This is quite special – to read an interview with Lemmy before he started his own band. Only a few months later he would be fired from Hawkwind and we all know what happened thereafter. Rarely does a member from a band go out and start a bigger band than the one that he/she was originally with, but Lemmy did it. He and…Joan Jett? Who else? Anyone?
“Lemmy in or I`ll kick yer door down!”
A Feature Profile on H. Wind`s Spaceman Bassman, supported by occasional out-of-context quotes provided by the Interviewee
By Tony Tyler
Pic: Pennie Smith
Harley-Davidson: Lemmy`s mate
Lemmy`s real name is Ian Kilmister but “Lemmy” sounds a good deal heavier. And if you remember the BBC`s “Journey Into Space”, you might just recall that the original Big L was the sidekick of one Jet Morgan, urbane spaceman for the airwaves of fifties Britain.
Now Jet Morgan`s Lemmy was a sort of 21st Century Tonto, the Sancho Panza of the Spaceways. He was a cheerful syncophant and a boy wonder at fixing meteorite patches. However, unlike his earlier namesake, Lemmy the Bass sports no visual anonymity to mask his image. For Lemmy, Image is just about everything he`s got (and I`m assuming he`s finished paying for his bass).
This single-minded concentration on a particular Image has produced some curious side-effects in Lemmy, not the least of which is his natural friendliness. Mind you, he`ll probably kill me for calling him “friendly,” because the way Lemmy sees the world, overt sympathy goes badly against the Image and is therefore unacceptable. But we`ll get to all that later.
No, there`s not been much about the music of H. Wind so far. In fact, there isn`t going to be. In fact, I`m leading up to an examination of the premise on which `Wind touts its sounds, and of the illusions under which I believe they labour – if their seemingly-menacing-but-actually-soft-as-old-roaches bassist is any guide to the rest of the group. To tell the truth, H. Wind`s music is not really my bowl of ginseng, although its remote progenitors did once have an effect upon by youthful cerebrellum, and the real reason for The Lemmy Interview is because…uh…because I`ve known him for years; and so when his name cropped up in the Great Publicity Roundup recently (not unconnected with a then-concurrent tour of Our Damaged Isle), I volunteered for the gig.
Because I felt I`d Probably Get Him to Open Up, that`s why.
And anyway, the idea of actually interviewing Lemmy seemed at once so grotesque and so appropriate that it just had to be done.
Swift resume: my first-ever view of Ian Kilmister was way back in `67 and I came with a friend to, er, score. As I recall, Lemmy wasn`t holding any real quantity but we skinned up anyway; and so my first recollections of the lad involve incense, exotic cheroots, the Beck “Truth” LP and Lemmy (who even then had a decidedly unhealthy complexion) turning green as he copped the Beck licks on a battered Strat, a joint like a 105mm cannon traversing from side to side of his trap.
Those were the days of the Rockin` Vicars, I guess – a saga that`ll have to wait.
At all events, one collided with one spasmodically over the next few years until Lemmy announced that he was joining a band called Hawkwind.
Hawkwind? Are they like Quintessence?
Three years passed. H. Wind began to acquire a kind of buzz that, back in `66, would have netted them some real kudos. As it was they got Stacia; and lights; and they got Underground Credibility, which says a lot for the state of U.C. in `70 or so. The music? Four hours in 4/4 with an occasional trot into 8/8 (“Because it`s there”) and little else, apart from farts from Putney synthesizers. But they began to attract Followers, notably SF novelist Michael Moorcock, the Dennis Wheatley of our Time. (Whom `Wind still take to, by the way.) Bleary-eyed, redded-out infants nodded cataleptically to the True Inheritors of Hapshash. Coloured Coat and all. And Lemmy played on.
Underground papers wrote features. One I remember was by a fresh-faced ingenue called Nick Kent and appeared in Frendz. It was of course well-written…but it was naive (and it`s been a long time since anyone used that adjective about Nicky the K.)
Other music papers wrote features. They had to, really. In `70/71 the Undergrounds were running rings around the weeklies (NME included) for depth and breadth of commitment etc – all good grassroots Wind territory. Mind you, the weeklies` articles tended towards Coy Chronologues of Chemicals Consumed, or pieces on How Hawkwind Got Busted In Guildford For The Ninety-Eight Time Last Tuesday – and NME`s Aaron Zilch Was There etc. But there actually wasn`t much to write about…hippies…dope…a few lights…tits…there was no middle ground, and The Wind were dead lucky not to be totally savaged when `72/`73 dawned and the current of critical sympathy began to run against counter-cultural dinosaurs and simplistic political theorising.
But really, all Hawkwind actually ever did was play some instruments (more or less as they`d planned to), fall about a bit and generally come off a lot less unpleasant than, say – oh, sod these perjorative asides. They got the Vote. Or enough of it.
Also, the rhythm section improved.
Ok, so that`s Hawkwind`s progress more or less encapsulated, minus that odd hit single and the gradual climb up the ladder of solvency. What about Lemmy?
Now our interview went on for a very long time, and during that session we talked a lot, mostly about politics/economics/etcetera, i.e. Lemmy`s ideas on the aforementioned. And in all that tape there seemed to be very little that broke new territory. And we hardly talked about music at all.
What actually emerged was a sort of study of one particular individual, a musician, who (I believe) actually holds opinions almost the opposite of those he believes he holds, whose philosophy of life is based on easy-to-assimilate ideograms which he knows will stay in his brain despite what else he pours in on top; and whose desperate pursuit of a tough-guy image is simultaneously comic and oddly moving.
Nonetheless, let`s kick off with a heavy quote, the kind that reveals plenty about Lemmy the Guy. Quite frankly, I couldn`t give a hoot about Lemmy the Bassist. Who needs music when your interviewee comes out with things like…
“My father was a vicar – a padre in the RAF. I last saw him on Fulham Broadway when I was 26.
“That was also the first time I`d seen him.”
“He`d sworn to `love, honour and obey` – and when the child was a few months old, off he goes. And that`s it for 26 years!
“Now that`s the lowest kind of shit.
“Then he wrote to my mother saying `What can I do for the boy?` – pangs of remorse! Anyway, we arranged to meet – went for a meal and talked”.
“What could he do for me, he asked. Sure, he wanted to help, but only on his own terms…college…a course or something -he`d have paid, he said.
“I said `Give me five thousand pounds and get out of my life`.
“He said `What for?` I told him: to start a group. He said `No`. I walked out of the restaurant there and then. Haven`t seen him since.
“If I do I`ll break his back.”
The point of that harrowing little tale is to perhaps draw an arrow in the direction of where Lemmy`s street-outlaw “toughness” comes from.
Yet, Lemmy, can`t you forgive the poor fart? I mean, a vicar? He must be in a much worse state.
And Lemmy duly withdraws the back-breaking “threat”, but there`s no real identification with the plight of the rockin` vicar so far as I can see. No, the padre has blown it el permanento so far as his son is concerned. And I`m not in Lemmy`s place, so I can`t argue.
Anyway, Lemmy made it, didn`t he? In music, that is. So he must have been right to walk out on his old man.
Now don`t go getting the idea that Lemmy is some kind of patho, all bitter and twisted on account of his runaway pa. On the contrary, as I`ve said above, he`s unconsciously nicer than he would probably prefer to be, quite a decent fella in fact, not stingy with his stash if you take my meaning. And he likes a nice chat does Lemmy.
Now here`s where the other worry sets in, the bit about him – and presumably, his colleagues in Britain`s Longest-lived Underground Band – not thinking his ideas through. He contradicts himself, just at the very instance when he needs to do the opposite, and though he`s an unselfconscious rapper, too often his phrases go round in circles.
What`s that got to do with the music? Plenty, I should say.
Yet he can still get to the point when he wants to (which is, as you`ll have observed, when there`s a chip on the leather shoulder.) “I got well pissed off at that piece in Melody Maker. The guy wrote in these…sounds, like `uh` and `um` that I`m supposed to make when I`m talking. Just to make me sound gormless. I don`t talk that way”. Nor does he, but he`s newly-enough come to fame (well, sort of fame) to be rather naive about journalists and journalistic techniques. In fact, for a while he was all set to have me submit this article to him for “approval” or even “a quick look”. The word “censorship” would of course quite genuinely horrify him.
Are you still with us? I mean, you might have pissed off to read the LP reviews. That`s it, be a good little consumer…meantime, my friend Lemmy and I will give you a few choice extracts from the H. Wind Lifestyle Rulebook.
Lemmy: “The main thing this generation is learning is how to be a good criminal!”
Windmanager Doug Smith: “Now hang on–”
Lemmy: “–By hangin` on to us, by lockin` us up, by fining us whatever they like for walking through the streets dressed the way we wanna look…”
Smith: “Now it`s not as bad as–”
Lemmy: “–Lockin` us up–”
Smith: “Listen Lemmy, what those kids out there” (he means Windfans) “are doing is one thing only: surviving. In a society based upon someone else`s economic planning.”
Yeah, it`s a bit like Dave Spart and his older sister Clara, but Smith, older, suaver, more cultivated and commanding and somehow not too overbearing (certainly he`s well thought-of by many folks I know) is less extreme, more reasoned, far less sloganised. And in debating the subject of economic exploitation, Smith wins – because not only has he thought about it, he does it. Every day.
It turns out that the Wind-wealth is handles thusly: each week Smith prunes off enough to float the next week and pay the wages, and the rest gets ploughed straight back in. Times are hard, and there was that enormous and spectacular Tax Bust in the States recently which could only happen to Hawkwind, when you think of it. (So carried away is Lemmy with the frankness in the room that he`s actually on the point of telling me how much his weekly wages are before Smith forestalls him.)
Let`s face it: Hawkwind are still on the road, still fielding a road crew, still giving Lemmy his wages every week so that he can go straight out and – I promised not to say. So the system works as far as they`re concerned. Outlaws?
Anyway, suffice it to say that during the three-way rap we ran the entire gamut of Cradle Thinktankery, with Lemmy`s passionate naivetes gently and almost endlessly being corrected by the careful Smith. I get the impression that Lemmy believes in Peoples` Capitalism – and can`t make it work, no way, not for him or anybody else. Whereas Smith can articulate it – and most obviously makes it work – but doesn`t hold it as an ideology, no matter what he protests.
But Lemmy`s not really interested in cash, just in what it will buy, like any other reasonably sane person. And what it buys Lemmy is a superb black leather-gubbins a la mode, with Camden Passage Nazi regalia dangling from his neck. To him, this is his Lincoln Green – the garb of the Street Outlaw.
What is an outlaw, Lemmy?
Is an Outlaw posing on a borrowed Harley for an NME front cover? (In fact, after that issue, in another part of which we mentioned that Lem`d been seen gazing hungrily into the window of the Take 6 boutique, we received a postcard from France: “Ta for the front page but watch it with the Take 6. This is a shit country. Lemmy”. But he sent it; hardly the gesture of an Ulrike Meinhof, or a Patty Hearst, hein?)
No, for Lemmy an Outlaw is still largely a Romantic Figure – and you can tell RFs by the way they dress most of all. Hence the leathers and the Iron Cross and the long lank hair, and the prized relationship with Hells Angels.
“See this?” “This” is a grimy, much-patched card, proclaiming Lemmy an Honorary Member of such-and-such a Chapter. Lemmy says, yes, he can ride a motorcycle, he just doesn`t happen to own one right now. Not yet anyway. In the meantime, he`s got all the accessories, including the cultivated air of hoodlum menace which is about as valid or as necessary as that sported by various members of Sha Na Na. Just like those guys, he doesn`t need all that jive.
But I don`t think Lemmy`ll ever be convinced. His pose, though discernable to other as such, is completely real to him. His emotional commitment to a stylistic chimaera is 100 per cent complete. And I got to say he seems no less cheerful than anybody else I know, so maybe he`s hit on something without realising it.
As I rise to leave the Urban Guerilla apologetically starts rooting through a filing cabinet. He`s looking for…a photograph! Of himself! But he can`t find it.
A week later it arrives. It`s a pic of Lemmy on a huge, huge motorcycle. You know, the one he borrowed from a friend.
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper and you are free to use it as you like. If you use it on your own webpages – please credit me or put up a link to my blog.
This number of New Musical Express also contains articles/interviews with these people: Elliot Cahn (Sha Na Na), John Cale, Nick Drake, Eric Clapton, Sly Stone, Bo Diddley, Supertramp, Chick Corea.
The original music paper this article came from (pictured at the top) is for sale!
1. Send me an e-mail, if you are interested. Send it to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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