Celebrity Skin: Lemmy of Motorhead

Published: 05 March, 2012 - Featured in Skin Deep 209, March, 2012

Known as much for his influence on the world of music as for his dress, Rickenbacker bass guitar and unabashed honesty, the man in question is so legendary, he only requires a one-word name – Lemmy.

Walking backstage at Gigantour 2012 in Montreal, Canada, things were strangely quiet, like something special was about to happen. One knock on an inconspicuous door, a turn of the knob and yours truly was face to face with Ian Fraser Kilmister. Yes, Lemmy.

Rock stars are a funny business. The masters of double personalities, they often present one persona on stage and a completely different one off it. But the founding member behind legendary band, Motörhead, is always Lemmy, no matter whether he’s sitting in a dressing room or delivering ‘Ace of Spades’ in his signature growl in front of packed stadiums.

Dressed in his all-black attire, hat included, iron cross around his neck, Marlboro in hand and Jack Daniel’s close by, I was genuinely tempted to sit back and just bask in the glory that is Lemmy.

But that wouldn’t make for an interesting read, so instead it was on to discussing everything from his ink to his unrivalled collection of WWII memorabilia to the launch of Motörhead drinks, all while sipping a Jack and Coke with the man who started it all…

The Wörld Is Yours

It may have been Motörhead’s 20th studio release, but The Wörld is Yours managed to claim top spots on radio charts and garner positive reviews throughout last year. Not bad for a band that’s been around, in one line-up or another, for 35 years.

Filled with the grit, rasp and power that are synonymous with Mötorhead, the only surprising thing about Wörld, was reviewers insisting on referring to the album, and band for that matter, as Lemmy’s. Isn’t it time Mötorhead became recognized as the trio it is?

“Well, I’ve always tried to do that, you know. Phil’s been with me 28 years, almost his entire adult life,” laughs Lemmy. “But, like, I’m the singer. How many interviews have you seen with Keith Richards, right? People interview the singer, it’s natural, that’s the way things work. The only time it changed was with The Beatles because they all sang, so they confused the shit out of people. But it was always Lennon and McCartney, weren’t it?”

Touching on everything from death to the disappointing state of the 21st century, the album is filled with stellar lyrics; one of the best comes three songs in on ‘Get Back in Line’: ‘All things come to he who waits, but these days most things suck.’

Asked about his choice of words, Lemmy points out, “most things do suck, don’t they? Music sucks these days, movies suck these days, it’s all politically correct, it’s all bullshit, you know. Pretending to be what we’re not, pretending to be moral, pretending to be clean and all this shit, people going into rehab because it’s fashionable, it’s incredible, man.

It’s like you go backstage and you see 60 bottles of Perrier water and you think, there’s something wrong with this, you know what I mean? There’s something very wrong with this. What’s more, there don’t seem to be any modern-day perks to outweigh the negatives. I can’t think of anything really, can you? I mean, as soon as people improve something, it’s fucked. As soon as they streamline it or make it more accessible to a bigger audience, it’s screwed, that’s the end of it.”

Taking a drag from his cigarette, Lemmy pauses and thinks of something else that’s gotten worse over the years.

“The biggest loss today is stupid kids. They’re not educated. The education system in America and in Britain sucks. I mean, it really fucking sucks. People should be taught English compulsory, right? But in some schools they don’t teach it anymore, they teach, like, Urdu because it might come in handy one day when dealing with an ethnic minority. What the fuck are you talking about, man? I just don’t get it. We’ve become so smarmy, we’re fucking intent on smoothing over everything with everybody all the time.”

Warpigs & Aces

Asked how many tattoos he has, Lemmy says “just three, I’m afraid”, extending his forearms to show off his two best-known tattoos; an ace of spades with the words ‘Born to Lose, Live to Win’ around it on his left arm, and an Indian shield complete with phoenix, spears and feathers on his right. He then unsnaps his shirt to show off the Capricorn sign on his left shoulder.

Having blown out and faded over the years, the forearm tattoos were recently touched up and restored to glory during a stop by the LA Ink set.

“Kat Von D put the white in the feathers, it was all a dark mess. I’m gonna actually do some more stuff in here, could define those lines,” he says, tracing his finger over bits of the shield. “And she made this readable for the first time in 20 years,” he points to the words around the ace. “I got this one in 1979 in Amsterdam, Hanky Panky, the old master. Took him about five minutes, I think. We were all drunk as c*!ts. This one [the phoenix] I got in 1991, and this one [on my shoulder], the same year. It’s pretty rough that one, Kat’s gotta go over that one too.”

As for how he and Kat crossed paths, it was all thanks to the magic of television. “I was on her show, LA Ink, I was a guest on that one, so she had to do something and I couldn’t think of any new tattoos I wanted. I wasn’t gonna get one just for the show. So that’s when I met her and I’ve got to know her very well since, she’s an incredible portrait tattooist. Or tattooer, is it?” he laughs, correcting himself.

Although Lemmy may not have any Mötorhead ink – “It’s about time I got one” – there’s no shortage of fans sporting a gamut of designs, from the infamous warpig to Lemmy’s likeness.

“It’s very strange. I can imagine the logo being attractive as a tattoo, but I can’t see the point of my face. It’s like having Yogi Bear on your arm, innit? I don’t know, people have their reasons. I’ve seen a few, I’ve signed a few so they can get the name tattooed on it as well, I mean, why not, you know? If they want it, it’s up to them, innit? It’s called freedom of choice.”

Although such freedom has led to numerous portraits with remarkably little resemblance: “Oh, [I’ve seen] several, but you sign them anyway, like, it’s a good try, you know.”
Seeing guitarist, Phil Campbell, passing by, Lemmy calls him over and informs me, “you should have a look at Phil’s tattoos as well, he’s got a couple of good ones. I like that ‘Forever’ one he’s got.”

Showing off the Mötorhead tattoo, complete with cigarette burn, on his right bicep, then the word ‘Forever’ running down his left, Campbell explains, managing not to crack a smile till the very end, “it’s supposed to say ‘For Trevor’. When I used to be gay, I had a boyfriend called Trevor, but the guy spelled it wrong.”

With wit like that, it’s no wonder the guys have been able to work together for so long. A thought soon answered by Campbell’s parting remark to Lemmy, “we’ve gotta think of some funny shit to do for the last gig, get it well planned, could be animals involved!”

Back to Lemmy’s ink, will there be any additions in the future? “Maybe. I’m gonna have a tattoo of my dick on my dick, but bigger,” he laughs. “Sorry ’bout that, couldn’t resist it!”

Collecting Memorabilia, Lemmy Style

It wouldn’t be a real Lemmy interview if his extensive and impressive collection of ‘stuff’, much of it hailing from WWII, wasn’t touched on. A collection that started when he received an iron cross and Third Reich flag as a gift years ago.

“In those days it wasn’t like ‘Oh, Christ, the Nazis are coming back’ because they aren’t, they’re gone. They’re dead, right? For some time now. And those fucking groups of stupid skinheads who are banging their heads against walls and ‘White power!’ with the hinged arm, you know, they aren’t gonna do anything. It’s ludicrous to think the Nazis are coming back. The ones you wanna watch is the New Conservatives, baby. And New Labour, for that matter.

“You know they make airplane kits of the Messerschmitt 109 and there’s no swastika on the tail? It was the symbol of the country for 12 years and they fought a war for six of those years, had that fucking thing emblazoned all over everything, and yet we’re pretending it didn’t happen. It’s great, isn’t it? So as nobody will be upset. Fuck it, why shouldn’t they be upset?”

A small sliver of the collection Lemmy has amassed in his Los Angeles apartment can be seen in the Lemmy: 49% Motherfucker, 51% Son of a Bitch documentary, which was recently certified gold.

“It’s a really great collection, I’m really proud of it. The most expensive things are a couple of swords I’ve got which are Damascus steel blades, very beautiful. They’re incredibly well made these things, engraved, etched – beautiful things. No matter what they were made for, in whatever name, that doesn’t matter, the beauty of them stands by itself. It’s just whether you can see past the bad news. It’s history, you can’t change it, you can’t sweep it under the carpet, pretend it wasn’t there because it was.

“There’s a lot of museums I’ve been in that don’t have as much shit as I do in a two-room apartment,” he says and, thinking about the future of all the historical items in his possession, adds, “[I’m] probably gonna leave it to my son, he’s the only one I got to leave it to; and I insist that it stays together. He can do what he likes with it. He can bequeath it to some organization, but it’s gotta stay together.”

Drinks, Drinks, Drinks

“That’s somebody’s fucking marketing idea, you know, a few more shekels for the pocket,” says Lemmy when asked about the launch of Mötorhead drinks, including vodka, shiraz and rosé.

“I did taste the vodka, I didn’t the shiraz because I don’t drink red wine, you know. I used to drink vodka a lot at one time, so I tasted the vodka and specified that. It’s Swedish, it’s very good, like Absolut kind of. Nice bottle too.”

But when it comes to the drink synonymous with Lemmy, Jack and Coke, could it ever be replaced? “No, not really. We gotta bring out bourbon eventually because that’s what I fuckin’ drink. It’s hard finding independent bourbon makers, though.”

On a suggestion that he may take up bourbon making as a hobby when not on tour, Lemmy pulls a face and laughs, “it’s kind of complicated, you know.”

The Next Generation

It can’t be denied that bands from the ’70s and ’80s are experiencing continued popularity – just take a look at the Gigantour headliners, Mötorhead and Megadeath – while new talent seems to be fighting against a brick wall, so what gives?

“That’s only because the old ones are so good. Nobody is given a chance, I don’t think. There’s a band from Germany called Skew Siskin who I think are fantastic. They never get a word, they can’t even get signed. They’ve got one of the best singers in the world, girl singer, she’s fucking great. And Skunk Anansie have just reformed after ten years apart.”

After I admit to not being familiar with either (shame on you, twice! Ed), Lemmy points his finger at me, declaring, “see! It’s your fault, you journalist! Ha! Hoisted by your own petard! Wrong question,” he jokes, then proceeds to grab his iPad and speakers.

“Don’t take any photographs of these fuckers, I look like John Lennon,” he says, putting on his glasses.

As Skunk Anansie’s ‘Squander’ fills the room, followed by Skew Siskin’s ‘Life’s a Bitch’, it’s unbelievable watching Lemmy tapping his foot, strumming the air and mouthing the words until, once it’s quiet again, he excitedly says, “I love that voice! Fuckin’ no prisoners, you know. I was reviewing records for Kerrang! once and they had one of Skew Siskin’s singles… I went to Berlin and did a song with them. I wrote some of the words for that song. It’s a crime they haven’t got a deal.”

And in case you’re wondering if he ever listens to himself, the simple answer is, “yeah, to make sure we’re not fucking up.”

When I’m 97

Raised by his mother and grandmother following his parents’ split when he was just three months old, the women in Lemmy’s life had perhaps the biggest influence of all on his outlook.

“My mother was always very take-no-prisoners, she was fearless. She brought me up and supported my gran as well, she was very cool like that and she never moaned or complained. She was working two jobs half the time.”

And although his mother, the only person who still calls him Ian, is now 97, Lemmy doesn’t seem keen about the prospect of such a lengthy life, nor of touring forever as only he, or perhaps Ozzy, could.

“You don’t get better from 97, but it’s fucking miserable being it. No, me and Ozzy won’t be touring then. Maybe Bono, doggedly, hanging on. Or maybe Jagger with a Keith Richards lookalike… the Gods are getting old.”

So does Lemmy at least agree with being labeled a God? “No, God’s taller. Much taller.”

A witty man till the very end.

In celebration of 35 years on the road, The Wörld is Ours Vol. 1 – Everywhere Further than Everyplace Else is out now and includes a DVD packed with tour footage and interviews, a double live CD and booklet documenting life on the road.

Lemmy on...

Los Angeles vs. London

“A lot of people are really shortsighted about L.A., you know, there’s a lot of things obviously wrong with it, but then you try and settle that London’s okay, that everybody in London’s cool, they’re not. There’s just as many assholes everywhere as there are anywhere else. It’s just in L.A. they’re easier to spot, you know, they’re usually louder.”

Releasing an album of covers

“We were thinking about it, yeah. It’d be fun. I don’t know if people would like it or not. We’ve done a lot of covers in the past. We did White Line Fever, Cat Scratch Fever... we used to do Good Morning Little School Girl in an early act. All kinds of shit we did and we’ve recorded lots of ’em.”

The downside of crossing into Canada

“The paperwork gets a bit ominous, but the border’s gotten a lot better. We used to be at the border for six hours, all bands did, it was fucking murder. They’re obsessed with paperwork, but they’ve got a lot more commonsense nowadays.”


Text: Barbara Pavone