you and your son in the studio with us, and we don't want you telling us what goes on our records. Who ever fell in love to a fiscal report?" Well, I ask him, playing devil's advocate, who ever fell in love to Motörhead? "Lotsa people," he brags. "In Germany one couple even named their little girl Lemmy!"

Three things in the world Lemmy thinks are underrated are Motörhead, chocolate milk, and conservation. But actions speak louder than words, and I know he thinks women playing rock 'n' roll are underrated as well. Over the years, he's helped out Lita Ford, Nina Hagen, Wendy O. Williams, and most notably Girlschool, with whom Motörhead collaborated on a 1981 EP and toured with: "I thought they fucking rocked," the man correctly raves. "So we were the first (male) band to take a girl band on the road with us." The one woman he'd most like to work with but hasn't yet is Janet Jackson: "I wanted to do a version of 'Black Cat' with her, but Sony wouldn't let me. You could tell from the video that she was having a good time, that this loud rock music is what she really wanted to be doing."

Then again, maybe Lemmy just plain likes all women. He swears the chase really is better than the catch: "It's like a girlfriend of mine who once fucked Mick Jagger; I asked her what he was like, and she said, 'Well, he was good, but he was no Jagger'!" When I asked Lem how you love somebody like a reptile, he answered "very carefully" even though it was news to him that ancient Chinese warriors used to prove courage by shagging female crocodiles. My friend Anne told me Lemmy has great legs, and wanted to know why he doesn't show more skin in his videos. So Lemmy reminded me of all the grief Thin Lizzy alumnus turned very-temporary Motörhead guitarist Brian Robertson got for his green satin shorts on the band's 1983 tour. "It's considered obscene if a guy shows his legs. At least in America, people start thinking you're homosexual. In England people don't worry about that. Me, I have no problem unless somebody forces it on me. If I was homosexual, I'd be fucking guys in the ass for sure." Spoken like a true outlaw.