This is from my new book, Lemmy: The Definitive Biography. This from Chapter One: Do I Look Ill To You?
Lemmy lit a cigarette, blew smoke in my face and put it like this: “I was born at eight o’clock in the morning – an only child. My father left when I was three months old. You can see why! He was a vicar in the church of England, a padre in the RAF during the war.” His mum was “a librarian for a while. She was a TB nurse for a while.” Working with pregnant women with TB who had deformed children. “There was one born with a beak instead of a face. Fucking awful! She was so freaked out she couldn’t do it no more.”
I begged him to stop. “You’re going too fast,” I complained.
“Either that or you’re going too slow,” he sniffed.
It was a miserable dark afternoon in November, the rain lashing down outside, and we were sitting in his room at his London hotel. It was the late-nineties, cusp of a new century, and I’d recently stopped working as his PR and returned to music journalism. I’d been told, on the quiet, that Lemmy was gravely ill. That he’d been in hospital and now it was only a matter of time. It was decided I should interview him over several hours, get his life story down before it was too late. I had interviewed many times before over the years, and I would interview him many times more in the years to come. There had also been those innumerable occasions when we had simply talked, at gigs, at parties, in hotel rooms and bars around the world.
Yet never quite like this. When we finished it would be long into the evening. I would be ready to crash. Lemmy would be ready to go out. I was supposed to transcribe the hours and hours of tapes, put it all together, but I never did. Weeks went by and he didn’t die and my life took other turns, and so the tapes stayed in a file in my office, following me around wherever that happened to be for the next several years. Until I finally got around to writing this book. And then he did die and it stunned me, even though everyone knew he was desperately ill. I had just finished transcribing the tapes when I got the news. We had been due to speak a few days before Christmas. But he was ill and it was his birthday and I thought it would be better to leave it until the New Year. And…
When I’d knocked on his door that day it had been with a serious face. He took one look at it and growled, “Oh, fuck off! Let me guess. You’ve heard I’m about to kick the bucket, right? Well, it’s not fucking true.”
Was it true he’d been ill, though? “Yes, that part’s true.” And in hospital? “Briefly, yes, in Germany. But it was a scare, that’s all.”
I must have looked doubtful. “Look,” he said, gesturing to the whiskey bottle on the table, “fix yourself a drink and sit down. Do I look ill to you?”
Well. That was hardly a fair question. He’d looked like shit for most of the years I’d known him. Except for when he went to live in Los Angeles, in the early 1990s, when he’d suddenly acquired an unlikely suntan. And taken to wearing speedos. He’d even become clean-shaven for a (short) while, and talked only half-jokingly of “doing something about” his thinning hair. Living in LA, he said, “means we now have the technology.”
The desultory whiskers soon returned, however, albeit dyed black, and he’d taken to wearing a hat. This was something of a relief. Lemmy was not the kind of rock star one would ever wish to see ‘reimagined’ by a Hollywood stylist.
As he reaffirmed for me that day, “I’m not dressing up, no. What you see is what you get, man. I’ve only got one pair of pants and I’ve had them for twenty-five years, and nobody knows that. They think I get new pairs but I just paint the holes in my legs black.”
This last may or may not have been true. Or more likely had been true once upon a time, in the early days of Motörhead, before the money and the fame and the people in the band’s office he would routinely send out to buy him his white boots, his whiskey and his cigarettes. Before he developed his tendency, in the words of his former manager Doug Smith, “to be quite camp at times.” Doug was thinking of the time he’d turned up at Lemmy’s Edgware Road apartment to find him kitted out in full American confederate uniform.
“I said, ‘What the hell are you dressed up like that for?’ He just looked at me and said, ‘Yeah, it’s great, isn’t it?’ And that’s how he went out that night.”
But before one gets carried away with the idea of Lemmy sharing a Quentin Crisp-like theatricality, it’s worth mentioning that he’d “acquired” the uniform from an “accidentally broken” glass display case in Texas during another typically piratical Motörhead tour. “I thought, great, that’s another gig we’ll never be able to go back to,” sighed Doug.
But back to that day in London as the two of us sat there, huddled over a coffee table on which stood Lemmy’s Jack Daniels and Coke and his Marlboro Red cigarettes. I sat there looking closely for signs that it was over. That the story I’d been told was truer than he had wanted anyone to know. But while it was true he was now greyer around the muzzle, his belly beginning to ease over his ornate belt buckle, his eyes still held that twinkle, his mouth as sharp and funny as ever. His brain whirring away like a rat on a wheel.
“Do you want some of this?” he asked, unzipping one of the pockets in the arm of his black leather jacket.
“No, thank you!” I hurriedly replied. The short days and endless nights of wanting to have “a taste” of Lemmy’s industrial-strength amphetamines had long gone for me. I was in my forties and simply couldn’t hack it anymore. He was in his fifties and had no intention of stopping. Ever.
Didn’t he ever worry what that stuff was doing to him after all this time?
“Do I look worried?” he said, using the razor edge of a switchblade to dig out enough to fill the nostrils of a baby elephant.
He sat back and lit another cigarette, had a sip of his drink, and settled his sleepless gaze on me. “You sure you don’t want one?”
I don’t remember the first time we met; he seemed simply to have always been there, buried deep in my subconscious: the bad man on the motorbike, come to steal your chick and fuck you up. The crazy bastard in the bald jeans and dirty hair and mirrored sunglasses that looked like two black eyes.
Mr Skull & Crossbones. Dr Swastika. The place at the crossroads where rock first met roll.