When you think about Lemmy from Motorhead—and what true rocker doesn’t?— what do you think of first? Maybe his bullet belt. The Rickenbacker bass guitar and shower-stall-style microphone. His Marlboro Reds washed down with a Jack Daniels and Coca-Cola meal plan. Killer tracks like “Killed By Death” or (for you young ones out there) “Shake Your Blood” from Dave Grohl’s Probot album. Those famous warts. His reputation as a man who has partaken in enough sex, drugs and booze to kill a mere mortal. A Cliff Richards fan.
Yep. Ask Lemmy to list the greatest rock songs ever, and Sir Cliff’s first hit single with the Shadows, 1958’s “Move It,” is right up there. He also loves Little Richard’s “Good Golly Miss Molly,” Fats Domino’s “Red Sails in the Sunset,” “Yakety Yak” by The Coasters, “Twist and Shout” by The Beatles and “C’mon Everybody” by Eddie Cochran.
Jeepers. The godfather of speed metal, the man who inspired three decades of heavy metal and punk rock musicians—Lemmy of friggin’ Motorhead—is essentially reciting an oldies radio playlist. Which totally makes sense, right, because Lemmy, born Ian Fraser Kilmister on Christmas Eve, 1945, was born right before the Boomers.
“There was a lot of good stuff around in those days,” Lemmy reminisces, and then adds, in typical dry fashion, “there was a lot of crap as well. But there seemed to be just as much good stuff as crap, which is different from today...it seems to be all crap.”
According to Lemmy, so-called heavy metal is the logical successor to the original rock and roll. “I mean, if Eddie Cochran and Buddy Holly were around now, this is what they’d be playing. They wouldn’t be playing Britney Spears’ music.”
No, they sure as holy hell would not. And speaking of oldies but goodies, Motorhead are kicking just as much ass now, on their 30th anniversary tour, as when they started.
“More in fact, I think,” Lemmy interjects. “If you play the old albums, they’re really slow and tame now.”
Not to mention some of Motorhead’s old albums are overplayed at the expense of the newer material. There are a lot of people out there who seem to think this band starts and finishes with a certain 25-year-old single.
“You ask a lot of people and they don’t know you did anything since then. They think you’re still fucking touring on ‘Ace of Spades,’ you know, since 1980. Like one of those cabaret acts: ‘And now, here’s a medley of our greatest hits!’”
So what has Lemmy been doing since then? In short, rocking, fucking, drinking and smoking harder than everybody else around him every chance he gets. Lemmy’s not the kind of guy to sit at home and chill in his bathrobe and slippers. Motorhead’s released 20 albums or so since Ace of Spades, including the excellent 1916 and the wryly titled Overnight Sensation.
The cast of characters, and sometimes collaborators, in his life includes Wendy O. Williams, Sid Vicious, Lars Ulrich, Joey Ramone, Chrissie Hynde, Tom Araya, Ozzy Osbourne, Joan Jett, Jimi Hendrix and more. This cat hangs out with the true rockers; though he’s English-born and raised, he’s spent the last 15 years living in a two-bedroom apartment a short walk away from the legendary Rainbow Bar & Grill, the oldest rock and roll bar in Hollywood. And just forget about catching him at the VH1 Fashion Awards (though Motorhead did recently accept their first Grammy, albeit for a cover of Metallica’s “Whiplash”).But back to the crap of which Lemmy spoke earlier. The biggest load of it, he says, can be found on your television sets each Tuesday and Wednesday night. It would seem Lemmy is not a fan of American Idol.
“It’s no good for the industry, it’s no good for the audience,” he declares. “About one in five winners is worth five minutes of your time, you know what I mean? You shouldn’t have gone out and given them delusions of grandeur. They’re only going to be disappointed.”
TV shows like this are teaching young hopefuls it really isn’t a long way to the top if they wanna rock and roll, and that’s just wrong in his eyes.
“It should be a long way to the top, you see,” he says. “You can’t do it in five minutes because you’re not as prepared emotionally or mentally, and you’re not prepared professionally either. You know, you can’t put a kid like that on the road with a 150-date tour and expect them to cope with it. It’s ridiculous. You know, you’ve got to have done a couple of tours for two weeks, and then you do a month, and you work your way up. And you have to ride in the back of the van with your fucking sleeping bag, your flashlight and your book on top of the equipment.”
It’s all about paying your dues, he says.
“These kids are just, like, miming. They’re just playing at it, you know?”
It is, I agree, just like a play.
“Yeah, it’s a comedy,” he says and laughs. “A tragic comedy.”