We want our rock stars to be larger than life, invincible. None, perhaps, have done so more ably than one Ian Fraser “Lemmy” Kilmister, arguably the hardest-living man in show business. At 69 years of age, the seemingly indestructible poster boy for insurrection is on the road touring behind Bad Magic, Motörhead’s 22nd album of propulsive, one-of-a-kind garage-punk.
So when Motörhead canceled a September 1 concert in Austin midstream, Lemmy telling the crowd, hoarsely, two songs into the set, “I would love to play for you but I can’t — I feel like I’m going to collapse,” fans in attendance — and the world over — were concerned that the Lemster’s heart-health issues of the previous few years were back and worsening. Online, and in the chatter reportedly heard at the gig, the fans’ only concern was for the singer’s health.
Of the thousands of well-wishes, the tenor was the same: As one admirer took to Facebook to put it, “Lemmy, please get some rest and recover, or think about retiring. You have nothing to prove to anyone, you are and you always will be a rock ‘n’ roll legend!”
In his first interview after the cancellation of the Austin gig and a few subsequent Texas shows, Lemmy — calling from Detroit, his voice shaky but his humor intact — offered reasons for not taking a more extensive health break: “This is what I’m supposed to do, not be in hospital.” While onstage adrenaline can ease the pain, he said, “Sometimes…sometimes it doesn’t. You can’t arrange that. If it isn’t too bad to stop me from being there, I’ll be onstage, you know.”
He’s been onstage with Motörhead since 1975, and, with guitarist Phil Campbell and drummer Mikkey Dee, his energies have never flagged, the band’s output remaining constant as a metronome. Bad Magic is 42 mostly manic minutes of classic, adrenalized rock. The frontman/bassist admits, “We always sound the same anyways. We had five days’ rehearsal and we went in the studio. I always write the words in the studio anyway. Since we always change things, it’s best to be in the studio right away. It might cost a bit more, but that’s OK; we ain’t in there for long.”
Lyrically, he’s intrigued by real-life, historical scenarios, and the “news” he favors is from the early part of the last century. “Sometimes you see something on TV. That’s where [the 1991 album] 1916 came from: I saw a show about the First World War,” he says, musing aloud about an infantry division. There are also self-referential lyrics, as on the aptly titled new song “Electricity,” where he snarls: “Don’t speak of your beliefs, they’re yours to keep/Don’t tell me who I am, I don’t give a damn.”
His devil-may-care insouciance is his roughshod charm, and he’s developed his own theories about prolonging his longevity. Entirely quitting booze and cigarettes? Nope. “The system gets used to things; if you stop something completely, then the system says, ‘Hey, wait a minute — where’s our smokes?’ ” he believes. That said, he’s gone from Jack-and-Cokes to vodka-and-O.J., noting, “There’s always a way around it — any laws, you can always scratch around until you find your way under the fence.” The smoking, down to a pack a week versus two packs a day, keeps his whiskey-and-cigarettes-tinged voice at just that. He notes that on the road at the moment, “My voice isn’t back. I’ll get it back. Or I’ll buy another one.”
Humor often masks truth and pain — not just for Lemmy, of course — and even if his fans would rather have him writing songs and being home than under-the-weather on the road, by all accounts, Lemmy won’t back down, or he’ll go down fighting. Like his Brit brother in excess, Keith Richards, he cracks morbid jokes about death, including his own eventual demise. “I think I’ll get burned and have my ashes scattered in Mikkey Dee’s eyes,” he says, letting out his trademark croaking guffaw. “It’s a funny thing. We have this rivalry.”
His legacy — which ain’t done yet — includes a beloved documentary, 2010’s Lemmy: The Movie, his autobiography, a showcase for his unforgettable songs and performances as well as the man’s eminently quotable wit and wisdom. So he’s good. A legacy? Ha. “Nothing. I’m leaving nothing,” he says. “On my tombstone — let’s see…I’ve forgotten all my one-liners. Ah: ‘I told you I was sick…’ And on the other side: ‘And look what happened.’ ”
His words to fans are as practical as his own take on life. “Any gigs we’ll miss, we’ll redo, and we’ll try not to miss any more,” he says. “Here we come again, 40 years.” Perhaps it’s as another iconic Brit band, Iron Maiden, sings: “If you’re gonna die, die with your boots on.” Indeed, Lemmy’s trademark white boots continue to cross the country and grace stages, throngs worshipping at them, their wearer snarling the iconic “Ace of Spades.” “You know I’m born to lose and gambling’s for fools/But that’s the way I like it, baby/I don’t wanna live forever/And don’t forget the joker.”
Motörhead plays Nikon at Jones Beach Theater on September 16 with Anthrax and Crobot.