Desperately seeking Lemmy:
the boys are back in town – the Queen
City, that is – after a two-decade absence.
BY MICHAEL PLUMIDES
I had the pleasure of interviewing Lemmy Kilmister of
Motorhead in January of 1988 at the Charlotte Coliseum. Growing up, I had seen
everyone there: Heart, Black Sabbath, Billy Idol, Judas Priest, Van Halen,
Robert Plant, Aerosmith, ZZ Top, and AC/DC. (When I was a kid, others my age
were going to see Barnum and Bailey; I was going to see KISS.)
Excerpt from the book Kill
It was a thrill to enter the Charlotte Coliseum through the
press gate in an official capacity as a staff member of WUSC-FM (Columbia, SC),
with my clipboard and tape recorder. The security guard ushered me to
Motorhead’s dressing room. After some
pleasantries meeting the other band members, the representative from Profile
Records sat me down in a small room, with a table and some folding chairs. On
the table sat a phone with a rotary dial next to an ashtray filled with
cigarette butts. I was a little apprehensive, as I waited.
After a few minutes, Lemmy Kilmister emerged. He was wearing
a wifebeater, flared black polyester slacks and white patent leather zip-up
ankle boots. He had long brown hair, a mustache and chops, and pronounced moles
on his face – he resembled one of the federales in Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
Lemmy, a bit irritated, sat down and rubbed his eyes. He
smoked his cigarette, and stared into the ashtray with his palms to his forehead.
He spoke with a gravelly British accent:
“All right. Let’s get
this over with.”
Nervously, I set up the tape recorder and microphone,
produced the pad and paper, and began the interview.
“So, Lemmy, tell me a little bit about your latest, entitled
Rock and Roll. It sounds like the songs are more about women than they
are about rock and roll.”
Interestingly, Lemmy gave a laugh, as if he had just been
called out, “Well, rock and roll is about women, and the songs are about women,
so you could probably say that, I suppose.”
“You are familiar with the British ‘Grebo’ movement. This
month’s Sounds Magazine proclaims that you’re the ‘Godfathers of
Grebo.’ How do you feel about that?”
Lemmy was indifferent. “We’re not the godfathers of anything.
We play what we play, and that’s it.”
At first, I could tell that Lemmy didn’t want to be there.
He figured that I was just another moron with no grasp of how influential his
band was to the Brits. Motorhead wasn’t that well known in the U.S., like some
of the English flavors of the month such as Whitesnake, but among the hipsters
in the college radio crowd, bands like Motorhead, Slayer, Anthrax, and
Metallica were at the top of the food chain. Today, these same bands have been
glorified far more than the others, and they now adorn today’s video game
soundtracks such as Rock Band and Guitar Hero, exposing a whole
new generation of listeners to their music.
Lemmy spoke a little about how Motorhead had missed the
first wave of metal and punk, and was in tandem between the two. He said that
the band wasn’t Led Zeppelin, or the Sex Pistols. He likened Motorhead to The
Ramones. They had, in a sense, carved their own niche, because of two reasons:
one reason was that the music was heavy, but not easily categorized, and the
other because none of the band members, Bill Campbell, Wurzel, or “Filthy
Animal” Taylor were poncy or attractive, in the same fashion as the other
touring gits in their tight knickers.
“What is Grebo?” I asked.
“I dunno, really,” Lemmy responded. “It has something to do
with motorbikes. Biker metal or something.” Lemmy dismissed it as a fad.
“Like maybe The Cult?” I inquired.
“That’s more like Bad Company, isn’t it?”
I continued. “Zodiac Mindwarp? Gaye Bykers on Acid?”
“Gaye Bykers? A bunch of shit there. Queens aren’t they, the
“Do you dislike homosexuals?”
Lemmy responded matter-of-factly, “I don’t mind faggots, as
long as they’re not swishing, screaming faggots.”
(A number of years later, there was an internet rumor that
Lemmy was indeed gay, but I knew it wasn’t true from his candor in the
interview. Later, Out Magazine had to retract it.)
I changed directions a little. “I had read that you believe
in reincarnation. What are your thoughts on the subject?” Lemmy examined me for
a moment, as if he thought I was clever, and offered me a cigarette. Lemmy
placed his hand on the back of my chair, as he responded.
“I believe that I was reincarnated from an SS Officer of the
He leaned back, and took a draw off of his cigarette. The coal brightened, and as he exhaled, he
flicked the smoke into the ashtray. He continued.
“It makes the most sense, you know, reincarnation. I think
souls are recycled. If you die a good person, you get upper wrung, and if you’re
bad you get backer wrung.”
“I read in the liner notes of No Remorse that
Motorhead had a reputation as ‘England’s
loudest band.’ That’s quite a title to have.”
Lemmy shook his head, and retorted. “No. We were truly England’s
loudest band at one point. I’m sure that
there have been louder bands since that was printed. There was this one time,
we were playing in Detroit…”
I quickly followed with, “At a hundred-twenty decibels,
“Yeah, in this theatre. The plaster started falling from the
ceiling. Big chunks of it. We were afraid the building was going to come down
on top of us.”
After forty-five minutes of interview, I asked my last
question. “I read recently, that you had considered having your moles removed.
Is that true?”
“No. These are in too deep. I’m getting old. I’m forty-two.
I’m no spring chicken. I went to a plastic surgeon, and he told me because of
my age, if I had them removed, the scar tissue would be worse than the moles,
and that was it. I had all my teeth done. They’re not mine. But they don’t come
out at night or anything. I’ll admit, I’m no day at the beach, you know.”
We laughed together. We talked back and forth, as if we had
known each other for years. I did have one last request. “Before I go, would
you be kind enough to give me station identification for our radio station?”
Lemmy grabbed the microphone, and read the call letters from
the side of the recorder, and brashly spoke, “Hello, sons of bitches! This is
Lemmy from Motorhead and you’re tuned to WUSC-FM. Keep listening or I’ll come around and saw
your face off, all right!”
So there it was. Lemmy was as forthright, honest, and as
offensive as I had hoped. When I left the Coliseum that night, I was as
jubilant as a horny Catholic school girl.
So let’s fast-forward 20 plus years. Motorhead, with openers Reverend Horton Heat,
and Nashville Pussy were slated to play September 11, 2009 at the new Fillmore in Charlotte, NC.
It was the first time Motorhead had appeared in the Queen City
since I interviewed Lemmy back in the day. The band’s lineup has changed a bit,
and is now back to a three piece (how it was originally), with Phil Campbell on
guitar and the legendary Matt Sorum on drums, supporting Motorhead’s new
release, Motorizer. The Fillmore is a new concert venue incorporated into
an entertainment complex known as the North Carolina Music Factory. The Factory
is also home to the recently built Uptown Amphitheatre; both projects helmed by
Live Nation, centered in Uptown Charlotte.
For old time’s sake, I started making some calls to see if I
could stir up passes. After first contacting the venue, then the wrong agent,
and then the right agent, I was given a resounding “thumbs down” by everyone I
spoke to, due to the lateness of the request, or “there are no passes left,”
etcetera. But, I was determined to get in to see Lemmy, as I had already told
everyone that I was going to review the show. When I woke up the day of the
show, I was pouring my coffee around 8:15,
when a brilliant idea popped into my noggin: I’ll email Lonn Friend and see what he could do for me.
Lonn Friend is the “Zen Master of Heavy Metal”, very much
like “The Dude” is the “Zen Master of Bowling.” Friend was “The man for his
time and place,” during the era of California
hair music and if there ever was a fabric that weaved itself into every facet
of that period, it was him. The ex-RIP
Magazine Editor-in-Chief and Author of Life
on Planet Rock (also conjuror of the recent resurrection of Larry Flynt’s
defunct publication at www.theripfiles.com)
is a well-thought-of “friend” to metal’s last, best age, and was arguably
responsible for breaking most of the more durable bands during his tenure at RIP, including (but not limited to) Guns
N’ Roses, Metallica, and of course, Motorhead.
In so many words, Lonn Friend is a legend. And sometimes he has a hard
time letting you forget it.
When I was in L.A. to attend the Newport Beach Film Festival
to meet with Jasin Cadic and Scott Rosenbaum, Co-writers of Perfect Age of
Rock n Roll (produced by Spike Lee still yet to be released theatrically),
I had dinner with Lonn and some dingy tart he brought with him (who sent her
filet mignon back twice and then left her to-go box in the car), along with my
girlfriend and editor, Anne. It was my birthday. And having just written my own
book, Kill the Music, I was eager to meet the guru, who I had met only
casually on MySpace of all places, and pick his brain a little. We scooped up
Lonn and his muse at Friend’s loft, and then drove into Hollywood.
After stopping by Sirius Studios and catching the last song
by a showcasing band, The Operation, we went to grab a bite. Poetically, we ate
dinner at Lemmy’s favorite jernt, The Rainbow Bar and Grill. And much like Lemmy
would, Lonn and I hammered down mucho Jack Daniels shots. Afterward we went
back to the House of Friend, which by this time was consigned to moving boxes
scattered across the apartment floor, just prior to his trip to suburbia (and
out of the Hollywood Hills). While there, we explored what made Northern California famous and cracked a bottle of Dom, as
it was all there was to drink; save some skim milk that had expired. Anne and I
barely made it to the Comfort Inn on Sunset around 4 AM.
Anyway, Lonn got back with me promptly, with the email
address of Motorhead’s manager, Todd Singerman.
My specific instructions from Lonn were to, “Tell him we’re buds.” So I
sent Todd the logistics, and waited all day to hear something. After 8 hours or
so, I heard nothing. Finally, after throwing in the towel on the whole
situation, I dozed off on the couch around 5:15, only to be awakened by my cell phone. I looked at the number. It was a 310 area
code. I answered. Lo and behold, it was Todd Singerman.
Todd’s exact words were, “Any friend of Lonn Friend, is a
friend of mine.” Cool. We were in. The caveat was, “I can get you the tickets,
and ‘After Show’ passes, but I can’t get you an interview this late. Lemmy’s been a real asshole about giving
interviews, anyway. And I can’t guarantee that he’ll come out after the show.
They might just start drinking and never come out.” Fair enough. I wouldn’t expect anything less
from the maestro of mayhem, judging by my encounter 20 years ago. Luckily, I was prepared for the interview way
back when, and that scored me some points. Otherwise the interview would have ended
abruptly. I could only speculate how gruff and impatient he is now. I imagine
his demeanor something like Captain Quint from Jaws, but instead of a
boat, he’s driving a 1987 Delta ’88 with a peeling Landau roof, on the wrong
side of the road, laughing maniacally at the oncoming traffic. Anyway, I had already been there, and done
I then sent Lonn a text to inform him that he had worked
some magic for me, and I was appreciative. He hit me back with, “It’s not magic. It’s a
relationship.” I couldn’t help but think
of Artie Fufkin from Polymer Records.
There again, I couldn’t get shit done in my own back yard, so I had to
outsource it, and Lonn came to my rescue.
Luckily, I’ve met some folks in my travels, and occasionally they’ll do
me a solid.
That evening, we picked up the tickets from will call and
entered the venue around 9:30. Reverend Horton Heat had just taken the
stage, which gave me an opportunity to examine the venue a little closer. The
Reverend bores the shit out of me. I had promoted a few Social
Distortion/Reverend Horton Heat shows in the 90’s in Charleston,
South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia. I didn’t care for him much then either,
especially after I lost my ass in Savannah.
The room was cavernous with 2,000 plus black t-shirt
wearing, biker, metal-head, and post-punk concert attendees. In other words, there were a lot of dudes, all
relatively still during Reverend Horton Heat’s set (and probably hungry for
some more Nashville Pussy, a hard act to follow with that electric tape and
The stage was easily 70 feet across with huge stacks on each
end, and more hanging above with 100 or so par 64 cans on trusses. The venue has a ballroom feel; above the hardwood
dance floor; an array of crystal chandeliers. The Fillmore is tiered, very much
like the House of Blues in Myrtle Beach,
South Carolina, and it has a
similar interior arrangement, although the venue feels a little claustrophobic opposite
the stage, due to limited head room. The
show was standing room only, with the exception of the VIP area, which seemed
to be the only spot with chairs and tables. But if there were chairs, there wouldn’t be a
bad seat in the house; you can see the stage from practically anywhere in the
Motorhead came on around 10:45 opening their set with “Iron Fist” and man, it was
loud. Almost deafening. Lemmy’s was as energetic as possible on stage, at 63,
taking into consideration his diet of Marlboro Reds and Jack Daniels. But his
bass thundered with the might of a rhinoceros herd. Ably assisting was Campbell on guitar, who’s
been with Lemmy off and on for almost thirty years, and “Neil Pert-status”
drummer Sorum, helping to bring the heaviest heavy monster sound available. Next
up was “Stay Clean”, followed by songs such as “Metropolis” and “Another
Perfect Day” although I got a little lost during the middle of the set. Lemmy brought me back home, ending the set
with “Killed by Death” and “Bomber.” Then the band left the stage.
After a few minutes the crowd began to chant “Motorhead”
over and over; then came time for the anthem. I first heard “Ace of Spades” on
the BBC’s comedy show The Young Ones sometime in 1984 or 1985. The last time I heard the song performed live
by Motorhead (and not the countless times I’ve heard it covered) was at Atlanta’s mythical Metroplex
in May of 1988 shortly after I graduated from college. Hearing the song played
after a 20 year hiatus was almost subliminal. And to add aural assault to
injury, Lemmy finished out the encore with “Overkill”. Surprisingly, Motorhead went through the
entire set without playing one new song from Motorizer. Don’t ask me why. Probably has something to
do with unit sales, as Lemmy continuously complains, “We don’t sell any bloody
records in the States.”
Frankly, the experience was almost like a homecoming. But Motorhead
could never have had its origins here.
They’re just too English; that’s part of their mystique. But Lemmy’s
crew has become so entrenched in American pop culture that even AT&T
adopted an “Ace of Spades” reference a year or two back. I can’t, for the life
of me, imagine Rock and Roll without Lemmy Kilmister. And it’s funny. In a recent interview, Lemmy
was quoted, as if a galley slave chained to a ship’s oar, en route to an
Australian prison colony: “We don’t know how to do nothing else. I’m trapped
behind this bass guitar. I really wanted to be a postman, but they wouldn’t let
Well, we’re certainly glad you didn’t take that job, Lemmy.
But if you had, you’d be the coolest postman who ever lived.
Michael G. Plumides,
Jr. is author of Kill the Music, available on Amazon.com. Watch for an
excerpt from the book in the new print issue of BLURT. Read a review of the book here.