Lemmy: 1945-2015

(Photo by Mark Weiss)

(From Rock & Roll Recollections: A Journalist’s 50-Year Diary)

Morning interviews with rock and roll performers are extremely rare; as a matter of fact, I only conducted one professional conversation when the sun was still rising in the sky. It was in July 1983, and it was with a memorable performer: Lemmy Kilmister, the bassist and vocalist of Motörhead, the aggressive, full-speed-ahead heavy metal band.

I arrived at the offices of PolyGram Records in Manhattan and took the elevator to the thirty-third floor where a member of the the label’s public relations staff escorted me to an empty room where the interview was scheduled to take place. It wasn’t quite noon.

A few minutes later, Lemmy walked in. He looked like a cross between a tough, grizzled biker and a pirate from the golden age of sail, although the empty ammo cartridge belt he wore around his waist suggested a modern-day bounty hunter’s persona. And he carried a bottle of Heineken beer in each hand. There was something earthy and genuine about Lemmy, and he seemed to possess a personal quality that was free of anything artificial or pre-programmed. However, he didn’t smile.

After being introduced to each other by a PolyGram staffer, Lemmy (full name Ian Fraser Kilmister) and I sat down for the interview. He adjusted his cartridge belt after it temporarily caught the edge of the large desk next to his chair. He placed one beer bottle on the table and began drinking the other.

Lemmy looked around the room and gazed at the file cabinets, book cases, and wall hangings. “I don’t particularly like places like this,” he stated in his rough textured voice. “There’s a lot of shit that goes on in places like this – corporate business shit. But at least PolyGram supports Motörhead.”

Still, no smile.

He explained that he tried to keep his distance from the business side of the music industry. “I’m involved as much as I have to be,” he said with a shrug. “I just don’t like talking to all the business types. In fact, if I had to, I wouldn’t even cross the street to kick them! But I’ll talk to the kids anytime. We play for them, not the critics or anybody else.”

And then Lemmy finally smiled as he took another swig of beer. Instantaneously, the atmosphere of room changed. Despite his earlier posture and opening remarks, he became as friendly and polite as anyone I ever encountered in the music business. He was generous, too. He offered me one of his imported beers and some unidentified white powder that he placed on the table in front of him. I respectfully declined his offerings.

Lemmy was quickly joined by guitarist Brian Robertson and drummer Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor. The pair looked like Attila the Hun’s personal body guards. And they looked like they were ready for a rumble; as a matter of fact, they appeared as if they had just come from a no-holds-barred punch up. But they stood there and didn’t say a word; Lemmy was the exclusive voice of Motörhead on that day. He beckoned to his metal mates to be seated, and then he continued with the interview. Lemmy consumed the white powder that he placed on the desk and smiled once again. Then he recalled his early days of rock and roll.

As my interview with Lemmy neared its conclusion, his supply of beer ran out. But like watching a magician at work, a bottle of vodka and a container soon emerged from under the table. Another smile grew on his face. Lemmy offered his “favorite drink” to me but again I respectfully refused.

Lemmy told me that the band would be hitting the road once again. I asked him about how he and his fellow musicians viewed themselves on the road. “Acting like the lone horsemen, riding into town and looking for action,” said Lemmy with a confident smile. Then he finished his drink in one large gulp, lit a cigarette, and left the room.