Motörhead’s leader holds forth on the joys of the powder, the dangers of heroin, the need for a code of honor and the saving grace of rock & roll
It was as incongruous a sight as you could hope to see in the mid-afternoon light of the Burbank Hilton lounge—Lemmy Kilmister, the subsonic genius behind Motörhead, standing alone at the bar, hunched over a glass of whiskey like a bronze statue of Atlas sinking beneath the weight of a metal sky. He was dressed in black with two studded belts and a pair of white ankle boots with Cuban heels like Elvis used to wear onstage in Vegas.
The Hilton was hosting a heavy metal music seminar called Foundations Forum, only this was the mid-1990’s, a time when major labels were dropping their metal acts and looking for the next Limp Bizkit. Spandex and Satanism were out, baseball caps and Caucasian rap were in, and Lemmy was drinking by himself in the nutsack of the City of Angels like he couldn’t give a fuck either way.
I’ve never been one to bug rock stars when I encounter them in the terrestrial plane. Life is humiliating enough without the added burden of knowing your heroes think you’re a dick. But Lemmy was a man of the people. I figured I would say hello, and if he told me to fuck off, then I’d just have to live with that memory every time I cranked “Love Me Like a Reptile” from then on until the day I died.
At the time I was an editor at High Times, the dope rag, and introduced myself as such. His reply was immediate and brusque. “High Times? All you guys write about are faggot drugs like ecstasy and mar-i-juan-a,” he said, spitting out the last four syllables with an effete inflection as if to infer that potheads all think they are superior to glue-huffers but they ain’t.
“Your magazine never tells the truth about speed,” he said derisively. “They’re so fucking precious, aren’t they? ‘Oh, we just smoke marijuana.’ Hooray for you! What do you spend your time doing? Dreaming of times gone by, burning holes in the front of your fucking shirt? I smoke dope. I’ve smoked enough dope to make your fucking head swim.”
At that moment, some rock & roller with a whammy bar and a dream walked up to Lemmy and laid his band’s press kit on him. Lemmy was courteous, shook the kid’s hand, but when the kid walked away, he threw the package on the bar like it was a Nickelback album. The scene was burned. I sensed an opportunity.
“If you want to tell me the truth about speed,” I told Lemmy, “I’m right here.”
To that end, Lemmy invited me up to his suite to educate me on a subject that was near and dear to his sputtering heart.
Once upstairs, we sat down at a table overlooking the hotel pool. Lemmy poured us each a water glass full of Jim Beam and proceeded to deliver the amphetamine gospel with the same earnestness with which Bob Marley used to proselytize about ganja.
“I think that speed’s a very maligned drug,” he said. “It used to be given to housewives to avoid depression. And it works—look, I’m smiling here. It’s utilitarian. It gets you on a stage, where you wouldn’t otherwise have done it: ‘Fuck, a gig? Tonight?’ I mean, what you say when you get up there is variable. I don’t recommend the drug to everybody, some people can’t handle it, they get very twitchy, it sends them out the window and all. But it’s certainly never killed anybody I know. Whereas heroin killed everybody. It stopped my generation in its tracks.”
“The Ramones came out the same time as us,” he said. “Me and Joey understand rock & roll because we love it. It’s our life, our religion. It fills every gap you got. You can sleep with it, you can fuck it, you can lick it, you can prod it, roll it, taste it, anything you want.”
“What’s the best speed?” I asked.
“In the old days, you used to get methyl-amphetamine hydrochloride, which is liquid,” he said. “It was to be shot, really, but none of us used to shoot it. We used to put nine of ‘em in a glass of orange juice, drank that. That’s where my teeth went. That’s one thing speed does, it rots your fucking teeth. We used to go to a Hyde Park concert and talk to everybody there within three-quarters of an hour. We took drugs. We weren’t ashamed of it. I’m still not ashamed of it.”
At one point during our conversation, Lemmy reached over and turned my tape recorder off. Producing a sandwich-sized Ziploc bag with about a half-ounce of white powder in it, he poured a pile on the table the size of an anthill you might come across in a Zambian jungle. He dabbed it with his finger and put it in his mouth, then motioned for me to do the same. I didn’t know a whole lot about crank and took a baby hit of the Motördust, which pissed Lemmy off.
“Finish it up, man! It’s not gonna kill you!”
I did as I was told and chased the bitter powder down with some bourbon. The combination left my mouth tasting like I had just fellated the tailpipe of a Panzer tank.
“I got hold of my son, I found out he was doing cocaine,” Lemmy lamented. “I said, ‘Look, coke’s all right, but speed’s better. I don’t mind you doing coke. If you ever do smack and I find out, I’ll kill you. Because I’d rather have that on my conscience than watch you die slowly.’”
As the liquor and meth hit my dopamine receptors like Allied bombers over Dresden, Lemmy regaled me with stories culled from a lifetime in the rock’n’roll trenches. He’d been a horse breeder in Wales before Little Richard’s “Lucille” and “Good Golly Miss Molly” rearranged his priorities. He told me about being a roadie for Jimi Hendrix, how the Beatles were a better band than the Stones, how Motörhead’s first guitarist Fast Eddie Clarke was an emotional drunk who used to quit the band every other week, and how one time Johnny Thunders was in a studio in London, falling asleep on dope, so they called Lemmy and asked him to bring over some speed so they could rescue the session. He felt an affinity for the punks. He said that if it wasn’t for the length of their hair, Motörhead would have been considered a punk band.
“The Ramones came out the same time as us,” he said. “Me and Joey understand rock & roll because we love it. It’s our life, our religion. It fills every gap you got. You can sleep with it, you can fuck it, you can lick it, you can prod it, roll it, taste it, anything you want. Music will always be there for you, and if you’re lonely in the night, you can just put a record on, and everything you had then comes back.”
He had little use for the conference that had brought us both together.
“You hear that panel I was on?” he barked. “You never heard such a load of waffle in your life.” Lemmy had taken part in a seminar the previous day. Sitting there under the fluorescent lights of a hotel conference room, he’d railed on about the spirit of rock’n’roll, and this record executive sitting next to him, a man who’d probably earned more money off the last Coolio album than Lemmy’d made in his life, would preface his response to each of Lemmy’s points with the line, “Well, from an industry standpoint…”
He felt an affinity for the punks. He said that if it wasn’t for the length of their hair, Motörhead would have been considered a punk band.
“An industry standpoint!” Lemmy exclaimed. “Let’s have a look at that. ‘We sell everything to everybody, and we don’t care what it is.’ Fucking brilliant. Integrity, out the window. Everybody cleans up off bands, man, and then they get treated like shit. Everybody pays their bills with the band’s money. All these rich bastards at the Grammys. I went to the Grammys. We got one in 1990, for 1916. I went over there to Radio City in New York. I’m sitting there, and I’ve got me denim jacket on and the Iron Cross on the bare chest. I figured, I was dressed like this when I was writing the song. I was dressed like this when I was playing the song. So it seems right that I should dress like this when I’m gonna get an award. About five or six bands walk in, long hair and the dickie-bow, a hired tuxedo that didn’t fit. I said to a couple of them, ‘What the fuck are you doing, man? You come to their dance and you dress as the enemy? Because they are your enemy, they’ve taken all your money and then you come to their celebration of themselves, and you’re dressed like them? Why don’t you give them a blowjob while you’re at it?’ All you got in life is your honor, man, your own self-image, your own self-respect. If you lose that, or if you give it away or if you sell it, then you ain’t got it no more.”
“That’s what rock & roll has been about from the very beginning!” I said.
“Basically, ‘Fuck you,’ that’s what rock & roll is,” he replied.
I grew up Catholic, I’ve eaten and drank the body and blood of Christ, but the words “fuck you” have served me better in life than any of the beatitudes, and rock & roll has provided me with more solace than any of the Lord’s prayers. So hanging out with Lemmy and imbibing his sacraments felt like a natural progression of my spiritual journey. After the speed hit me, and I began running down my own chronological history, Lemmy stopped me around the third-grade point and indicated that his tutorial was over.
It was time now for me to go back into the world and spread his message amongst the plebs: Speed is awesome, heroin sucks, and rock & roll is a better drug than either of them.