Rocket Queen: Lemmy Tells You

Motörhead’s decadent, lovable leader on money and mushrooms.

While the touring club-and-country-fair circuit is riddled with sad facsimiles of former arena rockers still trying to scratch out a living—Ratt and L.A. Guns, anyone?—a lucky few acts appear to be enjoying not only a renaissance, but an increase in their audience. The Ronnie James Dio–fronted Black Sabbath tour, "Heaven and Hell," was a near sellout for most of its run, and Iron Maiden still gracefully commands stadiums in Europe, South America, and the U.S.It seems that British musicians have an advantage in cultivating an enduring career in metal that not only survives but thrives. A clear case in point is Motörhead leader Lemmy Kilmister. Though he's made Los Angeles his home for many years now, Kilmister was born in the West Midlands on Christmas Eve 1945. And though Motörhead has been crossing the Atlantic since 1976 and was extremely popular in England in the early '80s, it wasn't until the past several years that the band became an act that sells out stateside venues as large as the 1,700-capacity Showbox SoDo several weeks in advance. (Seattle's Craigslist boards are afire with desperate souls trying to land tickets for this Friday's show.)In his 2002 autobiography, White Line Fever, Kilmister describes writing four songs for his markedly wealthier peer Ozzy Osbourne's 1991 album No More Tears. "I made more money out of writing those four songs for Ozzy than I made out of 15 years of Motörhead—ludicrous, isn't it!", he wrote.When I mention this to him via phone after he's sound-checked for a gig in Calgary, he's quick to point out that things have improved since that book's publication. "Oh yeah, love, I think we're doing much better now." Peppering conversation with "love" is standard-issue Lemmy linguistics, but it's still frightfully charming coming from a man whose imposing appearance and demeanor is defined by his stern, wild-eyed gaze, those famous facial warts, and a perpetually black-clad frame. Kilmister is as lovable as he is intimidating, which is probably part of the formula that makes him the defining element of his band."The other guys hate me!" he says with a laugh when asked about being Motörhead's de facto interviewee. "I think that's just the way it is with singers. It's not like you see that many interviews with [former Rolling Stones bassist] Billy Wyman, you know? They want to talk to Mick Jagger." While this is true, I was relieved to learn during our conversation that Motörhead's lightning-fast and obscenely heavy drummer Mikkey Dee was back in the fold after a brief absence spent participating as a contestant in the Swedish version of "I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!" He was temporarily replaced by Guns N' Roses/Velvet Revolver drummer Matt Sorum, a perfectly serviceable player, but one who couldn't possibly take Mikkey's place, especially given the exceptional strength of the latter's performance on Motörizer, Motörhead's recent release.Detours to faux-reality are hardly necessary for Kilmister; he's currently the subject of an eponymous documentary film, and the practical rigors of his touring schedule will keep him on the road until this tour winds up in Moscow at the end of December. "Besides," he says, "who wants to watch me sitting around playing video games on my day off? It's not very interesting, is it, love?"For a nearly-64-year-old man who still loves his Jack Daniels and Coke as much as all the other deviant pleasures of the road, what is interesting is how much gratification he gets out of simpler delights, such as telling a handful of jokes at the end of our interview. "Why do fairies live in toadstools?" he asks, his gruff trademark bark crackling through the phone. "Because there's not MUSH ROOM in them!"

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