This article first appeared in Classic Rock #74.
“Don’t look at his toe,” says Lemmy’s press guy, Nik. Too late. In a hotel room in London, Lemmy Kilmister is surrounded by empty bottles of Jack Daniel’s and old prescription slips. Lemmy’s done something to his foot, you see, and has been confined to this room for over a week.
Before we can look away, he holds his foot up as evidence – his big toe looks like a mouldy old parsnip that’s been lying in a pool of stale milk at the bottom of your fridge. It’s enough to drive you to drink. So we let it. Despite all this – or maybe because of it – Lemmy’s on top form, doling out JD and Cokes all afternoon, playing us tracks scheduled for a forthcoming solo album (Lemmy with guests including Dave Grohl and the Reverend Horton Heat), and holding forth on everything from drugs to marriage to Emperor Hirohito. So hold on to your hats and prepare yourself for the wisdom of Lemmy – what he’s learned in his 59 years of rock and rolling. Or at least what he can remember…
All I learned at school was how to dodge fighting and how to smoke. And what girls’ tits looked like.
There’s a fine line between a heavy drinker and an alcoholic. Just like there’s a fine line between just fishing and standing on the bank looking like an arsehole. The line is whether the fuck you know what you’re doing when you drink ’cos if you don’t know what you’re doing, you just become a terrible boring drunk. Whereas, if you know when to stop, you become an amazing, anecdotal man of the world. Which is better than being the guy having a shit in the bath tub.
I don’t even get drunk any more. A kid once said to me: “Do you get hangovers?” I said: “To get hangovers you have to stop drinking.”
Journalists are the worst drinkers in the world. Or were. Rock journalists are a really boring crowd now. Sit around drinking plastic bottles of fucking Evian.
The music business is all geared up to stealing your money. It’s just like any other business – they’re out to make money, not to be good people. If you’re a businessman you can’t be a pleasant person. Business is ‘how to be a cunt’, basically. The bigger the cunt, the more successful the businessman.
Above: Lemmy photographed on the day of this interview (Photos by Sam Scott-Hunter)
I know what I’m doing. I know what Motörhead’s for. I know who it appeals to. And I know it could appeal to a lot more people if we had the coverage.
I’ve never understood why anyone would need a double-necked bass. I don’t even understand why you’d need a five-string. What’re you gonna do? Play bigger chords? Have more room to twiddle on? I hate twiddlers and they hate me. And that’s just fine.
Scotch makes me hit people. Bourbon’s a mellow high. I used to drink Scotch but I went off it. I hit a door post once and it really fucking hurt. Who did I miss? Oh, nobody famous. He would’ve been famous if I’d connected.
People are much weirder up north, aren’t they? You get real quality shit up there. You don’t get people with affectations: these people are fucking serious.
I am a womaniser, but that doesn’t mean you can’t respect people.
I don’t understand racism or sexism – I don’t get any of it. As far as I can see, a lot of feminist things that have happened have made men happy, not women. It’s given women unattainable goals to shoot for. The people expounding the thing in the first place are college people, sitting in a studio in the city. But some girl in fucking Newcastle has got no chance of following them. If a girl isn’t strong enough to buck the system, they’re just gonna get married like they would have in any other generation but they’re gonna be even more unhappy because of all this freedom they’ve read about which they aren’t getting.
To a lot of people, magazines are like pictures of another world – because they are pictures of another world. That world’s never gonna show up in Cowdenbeath.
If a woman likes you, you’re not bothered why they like you. I’m really shallow like that. People say: “Doesn’t it bother you that they just want you because you’re famous?” And I say: “No. Never did. Ever. Not for one second.” They can have me – I’m a whore, always was. In fact they don’t even have to pay me.
People would say: “Have you slept with her?” I’d say: “Oh, we didn’t have time to sleep. We were too busy fucking.” Aids wasn’t a wake up call, it was a go-to-sleep call.
Love’s a rather miserable condition. Makes you act like an idiot, knocks all your defences down, you tear yourself in knots, and then they leave you. Brilliant.
Most love is unrequited, which is where we get all the good songs from. Thank God it’s unrequited, when you look at it like that.
If I settled down, I wouldn’t be hungry any more. I’d be thirsty.
Monogamy is possible – I’m doing it – but I don’t think it’s advisable. I think polygamy is a really good idea. Nothing works over any extended time. I’m a sucker for romance but the trouble is that you can’t make the fucker last – you can’t have that blaze happening all your life.
The William Morris Agency made me take drugs! We did a tour in 1979 – the Bomber tour, which was 53 shows in 56 states – and I don’t care who the fuck you are, you’re not gonna do that without some help.
Drugs are very subjective. They’re in the brain cell of the beholder. When I was growing up, drugs were all the go, everybody was doing them, so I did them. Smoking dope and acid. But there was a great innocence attached to them. No one had died yet. Heroin hadn’t showed up and downers hadn’t come in. The deals were a lot better then too. Then came the birth of the rabid dealer – with the gun in his pocket. And that’s what changed it – the money you could make.
I would not advise drugs to any person, ever, of any kind. If you think you have to try them then go ahead. I can’t stop you. If you’re thinking about it, you’re going to do it anyway. But drugs are very powerful things – you can’t just try it and go back to the way you were before, because they’re going to change you. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. Mostly for the worse. If you’re sticking needles in yourself, then that’s very bad news. Even with my famous rep, not once. Never ever.
I used to say that getting married was the only mistake I didn’t make. But the other mistake I didn’t make was to stick needles in myself to get high.
You should know who the fuck you are before you start doing drugs. I was 18, 20 before I started doing any dope. At least you had a vague idea of what you wanted to do with your life and who you were. That’s hard to fathom for some kids now because they think they’re adults when they’re 12.
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I come from a broken home. I broke it.
I’m not religious. My father was a priest. Anglican vicar, Church Of England. He left my mother and me when I was three months old, so that let religion down, right there. Then my mother wanted to marry my stepfather and he was Roman Catholic – he’d been devout all his life – so he wrote to the Vatican to get dispensation to marry my mother because she was a divorcee. They sent him a letter – this is the Vatican, right? The fucking Pope – saying that he could only marry my mother if he declared me illegitimate. That’s the church, man. A fashion show for fags, right? So he wrote back and said: “Excommunicate my ass.” And they did. They excommunicated him. It didn’t seem to blight his happiness at all, from what I could see.
God’s a crutch for people who don’t know who they are. I’m responsible for what I do. And I’ll take responsibility for everything I’ve said and done. I don’t need to hide behind the devil. “The devil made me do it!” Well, you shoulda put your fingers in your fucking ears! God would’ve helped you put your fingers in your ears, wouldn’t he? Might have even put His Holy Fingers in your ears.
Religion’s just spiritual insurance. Put a few quid in the plate every month and then you think you’re going to heaven later.
Everybody that’s good goes to heaven? Must be fucking crowded up there! How are you going to find your loved ones? Are they gonna post a notice? “Coming up this week…” I’m going to Hell – that’s where all the pool tables are. You can’t imagine a pool table in Heaven, can you?
If I believe in anything, I believe in reincarnation. Because you have these flashes of memory of something you’ve never known before. And then you have periods of history you’re really interested in and other periods you couldn’t give a shit about – even though they’re just as interesting as a period. But you just don’t have a connection with them, somehow. Other bits you have a connection with, and I think it’s because you were alive in those bits. That makes sense to me. But then, who says it has to make sense? That’s just wishful thinking of another kind…
It always killed me about Japan. The Emperor Hirohito – he’s the son of heaven. Why did he need glasses? It’s obviously ridiculous right there, but no one dare question it because he’s the emperor.
You may as well die of something you like. Or you’ll live to 120 and be bored shitless. If you’re gonna rail at me for smoking a cigarette in a restaurant but let cars drive by outside, then just fuck off, OK? You’ve got these people on pavement cafés, doggedly not smoking, and the traffic’s three feet away! Fuck off! If you wanna ban cars and have rickshaws and shit then – fine – I’ll stop smoking. But don’t fuck around.
I’m proud to be English, but I can’t live here now. I don’t know how anybody can afford to live here now. I went to America to live, right? The sun belts down all the time. The chicks wear less clothing because of that fact. And everything’s half price. Any questions?
There’s a line that you do not cross. It’s like your own personal Alamo. Some shit you know is shit, so you don’t do it. If it gets to the stage that you’re gonna be ashamed of something, then you don’t do it. You think: “If I was 14 and I saw Eddie Cochran doing this, would I be embarrassed for him?” If the answer’s yes, then turn the motherfucker down.
Motörhead songs use violent images but to promote non-violence.
I don’t believe in wars. Why don’t they get the guy who’s in charge of the insurgents in Iraq and George W Bush and get them to fight it out in an arena? You could sell tickets to that motherfucker.
I pretended to like jazz for about three years, but it cost me dear. The last time I went to a jazz concert, my mate was a sax player and he got up and he played the most appalling bunch of crap I’ve ever heard in my life. And before he was finished the audience was on its feet and I thought: “This is the blind leading the fucking blind. He can’t play, and they can’t hear.” Free-form jazz gives you a licence to shit in the street.
I don’t think Pete Townshend will ever speak to me again. Do you remember when he impaled his hand on the whammy bar of his guitar? The Who did a show at the Albert Hall and I went down to see them and went backstage and Pete says: “Oh, hello Lemmy.” And I shook his fucking hand! He gritted his teeth – he was a man about it – but I don’t think he’ll forgive. I’m sure he reads Classic Rock, so: sorry, Pete. I’ve got the foot now if you wanna come and stamp on it.