Damage Case – Lemmy Kilmister
The hard-livin’ Englishman everyone calls Lemmy, whose real name is Ian Kilmister, sits at the edge of the bed in his Las Vegas hotel room pouring a bit of Coke into a tall glass of Jack Daniels. After last night’s concert, Motörhead’s frontman, who’s almost as legendary for his after-hour escapades as for his on stage activities, stayed out until after dawn. Today there was no show, so he was able to crash until 6 p.m. Now it’s almost time to go out again. But first, he’s got an interview — just one of two he’ll allow per day when he has a new album coming out. In this case, Kilmister is plugging the band’s 20th record Motörizer — kind of.
While most artists talk at length about how their new record differs from their past offerings, what was going on in their lives when it was created, and what the songs are about, Kilmister finds such subjects boring. “We did Motörizer the same way we always do albums,” he says in a Liverpool accent as heavy as shepherd’s pie. “We just write the songs and when we like ’em we recorded ’em. Then we do some more.”
Kilmister doesn’t really care for promotion. He’d much rather talk about drugs, strip clubs, and politics. He knows his albums are consistently good, and that enough of his fans will continue to buy them (even in an era of illegal downloading) to sustain his livelihood. And he’s aware that even if record sales wane, Motörhead’s shows will continue to draw large enough audiences to keep him on the road – and that’s all the incentive he needs to keep at it for another 20 records.”People ask me if I’ve ever been tempted to settle down, but I’m just a road rat,” Kilmister says, then clears his throat. “I like being on the move, and no relationship survives that. But I’ve had a great time out of rock n’ roll, so I’ve got no regrets.”
The metal icon with the handlebar moustache and sizeable growths on his left cheek clears his throat again, which does nothing to ease his raspy voice, and downs half of his drink with one gulp. Then he adjusts his black cowboy hat and awaits the next question. As long as he’s got a drink in hand and at least hope of getting laid later, Kilmister can put up with about 30 minutes of interrogation, and he responds to each query with a twist of wit and a steely stare.
Since he began playing music with the Rocking Vicars in the late ’60s, Kilmister has been the very definition of excess and indulgence, enjoying the type of live-fast-die-hard existence few have survived. Lemmy’s musical history is almost as colorful as his extracurricular exploits. Since the late ’60s, he has played in the British rock band the Rocking Vicars, worked as a roadie for Jimi Hendrix, and been a member of galactic rockers Hawkwind. But his greatest achievements, by far, came with Motörhead, who debuted in 1977 with their self-titled disc, which combined the bluesy swing of ’60s garage rock with the speed and rumble of early punk. Motörhead drafted their blueprint over their next three classic albums — Bomber (1979), Overkill (1979) and especially Ace of Spades (1980) – and while the band’s lineup has shifted several times over the years, the core sound has remained constant and its influence has been inestimable. When you hear Kilmister’s rumbling double-time bass, Mikkey Dee’s galloping double-bass beats, and Phil Campbell’s bluesy bends and swift, swaggering riffs, there’s no question who’s blaring in your ears – especially when Lemmy starts to growl.
A couple weeks before Kilmister rolls onto the set of L.A. Ink to have three old tattoos — the ace of spades (left forearm), a Capricorn sign (left shoulder) and an Indian shield (right forearm) — touched up by ink vixen Kat Von D, the only remaining original member of Motörhead talked about his tattoos, Motörizer, politics, strippers, porn stars, ghosts, UFOs, Nazi war memorabilia, speed, acid, and other things that keep his world rocking.
Inked: When did you get your first tattoo?
Kilmister: In 1973 when I was in Hawkwind. We were in Dayton, Ohio on a Sunday and the tattoo shop was the only place open. We were totally fuckin’ bored so we all went down there and got a derisive hippie tattoo. Mine was a marijuana leaf, which I’ve since had covered up because it looked like a pizza with wings.
What did you cover it with?
I got an Indian shield, but the fuckin’ ink came through it a couple years after. Green came through back. I couldn’t believe it.
What’s your favorite tattoo?
The Ace of Spades one, but you can’t read that anymore. It says “Born to Lose, Live to Win” around it, but the words have bled into each other. That was done in 1979 in Holland.
Have you kept getting inked through years?
I’ve just got three. The other one I did in LA in ’91 and it’s a Capricorn.
You’ve probably seen some wild Motörhead tattoos over the years.
No shit, man. A friend of ours in Germany has his entire back covered with the logo and he’s got us tattooed on the sides of his head and chest. He’s got our faces on the calves of his legs.
It must be strange to see your face tattooed on someone.
If it’s a good picture I don’t mind, but if I look like a pig with a goiter then it’s not so good. I’ve seen both.
What’s the biggest tattoo disaster you’ve seen?
A friend of ours was getting “Born to Lose” tattooed on her arm, and the guy was about to spell it with two “o”s – “Born to Loose,” you know? I saved her just in time.
The Motörhead logo is almost as cool as the band itself.
Yeah, it’s helped us to stay alive all this time. People buy the shirts and they’ve never heard the albums. We used to make more from merchandizing than from the albums by a long shot.
You recently put out your 20th album, Motörizer. A lot of bands don’t make it to album three let alone 20. How have you lasted so long?
We haven’t given up. Other people give up too easy. Not going away does ensure you stay there.
Where would you put Motörizer in your career arc?
Fuck, man, I don’t know. It’s our 20th album. But it’s a good album because, I mean, you wouldn’t hear it if it wasn’t. The only thing that matters is that we like it because we aren’t doing them for you, we’re doing them for us.
Motörizer has some fairly political lyrics.
Yeah, one of ’em’s about Iraq, “When the Eagle Screams.” I wrote that because I know the history of war. I’ve studied it and this is a prime example of money sending boys to their deaths. The interest’s winning over the logic. Everybody knew there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq because we sold them everything they had. I’ll tell you a funny story. You know when the British invaded Iraq with you guys? We didn’t have any desert uniforms. We only had the green and the khaki because we sold all the desert uniforms to Iraq three years before. Isn’t that great? I just hate all politicians. They’re all bastards.
Your signature song is “Ace of Spades.” Are you a big gambler?
No, not really, I just like to play. Like it says in the song, “The pleasure is to play, makes no difference what you say.”
Do you often win?
No gambler ever wins, not in the long run. The most I’ve lost at any one time is three grand. I won nine grand on one pull of a lever seven years ago at the Venetian in Vegas. I put two grand back and took seven grand home. That’s very good for me.
You often go to strip clubs. Are you a fan of the lapdance?
Sure. It’s a tease, but you can sometimes talk them into it, you know? And you can only talk them into it if you have a lapdance. You can’t convince them to go home with you from the bar.
Ever hook up with a porn star?
Five of them over the years, actually.
Anyone we’d recognize?
I don’t kiss and tell.
Are porn stars better in bed than regular girls?
No, they’re just the same, but then again I’m not as good in bed as the people I usually fuck, so I suppose it evens out.
Gene Simmons started playing music to score chicks. Is that true for you as well?
Of course. Nearly every single musician has. I don’t care what people say. They’re in it for the pussy, you know? The music’s important too, but it’s more about the pussy.
Mostly chase women, I suppose. Actually, no, that’s a career. The music’s the hobby.
You told Maxim you’ve slept with 2,000 women.
No, I said 1,000 and I think they inflated it a bit. But I’m not keeping count, you know?
When do you do your best writing?
In the studio under the knife. All our stuff is done with our back against the fucking wall. That’s when the hard-hitting stuff comes out.
Motörhead were so important to the evolution of thrash metal and the development of bands like Metallica and Anthrax. What made you inject all that speed into rock n’ roll?
Maybe it was the drugs. I dunno. We were all doing speed when we started, but then again, I was doing it in Hawkwind. I’ve just always been in a hurry for everything. I’m a very impatient man.
You mentioned Hawkwind. They were an important band in the evolution of space rock. Does it bother you that people don’t associate you more with them?
No, it was a long time ago. They’re still going, but people tend to forget. But that was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in a band. Sometimes we’d do three hits of acid before we got onstage and sometimes five — because everybody said it doesn’t work two days in a row, but we found out that if you double the dose, it does.
Why were you fired from Hawkwind?
Because I got busted on the Canadian border. The most cosmic band in the world fired me for getting busted, can you believe it? But the police had to let me go because they charged me for cocaine, and I really had amphetamines so I was only in jail overnight.
Did you ever return to the hoosegow?
Yeah, several times. The longest was for four days. That was also a bust, but it wasn’t me, it was the chick I was going to screw that night. We ride home, and they open the trunk of the car and it was full of her pills. But I’ve never been sentenced for anything.
You worked as a roadie for Jimi Hendrix? That must have been a trip.
It was. That’s actually when I learned how to function on five hits of acid. He just handed it out like Dolly Mixtures, and I used to go score it for him, too. That was part of my job.
What’s your best memory of Jimi?
All of ’em. He was great. He was really a quiet guy, a gentleman. He was a raver as well, and he was the fuckin’ best. You’ll never see a guitar player like him, ever.Isn’t it tragic that a lot of the classic artists seem to die before they hit 30?
They’re only classic because they died, you see? People improve a lot when they’re dead. Buddy Holly started that trend, I think. Jim Reeves’ band had a lot of posthumous hits and they couldn’t get arrested when they were alive. Probably Motörhead will even be top seller at Wal-Mart for a whole week after I die.
What’s the strangest thing that’s ever happened to you onstage?
A chick just climbed up and blew me. I was singing. Well, I couldn’t stop, could I? But that was in the ’70s when women were more liable to do that. It’s a like another planet now.
You’ve been known to swing your bass at unruly fans. How many have you taken out over the years?
Actually, only one, but he went down very satisfactorily. We were on a very small stage in Colorado Springs in 1983. I had a hole in the knee of my trousers, and this guy put his finger in the hole and just ripped them down, so I smacked him.
What’s the best response you’ve given a heckler?
One guy spat a big green thing on my arm, and I borrowed a line from Winston Churchill. I pulled it off my arm and rubbed it in my hair and said, “See that? Tonight I’ll have a shower and I’ll be clean, but tomorrow you’ll still be an asshole.”
You wrote one of Ozzy Osbourne’s biggest ballads, “Mama I’m Coming Home.”
Just after I moved to the states, Sharon rang up and said, “Can you write four songs for me,” and made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. One of them was “Mama I’m Coming Home.” I made more money out of those four songs than I did in 15 years with Motörhead. And then I wrote two more for Ozzmosis.
You seem to have a love/hate relationship with Sharon.
No, it was just she took over our management for a month in 1991. And when we went to Japan, she sent a tour manager over with us and he fucked up all the money and then said it was our fault. She trusted his word over ours, which is fairly natural because she was his guy. But I never forgave her until last week when she finally said, “Okay, I believe you.”
Do you have great contempt for the music business?
Well, they’re like any other business. You can’t expect them to be anything but what they are. They’re moneymakers, you know? They’re the same as people who sell baked beans in a can. They’re just shifting items. They don’t give a fuck about music. They can’t afford to or else they’d bet on a lot of losers.
Right now the record companies are in a state of crisis?
Yeah, they’ve all bet themselves out of fucking business. They failed to recognize the threat [of illegal downloading]. That’s how smart they are.Is it okay for kids to download music for free and support their favorite bands by buying the merch?
No, it’s not okay because then you’re just taking all our money away from us. When you get your pipes fixed, you don’t expect the plumber to do it for free before it’s cool. You have to pay for a commodity and music’s a commodity.
There’s a documentary film, “Lemmy: The Movie,” coming out next year.
I saw the promo for it. It looks good. I hope the rest of it is as good as that clip. Them guys, [Greg Olliver and Wes Orshoski] just showed up and said, “Can we do a movie?” And we said, “Go ahead and shoot a couple hours,” They did, and they came back and it was great, so we said, “Yeah, shoot more. Go for it.” I’m looking forward to seeing the whole thing.
You’ve appeared in several films. Do you like working in Hollywood?
If it’s a good one, I’ll do it, but it’s really boring, man. You have to get there at five in the morning and then you sit around until three o’clock talking to fucking actors, and then they say, “We don’t need you today. Come back tomorrow.”
You mentioned that you’ve studied war.
Yeah, I’ve read a lot about it. I like the romance of violence rather than the real smack in the mouth. The most important war is the Second World War because it involved the entire world for the second time in 30 years, and we’re still feeling the repercussions today. America wouldn’t be where it is apart from the Second World War happening, and Russia wouldn’t have been such a force without it. You wouldn’t have communist China, and Japan would have still been an imperial power. Britain took a big tumble in the Second World War as far as power was concerned. The whole map of Europe changed. The whole world changed.
You have a large collection of Nazi memorabilia. Does that rub people the wrong way?
Some, but what’s that got to do with the music? Nothing. Also, two years ago one of Hermann Goring’s hunting daggers went off in one of the catalogs I get for $100,000 starting price. It isn’t skinheads who are collecting this shit, it’s dentists and doctors.
Why Nazi stuff as opposed to British war souvenirs?
The Nazis made the best shit. I’ve often said if Israel made the best stuff I’d collect that, but they didn’t. They just had khaki drab. The Germans had the best uniforms. If you notice, the bad guys always have the best stuff. The Confederates, Napoleon – all of that stuff comes from the bad guys.The same could be said for art. Hieronymus Bosch paintings are much more interesting to look at than, say, Vermeers.
Exactly, ’cause cherubs are fucking boring after a while, aren’t they? You can only see so many chubby kids with wings and bows and arrows before it gets old.
Ever had a paranormal experience?
I heard ghosts once at a place in Yorkshire where I was staying. There was a spirit there of a girl who had been locked in a room by her father for 25 years until he died because he didn’t approve of the kid she wanted to marry. She used to cry all night and you could hear him slamming doors and doing the rounds. It was really quite poignant and sad.
Do you believe in space aliens?
I saw a UFO when I was in the Rocking Vicars. We were coming back over the Yorkshire Moors in 1966, which, incidentally, was before I even drank beer, so it couldn’t have been some acid flashback. This thing came over the horizon and stopped dead in the middle of the sky. And then it went from a standstill to top speed, immediately. We don’t have aircraft that do that now, nevermind then.
Are you at all religious?
I’m an agnostic, really. I’ll wait and see… and I can wait. But I’m not afraid of dying. What’s the point of being afraid of the inevitable. I just hope it won’t be in hospital surrounded by assholes and tubes up your nose, you know? My ethic is, “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.” You can be as careful as you want, but you’re gonna die anyway, so why not have fun.
The polar icecaps are melting, the economy is in ruins, we’re running out of natural resources. Is mankind doomed?
Don’t kid yourself. It is too late. We’re done. Pretty soon we’ll all either be extinct or living in hermetically sealed caved because we’re poisoning the air we breathe, we’re poisoning the water we drink, we’re poisoning the food we eat. Any questions? And it’s not like we haven’t known this, but businesses wanted the money more than they wanted their children to live. Isn’t that wonderful? You can count on mankind every time.