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Pure Dumb Luck: An interview with Motorhead's Lemmy Kilmister

Lemmy is defying the odds just as he did when he drove a van full of Jimi Hendrix’s gear across England wearing kaleidoscope glasses on his face. He doesn’t play by the rules, he doesn’t like rules, and he doesn’t like the people who make the rules.

By Jeb Wright

Lemmy is one of only a handful of people in the entertainment industry recognizable by only one name, in fact most don’t even know that he has a last one. Unlike Madonna and Prince, Lemmy never used his one word moniker as a marketing tool. There was no simulated sex on an altar and no running around in a pair of golden underwear onstage. Nope, for more than 30 years Lemmy has worn a black cowboy hat, black shirt and pants, boots, sported two large moles on his face, had unkempt shaggy hair and pounded the hell out of his bass guitar.

As he gets older, he seems to be ignoring Neil Young’s advice to either burn out or fade away. Lemmy is defying the odds just as he did when he drove a van full of Jimi Hendrix’s gear across England wearing kaleidoscope glasses on his face. He doesn’t play by the rules, he doesn’t like rules, and he doesn’t like the people who make the rules.

Lemmy The Movie Poster

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In this interview we chat about Lemmy the movie, Motörhead’s new CD and topics as diverse as drugs, Joan Jett and stealing from the poor.

It seems that every time we talk you are getting more and more famous. Now you’re a movie star.
Lemmy: [laughter] It’s not that kind of movie.

What was your first reaction when you learned that they wanted to do this film?
Lemmy: I thought it was very flattering. It is quite amusing because everyone says that I’m a nice guy. It is kind of painful in the end. As long as you don’t believe it then you will be alright.

You really are getting more popular.
Lemmy: It seems to be. It is good for the band too, you know. It’s just that I am too old now to chase all the woman involved; which just seems a shame. I think they did a really good job with the film. It wasn’t too showbiz and it wasn’t too ordinary. The guys who did the movie were all fans or at least they were when they started it. I don’t know if they still are now.

You also have a new album titled “The World is Yours.” You keep putting out genuine albums when a lot of your contemporaries are doing nothing, or, at least, nothing worthwhile.
Lemmy: We know what we are doing by now. Christ, we should know because we have had a long time to rehearse. We seem to make an album every 18 months or so and I think every band should do that. We’re not writing "Sgt. Pepper" every time; we are writing straight ahead rock n’ roll, do you know what I mean?

Lemmy Motorhead Autograph

Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead autographs an eager fan in this movie still from "Lemmy." Photo courtesy Shore Fire Media/Lemmy Movie LLC.

You’re not outspoken, but when people ask you something, you tell them the truth.
Lemmy: I have done interviews in the past, and they cut everything out except for the outrageous line, and then they take it out of context. I think that is just about as dishonest as a person giving a bad interview. I despise people like that; they don’t get two tries. It’s all just sensation. It is always bullshit. How many times can a rock star go over the top on drugs? How many times can a rock star be unfaithful to his old lady? It is really fu**ing boring, and that is what they do over and over and over. They just print the same sh*t.

Lemmy Kilmister Motorhead

Lemmy Kilmister, better known as Lemmy from Motorhead, is the subject of the new documentary "Lemmy." Lesser known? He hates heroin, once climbed down the outside of a Holiday Inn to surprise a crew member and admits that Motorhead once stole music gear so the members could rehearse. Photo courtesy Shore Fire Media/Robert John.

You’re not anti-drugs, but you are anti-heroin.
Lemmy: I hate that sh*t. It killed off a lot of my generation. It killed off a lot of my friends. Now this generation is getting killed off again. I can’t believe it. How many dead bodies do we need to have piled up?

Did the music bring the drug culture or did the drug culture bring the music?
Lemmy: It just all happened. Music had been going on a long time before that. You have to remember that before rock n’ roll there were a bunch of jazz musicians all doing heroin. That sh*t has been around a long time. Every generation thinks they are stronger than the generation before it. They think, “It can’t happen to me.” In the past people have died making that same mistake. Maybe you should take note. People lose their lives in the drug wars and you don’t have to prove it to yourself because others have proved it for you.

At this stage of our life, looking back, was the drug use a positive or negative experience?
Lemmy: It was both, you know. Eric Clapton wrote “Layla” when he was coked out of his mind. Later on, it nearly killed him. You’ve got to try to figure out which is the bigger benefit and which is the bigger loser. It nearly killed him; he was in a very, very bad way for a long time, but he came through it. Most people don’t come through it because they don’t have the money to buy the people to look after them. Most people die a miserable and lonely death because they don’t have the people to nurse them and get them through it all.

Why have you survived?
Lemmy: Pure dumb luck. Also, I never did heroin.

What is the dumbest thing that you have ever done?
Lemmy: There are a lot of them, for sure. I climbed down the outside of a Holiday Inn once just to surprise one of my crew by getting on his balcony and knocking on his window.

Do you know what the odds are the Motörhead would still be together after everything that you have been through in both the industry and your personal life?
Lemmy: I should write a musical about it, shouldn’t I?

Lemmy on Broadway!
Lemmy: Yeah, yeah [laughter]. We could wear straw hats while dancing down the road, you know.

Legend holds that you woke up a guy out of a coma by just talking to him.
Lemmy: It became kind of a fad in the late ’70s to try to help people wake up out of comas by hearing things that they liked. I remember we sent out about six tapes. We heard that we were this one kid’s favorite band so we sent a tape that said, “Hey this is Motörhead. It’s time to wake up.” We sent out tapes to the others but they didn’t wake up. It was worth it just to have one kid wake up. I got to meet him after he woke up.

Last year a guy got killed after your show. How does that affect you?
Lemmy: A kid got killed, but it didn’t have anything to do with us. It was a gang thing that happened in the parking lot outside. One of the gang members set fire to his hair during the show. One of the rival gang members met up with him outside in the parking lot and killed him. It is a drag, really. You remember it, but sh*t, man … what can I do?

Your music is a release that is there to help people get rid of those feelings and not to promote that sh*t.
Lemmy: That is how I feel. It really hits home with you that it didn’t have any effect on these people. They were just as intent on f**king killing each other as they were before they came to the show. It was just fate, you know. I guess when you’re young you have tunnel vision on that sh*t.

Which was your favorite decade …the '60s, the '70s or the '80s?
Lemmy: Probably the '60s, because there were hardly any rules and heroin hadn’t shown up, so people hadn’t started dying. It was incredibly upbeat, and we almost did change the world. I guess that was the best one … the '70s were pretty good, too.

Motorhead Lemmy Amoeba Beatles

Even Lemmy loves The Beatles. Motorhead's bass player browses at an Amoeba record shop in the new documentary "Lemmy." "The Beatles had an influence on everybody," he said. Photo courtesy Shore FIre Media/Lemmy Movie LLC.

Did the Beatles really influence Motörhead?
Lemmy: The Beatles had an influence on everybody. You have to realize what an incredible explosion the Beatles were. They were the first band to not have a lead singer in the band. They were the first band to write their own songs in Britain because we always just covered American songs before that. Everybody was singing at the same time and the harmonies were great. Daily papers in England used to have an entire page of the paper dedicated to what the Beatles had done the day before. When George died the guards at Buckingham Palace played a medley of George’s songs during the changing of the guard; that sort of thing never happens.

Lemmy performs with Metallica

Motorhead's Lemmy (far left) performs with Metallica. Photo courtesy Shore Fire Media/Jeff Yeager.

Motörhead were the support act for Ozzy back on the Blizzard of Ozz tour. I am a huge fan of Randy Rhoads. What was he really like?
Lemmy: He was really a good guy. I never could get over how incredibly little he was. Randy had small hands. Boy, could he play guitar. He became an even better guitar player after he died. It is a well-known mystery that guitar players suddenly get better once they are dead. Buddy Holly was the first. Stevie Ray Vaughan is known by a lot more people than had ever heard of him when he was alive.

Tell me about the early days of The Runaways.
Lemmy: The first time The Runaways played in Britain, Joan Jett wore my bullet belt onstage. The Runaways were really the first all-girl band to really strut their stuff and say, “F**k you.” “Cherry Bomb” was the best song for a girl band to sing. It was just outrageous at the time. There were American families sitting on the sofa watching television going, “F**k me.” It was great fun.

Lemmy gambling

Lemmy credits his survival to 'pure dumb luck.' No word on whether that luck holds at the casino, though. Photo courtesy Shore Fire Media/Lemmy Movie LLC.

Girlschool never got much respect in America.
Lemmy: They couldn’t afford to tour over here. If I hadn’t been living here, do you think we would have gotten a Grammy? No chance.

I bet there are still people on the Grammy committee that can’t believe they gave Motörhead a Grammy.
Lemmy: I think so, too. It was just a mercy f**k, as it was our 30th anniversary. They gave it to us for a cover of somebody else’s song. It would have a lot more meaning if it had been for one of our songs. We were nominated once before for our album 1916. We were up against Metallica at the time and they had just sold a quarter of a zillion albums.

At least you didn’t lose to Jethro Tull.
Lemmy: That’s true.

Motorhead Lemmy bass guitar

While he's old enough to qualify for any number of senior-citizen discounts, Motorhead's Lemmy has no problem keeping up with rock stars half his age. Still from the movie "Lemmy." Photo courtesy Shore Fire Media/Lemmy Movie LLC.

You hit 65 years of age. Are there any goals that you have not achieved or is there anywhere you would still like to play?
Lemmy: We never played China, India or Africa. We also haven’t played Russia enough. I would love to play those places. I would love to have some sort of hit in America before we go.

You are proof that you can still rock your ass off at 65.
Lemmy: You can as long as you are not married.

You never got married.
Lemmy: I have never been married, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t mate. As you get older you get too many bad habits. Who is ever going to put up with me?

Last one: I have also heard that Motörhead stole music gear just so they could rehearse. Is that true?
Lemmy: Well, yeah. We never nicked stuff from other bands because that was a no-no because we were all in the same boat. You don’t steal from the poor because, let’s face it, they’re poor. There’s no sense in that.