Motörhead’s mainman shares what he’s learned about Metallica, drug busts, and Nazi memorabilia
The man, the myth, the mutton chops: Ian Fraser “Lemmy” Kilmister — otherwise known as the face, voice, and bass of metal pioneers Motörhead and quite possibly the owner of rock’s most iconic facial hair — has been pounding eardrums and breaking hearts as the sole constant member of his trio since 1975. Even at 66, the former Hawkwind space invader’s signature growl and amphetamine’d riffs sound as nasty as ever on the new album and DVD The Wörld Is Ours Vol 2: Anyplace Crazy As Anywhere Else (UDR), due out October 22. The man with 1,000 notches in his belt shared his advice on romance, collecting Nazi gear, and the good way to get busted for drug possession.
I learned to play bass onstage.
When I went to the job with Hawkwind, I went as a guitar player, but they decided in the meantime they didn’t need a guitar player. Then the bass player didn’t show up for the gig, and the dickhead left his bass in the gear van. It’s like, “Please steal my gear,” so I stole his gig. I’d never picked a bass up in my life before. It’s probably much easier than it is to sit around torturing yourself to death trying to learn it note-by-note in front of a little booklet. It’s much better if you can make a few mistakes. And the volume’s loud so nobody really notices that much.
You had to be there, unfortunately.
As a roadie for the Jimi Hendrix Experience, I learned that I should give up being a guitar player. Anyone who watches Hendrix should give up the idea of being a fucking guitar player, ’cause he was so unbelievably good. He just took your breath away. He would just pull things out of it that you’d never believe, that you’d never heard before. You have to be at these things. Like when I saw the Beatles, you can’t describe what it was like. It was great. It was tremendous. You can’t really describe the feeling.
Collecting Nazi memorabilia doesn’t make you a Nazi.
There’s not much to collect of Red Indian stuff, or even Confederates. Arrowheads and a couple of warships, that’s it. For me, World War II was only just over my shoulder. Somebody gave me a flag and then a dagger. I don’t know why they gave them to me, but that started me off with collecting. I learned that if I had known how much of this Nazi memorabilia there was to collect, I never would have started in the first place. It’s crowding me out of my house. But it’s a good hobby, because it’s so recent, that period, that there’s still plenty to collect. This was in the 20th century so there’s still all the good stuff. It’s only a collection, it’s not because I believe [in Nazism]. You do realize that, right?
There are still gentlemen in the world.
I’ve learned that. Metallica came down for my birthday a few years back, light years back, 16 years now. They interrupted recording their album, I think it was Load, and all dressed up as me with the “Born to Lose” tattoo in Magic Marker on the wrong arm, with wigs and black gloves and bullet belts. They all came to play at the Whisky [in Los Angeles] for 45 minutes.
I hated being incarcerated for drug possession.
Like most people. But luckily they charged me with the wrong drug so I was let go. I was only in there for 24 hours so I didn’t really get the chance to form lasting relationships. I was still on the inductee line when they bailed me. And then Hawkwind flew me to Toronto and we did the sound check, and everyone was clapping me on the back saying, “Welcome home!” We had a great show and then at four o’clock in the morning I was fired. I found out later they only got me out of jail because they couldn’t find my replacement fast enough. I learned I’d better form my own band because I got fired from every other fucking band I was in.
Just when you think you’ve got slot machines figured out, you realize that you haven’t.
I’ve learned that I probably shouldn’t play them. There was this period in England and London — because we have those machines in the pubs over there, with small rewards like 25 pounds as the top jackpot — when Japanese people would come over on holiday and hang around the machines. They’d either play them themselves or watch people play and make notes in notepads, trying to get the rhythm of the thing so they could predict it. And none of them ever won a dime! It was terrible. And cards? I don’t trust anything that has people involved. I’d rather fuck with a machine.
I don’t miss anything by being a bachelor.
I don’t know any happily married couples, not even my parents. There was a magazine in England who said I screwed 2,000 women and I didn’t, I said 1,000. When you think about it, it isn’t that unreasonable. I’m not even married, and I’ve been doing this since I was 16. And I’m now 66, so that’s like 50 years. I could’ve done more if I’ve tried, I guess. I didn’t even fool myself with that. My father was a stranger to me, and I learned that my stepfather was fighting a losing battle with my mother. Almost everyone is unhappy with themselves when they realize what they’ve done. And the lot of them get married because of the kids and that’s a really bad idea. People just rip each other to shreds over the years. Nothing kills a relationship like commitment.