LEMMY AT FIFTY

AGING GRACELESSLY WITH LEMMY KILMISTER, THE MAN BEHIND MOTORHEAD.

The morning after, Lemmy Kilmister, age fifty, is doing his best to remember the night before.

As usual, Lemmy's band, Motorhead, is on tour, but there was no show the previous evening. Rather than catch up on his rest, however, Lemmy abandoned his New Orleans hotel around nightfall and cruised strip bars. "I was down there talking to women who had no interest in me whatsoever other than a professional one--which is usually the case," he admits good-naturedly, his English accent thick and phlegmy. "People go in there and pour out their hearts to these chicks, and they're nodding and smiling and thinking, `I wish I could get off my feet.'" He isn't sure exactly when he made it back to his room, but he knows it took him quite a while to lose consciousness. ("I couldn't get to sleep," he says. "I was drunk enough to go to sleep, but the brain wouldn't lie down.") He estimates that his lids finally closed around 10:30 a.m., four hours before he was supposed to sit for an interview. A member of his road crew woke him up on schedule, but it took Lemmy another two hours or so to pull himself together. "Before then," he reveals, guffawing, "I was just blundering around the room, knocking over the furniture. But I'm all right now--or at least as all right as I get."

Whether Lemmy has ever been all right is a subject of considerable debate. The pro-Motorhead faction holds that Lemmy is the epitome of rock and roll, a passionate, single-minded musical maniac whose particular brand of brutal riffing, bellowed vocals and lyrical mayhem prefigured much of the best heavy metal from the past two decades. Opponents, by contrast, see Lemmy as Spinal Tap on two legs--amusing in small doses, perhaps, but thoroughly unimportant and unlistenable over the long haul. Journalist Malu Halasa is a typical naysayer: In The New Rolling Stone Record Guide, he writes, "That this band has never caught on in America's wheat-belt heavy metal heartland represents a mysterious lapse of bad judgment."

Lemmy takes sniping like this in stride. Upon being asked why so many reviewers seem unable to appreciate his work, he draws out the syllables of his response with considerable relish. "Because they're foooking stew-pid," he says. "They're stuck in their own self-made jail, and they can't see outside. They think that anything different is bad, and that's why they attack it. They've done the same to every kind of good music, from jazz to classical music straight through to the waltz. Shit, they condemned the bloody waltz for being sexually suggestive and lewd. And I think I've got problems.

"Why do people have to vilify this music all the time? I mean, you've got these people with religious bloody homes where they send kids to be de-metalized. What the foook is that? Are these people foooking stew-pid or something? Do they think Jesus Christ is better than heavy metal? Well, I don't know about that. He's killed more people than we have."

As that comment implies, Mr. Kilmister doesn't get his inspiration from higher sources; he prefers wisdom of an earthier variety. A native of Wales raised on Chuck Berry and Little Richard, he moved to Manchester in the mid-Sixties determined to make a living from rock and roll. After playing with several local bands, including the Rocking Vicars, he relocated to London and did odd jobs to make ends meet--for a time, he was a roadie for Jimi Hendrix. Finally, in 1970, he earned membership in Hawkwind, a spacey prog-rock act characterized by Bob Calvert's sci-fi lyrics and jams that lasted slightly longer than the William Henry Harrison administration. The result was bombastic and often silly, but Lemmy, who remained with the group until 1975, loved every minute of it. "I'd never have left Hawkwind if I hadn't been fired," he claims. "In some ways, I had more musical freedom then than I do now."

Following his ouster from Hawkwind (reportedly spurred by a drug bust near the Canadian border), Lemmy sat down and considered his options. He soon decided to create a band that played to his strengths. "I like hard, aggressive music," he says. "I guess I could have formed the bloody Grateful Dead Mark II and stood up on stage with my head down wearing a foooking tie-dyed T-shirt, but that's not really very progressive, is it? Besides, what I really wanted to be was the MC5."

With that thought in mind, Lemmy created an outfit he dubbed Bastard. After his handlers deemed the moniker career suicide, they suggested that he rename the act Motorhead--the title of a Lemmy song with trademark Lemmy lyrics ("Brained out, total amnesia/Get some mental anesthesia.../ Fourth day, five-day marathon/We're moving like a parallelogram"). Lemmy gave his blessing, but with one proviso. "In the beginning, they made up a lot of posters that said `Lemmy's Motorhead.' I fought tooth and nail to get it changed off of that," he recalls. "I think if a band is going to work properly together, then you don't need any resentment coming up from the ranks--and there would have been, because that's human nature. And I always preferred to be in a band, anyway."

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