As leader of Motörhead for the best part of 40 years, Lemmy Kilmister led an extraordinary life. In this candid interview with Ben Mitchell for the ‘Aftershock’ Classic Rock fan pack in 2013, he explained what he’d learned… about women and men, drugs, violence, religion, rock ‘n’ roll, and cooking the perfect dinner for one.
A conversation with Lemmy Kilmister is in one sense like a Motörhead gig. There is no bullshit.
When Lemmy talks about the rock ’n’ roll life, it is with the hard-earned wisdom of a man who has seen it all, done it all, and got the free t-shirt. When he talks about humanity – in particular, religion and war – it is as a student of history. When he talks about women – and it always comes back to women – he admits that he still can’t quite figure them out after all these years.
A lifetime of excess has not dulled Lemmy’s intelligence, his self-deprecating wit, or his rather old-fashioned sense of chivalry.
A gentleman, a scholar, and a rock ‘n’ roll legend, Sir Lemmy of Kilmister is truly a one-off.
Do you think that people sometimes get the wrong idea about you?
“Once they’ve met me they don’t. If they haven’t met me then they always do. Almost always. That’s part of life’s rich tapestry, isn’t it? It’s too bad. People probably get the wrong idea about you if they haven’t met you. Unless you’ve met somebody and spoken to them you have no right to an opinion.”
What misconceptions do you think that people might hold about you?
“Mostly that I’m a fucking moron. That’s always the first one. The other one is that I’m a misogynist, you know? Everything they think that they know for certain is absolutely wrong. Completely. Oh, racist as well. That’s the other one. I can’t believe that.”
Why would people think that you’re a misogynist?
“Because I’ve had a lot of girlfriends. I’m single. What are you going to do?”
Have you ever seriously considered marriage?
“No, not really. Maybe once I was thinking about it but it didn’t pass beyond stage two of the thinking. I’ve not met the one yet that makes me want to forget all the others. I’m a sucker for a pretty woman. I can’t help it. If you take a girl to a party at least five other women – absolutely wonderful – will be looking at you across the room and brushing by you and everything. Go on your own, there’s twenty-six geezers, three ugly birds and no booze. What is that? I’ve never figured that out, but it’s true. Murphy’s Law, I suppose.”
What have you learned about women in your time?
“What I’ve learned about women is that you can never learn about women because they’ll always give you a nasty shock, put it that way [laughs]. Just when you think you’ve got a bird sorted out she goes off to the left. They’re much more emotionally driven than we are. Guys just mess it up by being ignorant or thoughtless but women plot. I mean, if a woman’s got it in for you then you’re going to get it. There’s a great story I heard; this one woman, her husband left her and moved a younger woman into their house. The ex-wife got really pissed off so she got into the house – she still had a key – and she stuffed dead prawns into all the curtain rails and put the ends back on. Of course, within a week the house is unbearable. It’s stinking. They had to move! They’d had all the floors taken up trying to find the smell but couldn’t find fuck all. You don’t think of the curtains, do you? When they were moving she drove past and they were loading the curtain rails onto the van to take to the new house [laughs]. That’s evil.”
Has a woman ever done anything like that to you?
“I once had a doll pushed through my letterbox with a load of pins in the crotch but it hasn’t visibly affected me so maybe the spell wasn’t strong enough or there weren’t enough pins. That was when I was living in Fulham. Very strange.”
So what advice could you offer on the subject of women?
“Well, women don’t look at a lot of the things that we comb so carefully and fit so tightly. They like personality and if a guy gets them emotionally. It all depends what you say.”
Do you believe in love?
“I don’t know if love exists, not the kind that keeps. I think it’s more to do with infatuation, which becomes a habit. Do you know what I mean? Because you can’t keep that passion going. Nobody loves like that. It’s just not feasible because you get used to people and that’s death for me. I hate being used to anything. I like to be surprised. It’s like that song of mine, The Chase Is Better Than The Catch, right? That’s always the case. Always.”
Going back to misconceptions, why would anyone think that you’re a racist?
“Because I collect Nazi stuff. If I was a university professor teaching it as a degree I wouldn’t get that.”
What’s the fascination for you?
“It’s beautiful stuff, very well made. I like pageantry, you see. I like knights on horseback, the Coronation, the opening of parliament… I love all that dressing up because that’s what I do; we dress up. The Nazis were great dresser-uppers. “
So just because of that?
“Mostly, yeah. When you’re a kid… don’t forget the war only ended the year I was born so it was just over my shoulder. All those guys were getting demobbed and coming home when I was about 5 or 6. They’d have these great badges that they’d got off the Germans. Somebody gave me an Iron Cross and a dagger. That’s where it started, I suppose. It’s big business. Hermann Goering’s personal hunting dagger went for a hundred grand. The GIs took everything. I mean, they took floorboards. The British couldn’t bring much because it wouldn’t fit in their kit bags. Americans could export stuff; one guy exported a Focke-Wulf 190 [fighter aircraft] in bits and rebuilt it at his house in Pennsylvania. He’s got it on his deck overlooking the woods. Other people sent Jeeps home. You’ve got to give it to American ingenuity.”
You’ve lived in Los Angeles for a long time but do you still think of England as your home?
“England’s always going to be my spiritual home but America’s more fun. I love it. Everything’s so expensive in England. It’s unbelievable.”
So do you enjoy both places generally?
“Yeah. I enjoy both places generally. I enjoy Manchester generally. I enjoy Kuala Lumpur generally. Home is in your head. That’s where you live. If you’re not at home in here [taps forehead] then it’s no good - it doesn’t matter where you are.”
Do you do your own housework?
“Not if I can help it; if I can get somebody else to do it that’s fine with me. When you live on your own you end up doing a lot, sure. My place is a rat’s nest; it’s like an obstacle course. I can hardly get in it. I’m a pack rat, see, I never throw anything away – batteries, anything – because I always figure it’ll come in handy. I’ve got six left boots at home - those white ones I wear - because I wear the right ones out first. I say to myself, “Maybe a left one’ll go sometime and one of these will come in handy”. They never do.”
Do you have quite an extensive wardrobe?
“Yeah, but funnily enough there’s not that many clothes out of it that you actually wear. Have you noticed that? You have a lot of clothes that you never wear. Why don’t you throw them out? You don’t, do you? I’m smothered in T-shirts. You collect T-shirts on tour: you go to a club, you get a T-shirt; you go to a strip joint, you get a T-shirt; you get a T-shirt from the place you’re playing; you get a T-shirt from the bands that support you. Boy oh boy, I’ve got T-shirts.”
When you’re at home do you cook for yourself?
“Yeah. My speciality is steak fried in parsley butter with fried potatoes, some green beans, maybe some lima beans too. It is good. I get the best steaks from Omaha Steaks International – a fork’ll cut them. Beautiful. That’s one thing we really don’t have hold of in England, they’re cut all wrong.”
How do you like your steak?
Who’s your best friend?
“My best friends are the band. They have to be because we rely on each other.”
Who do you like to hang around with apart from the band?
“Women. Men tend to talk to you about football and their achievements in business and how badly their love life’s going. I really don’t want to hear it, man. It’s boring. Every conversation like that, I’ve heard it. I’d rather hang out with women and talk about intimate experiences. Women are more interesting because they get a better view of the world than we do.”
What qualities would someone need to join Motörhead?
“A good sense of the absurd, actually, and a resilience because we’ve not had the most successful career of all time. I mean, it’s been a long career but it’s been fraught. Really, people like us as an attitude but they don’t buy the albums; they don’t listen to the new music. We seem to be stuck in peoples’ consciousness for Ace of Spades, which, luckily, is a good song. I quite like singing it even after all these years so that’s alright. You could get stuck with something awful that the record company foisted on you and you have to sing it through gritted teeth for the rest of your bloody life.”
Is it frustrating when people like you but they don’t always take an interest in your new material?
“Well yeah, of course it is. If you’re a musician then you want to get your music across. Anybody who says that they don’t care about small record sales is just whistling past the graveyard. Everybody wants to sell albums; that’s why you make them. People only listen to the first two minutes of a song now. The attention span’s ludicrous.“
You must do okay on tour…
We’re alright. We get enough to live on, which is all you need. Anything else is just, like, toothpaste.”
Are you quite high maintenance on the road?
“No, not really. We live on the bus most of the time.”
How do you make sure that you get a good night’s sleep?
“Playing the show, that’ll get you to sleep. I mean, it’ll get you to sleep eventually. Staying out drinking until six on the morning will get you a good night’s sleep; the only trouble is that then you’re sleeping during the day.”
Are you still keen on playing fruit machines?
“Yeah. I can’t help myself. It’s a good thing that I moved to America because you can’t have them there except in Vegas and Atlantic City. Although all these Indian reservation casinos are open now. They’re all over the country. Once I went to Vegas and won nine grand in one pull. The next time I went I put four of it back.”
Is it possible to beat the fruit machine?
“Of course not. There’d be no point to manufacturing them if you could win.”
What about when there’s a machine in the pub that you get to know and can see when it’s going to pay out?
“You can believe that if you like but you’re still going to lose. You know that opening scene in Casino where Robert De Niro’s saying that their sole objective is to take money off you? That’s true.”
Do you gamble on anything else?
“No. Never did. I’ve played blackjack and roulette in Sweden because they have that in every bar but it’s not big stakes up there. I haven’t got enough money to be a high roller.”
Do you like flying?
“Yeah. I’ve done so much of it. The American flight, I’ve been across so many times like a yo-yo. I mean, if I didn’t like to fly I’d be cowering in the corner sucking my thumb. We have this tradition in Motörhead that started on the first American tour. When we take off the whole band and crew applaud. When we land we all applaud again. You feel an idiot doing it on your own.”
Do you still do that?
“Yeah, it’s stuck. You have these things.”
What are your views on religion?
“I dislike religion quite intensely, actually. It’s been the cause of all the grief in the world ever since they discovered the first stone to worship. It didn’t start with Jesus; it started before him. Every religion… I mean Nazism and Communism are religions too, make no mistake, with Hitler and Stalin as God, right? It’s the same thing. Even the British Empire with Victoria as God, you know? All the grief and misery in the world has been caused by religion in one way or the other.”
Do you have a relationship with God at all?
“No. If there is a God he’s not really paying attention. He should retire and hand over to a younger man [laughs]. Maybe he’s just gone senile like George III. I don’t know, he’s just making a real bollocks of it. If there is a God how can it be like this? How can it be polluted and dreadful and landmines and people starving when there’s enough food to feed them all? And anyway, a virgin impregnated by a ghost? If Joseph went for that he deserved to be in a stable.”
**But didn’t you become a minister?
**“Yeah, it’s funny isn’t it? This guy wanted me to marry him and his girlfriend at The Rainbow [a favourite Los Angeles bar on the Sunset Strip]. He’s ex-Special Forces so that might be something to do with it [laughs]. He got me ordained on the internet into this Church of Universal Peace or something so I‘m the Reverend Lemmy Kilmister. So I am able to perform marriages. But I’m not going to.”
Did you have a happy childhood?
“Yeah. I had a very good childhood. My mother worked like a bastard. She was abandoned by my father when I was three months old so she had to really fight for it and she did a good job.”
What values did you learn from your mother?
“To be honourable. To live and let live. To sort of be upright, you know? To be strong, because she was. That’s not a bad thing. Good manners I learned from her too, which a lot of parents don’t teach their children. Most of them teach their children stupidity; ‘Be stupid like me son.’ Oh, okay then.”
What was your favourite toy when you were a child?
“A bow and arrow. That was really good, after I learned to shoot it without skinning my arm. I never let go of the bow and held onto the string. That’s one thing I didn’t do.”
Have you had much work done on your teeth?
“My teeth are gone – these are Hollywood’s finest. My teeth went a long time ago – you must have seen the early pictures of Motörhead; gap, gap, gap…”
Was that just from neglect?
“Mostly. I had 10 teeth out without anaesthetic when I was four. I remember that like it was yesterday. I had blood all down me, my mother pulling me through the crowds on a Saturday in Stoke. I never went again until was 50 and by then it was all over. They were rotten.”
Speed isn’t great for your teeth, is it?
“No, that doesn’t help.”
Where are you with drugs at the moment?
“I don’t talk about that.”
What’s the best hangover cure?
“I don’t get hangovers – you have to stop drinking to get a hangover.”
You must stop drinking now and then.
“No. Why would you? I like the taste. I don’t get drunk anymore. It’s just that coke doesn’t taste the same without a little dash in it. I like to put a bit of spirit in the Coke to keep it clean – those bottling plants are filthy [laughs].”
What makes you laugh?
“The Goon Show and Monty Python, that’s what I like.”
“It’s not old school; it’s eternal. What’s new school? Adam Sandler? He’s about as funny as toothache. Monty Python have lasted this long because they’re so incredibly good. The Dead Parrot sketch is still hilarious and you’ve heard it 2000 times. Tommy Cooper always kills me too.”
Do you not like American humour?
“No, some of them are incredibly funny. Steven Wright is one of the funniest people ever born: ‘If you shoot a mime should you use a silencer?’ Brilliant. ‘I put strobe lights on my car instead of regular headlights and everybody else looks like they’re standing still.’”
Are you interested in sport at all?
“No. I used to watch snooker a lot when I was in England but you don’t get it in the States. I like playing a bit of pool. I mean, chasing women is a sport because you have to work at it if you want to catch them. They don’t just walk up to you.”
What’s the secret to shooting a decent game of pool?
“Concentration. Even so, it’s mostly luck. Fighting is luck. It doesn’t mean you’re tougher; it just means you didn’t slip and he did at one point, or you managed to land a lucky one. That’s why I stopped fighting just after I was in school. I haven’t been in a fight since. Well, I’ve had a couple but nothing to talk about as a real fight. I took a gun off a geezer once in LA. I was with a couple of birds; they’d parked their car while I was on my way to The Rainbow. I’d seen them to nod to, like, so we’d walked up the hill together and we were just standing there waiting to cross the road. These two guys drove by in a van. One of them shouts out, “Hey baby!” and this chick says, “Fuck off, creep”. He pulls over and gets out with this big silver .45 and starts dragging her into the van by the shoulder strap. What are you going to do? See her get in that van? You can’t, can you? I’m walking over there thinking, ‘He’s going to blow your fucking head off now and you don’t even know this girl. You don’t even fancy her, for that matter’. I took the gun off him, and said, “Stop it and fuck off”. Then I gave him the gun back and he fucked off.”
How was the girl afterwards?
“She didn’t even say, ‘Thank you, she was so scared. They both ran like fuck back to the car.”
What did you do?
“I just went to The Rainbow and had a drink. The guy obviously didn’t mean to use the gun but you never know in America. People are weird. The gun thing is really strange. You’re talking to intelligent people and you mention guns and they go on about being entitled to bear arms and all that.”
So you’re not a fan of guns?
“No. I like knives. They’re more personal. With a knife you have to put it into somebody and feel him die and get his blood on you. If you had to that every time you killed somebody there wouldn’t be so much murder, believe me. You can train a chimp to fire a gun. Telescopic sight – how can you fail? It’s bullshit.”
What do you think makes a really good bassline?
“Something that is solid and at the same time moves. The best bass player in the world was John Entwistle then probably Paul McCartney because of how deceptive some of his songs are.”
Would you say that McCartney is underrated?
“Yes and so is Ringo – he was a great drummer. You listen to Ticket To Ride and tell me he’s not innovating. People are so dense, the critics especially it seems to me. They don’t notice anything. I mean, we’ve had so many band reviews where they spend three quarters of an hour discussing my complexion or my trousers or the bullet belt or the hat. What are they there for? Are they not listening to anything? One guy wrote this review of the set we were doing on the previous tour! He wasn’t even there! I got him up against the wall by the throat because my music’s my whole life. It’s not right. People could at least give it a listen. Just one song. That’s all I ask. You don’t like it, don’t listen to it any more but give it a chance.”
Do you take criticism quite personally?
“No. You get used to critics. You know you’re going to get misquoted right up the ass. People are going to misread whatever you say if they’re in that mindset. People come in with their misconceptions already planted so firmly that you can never destroy them; even if you turned out to be W.B. Yeats you can never get rid of it because they think you’re dumb. So they come in with that and they go out with that.”
Can’t you change their mind?
“Some people you really can’t. Some people are really set. That old thing still holds true; everybody with long hair’s a moron. It’s incredible.”
Have you ever though about getting your hair cut?
“No. I like pissing people off.”
What tends to annoy you about other people?
“Racism. Jingoism. Stupidity. The only racism I’ve heard is from idiots.”
What’s been your proudest moment?
“Going straight to number one with No Sleep ‘til Hammersmith (1981). I just wish that wasn’t where all the recognition stopped.”
That isn’t the case…
“No, not completely but it took a good dive. People come up to me and say, ‘Are you still making records?’ which is kind of disheartening.”
What about away from your career?
“I don’t make records away from my career. [Pause] I’m sorry. A little levity. How do you mean away from my career? I don’t know, really. I haven’t got any real proud moments away from my career. You don’t, do you? Your career is your great endeavour, I suppose. Probably taking that gun off that guy because I thought I’d achieved something.”
What about when your son Paul was born?
“I wasn’t there for that. I didn’t meet him until he was six. I met him on a coke deal [laughs]. Cocaine’s good for family values.”
What’s been your lowest professional moment?
“It wasn’t with Motörhead. It was probably just before I joined Hawkwind. I’d hung up my guitar on the wall; I never played it for six months. I just gave it up and became a dope dealer. I’d been in this band called Reverend Black and the Rockin’ Vickers. We were huge up north but we didn’t mean shit south of Birmingham. When that broke up I just didn’t get another job with a good band, really. I played with Sam Gopal [late ‘60s psychedelic rock band] but that was… brief bursts of fame. It wasn’t a success. Then I got a job with Hawkwind, where I didn’t need a guitar. This guy [at a 1971 London show for which bassist Dave Anderson had failed to turn up] said ‘Who plays bass?’ and Dik Mik [Hawkwind keyboard player] said, “He does.” I’d never picked one up in my life. I’m up there on stage and Nik Turner [saxophonist/flautist] says, ‘This is in E. It’s called You Shouldn’t Do That,’ and walks away.”
How hard was it for you to learn the bass?
“Oh, it was easy. I’m a born bass player. I mean, I’m glad that I played the guitar first because it lent a lot to my bass playing technique. Whether it’s good or bad, it’s a unique style. I don’t think anybody else plays like I do. I don’t think anybody else wants to, actually [laughs]. It works for me.”
Are you going to persevere with that high microphone position?
“Well, that’s just how I do it. I hit the higher notes easier; they just come straight out. I can’t imagine why people sing down because you can’t get the flow, you know. The full note. I didn’t do that to be special.”
Does anything scare you?
“Pain and suffering. Mine, you know [laughs].”
Are you afraid of death?
“No. How can you be afraid of something that’s inevitable? I just hope it doesn’t come too quick.”