LA People 2009: The Throat Lemmy
Who will be the last man of rock standing?
In a year when former Led Zeppelin he-man Robert Plant pussied out with an album of folk duets, and more and more bands feature stringy-haired, sweet-voiced boys (I’m talking to you, Fleet Foxes), Motörhead and lead singer/bassist Lemmy released their 19th album of pummeling metal, Motörizer. Meanwhile, Lemmy was added to the Guitar Hero: Metallica game, won a Mojo Icon Award and became an action figure, complete with facial moles and Rickenbacker bass. Motörhead’s most famous hit, “Ace of Spades,” was used in an AT&T commercial, and the WWE is using “Rock Out” as its official theme song. This year will also see the release of the feature-length documentary Lemmy: The Movie.
Lemmy has stuck to his calling of inflicting musical and other mayhem since he discovered rock & roll as a lad in North Wales. At age 9, Ian Fraser Kilmister and a fellow hell-raiser were caught trying to derail a train. He was every mother’s nightmare.
“I was the kid a lot of other mothers wouldn’t let you play with,” he says.
“My stepfather hated it,” Lemmy recalls as he tells the story of how he went off to pursue a career in rock & roll. “But my mother secretly supported it and would send me a fiver here and there.”
For nearly 35 years Lemmy Kilmister’s throaty growl has been the main attraction of the heavy rock that is Motörhead. He looks taut and fit for a man of 62, but admits that just climbing the stairs to the second-story lair at his local bar, the Rainbow, has him out of breath.
“I gotta get back on the road,” he says, sitting down in the club’s upstairs hideaway, lighting up (yes, inside), with the first Jack and Coke of the day at his side.
“That’s how I stay in shape. That,” he adds, “and sex.”
Yes, it’s good to be Lemmy.
For all his success, Lemmy’s life is not one of rock-star excess. He lives alone in the same two-bedroom apartment he’s occupied since settling in L.A. 25 years ago while working as a roadie for Jimi Hendrix. When he’s not touring, he can often be found two blocks away at the Rainbow, playing the Touch 10 Plus machine at his regular seat at the end of the patio bar, fueled by Jack and Coke, or maybe a Screwdriver.
“I’m not going to die broke, but I’m not rich,” he says. “You’re lucky if you break even going on tour.”
His definition of success in the music biz? “To be comfortable for the rest of your life and not lose your mind.”
Lemmy doesn’t go to movies: “You can’t smoke and you can’t stop the movie and go get a sandwich, so I wait till they come out on video.” He recently enjoyed The Last King of Scotland.
Lemmy doesn’t eat in restaurants, either. “I don’t like people’s table manners,” he says. “That really puts you off eating food.” He does, however, recommend the Rainbow’s spicy chicken strips “with ranch sauce — excellent.”
Motörhead still play to large crowds of young and old fans, but Lemmy points out missed opportunities: “We should have gone out with AC/DC. They turned us down this year. They chose Cheap Trick,” he snorts. “We also should have gone on tour with ZZ Top, but their manager doesn’t like Motörhead — probably because we are a pretty hard act to follow. We come out and rip your throat out.”
Lemmy and Motörhead’s longevity can be traced to the reasons bands get started in the first place — the thrill. “Touring is too much fun to stop,” he says.
Still, at 62, after putting his vocal cords through hell and back, Lemmy has a voice that would pair brilliantly with darker, more brooding material. “I dunno. We’ve done a couple of brooding things — we’ve just done them really fast,” he says with a laugh.
Are there songwriting topics he’d like to explore?
“No, I’ve pretty much tackled everything. I’ve tackled a young girl’s point of view being assaulted by her father. I’ve tackled raw sex, drugs and rock & roll.
“That pretty much covers it, I think,” he says before heading downstairs, drink in hand, to take his place at his barstool.
Get the Weekly Newsletter
Our weekly feature stories, movie reviews, calendar picks and more - minus the newsprint and sent directly to your inbox.