Motorhead at the The Fillmore (Photo: Michael G. Plumides, Jr.
By Michael G. Plumides, Jr.
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 the Music:
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, Phil Campbell, Wurzel, or “Philthy 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 lot?”
“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 Third Reich.”
He leaned back, and took a draw off of his cigarette. The coal brightened, and as Lemmy exhaled; he flicked the smoke into the ashtray and 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, and…?”
“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 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 that.
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 all).
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 venue.
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 me.”
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 the critically acclaimed book, Kill the Music, available on Amazon.com. Watch for an excerpt from the book in the new print issue of BLURT MAGAZINE. Read a review of the book here.