BY: AMY HABEN
I just recently watched director Wes Orshoski’s highly rated, gold-certified documentary simply titled, Lemmy on Netflix. To be honest, I am more enamored with the mellow, psychedelic Sam Gopal and futuristic Hawkwind then the brutal speed of Motörhead. Watching this movie, made me see the sensitive, intelligent soul behind the badass biker image. Lemmy was also very attractive, it was the way he carried himself, his complete lack of insecurity or weakness.
I bore witness to the director’s exhilarating and funny rockumentary, The Damned: Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead in Williamsburg, Brooklyn about a year ago. The film includes appearances by Billy Idol, Mick Jones, Dave Gahan, Chrissie Hynde and members of the Sex Pistols, Black Flag and Blondie, to name a few. After the film was over there was a Q&A with Wes, where he let us in on gossip we missed in the film, including how comedian Fred Armisen hated the name of the documentary, saying, “It’s not what the Damned is all about.” I waited in a long line of eager Damned fans to buy a signed poster from Wes. He was extremely warm and engaging, so I gave him my card to procure an interview. Read on for Wes’s adventures following around the king of metal and one of the first British punk bands. . .
Wes: The night Lemmy passed, Billboard magazine, who I used to work for, contacted me and asked me to write a piece about my experiences working with him. I was getting tons of texts, emails and calls, and I just turned off my phone and sort of mourned by writing this article through the night and into the morning. I tried to remember weird times, and I tried to humanize Lemmy, because I’m not sure people know what he was really like, beyond the image. I wrote about random stuff, like the two of us eating 7-11 burritos—he was very specific that he liked the bean and cheese burrito only. Or how one day he called me and asked me to pick up some bread for him on the way to his house, telling me “not to get any of that shit American bread!” Meaning the generic stuff. Strangely, I don’t think Lemmy’s passing hit me until a couple days later, when Motörhead drummer Mikkey Dee gave an interview in which he said, “Of course, Motörhead is over.” That’s when the finality sort of hit me… Mike Inez from Alice in Chains poignantly made this point at the funeral—that it’s not just Lemmy’s death that people are mourning, but the death of Motörhead as well. And that’s a reality that is probably only starting to set in now: Because Motörhead was always on tour, they were always hitting the U.K. and Europe every fall, and the European festival circuit in the summer, it’s only after that summer and this fall pass without Motörhead gigs that I think a lot of people are really going to start to feel the full extent of Lemmy’s passing. Whether you lived in L.A. or Berlin or London, Lemmy always seemed gone for a big part of the year, so I feel like it’s when he never returns to any of those places that people are really going to feel the loss.
PKM: Motörhead fans are hardcore. A few of my friends got tattoos recently. Were you a big Motörhead fan growing up?
Wes: I was a teenage metalhead. Appetite for Destruction turned my life upside down. But I wasn’t an obsessive Motörhead fan, I was more obsessed with the thrash bands that Motörhead inspired—Metallica, Slayer, etc. Funny enough, though, what really triggered the idea to make a film about Lemmy was the record he put out with his rockabilly band, Headcat.
PKM: Wait… Headcat?
Wes: Yeah. Headcat featured Lemmy on bass and vocals (hence the “Head” in the name, from Motorhead), Slim Jim Phantom from the Stray Cats on drums (hence the Cat) and Danny B. Harvey on guitar. I really fell in love with their record. It’s an album full of the songs that Lemmy grew up on, covers of tunes by Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins, etc.—old rock & roll songs that got into my head. I started thinking about his past in Hawkwind, his connection with Hendrix, and how so much of the metal I grew up on was influenced and based on the speed and sound of Motörhead. There would be no Metallica or Slayer if not for Motörhead. That Headcat record, Fool’s Paradise, is really what made me turn to my co-director Greg [Olliver] and say, “We should make a movie about Lemmy!”
PKM: What was your most memorable live music experience growing up? Obviously, to end up writing for Billboard and then to start making rockumentaries, you must have had some good times.
Wes: Oh, man, every thing at that time left an impression. Seeing Metallica on the … And Justice for All tour at the Richfield Coliseum was unforgettable. It was unhinged. For me, being a kid from the suburbs, I remember it felt almost scary—as soon as the lights went down I started see these giant flames: People were holding up lighters to hair spray cans, creating these huge fireballs. Guys around me were smoking dope and drinking out of flasks. I loved it.
PKM: What year was this?
Wes: ’87 or ’88.
PKM: That was around the Heavy Metal Parking Lot days!
Wes: Oh, yeah. I love that documentary. Brilliant time capsule. It was exactly like that, maybe just a little meaner.
PKM: How long were you at Billboard?
Wes: About four years.
PKM: Who was your favorite person to interview?
Wes: Maybe Joe Strummer probably. Maybe Nick Cave. Or Johnny Cash. Maybe David Bowie. I was super intimidated while interviewing David Bowie and Johnny Cash, but both were really nice, especially Bowie. Shortly after he died I read a quote from someone who described his life as “perfectly lived.” From an artistic standpoint, I couldn’t agree more.
Captain Sensible and Dave Vanian by Shigeo Kikuchi – Japan 2012.
PKM: I used to think Bowie was perfection and of course, no one is cooler than him.
Wes: No one could be.
PKM: But it also makes me feel even fonder of him that he has made songs that I didn’t like because it makes him human. And if he can make beautiful art most of the time but also muck up some of it, than I may be able to achieve greatness in my own endeavors. I was depressed when he died. It was like a family member passed.
Wes: Me too.
PKM: When I was fourteen, I would put on this Blondie song, “Sound a Sleep,” every night before bed. I also had the Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars album at that time. My mom was always too busy fighting with her boyfriend to pay attention to me during that time, so I made Debbie Harry my mother and Bowie my father.
Wes: You were literally raised by records.
PKM: Where did Lemmy live in L.A.?
Wes: For most of his time there, he lived in an apartment right off Sunset, just a few blocks from the Rainbow Bar & Grill.
PKM: I’m shocked nobody tried to rob him with all those gold records in there. As well as the questionable characters that he may have let inside.
Wes: The week the movie came out, we were told that someone tried to break in. I don’t know if they got in or not. Maybe they just got into the apartment complex, and not the apartment. My favorite gold record was the Hawkwind “Silver Machine” one that hung in his bedroom. One of the great things about Lemmy’s place was that when you sat on the toilet, you were staring at a picture of the Hammersmith Odeon, where Motörhead recorded the legendary No Sleep Til Hammersmith. There was a framed picture of the front of the venue presented to him by the people there. Also, I loved this picture of him and Joey Ramone that he had blown up. It was signed by Joey. Lemmy told me that at one point a co-headlining tour of South America featuring the Ramones and Motörhead was being discussed. Can you imagine that?!
PKM: I just saw Black Sabbath at Barclays Center for the first time and they blew me away. Toni Iommi is just unreal, I couldn’t keep my eyes off of his guitar.
Wes: I saw them twice recently and it was completely inspiring. My brother-in- law Mitch and I stood in the second row freaking out. He saw them there in, I think, ’76 or ’77. Can you imagine that? I’ve met all the members of Sabbath, but it was surreal to be standing right in front of them at a sold out gig at Madison Square Garden, just overwhelming. And I was really struck by how psychedelic the show was. That was a treat. Definitely one of the best concert experiences of my life! It was a privilege to stand that close and witness that.
PKM: I love how Ozzy said, “Thank you for my life,” at the show I just went to, because if it weren’t for the fans he wouldn’t be rich and famous. He was very grateful.
Wes: And I’m sure he means it, especially considering how tough life was for him after Sabbath, how his life was in shambles, before Sharon put everything back together for him and introduced him to Randy Rhoads. Funny thing about Sabbath: I met the Dio- fronted version of the band in college, and I was struck by how much Tony Iommi reminded me of my dad, who funny enough, saw Sabbath in the ’70s in Cleveland with my mom. I saw them in 2000 at the Weenie Roast at Anaheim Stadium. They were the special guest and they were on a revolving stage but the stage got stuck so they couldn’t get it to completely revolve. It was kind of sad too because most of the kids didn’t care.
PKM: I figure that would only happen to Ozzy.
Wes: Super Spinal Tap-like.
PKM: My mom and dad probably saw them because they would go out and see bands all the time, like Neil Young. Wes: I know you’re from Orange County. I read about how Buffalo Springfield used to play this place in Huntington Beach called The Golden Bear. It would be amazing if that place was still around. It’s sad to see what Huntington Beach has turned into. I just drove down PCH recently and saw all these chain stores on the coast that weren’t there 10 years ago.
PKM: Neil was amazing at Woodstock last year. Three-hour set, one sip of water, no break, and he blew Willie Nelson’s young sons out of the water with his guitar skills. Did Lemmy and his son swap women?
Wes: Yeah, I think so. I think Paul, his son, said in the film that they switched girlfriends at one point.
PKM: Lemmy had said that some girls like that fantasy of dating the father and son.
Wes: Yeah. He definitely lived the lifestyle, but he was way more normal than any other rockstar I’ve ever met. He was the type of guy who would sit backstage listening to George Harrison, reading books, chatting with friends.
PKM: Lemmy saw the Beatles at the Cavern Club, when they were starting out, and he says in his autobiography that they were hard men from tough backgrounds unlike “the mummy’s boys” that made up the upper class Rolling Stones. He says that they were more dangerous than the Stones ever were. Did he go into his relationship with those guys?
Wes: I know he hung out with Ringo in recent years. There’s a fantastic photo of the two of them together that you can probably find online. Lemmy once told me that he saw John Lennon head butt someone at the Cavern Club. Some heckler or something.
PKM: Did you find out anything out about Hawkwind that you didn’t know before?
Wes: Tons. We interviewed three other members of Hawkwind and two of those people said they were the one and only person to tell Lemmy he was fired. So, obviously, over time the details get a little fuzzy. So we tried to avoid going into too much detail because we couldn’t figure out what was the real truth. But, I have to say, every member of Hawkwind that I met was really cool—Nik Turner, Stacia, and Dave Brock, all very cool and interesting people. It was a real treat visiting Dave’s house in the English countryside and I still keep in touch with Nik and Stacia.
PKM: I also heard that he got his name from the saying “Lemme a fiver,” when he needed a beer back in the day.
Wes: We asked him about that and he blew that off. He didn’t like that. I don’t know of it it’s true or not.
PKM: I’ve heard that he was very generous with his less fortunate friends. My pal Nigel told me that he gave him money when he knew he needed it.
Wes: Yeah, definitely. I’ve heard stories about his generosity, and I know at least one person whose life he completely changed by Lemmy writing him a check.
PKM: I like that now I associate the Rainbow Bar and Grill with Lemmy as opposed to Guns N’ Roses.
Wes: There are so many famous folks who’ve hung out there over the years—Joe DiMaggio, Marilyn Monroe, Led Zeppelin, John Lennon. I’ve seen tons of people there, from members of Slayer and Testament to B-Real from Cypress Hill and Ron Perlman from Hellboy.
PKM: David Bowie used to do lines of coke on that hidden table that had a booth. It was private, so even the waitresses wouldn’t see you. I used to sit at that table in the ’90s but now they have the upstairs blocked off. I even heard Bowie would be snorting while under the table he was getting a blowjob.
Shot of the four Damned members is a combination of screen shots from 1977. Credit: Don Letts
PKM: I want to talk more about The Damned documentary. Did you feel like you got to know the real Dave Vanian? Because I’ve heard he’s very private, like Morrissey. I remember Smiths bassist Andy Rourke telling me that the three members would hang out but Morrissey would just go to his own private dressing room to be alone.
Wes: Dave is like that, except there isn’t a private dressing room. Captain Sensible told me once, “I don’t even have his phone number.” Not sure if that’s actually true or not, but Dave really keeps to himself. While I was working on the film, I definitely got the feeling that The Damned was his job, and not so much a passion anymore, which, ya know, is fair enough. That’s probably how it is for most musicians who’ve been doing it this long. But on some nights, when it might seem that way backstage, he would go onstage and deliver an incredible performance, completely full of passion. Dave is like no other person I’ve ever met. He keeps his emotions to himself. I wanted him to be way more involved in the film and he just tried his best to avoid me. He never did anything that I wanted him to do. So a lot of times I would get pretty frustrated and I’d be pissed at him, but then he’d show up to the gig, and he’s so charming that it’s like all is forgiven. He really is a complete English gentleman.
PKM: Well maybe that’s how he has gotten away with it for so long.
Wes: I mean he is just not available. If you want to be his friend, even if you’re in the band, he’s just not that guy. He’s not going to go drinking with you every night. In my experience, it was quite rare when Dave would hang out. And it’s funny, because when he does, it makes everyone really happy, band and crew. In a weird way, he is almost like a parent who is stingy with their love and affection.
PKM: Is he still married to Patricia Morrison?
Wes: I think so.
PKM: Did you ask if she would be in the movie?
Wes: I did. First, we had some trouble scheduling it. Then the location was a problem: She suggested that she be interviewed outside, and I told her I couldn’t do it because of the noise factor—airplanes, motorcycles, cars, children, birds, etc.
PKM: Why outside?
Wes: I don’t know. I guess she didn’t want me coming to their house.
PKM: Very private, vampire couple. Why did you make this film?
Wes: After the Lemmy experience, I was looking for a project about an artist who had been around a while, who had been a part of something that changed music. I had sort of a check list in my head for whoever I was going to approach next. Then Damned drummer Pinch contacted me originally to do a tour DVD, covering their 35th anniversary tour. I thought about it, and I knew that while I didn’t really want to do a tour DVD, the Damned sort of ticked every box on my checklist. So I thought, “This is perfect.” They were the first U.K. punk band that put out a single, “New Rose.” They were the first U.K. punk band to put out a record. They were the first U.K. punk band to come to America. They played CBGBs in April of 1977. I’m sure Legs was there. They are a great band and nobody knows their story.
PKM: I do feel bad for them. They don’t get the recognition that they deserve.
Wes: They get credit in the U.K. but in America, they were only on a major record label for a very short time during their goth period. So they never got the support or love that they needed. So I’d liked the idea of making a film that could educate people on this band that they should know about.
PKM: “New Rose” was on a mix-tape my first love made for me and it meant a lot.
PKM: What was the most charming thing about Captain Sensible? Because I fell in love with him during that movie.
Wes: Really? Well I would love for you to tell him that in person because I think he feels really exposed and really vulnerable because of the film. But I try to tell him that he is the hero of the film.
The Damned in 1977 -Photo by Ian Dickson/[email protected]
PKM: What was your favorite moment with him?
Wes: Captain can be great, especially when he’s in full Captain Sensible mode after a few beers. He’s great to shoot, because he’ll play right at the camera and give you tons of great shots. I think my favorite moment with him was when we filmed in the very bathrooms he used to scrub before the Damned, when he was working as a toilet cleaner at the Fairfield Halls in Croydon, in South London. But Captain was always game, and willing to do whatever I asked of him, which I really appreciate. I can’t thank him enough for that.
PKM: So this was a labor of love. You paid for everything yourself right?
PKM: Well, hopefully you make some money off these films. To me your job is so important, especially right now, David Bowie and Lemmy died. You got, luckily, the last footage of Lemmy before his death. It’s so cool what you’re doing. I feel like all the real rockstars are dying off.
Wes: I know. Me too.
PKM: There are no real rockstars anymore, like Freddie Mercury…
Wes: Yeah, those folks who really, truly thrill you with their records and their shows.
PKM: Everything was so fantastic with their stage presence and their music and now what is there. Hopefully, bands will pop out of the shadows.
Wes: Right. Some bands are lucky enough to elevate themselves to a Madison Square Garden level but will they be there twenty years from now? Gene Simmons gets a lot of flack for certain things he says, but he has said the same kind of thing about there being no real rockstars anymore and, honestly, I think he’s right. Who will take the place of bands like Pearl Jam? Who’s the next Pearl Jam? Kiss, by the way, really was the band that changed everything for me. I was a little kid and my first cousin Terry, who was like four years older than me, had Kiss records. Every time I went to their house, I would get them out and they would scare me and I didn’t understand it but I was drawn to it. I fell in love. I remember staring endlessly at the Kiss Alive II cover. PKM: I never got Kiss, but i had that same experience with Queen as a five-year old child. My friend had a brother whose wall was covered with Queen posters and he had a Queen back patch on his jean jacket and long blond hair. That was my earliest memory of falling for a band. Was Captain Sensible annoying at times?
Wes: Yes, he was.
PKM: Who was your favorite member?
Wes: The two drummers. Pinch, from the current line-up, and Rat Scabies, the original drummer. Oddly enough, the two people that are opposed in a way. Also, the other guys in the current line-up, Monty and Stu, and band founder Brian James, I love all those guys.
PKM: I’m friends with Rat Scabies on Facebook and he sometimes comments on my stuff. Haha!
Wes: Rat rules! I miss him!