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He is a 48-year-old Welshman, known on his birth certificate as Ian Frazer Kilmister. He is a self-declared speed and booze enthusiast who sports long, greasy hair and an iron-cross necklace. He has three magnificent, Lincolnesque moles on his face, and a philosophy on life that combines cheery humor with unfettered nihilism. Nineteen years ago he formed a heavy-metal band that he wanted to call Bastard, but ultimately settled on the name Mot”rhead. That's another term for "speedfreak." And soon the world would know Ian Frazer Kilmister by another term.
He is Lemmy.
Since then, Mot”rhead has strip-mined its way through the genre, producing 16 albums that consistently eviscerate the competition. Live shows are rarely quieter than 126 decibels, bassist Lemmy's outraged rasp/yell fighting to get across lines like "I am the blade, I break the oath that you made/I am the mace, I am the blow in the face/I am the ax, to cut down heroes like rats/I am the sword, I do the work of the Lord."
Lemmy has had no trouble keeping his edge over the years; Mot”rhead has been plagued by a full complement of business problems. From bad management to skewed record deals to ever-rotating band members, Lemmy's barreled through it all with the determination of a Sherman tank.
And that attitude is evident on Bastards, Mot”rhead's latest offering of raw, pristine, head-banging rock n' roll. There are a few surprises: the serene "Lost in the Ozone" and a wrenching acoustic (!) ballad on the horrors of incest called "Don't Let Daddy Kiss Me."
But for all the fearsome imagery, the tales of violence and inebriation, the man who answers the phone in his Los Angeles apartment is gracious, friendly, something darn close to charming. The Welsh accent still provides a thick adhesive, slurring words into sentences into throaty chuckles.
He is a survivor, he is a nice guy. Far from being institutionalized, Lemmy has become an institution.
New Times: How is it that you're still alive?
Lemmy: Luck. Pure luck. I've never done an exercise in my life. NT: Your appetites are pretty legendary; haven't you reformed like everyone else?
Lemmy: No. I like whiskey. I drink bourbon. Oh, yeah, I haven't reformed at all, I don't believe in reformers, I think they're all lying. They're all sneaking off round the back, you know?
NT: Do most people think you're some kind of monster?
Lemmy: They're sure I am. Heaven knows, someone who goes around the world bringing joy to people, there must be something weird about them. They're not like a priest with a nice haircut, stealing all your money, you know? But it's our fault, isn't it? I mean, no one ever said, "You have to wear a leather jacket." It's part of the gig.
NT: How have you kept going?
Lemmy: Through not succeeding. When people succeed, they stop. I've already achieved satisfaction with what I do, but you can always push that further. It's been 19 years, and I want to make the 20th anniversary. Probably make the 25th, the way I feel now. Actually, all I want is a No. 1 album so we can finally split up, ha ha ha!
NT: How did you wind up doing an acoustic ballad [Don't Let Daddy Kiss Me"]? Lemmy: I come from Wales, and not much of that shit [incest] is talked about, especially when I was growing up. I didn't find out that people did that to their kids until I was about 20, and when I did, I couldn't believe it. More people get assaulted by their parents than you would ever suspect; they keep it to themselves and go to their grave with it. It's the most heinous crime I can imagine. I'd hang em. I don't want some guy to be gettin' three meals a day and a color TV, right? He's just raped his own daughter? I'd hang em.
NT: What's the Mot”rhead songwriting process like?
Lemmy: It's very haphazard, there're no rules. The two guitarists will get together in England and think up a few riffs, and me and Mikkey [Dee, the drummer] will do the same thing here, then we get together and cross-pollinate. We discard quite a bit.
NT: After you got into bands, what did your folks think?
Lemmy: Well, my mother was always a softy, she'd slip me a fiver behind my dad's back, but my stepfather hated it. Then, of course, as soon as I made it into the papers, he went round showin' it to his mates in the factory.
NT: What's the state of rock today?
Lemmy: It's being strangled by business. They're not signing anybody who's risky, so there goes the whole thing. Also, they're always shrinking budgets, and the first thing to suffer is the band. The business would have built us up and sucked our blood if they could, it's just that we're not easy to market. I insist on control of the artistic side of everything. I won't have them put out the shit they put out; I've seen whole careers wrecked because of a bad album sleeve.