INTERVIEW BY ROGER LOTRING

Lemmy

Engaging in conversation with someone typically referred to as a living legend is a daunting proposition, especially if that person is known for his brutal candor. That's Lemmy Kilmister, the heart and soul of Motörhead. Seamlessly melding heavy metal and punk together over twenty years ago, Lemmy has continually inspired a cult-like following for as many years.

A favorite anecdote concerns a television crew preparing to film an interview with Motörhead. Granted several minutes with the entire band, the cameraman quickly prepares his equipment while the on-air personality asks, "Are you ready?" Lemmy replies with a challenging "Are you ready?" When the interviewer says yes, Lemmy impatiently demands, "Then ask me some fucking questions!"

I had interviewed the other members of Motörhead (drummer Mikkey Dee and guitarist Phil Campbell) before, but aside from a passing "Hi, Lemmy," I never met him personally. When I finally sat down with him, the conversation started out rather slowly with Lemmy succinctly answering admittedly mundane questions about Motörhead's most recent album, Overnight Sensation. With the blessing of Lemmy's patience, the conversation became more inspired and it quickly became apparent that he is knowledgeably intelligent and of a quick wit, especially when presented with such topical subjects as history, drugs, and the secrecy of governmental conspiracy.


Are you going to do the same thing that you've done in the past, go out with [another band], something like that? Maybe a tandem tour?

Well, I'd like to go out on our own but of course, y'know, we never sell enough bloody albums anymore. It's shame, though, 'cause if we could sell enough albums, we could do the whole Motorhead show with the bomber and everything and that'll give you the real thing. 'Cause America's never seen it. We've always been stuck playing support and shit. But there you go; that's the luck of the draw.

I think you guys could do something larger. I mean, every time I've seen you guys in the States, you've had a big following that [shows up].

The hardcore following ain't that big, y'know. The hardcore following is truly wonderful people that have been with us for years, but I couldn't sell out a five-thousand seat theater in, say, Seattle. Y'know, we could do like, three thousand, but we have to play the large clubs and then [promoters] can turn people away and feel better about themselves, y'know. You can't win, man.
Lemmy and Phil Campbell

No, not at all.

It's a no-sit winuation [smiles at play on words].

How do you feel about Castle Records putting out all the old stuff?

Can't stop 'em. I tried to stop 'em for about a year and couldn't do it, so I just forgot about it. What can you do?

They aren't [offering] you any involvement, none at all?

No, they don't — well, they don't ask your advice or anything like that, they just stick 'em out. And they put bonus tracks on them which is like, lame, y'know. 'Cause the albums were made as albums and they should stay that way. They should put a CD out with those other tracks and put it in with it, not in the same CD. 'Cause that ain't right.

Sort of like what they did with the [Iron] Maiden stuff.

Yeah. I'm glad they're putting 'em out 'cause I get more money. But all the same, they shouldn't put them extra tracks on the same CD.

Do you find, though, with that old stuff being re-released, that you're picking up younger people?

We are, but, I mean, if they didn't put out all the old stuff, they'd have to listen to the new stuff and that would do better for us 'cause then we wouldn't be relegated to somebody's cabaret. And you never get out of that, 'cause when you're sixteen, the music you hear stays with you for all of your life. So, therefore, [a fan of the old material] wants us to stay there because it was the best time he ever had — when you're sixteen, right?

Yeah.

So, we're stuck with it. We are the backing group for his adolescence. I'm sorry, but I didn't get into this business to be like that.

Yeah, that's understandable.

I think it's another three years before [the original fans] all die, y'know. Then we can start again. [Laughs]

Then you can start fresh. [Laughs] What was the birthday show like?

Oh, it was great, man. I mean, I don't remember much of it.

Did you ever think when you were twenty or thirty that it would be this long?

You don't think about it when you're twenty or thirty. You don't think about it when you're fifty, you're just doing it day by day. I'm very lucky, y'know? 'Cause I get to do something that's really fun, and dress up stupidly, take silly pictures and get away with it, right? What better life could you possibly have? I've been around the world and made millions of people happy.

How 'bout Europe, though? That's different from the States.

Yes, smaller.

Yeah, but I mean as far as the Motorhead following and so fourth.

Germany's our biggest, always was. Argentina's coming up now. And Brazil, we went down there. Iron Maiden, Skid Row and Motorhead. Fifty-six thousand people. Man, that's a fuckin' three-day festival — [to them it's] just a gig.

You're lucky; you get to go to that stuff. We don't have that here.

Well, you could always go down there. It's great down there, 'cause they're still innocent, see? They haven't got jaded yet. Everybody up here is jaded to shit. We played before forty-five thousand with the Ramones two years ago, right? And the whole crowd was, "Hey, hey, Motorhead" [slaps back of hand against palm]. Thirty-five thousand people doing that will ring your fuckin' bell, believe me. It was well worth it. It's worth it. That one night made the last ten years worth it. They just don't do that up here anymore. What's wrong with people? Don't they like to be entertained and then let themselves go? What's up?

I don't know.

Too cool? Are they all too cool now to be, like, excited? Well, if you are, fuck you. [Laughs]

[Laughs] Yeah, it's too bad. I wish a lot of that excitement would come back, as far as audiences are concerned.

Yeah, it's about time the journalists start writing it up, y'know.

Well, y'know...

It's true, though, isn't it?

Yeah, it is. Very true.

A lot of this is the fault of the journalists. Y'know, grunge is out now and kids don't know what the fuck to do without [them] 'cause they think they're right. And half the time they don't what the fuck they're talking about either. You're just guessing and fumbling your way through the underground, y'know?

Well, we're lucky. I mean, what we do — Prime Choice — it's small. There's no red tape. What we want to do, we do. If Motorhead puts out an album [and] we like it, we do it, y'know? Who cares what other people think.

It doesn't matter if we have a deal with the right people, 'cause they're sending you bloody presents in the mail.

Yeah, I don't give a shit.

Send 'em back 'cause they're usually crap anyway.

Last year, I got the Sacrifice album and at that point, in my opinion, that was the best thing you guys had done. I caught the tour a couple of times last year. In fact, I saw the first night with Sabbath in New Haven, Connecticut.

That was total horseshit (sic). [Snickers]

You know what, though, that was the first time I ever saw you guys.

Oh, really.

And I was impressed.

That was the one where we had that thing coming out in between them, right?

[Toad's Place suspends a net from floor to ceiling to differentiate between drinking and underage patrons.]

Yeah, but you know what? It was fun.

Toad's Place, right?

Yeah. I was standing there and I remember watching these two girls dancing to Motorhead. It was just the most amazing thing I had ever seen.

We must've been fast.

Yeah, very fast. But it was a fun show from my perspective.

Good, then.

I had a good time, had a few drinks...

If people could see us, then they'd understand, see? 'Cause they only hear rumors and shit. People [notice] our attitude more than our music. And that's like, a drag, really.

Well, the thing that was interesting [was] I saw the show and I will always remember this. You guys came on and you said "We are Motorhead and we are rock and roll." My first thought was like, "Hey, what the fuck? Where do you get off saying that?" But then I saw the show and [was] like, "Yeah!"

And we were rock and roll. [Laughs] We kicked your ass.

There's no other way to describe it.

That's right. I understand rock and roll. I remember when there was none. I remember before Elvis' first record came out. I remember his first record coming out, right? So I've listened to everything since then. I'm fuckin' not too impressed. So believe me if I say we had a good show, we had a good fuckin' show. And if we have a shit show, I'll be the first one to put his hand up, y'know? I mean, that show was hard down there. 'Cause we do rock and roll, that's what we do. We do nothing else, right? That's what we are here for.

It was fun. It was enough to make me want to go — I mean, I saw you a couple of weeks later at the Sting.

Good. That was a good show.

Yeah, that was a good time. I had a lot of fun there. What was that like, though, in the time before any of this music? I mean, what was it like when Elvis came out?

It was wonderful. There's no charge like the first one. And if you're going from Rosemary Clooney and Frank Sinatra to Little Richard, that's a bit of a culture shock now, y'know?

Did you get to see any of these people in their prime?

I saw Buddy Holly.

Did you really?!

Just before he died, yeah. 1958, he was touring England with... with, ah, who was it? A couple of English bands at the time. It was all new; it was like, 1958, y'know. Only been going for three years. My dad took me. But I don't really remember it, not really. And I didn't know any music and I didn't play anything. I suppose it taught me that up there in the lights is better than being down there in the seat, y'know.

True. I mean, one of the things that I think is really kind of sad is that I think there are a lot of younger people who, when they start listening to things and you try to trace it back to where it came from, they won't listen to that.

I know.

They don't understand.

Well, y'know, people are getting a shorter and shorter attention span as time goes on. And they are being fed that they should have a shorter attention span. Every program on TV — the media — is like, sound bytes. What the fuck is a sound byte? It means you can't get the whole meal, right?

Right.

[Laughs] Right! So my advice to you is eat the whole hamburger, y'know, then think about it. Sound bytes are fucking nothing, rubbish. It's educating you to be a moron.

One of the saddest things [was] last year [at Foundations Forum]. They had a panel for journalists and the moderator asked how many people could name the four members of the Beatles. And it's like, you're looking around and —

You were the only one?

Very few people.

Horrible, horrible.

Yeah! How can you write about [rock and roll] if you don't know where it came from.

It's horrible. That is horrible. It's like, you say to people, "Who's your favorite band from this year? And then last year and from the year before." Three years back, they don't know. They only got the tail bit of the third year back. All they got is the last six months, really. And VH1, y'know, and MTV, talk about becoming the thing you set out to [replace].

It just seems like people don't hang on to what they started with.

People are fickle, y'know, by nature. That's the way it works. But the thing is, this music is the healing music, as Little Richard said. This music will make your dick stand up. This music will make you pose in front of the mirror with a tennis racket, for Christ sake. It will make you pose about making ridiculous shapes of yourself in front of the mirror when you're all by yourself [laughs]. You don't have to impress anybody except yourself. It will make the blind see and the lame walk, truly. We got a guy out of a coma, talking to him on the tape, once. We tried about five or six of them, but only one every worked. This kid came out of his coma. Who else does that?

It's amazing.

It's amazing. That's the gift of life, right?

Mm-hmm. Well, I mean, if presented with the question, "Which would you rather lose, your sight or your hearing?" I'd rather lose my sight.

Yeah, me too. I'd rather not be asked the question.

Well, true.

Okay, one of each [laughs].

That'll work.

'Cause this one's pretty well worn out here.

I was reading, a few years ago, an interesting article you did for RIP on the Titanic.

Mm...

How long have you been interested in the historical stuff? I know you're a big historian.

My whole life. Nothing's been done, though, since 1912. I mean, I was fuckin' [unintelligible] when they found it.

The National Geographic special was great.

Yeah, that was great, but the book he did is better. He did a book called The Discovery of the Titanic. It's got all these pictures that weren't in that. There's hundreds of 'em. There's a pair of shoes there [gestures with hands] like this. There used to be a guy in them, but the thing that ate they guy let the shoes sit.

I don't thing what the French did was right, though.

No, man, it wasn't. That was wrong.

They should have left everything there.

How many bodies did they chop up getting that shit? They didn't care. And then you see that guy that sold out, that guy that sold out to the French and he was there with 'em. I thought he should have been ashamed of himself.

How about the Nazi Germany history?

Well, y'know...

I mean, my family's from Germany —

Yeah.

And it's wild to have relatives come over and see like, uncles and parents sitting with their direct relatives — cousins — and knowing at that point, they were against each other, y'know?

Right.

Just very strange.

What can you do, though?

Well, not forget.

People that forget the past are doomed to repeat it.

Unfortunately.

America's a fascist country. It is. It's all locked up, lock, stock and barrel. It's just that they aren't as obvious. I mean, if they can read your number from outer space from a satellite. Why wouldn't they then?

What's scary is to see stuff in movies, like in Demolition Man, they barcoded people. That's probably going to happen.

That's one step away. We're one step away from that right now. And those collars that explode if you escape and shit? We're one step away from that too.

It's scary.

It's not that scary. I don't intend to join in, but if that's what it's like, then I'm gone, through the woods.

But I mean scary in the sense that things like that have happened before and people haven't learned the lesson. Like you said, it repeats itself.

The Gestapo, most of the Gestapo was brought straight here after [World War II]. I mean, they left all their foreign agents in place. All they changed was their [homeland] became America instead of Germany. I mean, there's an interview now with Heinrich Mueller, who was head of the Gestapo, and he was supposed to be dead in 1945. And they dug up his grave. There was three guys in there, none of which was Heinrich Mueller, right? Turns out he's been working for the CIA since 1948, eh? Oohh [laughs]. He's got transcripts of conversations... Churchill warned Roosevelt about Pearl Harbor. On the 27th of November he told Roosevelt that the fucking fleet had left Japan and was steaming straight for Pearl Harbor, due east. And Roosevelt said, well, I'll go down to — what was his place called, the country place? Said I'll go down there; they can't reach me that easy there. That son of a bitch!

But, I mean, there's all kinds of stuff like that.

It's all over the place. The British Empire, ugh.

I just got done reading a book about the UFOs at Roswell. That's been covered up. Kennedy —

Ah, Kennedy. His brain went missing. President of the United States. They had his brain in a jar. They assassinated Saint John and they lost his brain?! Fuck off! Right? Don't tell me shit like that. They do every day. Somebody [covers something] in this country. And it's a shame 'cause this is paradise. And you shit where you live and I don't understand it.

I think it's because as Americans we take it for granted.

Of course you do. If you were born here, you do.

We don't realize what it's like 'cause we've been here all our lives so we don't know what it's like anywhere else.

You don't see it. When we first came over here and the plane circles around in LAX, you notice the palm trees. I was like, "Wow, Hollywood." See, you don't think nothing about it, do you?

No.

But like, I'm from England. I mean, for me to be from Wales — North Wales — and then to be in Hollywood, is like going to Mars. Never questioned that I would ever make that, I'll never go. Now I'm living here for six years.

Do you like this part of the country?

Sure, I like all parts of the country for different reasons. It's just a different climate. That's the great thing about the States, you can have any climate you want. And any kind of people. If you want rednecks or the rain, go to the Appalachians. If you want freezing cold weather and fucking lots of good people, go to Chicago. I mean, there's all kinds of places to go. It's great.

It's interesting. I mean, I'm from the East coast —

Uh-huh.

And it's very different.

Of course it is, it's the East coast [laughs]. That's why they have different names.

Is there even that much more of a difference being from a different country?

Well, the East is more like England. The East coast is more intelligent, more or less, because out here they're more concentrating on what's politically correct. Well, that's coming to New York now as well, isn't it?

Yeah.

That politically correct bullshit is creeping in there too and I can't believe that New Yorkers are sitting still for it.

Yeah, I know. They're the first people to say "Fuck you."

There's a lot of shrill people in New York, y'know. If you're shrill long enough, people listen to you. Do you know what politically correct calls Chernobyle?

What's that?

The super-prompt, critical power explosion. Makes it sound like a day at the fucking beach. Nuclear meltdown is Chernobyle, right?

Yeah.

Or that thing, "shellshock." "Combat fatigue." "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder." What the fuck does that [mean]? That offends me; that pisses me off bad.

Especially more so if somebody were actually involved and had deal with that.

Right.

I'd be offended.

Offended? I'd fucking kill 'em and tear their eyes out.

Glossed it over and like —

Yeah, just make it like, safe. Meaningless bullshit words. "Post traumatic stress disorder." What's that mean? "Shell shock." That's what it is, shell shock. You're shot by a shell and you didn't come back out of it. "Post traumatic stress disorder" has nothing to do with it.

And then forget about it. In fifty years it'll happen again. It's easy to gloss it over, then it repeats.

Yeah, of course it is. But you can't polish a turd [laughs].

Well, the thing that I think is really kind of cool — and I didn't even realize this until that Lita Ford album came out — is your strength as a lyricist.

Oh, thank you.

I think it was just something where you hear Motorhead and it's —

No, no, no, no.

When you stop and listen [to the lyrics] and pay attention —

That's why we print 'em on the sleeves. Right now nobody fuckin' reads 'em.

I do.

At this point, the flow of the conversation shifted to the inadequacies of education, prompting Lemmy to comment that "you can graduate from school functionally illiterate" with the minimal ability to "read roadsigns and count up to a hundred." The point was then made that with such strict anti-drug legislation, so many young adults are finding themselves in a position where their education system is incarceration.

I mean, if [a] kid's caught smoking a joint, they lock him up in jail. And if it's the third time, he's going to do life. And that's where he's going to learn to be a good criminal, in jail. That's where all the good criminals are.

Did you see the story about the kid — I think it was in Michigan — who got busted for the cocaine offense and because of their laws there, he got life. It was his first offense — he was eighteen or nineteen — and they threw him in. And he's been fighting — I think he's in his late twenties now — and they finally got him out.

What is the point with that? That's like saying all food is bread and butter; it don't work. Drugs are different. Some drugs should be de-criminalized, others should be stamped out. They should shoot anybody on heroin. Might as well, he's gonna die anyway, right? And they should legalize speed like it used to be. Now it's like, Class I. It's bullshit, man. Speed isn't like heroin. Marijuana isn't like, even as good as speed. Marijuana isn't even as bad as booze. Marijuana should have been de-criminalized twenty, thirty years ago. There was no evidence to criminalize it at all. Y'know, it doesn't impair your judgement, it doesn't fuckin' make you aggressive. Why marijuana? 'Cause that's what they've been doing, that's why.

And you put somebody up on a pedestal saying, "No, wrong, bad..."

Leads to something more stronger. So could booze, for that matter. So could a personal tragedy, could lead you to heroin; blot it out. These people have got their heads up their ass. And the trouble is, it's the hippie generation that's doing this. I can't believe it.

They've all become what they were against.

Yeah. Probably half of 'em working for Wall Street. Right on, brother.

Rolling Stone is a perfect example.

Fuck, yeah. Right there. It's not up to them. They're supposed to be writing for the people, not themselves.

Exactly. Who are they to decide?

The people are interested in it — are they or are they not? You know that they are. And they know they are, but they're not the people who buy ten million albums every year.

Y'know, years ago they poked fun at Metallica. "Ha ha ha. It's a bunch of teenage kids —"

I know. And now all of a sudden —

Oh, yeah, 'cause all of a sudden they're makin' the money and everything and it's good enough to put it on the cover.

But the sad thing is kids are now saying that Metallica are no good, that they're dead.

But that's as you were saying, going back to the music you listen to when you're sixteen. It's the music you want for the rest of your life.

Yes, I know. But they can't expect musicians to be that way.

No, not at all.

Sometimes they turn the same shit out 'cause they're gonna buy it anyway. If you churn the same shit out album after album, they're not gonna buy it. Of course they're not. Three albums tops, you're gone. Anyway, I'm satisfied. I lasted twenty-one years. If I went out tonight, I can't complain. I did more than I thought I'd do.

Let's say, hypothetically, [Overnight Sensation] sold a million copies and then Rolling Stone called you up. I mean, obviously, from a business point of view, that's a good thing 'cause you'll get exposure. But would you do it?

I'd do an interview and dis 'em. And they'd have to print it. See, I can fuck you. And don't make me want to. There's no reason to. There's no reason why I should want to, is there? If people shot straight, you wouldn't have to.

Because of that attitude, have you ever had any problems like what the United States government tried to pull with Lennon in the early seventies.

Well, they won't give me a green card.

Oh, really?

Know why? Because on New Year's Eve, 1971, I was busted with two sleeping pills. That's it.

I've read about that. And that still carries on?

Yes.

'71, that's what, 26 years?

It's off the books in England, but not here. I didn't get busted here.

It was Canada, wasn't it?

No, it was in England. And it's off the books in England. What's the fucking matter with these people? They never heard of rehabilitation? They keep throwing the word out. It doesn't apply to people like me.

Well, they're just protecting me [from you] 'cause you're such a threat.

I'm going to corrupt your entire life; I'm probably fucking guilty.