“Chuck Berry was one of my first heroes,” Motörhead’s Lemmy Kilmister said backstage at Cleveland’s State Theatre before taking the stage and ripping through “Let it Rock” and “Bye Bye Johnny” at an all-star tribute show last week. Sipping a Jack and Coke, the conversation also took freewheeling turns into politics, sex and popular music. “There’s less and less talent and more and more gimmick,” he said. “I’m pretty fucking hard to impress. You’d have to beat Jimi Hendrix to impress me, and I don’t see anybody doing that.”
How‘s life in L.A.?
[I hang out at] the Rainbow mostly and assorted strip clubs. Funny enough, I get hassled for autographs and things. Well, not hassled, but I get asked for it a lot you know these days, but in the strip club nobody seems to do that. They’re so busy looking at the tits they probably don’t even notice you come in, which is always cool.
Right after I play here, I’m going to England and we’re rehearsing for the new tour, which starts in about four days, and then we’re doing Britain, Germany, Holland and then Belgium, Slovenia. So we’re getting around Europe. We usually do that around this time just before Christmas.
Some people I know were surprised you were on the bill for a Chuck Berry tribute – but when you think about it, it’s not really that far off.
No it’s not. The blues has always been in rock & roll as long as I’ve been ar0und. People are really dumb about music. They think if they like this thing first they’ve got to stay with it only for the rest of their life. You can’t listen to anything else or you’re a sissy. It’s so dumb. There’s so much music out there. There’s only two kinds of music I can’t stand: rap and opera. Opera because it’s too overblown and rap because I just don’t hear it. I just don’t get it.
Where I was in North Wales, it was kind of like living in West Virginia: a long way to go for anything important. I used to get my records by going to the local appliance store. They sold washing machines and fans and shit and you were always looking for them. There was no TV, no radio in Britain at the time. There was only Radio Luxembourg and the reception was terrible, so you were frickin’ moving your antenna, which didn’t work. It was hopeless. Every afternoon I’d hear a great song and they’d say, “That’s by . . . pssssshh [white noise].” So you’d go two weeks before you found who the fuck sang it.
When I interviewed Chuck, I mentioned the segregated venues he used to play in the South when he was younger. He teared up and recalled, “My dad said, ‘I don‘t know if we‘ll live to see it but one day we will [have an African-American President] – and I thank God that I have.”
I would have said America wasn‘t ready for it. And I don‘t think they were, because they‘re trying to drag him down now. I mean, the poor fucker‘s only just gotten rid of all that George Bush shit that he left, or is trying to. And he‘s being stonewalled by the fucking Congress all the time. I don‘t know how he‘s gotten anything done. They should be glad. I mean the alternative is Mitt Romney. Please, please don‘t vote for Mitt Romney. Fuck him. Repeal abortion law is the first thing he‘ll do. Fucking monster.
Did you watch the debates?
I couldn’t bear it.
What was your approach in playing a Chuck Berry song?
No, I’m going to play just like Chuck played more or less. I’m going to play the British invasion version of two of his songs because, I mean the Beatles started it, playing his stuff again after he came out of jail. Nobody was playing his stuff. It was like he vanished. Then the Beatles came out and the Stones after that. They were both playing Chuck Berry stuff, which was great. Because I always thought mods were fuckin’ assholes. As it turned out later, we found even the Who thought the mods were assholes, you know. They only got their hair cut for a publicity gimmick, which worked very well for them and made them rich and famous. But they weren’t really. They were a blues band before. One of those songs is “I Got Love If You Want It,” Willie Dixon.
How long do you see yourself playing?
It’s more likely I would end up playing with the Head Cat because that’s a bit more relaxed. Motörhead music takes a lot out of you. Physically, I’ll go as long as I can. I ain’t gonna give it up.
Are you writing stuff right now?
Not right now. I don’t have to yet. We’re going in next January and February.
When will you write the songs?
We write under the knife, under the fucking clock every time. That’s how we work. When Mikkey [Dee] joined the band, he was fucking horrified because they all rehearse themselves to death, getting the songs just right. We just get the riff and as soon as we like the riff we go in and ruin it, rearrange it, put words on it. That’s it. We usually finish it just as they’re clearing the gear out of the studio.
Do you listen to younger bands?
Which ones? You have to ask me a band or individuals. I don’t generalize.
How about Muse?
I’ve not got much to say about them. I’ve only heard about two tracks and I wasn’t impressed. But I’m hard to impress. I saw the Beatles at the Cavern, you know. I saw Gene Vincent live about five times. I was lucky. People say, “You’re getting old now.” I say, “Yeah, but look at what you missed.” I was a roadie for Jimi Hendrix for seven months, so I’m pretty hard to fucking impress, man. You’d have to beat Jimi Hendrix to impress me and I don’t see anybody doing that.
Do you have hope somebody new and exciting will come along?
Somebody’s bound to come along and get the adulation. I don’t know if they’ll have the talent. Because these days, it’s less and less talent and more and more gimmick. I mean, people applaud pyros. You’re getting a bad reception, and then vroom. [Everybody goes], “Yeahhh!” It’s fucking insane.
It’s interesting you came from a very pure, early rock & roll place, but went on to form Motörhead.
Well we’re pure in a way. We’re still playing rock & roll. It’s just very fast, very loud rock & roll. I don’t see there’s any less of rock & roll. It still pisses your parents off, that’s the main thing isn’t it? “Turn that shit down!” – that’s what you want to hear.
Last Chuck Berry question – what separated him from everyone else playing at the time?
I liked his attitude, talking to chicks, you know. He’s always had that smile on his face with the pencil mustache. He was always sort of a Lothario, you know. He always had that innuendo in the vocals too when he’s talking about chicks. He was always a horndog, basically, and so was I.
People have forgotten that sex is fun. It’s the most fun you can have without laughing. People have forgotten that. It’s all deadly serious. AIDS. You can get gonorrhea from a blowjob. So what? That’s the risk you have to take. If you’re going to have sex, fuckin’ have sex and be happy about it. Don’t be looking over your shoulder all the time. It ruins everything. It takes all the fun out of things so now we can go back to being Protestant nutcases and ban abortions and only missionary style – doggystyle was sent by the devil, obviously. We’ll be Amish.
The Stones are going back on the road again.
Five shows? That’s not very impressive, really. Mind you, I know how they feel. None of us are getting any younger.
How does it feel to still be playing this physically demanding music live?
It’s what I do. I’m used to it. The day you don’t do it, you’ll miss it. Whether you like it or not, you’ll miss it. So it’s just like I can’t imagine not being on the road. I know intellectually there was a time I wasn’t in Motörhead, but I can’t remember how it felt. It’s been 37 years.
Can you go back to the place before you were a big figure that everybody looked up to?
I wasn’t a big figure until two years ago when that movie [2010’s Lemmy] came out. I was known in L.A. because I lived there 20 years. But it took 20 years, because it’s only when that movie came out that people got to know me across the country. Because it went platinum, you know. It was great.
So you‘re happy with the film?
Oh yeah, as happy as you’re going to be with something about yourself. I didn’t have to sneak out of the theater before the lights came up.
When‘s the next U.S. tour?
We did two U.S. tours this year so we’re going to have to look after the rest of the world for a bit. Probably next year sometime.
Since we’re in Cleveland – did you visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
I went a few years back. It was one of the biggest wastes of space I’ve ever seen. The biggest room there is a gift shop isn’t it? And they lost my jacket, too. I leant them my jacket and a pair of boots as an exhibit and I didn’t get the jacket back, so I’m pretty pissed off about that, too. It was my original Ace of Spades tour jacket too, from 1980. I was pissed, man. Somebody’s wearing it. I know that.