At the age of 63, and after more than 40 years in the music business, Lemmy's eardrums must have taken quite some pounding.
Retirement: a dirty word for Motörhead's main man
If there's one thing Lemmy Kilmister can do without, it's a bad phone line. When the legendary Motörhead bassist and frontman answers my call from his Los Angeles base, he sounds like a broken fax machine in a bathtub. So we call him again, and this time I can just make out Lemmy's distinctively hoarse, slightly slurred and mildly annoyed voice on the other end. There are a few crackles to contend with, but I doggedly persevere with the interview prior to the speed-metal trooper's debut Middle East performance at Dubai's Desert Rock Festival.
Throughout the interview, we have difficulty hearing each other. But then something dawns on me. Perhaps we're both just a little deaf - me from listening to too much Motörhead, and Lemmy from actually being in Motörhead. Usually, when asked about the state of his hearing, Lemmy's stock answer is an ironic "pardon?", so I avoid that question. But Motörhead once held the record for being the loudest band in the world. So at the age of 63, and after more than 40 years in the music business, Lemmy's eardrums must have taken quite some pounding. After a brief stint as a roadie for The Jimi Hendrix Experience in 1968, Lemmy played bass in the psychedelic space-rock outfit Hawkwind before being kicked out of the band and forming Motörhead in 1975. A glutton for punishment, indeed.
I share my concern with Lemmy, that the concertgoing public of the UAE might not be ready for the levels of volume achieved by a band like Motörhead. "Oh dear," he sighs, "you'd better warn 'em." After all, this is the band about which Lemmy once famously said: "If Motörhead moved in next to you, your lawn would die." Could he perhaps offer some advice about how people should deal with such - for want of a better word - noise? "Well, they can stick their fingers in their ears can't they? It's not that difficult, you know," is his considered reply. Lemmy is sometimes referred to as the thinking man's Ozzy Osbourne, and I'm starting to see why.
Lemmy's excesses may be well documented, but what's not quite so well known is that, far from being a rock 'n' roll wild man on a runaway crazy train to oblivion, he's actually a worldly-wise and reflective soul. During the course of our conversation, I canvass his opinions on the issues of the day. I learn that Lemmy likes Barack Obama: "I think he's good. I hope he keeps his promises, that's all. Because if he blows it I'm gonna be so cynical I won't even be able to wake up in the morning. D'ya know what I mean?" I do, and I tell him so before the topic of conversation turns to the credit crunch. "Well, living in California we haven't even noticed it yet," he reveals. "But I suppose a lot of people are (noticing it) you know? I mean, the English pound's gone down and the dollar's gone up, so I suppose it was probably engineered secretly by the government, you know." A conspiracy theory? Surely not. "Well, there's a lot of conspiracy theories. I certainly think the banks are in charge of most countries. I mean, the bank gives you the money and then where do you put it? In the bank! It's crazy isn't it? It's unbelievable."
The interference on the line starts to ease, and I dare to mention the dreaded R-word: retirement. "Why do journalists always ask that question?" he barks down the phone before offering me some choice four-letter advice on what I could do with my retirement question. I get the impression that Lemmy will happily carry on playing as long as he's physically able to, but I wonder if there are any downsides to being a rock'n'roll star. "Yeah, some of it gets really cheesy. Like being stuck in airports when the flight's delayed. But that don't matter, it's outweighed by the benefits, you know." It could be worse, I venture. "Oh yes, it could be a lot worse," agrees Lemmy, "I could be a plumber's fitter in Ealing, y'know what I mean?" And as the interview draws to an end, I am gladdened that Motörhead - as rough-edged, brash and downright loud as they might be - are here to stay. Because somehow, the thought of Lemmy Kilmister in a boiler suit, trying to fix a radiator in a suburb of west London just doesn't seem right.