Friday, November 29, 2019

Toiling Midgets tonight! plus errata and omissions

Apparently there is at least one error in my Toiling Midgets article. Somewhere in my checking in with Heather Haley, someone (coulda been me!) got confused about whether it was Toiling Midgets or Negative Trend she remembered, and I ended up writing that it was Toiling Midgets. It now comes clear that it was Negative Trend. I am not gonna hassle the Straight editors about the goof-up, tho'. I mean, because of it, Heather's in there, and there's a link below on the Straight page to my Heather Haley interview, and I would have still included her based on her remembering Negative Trend, so... whatever, I guess! The world will not be much impoverished for the error.

There is also one quote that I meant to use, that didn't get used, from my interviewing Craig Grey. I was wondering why the band's first LP (Sea of Unrest) and their current one (Sea of Tranquility) seem to have a "moon" thing going on. I mean, that I know of, there's no Sea of Unrest on the moon, but there's definitely a Sea of Tranquility - not actually involving water, you understand; apparently this name comes from an old mistake, based on the area appearing dark to the eye, like a sea might. But calling the new album the opposite of the Sea of Unrest also seems to reach back in time and put moonishness in the first album's name, too. So what's going on, there?

Now, Grey doesn't seem to be trying to be punnish here, but apparently the title Sea of Unrest "came from our drummer, Tim Mooney" - get it? It's moony! - "who was most excellent at titling things and it was more about our restlessness than the moon. The new LP is Sea of Tranquility, which is basically putting our long San Francisco chapter to bed," as the band transitions to being an international band. It's more about closure than dark spots on the moon, the likely unintentional pun aside.

Other than that, about the only other thing I could have done to make the article better would have been to link to Grey's Negative Trend or Toiling Midgets websites, which I don't think I ever did, but surely people who are interested can find these things. They appear to be jam-packed.

All that aside, Grey seems to be very happy with the piece, and I've enjoyed checking out a new band. I've had a crap night sleep, but I might try to go to this show, tonight, if I'm still functional. It's at CBDBs, which I gather is not the best venue in the world for creature comforts. I haven't been yet, though, so I will boldly venture forth. May I direct you to the Facebook page for the event, for more?

This will be my first Crummy show since I did the article about their Japan tour, Triple Fisting sounds fun, and I'm excited to see Car 87 again, actually: the late Todd Serious once sang their praises to me, but I only ever saw them once, back when they opened for the Rebel Spell. Todd had pretty good taste, so...

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Body Count, "Cop Killer," and me

I notice that Body Count has been including "Cop Killer" in recent tours. I assume there was a period - around the time the original CD was recalled and altered - that it disappeared from the band's live set, where Ice-T, perhaps, tired of the notoriety it brought him. It certainly was not included in the vinyl reissue of their debut album that happened a couple of years ago.

It's an interesting song, to say the least. I have a bit of a history with it. I was at a Lollapalooza in Seattle, August 28, 1991. I had slept poorly the night before, was in a pretty wretched state - which I might have augmented chemically, hoping it would wake me up - but was excited to see the Rollins Band live, and the Violent Femmes. As per my norm, I was curious about the Butthole Surfers but a bit afraid of them. I was indifferent to Jane's Addiction, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Fishbone, and other bands on the bill, but I liked music, and I had a ride, so what the hell.

Rollins, to my dismay, offered a homophobic slur about Robert Smith during his set. Someone had pelted him with a shoe, and he was taunting them, and said something - I forget the context - about not being like "that fag in the Cure." The woman I'd gotten a ride with, whom I'd been trying to convince of the merits of Rollins, was a huge Cure fan and pretty sensitive about homophobia. I had records by Fear and the Bad Brains in my collection so I was a little more inured to it at the time, despite occasional queerish inclinations in my youth, but it was still a disappointing moment.  Also, Rollins did one long song about drugs that I found judgmental and offputting, since, back then, I liked drugs a fair bit. I never did see Henry live any time thereafter. I love a lot of what he does, but he seemed like a pretty conservative jock that day at Lollapalooza, and it was offputting. 

I don't remember the Violent Femmes set well, except that they did "I Hear the Rain," relevant to the rain pouring on the crowd at that moment; it was pretty funny. The three of them basically stood in line on stage - a tiny presence playing to a huge audience under a very cloudy sky. It was great, but they didn't exactly fill the expansive field with their energy, more appropriate for a smaller venue, maybe. It was also the only time I have seen the Femmes.

I did see Fishbone - don't really remember it, save that it was high-energy and busy (a lot of movement on the stage - I remember spinning trombones and instrument tosses, though this is nearly thirty years ago, so who knows). I took a nap during the Butthole Surfers, in the shelter of the merch tent, because I felt wretched and didn't want to see the films they were famous for projecting - car accident victims, surgery, that sort of thing; I vaguely recall half consciously hearing "Human Cannonball" in the background and closing my eyes, praying for sleep.

I am not quite sure when Body Count played, but before they went on, I had decided to get as close to the front as I could, for whoever was up next, just to have an experience at the concert. I didn't know Ice-T from Kool Aid - I paid no attention to rap. I hadn't heard, or heard about "Cop Killer," I don't think, or else was only dimly aware of it; their debut CD was still nearly a year away from being released, so whatever I had heard was probably hearsay, or maybe a line or two in some alternative newspaper. I don't recall if that was how they opened the show or not, but when that song hit, it was terrifying. I remember people onstage in fake cop uniforms, though the video footage of the show on Youtube doesn't include this (I am presuming this is the same show); maybe it's just the stern demeanor of the band and their mostly black clothing (and shades) that got to me. Having grown up in a quiet middleclass suburb, with almost no exposure to gangs or street culture (or angry, political Afro-Americans, for that matter), I was totally intimidated by the band's tough guy appearance, its apparent advocacy of violence, and completely thrown for a loop by the song lyrics: cop killer, really?

Of course, my father was a jailguard, so that might have had something to do with it, too.

And more terrifying still was the crowd. It was huge. It had a mind of its own. The biggest pit I had ever been in, if it surged to the left, you surged with it; if it surged to the right, there was no way to resist. Packed in, you were trapped, a slave to its mindless will; and then I saw - nightmare of nightmares - a girl in front of me get sucked under. Body Count has a newish song called "Bitch in the Pit," about being surprised to see a woman holding her own in a mosh, but this girl was not that bitch. Stories of people getting trampled to death in concerts flickered in my mind, and my chivalrous instincts kicked in. I dove down to help her up, hauling her up - she looked haggard and scared and grateful. I don't know about her, but after that, I got the fuck out of the pit as fast as I could.

Pretty sure that in 1991, after that experience, I was all in favour of the censorship of "Cop Killer," though it was odd to me, when I finally heard the album, to discover that several of the songs were very rapey and EVERYTHING was violent: funny that it was only cops that people were protective of. I realized it was a reaction to the Rodney King beating (which I'd watched in horror on television) and that racism was a huge problem, especially in the States, but it didn't seem like the sort of song anything good could come out of.

Years later, I found the original version of the CD, with "Cop Killer" on it, in a used CD store in Japan. Of course, I picked it up. And then I came back here to teach ESL classes.

One of the classes I used to teach was a Discussion Skills class, getting students to talk about various pre-set topics. Rather than following the formulae of the curriculum, which had students practicing phrases like "it seems to me" or "so what you're saying is" - gambits - I figured that the best way to develop your discussion skills was by HAVING DISCUSSIONS, by pushing yourself to find a way to express opinions on challenging and unusual topics, which, along the way, provided the students some cultural background to consider. I took a cue from the topics suggested in the curriculum, but decided to go a bit further with them, for the most part. One class, for example, suggested "violence in movies and music" as a theme, but was written around a kind of simple, dull pretext: that exposure to violence in music and movies can cause real life violence.

Does that mean we should censor violent images?

I used the song for more than one class. It actually worked. Despite other teachers teasing me for the chants of "fuck the police" that emerged from my classroom (not said by students, you understand; I did NOT encourage them to sing along, as Ice-T does in the song), and despite a generally conservative management of the school, who gave me shit, once, for introducing a recipe for cockroaches ala king into a lesson themed around cooking, I never had troubles with the material. If we were going to discuss censorship, let's discuss a song that actually was the target of a censorship campaign; and let's choose a song that actually has some heft to it.

So with a class of Brazilian, Mexican, Saudi, Japanese, Chinese, Taiwanese, and Korean students (for the most part), over the course of about an hour, we watched footage of the Rodney King beating; discussed the LA riots; learned about racial profiling - "a pig stopped me for nothing," of which some of the Latino students had direct experience; and then listened to "Cop Killer," uncensored, reading along with the lyrics. Then I got the class to break up into discussion groups and talk about the song: did they think that it should have been censored? Did they think it had artistic or social value? Did it count as a political gesture - a protest song? What was the greater evil, restricting the band's freedom of expression - or perhaps encouraging violence against police and (maybe) stoking the fires of racial hatred and mistrust? Was the song irresponsible, or a reasonable gesture of rage? Did it count as hate speech against the police? What are the limits on freedom of expression, anyway? How would you feel about this song if you were a police officer? (Some of the students, mostly in their 20's, had parents who were in the police, so it was sometimes a personally charged question).

I suspect it remained a memorable lesson for those students, and the very fact that we were using the song to seriously discuss issues in American society sometimes got used as an argument in the song's defense. I've since come around: I'm glad that the song hasn't died, and delighted to see that Body Count is still performing it. (Now they just have to come to Vancouver. All their current tour dates are for Europe).

Incidentally, the last two Body Count albums, Manslaughter (featuring a hilarious and pointed update of Suicidal Tendencies' "Institutionalized") and Bloodlust are really, really great. I haven't followed the band closely, over the years, but I may start. I remember Diamanda Galas once describing Lemmy Kilmister as a "closet genius." I think the same may be true of Ice-T.

I'm really quite pleased to have seen "Cop Killer" performed live, even though it scared the shit out of me at the time.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

An odd night at Lanalou's

Men's room toilet stall at Lanalou's. All photos by Allan MacInnis

Well, that sure was different.

So I'm not sure who Merlin Cosmos is (apparently he's also performed under the name Michael Ross, and has a resume that includes appearances on Sesame Street and Mr. Dressup, though I'm not finding examples I can link to online). He's obviously a seasoned entertainer, doing card tricks and sleight of hand gags - some of which were truly impressive, but in a very old-fashioned, old-school, "vintage magic" way, using gimmicks the mechanics of which are not entirely mysterious, but nonetheless require craft. For example, you know when he does the thing about ripping up the newspaper, at some point, he's subbing out the torn shreds of the paper for a duplicate, whole paper that he has tucked away somewhere - except you still can't see the moment when he makes the switch, so it still works; knowing roughly how the trick must be done doesn't detract from the fact that he can do it, and you can't. At times, his stage patter had a bit of an edge to it - I was reminded a bit of Doug Bennett's somewhat angry self-deprecations between songs during latter-day Doug and the Slugs concerts, where Doug would occasionally throw in a snarky comment about his divorce or such - and there was one routine the gag of which appeared to be his ability to repeat it over and over again, with slight variants, for an extended period, which kind of fucked with the mind a bit (it also involved a box with the words "magic show" written in pen on it, which he showed us a half-dozen times, except the spelling of the words somehow changed each time; not the sort of act you'd want to see on acid, I think)... but I was amused enough and willing to play along, not being on acid, and never having actually seen this sort of old-school magic done live before... 

...except that the whole act was briefly threatened and made even weirder by Cosmos being heckled by Nardwuar, who leapt to the defense both of Goober Pyle, and of the audience, whose lack of familiarity with Goober was apparently a necessary ingredient in the routine Cosmos was then performing (which involved a recording of this song). It seemed like Mr. Cosmos, however versed he might be in the world of Goober, was not in fact familiar - unlike everyone else in the room - with Nardwuar (!), and genuinely incensed by his interventions, which involved Nardwuar taking a brief poll of the audience - something like, "don't say we don't know and love Goober! Who loves Goober?" - prompting a cheer that led to Cosmos abandoning the Goober routine outright, after having told Nardwuar, in effect, to shut up, which Nardwuar then actually did.

On some level, this was value-added entertainment, but it was strange to witness; I've seen Youtube clips of people getting non serviam with Nardwuar, but never seen it in person (I half expected it to change into a gag, like it was all a pre-planned conspiracy, but I don't think it was; if Nardwuar and Merlin made peace during the encore, I missed it...).

There were a few other weirdnesses in the night. These included The Most Expensive Milkshake I've Ever Tried: you know the bit in Pulp Fiction where Uma Thurman orders a five dollar milkshake, and John Travolta comments about how, for five dollars, it better be a hell of a milkshake? That was, of course, back in the 1990's, before most milkshakes cost that much; but last night, the milkshake cost twice that - $11 with the tip - and was not in any way a hell of a milkshake: it was basically a small jar of chilled milk, chocolate syrup, a small splooge of whipped cream, and I'll have to take Mark's word for it that Betty actually did put ice cream in it; it certainly wasn't noticeable from the taste or texture. No alcohol in it, either, which might have justified the price. My wife, whom I'd been talking up the food at Lanalou's to, was somewhat scandalized (the salads were also simpler and smaller than I recalled, though the fries were still pretty great).

There was also the oddness of a second opening act, Phuture Memoriez, who were musically engaging - electronica and manipulated images - but whose frontman carried in his beard and demeanor an unshakeable resemblance to a Zach Galifianakis character - pointed out by my wife, and thereafter something one could not un-see (before that I'd been thinking of David Thomas of Pere Ubu, but with a bushy beard). I knew the guy from a previous job, in fact, which was a surprise to discover and a challenge to my memory (his previous band, Go Ghetto Tiger, was briefly on my radar, but never something I wrote about). My wife also had her own odd memory challenge, being recognized by someone with whom she went to high school on Vancouver Island, many years ago, and hadn't seen since; she was more surprised that he recognized her, since when she knew him, he had leopard-print hair (and she didn't).

Finally, there were tickets that urged arriving at 7:15 (which I took at face value, though Lanalou's was dark when we arrived, and performances did not in fact get underway until around 9:30). Not even water was put out, which led to my trying to fill a glass with water from the bathroom sink, since I have a sore throat - only to discover that the water was disturbingly cloudy. (It apparently settles down after awhile, but what's with that?).

Of course, having arrived unreasonably early, we did get a great table, which we ended up sharing with Don Xaliman and George McDonald of the Melodic Energy Commission, so that's good; Don even had, to my surprise, a copy of the new Melodic Energy Commission CD for me (I contributed to the liner notes). We learned in chatting with them that Randy Raine Reusch and Mei Han's daughter (Zizi, I believe) is apparently a pop sensation in China these days (?!) and swapped stories of odd encounters with animals (like the mouse who ran down the road towards me and up onto my foot when I was walking around trippin' in Maple Ridge one night, years ago; or the time Don was lying on his back watching a meteor shower and was joined by a skunk, who peacefully hung out beside him for awhile then moseyed on). At the end of the evening, I reassured George that he, and not Hamm, is still my Theremin Man, but even George had surprises: apparently he's down a different rabbithole altogether, these days, experimenting with analogue synthesizers ("I haven't touched a Theremin in a year").

George McDonald watches Hamm

Anyhow, none of the above was exactly bad (except the price of the milkshake!), and all of it made for a different sort of night out, but it was all also somewhat unreal... which in a way is perfect as a warm up for Stephen Hamm, who did pretty much what I imagined him doing in my mind's eye, self-accompanying himself on Theremin with a variety of programmed tracks which he manipulated with his feet, singing to us in his robes about rocketships, UFO's, and the "space sister," Ruth Norman, whom he declined to mention by name. (He also did "Volcano" but if he included his dog barking in the live version, I missed it). His persona was effusive and sincere and charming, his voice powerful, and the music very close to what you hear on the CD. He namechecked Delia Derbyshire at one point, before covering "Love Without Sound" (I believe the original is here), and, for the last song of the main set, did "2000 Light Years from Home," which was pretty delightful to hear, especially since my wife's Christmas gift to me a couple years ago was that fancy reissue of Their Satanic Majesties' Request...

However, I have nothing much to say about Hamm's performance - it was very entertaining, as was, after decades of being in the same room with him for one thing or another, finally MEETING Hamm, who seems even more formidable in height when you're shaking his hand. At 5'11" and 350 pounds, I'm not used to feeling dwarfed by other people, but I did beside Hamm. He signed a few records for me with a printed HAMM!, all in caps (I considered pestering Slow's Christian Thorvaldson, also in the room, to sign my "I Broke the Circle" single, but what the heck, he wasn't working, and my wife and I have both been feeling poorly, so I let it slide; so far I've just got Terry and Hamm). Anyhow, I've already done a big blogpiece on Hamm (see below), which will say more about the night than anything I might add now.

One interesting thing did happen with my fellow audience members. A bearded, jockish, expensively-dressed guy was holding forth at the bar at great volume while Hamm was performing, and I looked over to gesture for him to tone it down - half fearing he'd go alpha on me, but it was truly obnoxious, how he was carrying on. Surprisingly, he totally silenced himself, after which the fact that no one else in the room was talking became highly apparent. Pretty unusual for a Vancouver night out, actually - usually the room is filled with people like him - though I think that the dude might have become self-conscious when he realized he had been the sole talker, because he ducked out about two minutes after he clammed up. I actually felt a bit guilty for that!

I confess to having ducked out, myself (with Erika) before Merlin got on stage with Hamm for the last portion of the evening, which I'm sure was weird and interesting. I suspect that as nights out go, for both my wife and myself, the oddnesses of the evening will keep this one in our memories longer than most shows we go to. Even my dreams, afterwards (which involved kung fu fighting, never before an element of my dreams) were weirder than usual.

But seriously, Betty: an eleven dollar milkshake?

Friday, November 22, 2019

Stephen Hamm, Theremin Man: of space-age rabbitholes, gentle idealists, meditation and plus-sized clothing (an interview)

There are few local musicians whose careers have spanned the range that Stephen Hamm's has. From the raucous proto-grunge of Slow and Tankhog, to the genre-defying goofiness of Canned Hamm (or the more genre-friendly but still strange world of the Evaporators), to the mature rock sophistication of Sunday Morning (whose singer, note, I did a huge interview with here), Hamm's presence guarantees that a project will be interesting, but doesn't really reveal much as to what the music will sound like. With the Vancouver album release of his new solo album Theremin Man set for Saturday, Hamm took time to do an Alienated interview, talking Theremin, Tangerine Dream, and what seems a fairly benign UFO religion, the Unarius Academy of Science, whose presence informs a couple of the songs on Theremin Man. If you haven't heard it yet, check out the lead single from the album, "Space Sister," here. (And check out this video, narrated by said space sister, Ruth Norman, if you want to take the next step...).

Stephen Hamm, photo by Angela Hubbard   

Does what you were doing in Canned Hamm have any sonic bearing on Theremin Man? 

Ya, Theremin Man has many connections to Canned Hamm. Canned Hamm is when I first started making pre-recorded backing tracks. Karazma, Canned Hamm’s debut, was basically the first backing tracks I made with us singing over them. It also marks the start of my fascination with synthesizers and digital recording. Pro Tools had just launched its first consumer recording interface so I jumped on that pretty fast. Two years later we made Erotic Thriller which had some pretty highly evolved synth sounds going on. The cool thing is that in the early 2000’s old analogue gear was relatively cheap so I started buying synths from the 80’s. You can hear a couple of them on the new Theremin Man album.

Do you know the Melodic Energy Commission (interview here) or their Theremin player, George McDonald? He wanted to know how you fell down the Theremin rabbithole…?

I know George from when he played guitar in Jim Bescott’s band the Americons, who Slow played with a lot at the Smiling Buddha in the early eighties. I didn’t make the connections with the Melodic Energy Commission until George came out to see me play.

I guess I fell down the Theremin Rabbit hole as a continuation of my exploration of electronic music. It’s hard to miss. I was drawn to it because nothing else sounds like a Theremin and nothing else looks like a Theremin being played. For an instrument that you don’t physically touch, there’s a very ephemeral quality to playing it. George has taken this to the next, next level with some of his contraptions. We’ve been threatening to meet up.

George, I’m guessing, is further down the Theremin rabbithole than you – since he has a basement room devoted to custom Theremins he has designed himself – but then again, I’ve been in George’s basement, but not yours... a
lso: do you feel like you’re part of a Theremin community? Do you correspond with, interact with, seek feedback from, or play Theremin with other Theremin players? 

The nice thing about the Theremin is there is a community. It’s pretty small and it’s spread all over the world. There’s a bunch of folks in Europe who do Theremin Academies. I attended one a few years ago in Colmar, France put on by Thierry Frenkel. He’s an engineer and has done a lot design wise, to expand the abilities of the Theremin. He’s my go to when I have technical difficulties with the instrument. I took lessons there with Carolina Eyck, who’s probably the best Theremin player going right now. She gave me a good grounding in a technique that takes much of the guesswork out of playing the instrument. I’ve done some Skype lessons with her and hope to do more in the future. In Comar, Thierry and Carolyna led workshops, as well as one on one lessons, and I got to meet and befriend a lot of people from all over Europe many who I’ve stayed in touch with. I’m planning a trip to Germany in the spring and I’m going to do a show with another of Academy members, Trautonia Capra in Hamburg, and I will be visiting with many of my friends from the Academy. I’ve also befriended people in Cuba, the U.S.A and South America.

When I mentioned that the new album reminds me at time of Tangerine Dream, it was mostly the Sorcerer soundtrack I was reminded of. You familiar with that one?

Ya that’s a great one!

Tell me about your involvement with the Unarius Academy of Science. Do you have their books? Which have you read/ which do you recommend? Have you been in contact with them? The “Space Sister” is Ruth Norman?

I became fascinated by the Unarius movement when was in L.A. a few years back. My friend Jodie Wille who made The Source Family documentary was curating a showing of some of Unarius’ films and a bunch of their costumes and props at the Silent Movie Theatre on Fairfax. I saw their opus The Arrival [not to be confused with the recent Hollywood film of the same name] and a bunch of the cable access movies they made about their past lives. Also on display was a bunch of their costumes and the flying saucer from the movie. Archangel Uriel aka Ruth Norman’s Cadillac was there, and a bunch of members, as well as Jello Biafra, who’s a big fan of Unarius.

The Unarians appear to be full-blown idealists, who take themselves entirely seriously, despite, say, posing for photos in costumes that make them look like they’re the white chapter of the Sun Ra Arkestra. I am assuming there is also a Unarius rabbithole, so to speak. Are you down that rabbithole, and if so how far… or are you just an outside observer? Apparently there is a division in the group between people who are waiting for the UFOs and people who are more interested in spiritual evolution… are you invested enough on the group to pick a side?

I’m an outside observer and not invested enough to pick a side. The whole idea was that beings from 33 planets around the galaxy were going to land on a piece of desert which Ruth had purchased. Their ships were going to stack one on top of another and form a giant campus so that humans could learn wisdom from these aliens or ‘space brothers’. This was supposed to happen in 2001 and of course it didn’t. It threw the organization into crisis, but its higher purpose, which is spiritual evolution through science and art, I think brought relevance to those who earnestly follow Unarius teachings. I haven’t gone deep down the rabbithole of Unarius but what I do love about them is that they preach the virtues of art, love and community as a way to heal one’s soul. Which is a simple and powerful message. At the Silent Movie Theatre show they held a workshop on discovering your past life and how to heal it through drawing and colouring. I wasn’t able to attend but I’m hoping to visit their headquarters in El Cajon this winter and do some colouring with the Unarius. I think that would be nice.

Tell me about the album cover art and the artist. Did you commission the piece? Did you give directions to the artist? What are you wearing on the album cover? (It looks like a really comfy, plush bathrobe).

Erin Green did the artwork.  I love her Gouache paintings of plants and commissioned her to do the cover. She’s into space, nature, science, art and I knew she’d get what I was doing. She suggested the robe, I was thinking of wearing a robe in show so there was some synchronicity there. Her robe is more bathroby, mine is more Church Choir. I like comfortable clothing. We worked on the idea together. She came up with the alien planet creatures that I’m playing on the cover. It inspired me to write the song Creatures which is on the Theremin Man album. Which then inspired Clancy Dennehy to make the video for Creatures which is quite other worldly. The whole thing is cooperative and collaborative which I love.

By the way, from one big guy to another, where do you get your clothes? They’re super cool but they look expensive, or possibly designed for you. (I am told Burlington in the States is a place I need to check out for cheap clothes, but the guy who says that seems to favour hip hop fashion. I like this one, though).

Thanks! A lot of it just comes to me. J.C. Penny online is pretty good too but this stuff is definitely more stylish!

What is the pendant you have on in the “Space Sister” video?

I got that from the Bay. It’s a crescent moon. It represents the union between magic and the universe, wisdom, womanhood. These things appeal to me.

I know people who are really interested in channeled teachings, but for me, while they’re definitely an interesting phenomenon, they’re kind of on the far side of a line I prefer not to cross, if you know what I mean: there are things that I know I could get into that I have kept myself from getting into because they threaten my sense of self. Rabbitholes, I guess. You know what I mean? Does anything about the Unarians make you uneasy?

What I love about Unarius - and this is from an outsider perspective - is they seem truly harmless and benevolent. Ruth Norman spent her real estate fortune helpling wayward people reclaim their lives through the making of past life psychodramas and art. Although it’s not a clinical practice the people I met that are involved Unarius have had amazing life experiences because of the organization which is made up of volunteers, not followers. That being said I think Ruth (who passed away in 1993), did have a couple of affairs with some of the male participants!

Is “Another Planet” based on anything from Unarius?

Another Planet came to me when I was listening to an interview with a scientist on Quirks and Quarks (CBC) and his thing was if Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos who sink billions of dollars into building rockets that they think will one day transport humanity to Mars, really wanted to do something to benefit humanity, they would take that money, buy up the Amazon and turn it into a natural reserve. But instead they’re spending all this money on self-congratulatory ego-gratifying projects that benefit them and really no one else. I thought what if Elon or Jeff were just conspiracy-minded schmos living in their mom’s basement going down conspiracy rabbitholes on the internet what might they think about building a rocket ship and heading to another planet and just saying fuck it to this one. I guess at some point this character goes down the Unarius rabbithole as well because he’s been communing with the Space Brothers.

Do the Unarians have a theory of music, out of curiosity? Is music “fourth dimensional?”

From what I gather their favourite song is "Roll Out The Barrel." If that is a fourth dimensional song that’s pretty cool.

Do you have any interest in occult theories of music? One local electronics guy I interviewed, Harlow McFarlane, talked about channeling influences through his music, sort of – being attuned to other frequencies of being, and being a sort of passageway through which they express themselves musically. (He’s definitely on a darker plane than you, though).

Not really. I would like to try channeling. I think I touch on it sometimes when meditating. I do like the idea that certain frequencies can have a calming effect on the brain. I’ve used a lot of Beta sound wave recordings for meditation. I find them to be revitalizing. They help me to ground and focus.

How often do you meditate? Is there a practice you follow? Do you use sound when meditating? Did you ever do that ten day silent Vipassana meditation retreat? (I know someone who told me he would never, ever try that, out of rabbithole fear: “they’d find me and I’d be… gone,” was his comment.)

Ha! I try to do a minimum of ten minutes a day. For grounding and calming myself after a big cup of coffee mostly! I did the ten day Vipassana retreat a number of years ago. It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. You really have a chance to confront your anxieties and fears and you can either leave of sit through them. I decided to sit. It was hard at first to live in silence. Especially when you’re in close quarters with 30 other people. At the end of the ten days they do a meta meditation to bring you back to the speaking world and immediately after, a lot of people, mostly the women, started chatting uncontrollably. I felt sadness because I really became accustomed to the silence. It’s one of the reasons I like to sit in silence now.

Just some random names I want to throw at you, to know if they’re an influence or inspiration or at least someone you know: Nathan Holiday of Tunnel Canary? (Definitely down a rabbithole of his own, but a very nice guy, and also very interested in channeled teachings). Hawkwind? (They share a member with the Melodic Energy Commission, note). Robert Anton Wilson? (Past rabbithole of mine). Jacques Vallee?

Thanks these are all rabbitholes I’ll go down.

Why is there a dog barking in “Volcano?”

That’s my dog Dexter. He decided to chime in when I was doing vocals. He passed a while ago so I left him in as kind of a memorial. He’s the only other singer on the album.

Final question: I know from having seen you at a lot of the same movies that you have a real interest in cinema. What films were you thinking of when you and Rd Cane made the “Space Sister” video? (It reminds me a little of Panos Cosmatos, who I know is a fellow fan of Saul Bass’ film Phase IV, but I don’t know if you’re a fan of Panos’ cinema, and I don’t know if you’ve seen Phase IV (you should!).

I just watched Phase IV. That’s a pretty fucked up movie. Haunting. Feels like Silent Running or A Boy and His Dog. Great soundtrack and visuals. I’ve been meaning to watch Beyond the Black Rainbow for a while now. Jeremy Fisher from Black Mountain did the soundtrack. I always like Jeremy’s work.

Do you have favourite film soundtracks, much? Is it something you’re interested in doing yourself?

Well sure: James Bond - You Only Live Twice, The Spy Who Loved Me. Giorgio Moroder's score for Midnight Express, Air's The Virgin Suicides, I could go on. John Williams. That Star Wars original score is a masterpiece!

I’ve done a couple of indie films; David Young’s Down, I scored that. I did the soundtrack for some commercials, and for a reality T.V. show called Gotta Grudge? where people who have a bone to pick get in the boxing ring and duke it out. It played one season on the Score Channel. I did a lot of sound effects editing for some local productions for a while. I’d like to do more of that work especially composing for film.

Theremin Man is definitely a “headphones record.” Do you have other favourite headphones records? 

First one that comes to mind is The Soft Bulletin by The Flaming Lips. There’s so much great headphone music out there these days!

Stephen Hamm's website, with samples of his music and much more, is here. For more on the Saturday show at Lanalou's, see the Facebook event page, here

Thanks to George McDonald for suggesting the concept of rabbitholes, which proved pretty useful...

Thursday, November 14, 2019

My stupefying new cold versus Coach StrobCam

Here's how stupid my current cold has me: I have to leave my job near Stadium Station this morning for a meeting near Clark Drive, at our other location. I am then to return to Stadium to finish my shift. I get to the meeting okay, and though I am fatigued - after two back to back colds with very different symptoms, the second of which just announced itself the other day - I stay more or less alert and functional throughout.

The meeting ends, and I commence the trek back. Both coming and going requires a bit of a dosey-do at Commercial, to transfer from the Expo Line to the train bound for VCC Clark. On the way, I think: hmm, I don't have the right kind of mustard seeds (yellow, not black) for a dish I am making, and I appear to be out of whole cumin seeds, a true staple of the Indian spice world. Surely Safeway will have at least whole cumin seeds? I have time to make a quick stop, so I get off at Commercial Drive.
Feeling head-befogged and weary, I trundle into Safeway and establish that they have neither whole cumin seeds (!) nor any sort of mustard seeds at all. Maybe Donald's does?

So - feeling increasingly tired, but wanting to be able to cook with the right ingredients, I put the other items I was considering buying at Safeway back on the shelf and head to Donald's Market up the Drive, only to establish that they too have neither whole cumin seeds (they have a space for them, but nothing in it) nor any kind of mustard seed at all. Fuck! I thought for sure Donald's would have my back.

Ah well, it's getting to when I'm due back at work, so I better get on the train. I slouch wearily to the Skytrain, conserving brainpower as much as possible - it's the kind of cold where just thinking is exhausting - and don't realize until I am off the train and have walked three quarters of the way to my destination that in fact, I've gone back to Clark Drive. I ran on autopilot the whole way to the wrong location - the one I had most recently left from, but not the one I was due at. Double fuck!

So I have to get back on the train from Clark, for the second time today, and head back to Commercial, there to get on the Expo Line and make it back to Stadium, arriving with five minutes to spare and (small mercies) a cup of coffee I snag on the way.

Given the above, it is highly unlikely, in my current state, that I will go see Coach StrobCam this Friday at the Princeton, despite a stellar bill also featuring David M. and Stab'Em in the Abdomen. I have, however, done a feature interview with Pete Campbell about their most enjoyable CDEP, and wish them godspeed - whatever exactly godspeed is - at the show tomorrow. I will be at home, popping Tylenol and moaning. Or such. I mean, even making dinner, right now - despite my not having a full meal since about noon, and having worn myself out with fruitless walking - seems far too much effort (Walmart Metrotown did have whole cumin seeds, note, but I'm sensing that mustard seeds just aren't that popular an item).

Anyhow, for those who go, have fun "at the foot of Victoria" tomorrow. (I'm not sure what images that brings to mind for you, but for me, a pub is not among them).

Jeffrey Lewis covers Tuli Kupferberg!

I missed it when I interviewed Jeffrey Lewis the other week - that he's done an album of Tuli Kupferberg covers. He might have said, when I interviewed him in 2016, that he was working on one, but I forgot to ask, and didn't even realize until he mentioned it from the stage the other night that he had it on his merch table.

I bought it (with thanks to Pete Campbell for loaning me five bucks after I shot my wad on other merch). It's delightful, but the best part of it is, Peter Stampfel is on it. Yep: the guy who sang the most distinctive backup vocals for some of the original Fugs recordings, sings backup vocals here. Compare: Jeffrey Lewis and the Deposit Returners' version of "Carpe Diem," here; versus the Fugs' original, here.

Plus "Hypothalamus" is on it!

I really, really like Jeffrey's new album, Bad Wiring; no doubt he feels prouder of it than he does an album of covers, and would probably be happier to know that I like his originals more, but I bloody love this Tuli project. If you were at the show and enjoyed it - of if you've ever been a fan of early Fugs - you really, really should check this out.  It's magnificently good fun.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Remembering Lemmy Kilmister: Talking War for Remembrance Day (an old interview!)

I usually don't have much to say for Remembrance Day, but seeing Sonny Dean post about "1916" on Facebook made me remember talking to Lemmy Kilmister about that song, and about the whole issue of war, which came up several times during our first few interviews. I ended up regretting harping on the theme, in the end, actually, because in fact, I love Motörhead's war-themed songs, which sort of disappeared from their albums after this conversation (conversations, actually: more than one talk has been spliced together here). Some of this has appeared in different forms in different papers and magazines, and some of my questions have been tinkered with to help transitions from one quote to another. Oh, these conversations took place somewhere around the time of Motörizer and The World Is Yours.

RIP, Lemmy. We miss you.

Motörhead: In The Black
An interview with Lemmy Kilmister
By Allan MacInnis

Much as I love Motörhead, I was quite intimidated to discover I was going to interview Lemmy Kilmister. His image - somewhere between a biker and a pirate, often decorated with an Iron Cross, and usually dressed in black - exudes a certain stylish menace. There are, further, innumerable episodes in his autobiography,  White Line Fever, where he calls people (Sony execs, say) idiots or describes himself getting into confrontations on the road - like the one with the “boneheaded bitch” flight attendant who tries to oust him from a plane for having a pint of Jack Daniels (“Fuck her! And the horse she rode in on!” he concludes - which he then expands to include Sony, too). You get the sense that he doesn’t much tolerate fools or foolishness, which he’s encountered in abundance, no doubt, in dealing with the media. Add to that his living legend stature and the sheer aggressive energy of Motörhead’s music, with subject matter of songs like “Smiling Like a Killer,” “Serial Killer,” and his innumerable references in his lyrics to death, fighting and war, and there’s something quite daunting about the prospect of talking to Lemmy - particularly when you’re writing for a German magazine, and plan to ask him questions about his collection of Nazi memorabilia or that time he dressed like Hitler onstage with Slayer.

Rather to my surprise, Lemmy was warm and engaging and extremely tolerant of a few foolish questions of mine, as I probed about looking for the interesting stuff. Getting at his Nazi collection in particular was interesting - it actually took me two separate interviews to get around to what I really wanted to ask, since I was at first so horrified by the possibility Lemmy might say something truly unforgivable (and thus sour my love for Motörhead, a terrible thought to entertain) that I could only tread so close before scuttling away. By the end of our second talk, I was convinced not only that Lemmy is no Nazi, but that, contrary to appearances, he’s quite a media-savvy and generous guy - giving truth to Diamanda Galas’ old quip that Lemmy is a “closet genius.” We spoke on the phone shortly before, and shortly after, Motörhead’s October 1 Vancouver concert, earlier this year. Thanks to Joachim Hiller, Rhonda Saenz, Femke Van Delft, and Bev Davies for helping make this article possible. [And Dave Bowes and Tanya Van and the Skinny team, too!]

I want to ask about some of your darker songs. War seems to really be a theme that’s come into the fore in recent Motörhead albums.

There’s always been plenty of war.

True, but... I mean, in what gets called the classic Motörhead line up, there’s not that many songs about war. There’s “Bomber,” and whatnot... but it seems there are more and more lately...

Yeah, maybe. Well, there’s more war nowadays, isn’t there?

Yeah. I was hoping you could explain a couple of the songs, though. “Sword of Glory” (off 2006’s Kiss Of Death) is one that kind of confuses me. On the one hand, you advise young soldiers to “read the books, learn to save your life” - to learn from the history of all those who died in past wars and not be a “bloody fool” and make the “same mistakes” they made. On the other hand, you tell them to “grab the sword of glory,” an attitude that surely informed those very mistakes. This seems contradictory. Isn’t the desire for glory part of what drives young men on to their death in war?

 It’s like putting yourself in the past, the feeling they had then: got to grab the sword of glory, y’know - that was what people thought like.

Is it an attitude you’re advocating now?

Only if you’re invaded.

Okay... I know you’ve called the war in Iraq ridiculous, but - do you find that soldiers get strength out of songs like this? Do you ever hear from soldiers who say they like Motörhead?

Yeah, a lot of them. Europeans too, are over there - quite a few German soldiers have come up and said they loved our music.

And do you feel good about that?

Yeah, I do. I mean, they’re just kids, you know - they’re children, they send over there, basically, compared to me. I’m 63. You should see 18 year olds over there - I think it’s fuckin’ disgraceful. Same thing with Viet Nam, you know? They’re wars you can’t win, Iraq and Afghanistan. You can’t win a war where the enemy doesn’t wear the uniform to be identified by, y’see. If everybody looks the same, then anybody can be the enemy. Therefore, you think that everybody is the enemy - that’s when you get atrocities, y’know?

Some people have said that that was Osama Bin Laden’s purpose, in attacking America on September 11th - that he wanted to draw America into a war they couldn’t win.

I don’t know - it’s possible, you know, but the thing is that Osama Bin Laden, there’s actually no evidence to link him to 9/11 - no hard evidence. There’s only word of mouth. It would never stand up in a court. I’m not saying he wasn’t behind it, but I don’t know that he was, either; I haven’t seen all the so-called evidence - but it seems to me that what they’ve trotted out isn’t true.

So you think we’re being lied to about 9/11?

I think it’s very possible. I think in order to get a grip on the American people, George Bush engaged in several false flags. One was 9/11, one was Osama Bin Laden, and another was certainly Saddam Hussein.

Yeah, there were certainly lies coming from the Bush administration.

Sure. Lots of them. Almost everything they said, basically.

Mm. So do you consider your songs to be antiwar or anti-military?

Pretty much, yeah. I mean, we got stuck with this label of being warlike and pro-war, after writing all these anti-war songs. So I thought I’d write a pro-war one, after we’ve written all these anti-war songs. So I wrote a pro-war one, and everybody said, ‘what a good song - it was anti-war!’” (laughs).

Which song was it?

It was “Kill The World,” you know that one (off 2002’s Hammered).

I wonder, though, about metal and fascism... There are people like Mike Watt who have compared rock concerts as Nuremberg rallies... Or take, for example, punk bands like the Subhumans - Canada or UK, take your pick - who are identifying with the victims of the Holocaust, while metal bands tend to identify with the oppressors. Would you say, that there’s something overall about heavy metal that’s kind of friendly to fascism, compared to punk?

Well, not really. Because there’s no message, except the music. There’s not anybody saying, fight and die, you know?

“Death Or Glory” (off Motörhead’s 1993 CD, the German-distributed Bastards) seems a little pro-war, too, though. You identify with various soldiers, marching “with Hitler down the bloody road to war,” being “a Sturmbannfuhrer fighting in Berlin” and so forth. The music is really fast and exciting, there’s that cool “marching” sequence in the middle - you seem to draw power and strength from this, no?

It’s like, you feel powerful going in. You march into battle, the flags flying and the trumpets tooting, and you’re part of a large human machine. It must be a marvellous feeling, to be united that way and march into battle that way and defend your country. But it’s not like that when you’re sitting there trying to hold in your guts in some corner of a muddy field, y’know?

Yeah. I still think ‘1916’ (about the Battle of the Somme) is one of the best anti-war songs ever written.

Thank you. They actually used it in Britain in a school class thing about the First World War.

What was the school?

Several schools - it was as a general thing. And also there was this guy who came to a concert once, and he said he played it to his grandfather, who was there, and his grandfather broke down. He said it was true, it was exactly like that, so I really got it right, y’know?

What about a song like “Heroes” (off 2008’s Motorizer)? On the one hand, you’re looking at the power and the passion of it, but then there’s all this death and hopelessness...

Well yeah, that’s it - there are two sides to it.

It seems very Nietzschean to me.

You think so?

A sort of affirmation in life in the face of death - the amor fati, kinda thing...

It’s possible, I suppose. But I’m very cynical, too. I’m more cynical than Nietzsche was, especially later in his life (laughs). I don’t believe in any of the things they use to bring the kids in.

Such as religion.

Oh, fuckin’ - that’s the worst of the lot. Don’t get me started on religion.

Well, if you don’t mind, just a little... I’m curious - is there anything you admire about the character of Christ?

It’s funny, Christ y’see - because he could be an allegory, completely, couldn’t he? I think possibly the guy existed, but I don’t think he was anything like he is in the New Testament. I don’t think the Bible is particularly accurate. I think it was more of a parable, really.

So you think we can’t get a sense of him?

I mean, the Bible wasn’t written until 200 years after his death - you know how a story in the local bar gets amplified after a month? 200 years is a good distortion, I would say. It’s difficult to see that far back and see if it’s true or not - there’s no way to tell, really.

It is strange that a Jewish leader from 2000 years ago still has any influence at all in the modern world.

I know! It’s the power of the ministries, y’know - and the theme parks! (laughs).  

Are there any religions you respect?

Probably if I were going to go for one at all, I’d go for Buddhism. It makes the most sense. But who says it has to make sense, on the other hand... It’s tricky. I don’t believe in a grand design, but I do believe in a power of some sort. I would believe in reincarnation, if I was going to believe in anything.

So you believe in karma as a way of getting people to live morally?

I think we should live morally anyway, even if there isn’t any reincarnation. We’re not just hedging our bets, here.

So do you feel fairly cynical about humanity? Some people I know seem to think we’re living in the last days of the human race...

I don’t think it’s the last days, but I think we’re going to wipe ourselves out. I don’t think there’s any alternative, really. When you get a culture that’s advanced like ours has, in the last 200 years - in leaps and bounds - the psyche hasn’t kept up with the technical advances. Therefore you’ve got people who still think in caveman terms, of like, ‘club a person over the head and drag him back to the cave and disembowel him.’ The trouble is, they’re now doing it with atomic bombs. So I don’t see any way around it, really.

If I could ask you a bit about the Iron Cross you often wear - does that ever get you in trouble in Germany?

More in France (laughs). Yeah, we don’t get much trouble about that in Germany. Germany likes its Iron Cross. It’s a symbol that goes way back before Hitler. The swastika really worries people. I would never wear a swastika in Germany - well, I’d never wear one anywhere. But the Iron Cross is a great symbol - it’s a symbol of courage, and a great artistic symbol, too - it’s a very strong image.

Actually, on that topic... I was reading in your autobiography, White Line Fever, about you dressing up with Hitler onstage with Slayer in the 1980’s...

It was a rubber face mask, you know? And a brown jacket like he wore during the war.

No swastikas on you anywhere, then?

No, no, nothing like that.

And what was the purpose of dressing up like Hitler, exactly? Perhaps you intended it as a provocation?

I think it’s funny. You’ve gotta see the thing with a sense of humour, at this distance. I mean, the Second World War happened, and it was fucking awful, and the Jewish thing was double awful. But you can’t go on wringing your hands and sobbing forever, y’know? I mean - the Second World War had some funny figures. Big fat Goering, little Hitler with his stumpy little moustache, and Goebbels with his club foot, talking about the master race. Talking about blond gods! It’s fuckin’ extreme, you know - it is funny, I don’t give a fuck what anybody says. It is funny. Monty Python did that famous sketch, did you ever see it, about Hitler and Ribbentrop and Himmler living in a guest house in Devon? It’s marvellous. They’re ‘Mr. Hilter,’ and ‘Mr. Bimmler’...” (laughs).

Haven’t seen it, but fair enough. I was reading online, though, that you were facing criminal investigation in Germany for wearing an SS cap.

No, that was a press invention - that was a complete invention by the press. Because I travelled through Germany the day that article was in the papers, on my way from somewhere to somewhere else. I mean - I never wore an SS hat for an interview in Germany, anyway, because I’m not that crass, and if I had done, I would have been ready for anything - because it’s against the law, the swastika, you know. I would never do that in Germany. I’m not dumb - deaf, not stupid, you know! (Laughs).

There was a photo of you in an SS cap that I saw...

Actually, if you look closely at that photo, it’s a Motorhead logo on the top of it. Looks like an eagle, from a compilation we did a couple of albums back, and there’s the skull on the headband, right?

Oh, okay. So it’s not even an SS cap.


You own Nazi uniforms, though.

Oh yeah, I do.

I was going to ask a bit about that. I don’t actually know the size of your collection. How much stuff do you have?

Oh, I got a lot of stuff. I collect daggers and swords, too, y’know - and stuff like that. And bits of uniforms, badges, medals, decorations from that area... I’ve got a set of Hitler’s cutlery (laughs).

You have a set of Hitler’s cutlery?


Oh my God, how did you find that?

It was in the catalogue - one of the guys from the US 1st Wing Division that liberated the Berghof [one of Hitler’s most famous residences, in the Bavarian Alps. Actually, Lemmy appears to be in error, since according to my research the Berghof was liberated by the US 3rd Infantry Division, followed by the 1st Battalion; though then again, between trusting the internet and trusting Lemmy...]. He got a set of cutlery, like a hundred pieces, and he’d been selling them off over the years. Got a knife, fork and spoon with the eagle. And they ate on ‘em.

That’s fascinating.

It’s a great investment. They double in price every year!

I think I read somewhere that it was your retirement, this stuff.

Yeah. It’s my pension scheme - rock’n’roll doesn’t have a pension scheme, y’know? (Chuckles).

Do you show this stuff to people who visit?

Yeah, I mean - you can’t help it. It’s all over my house. You’ve gotta put it on the wall - there’s nowhere else to put it. I think it looks great - it’s a pity it’s for the wrong reasons, but the design of the medals and uniforms is great design. I can’t help tellin’ it - it’s true.

I actually agree about the aesthetic, and it kinds of suits you. I was wondering about the photo that Bev Davies took of you in Vancouver the other night, though. You weren’t wearing your Iron Cross, you were wearing stars... what are they?

Oh - the thing with the gold star in the middle, that’s just a necktie. I got it in Vegas - it’s an American like necktie-thing, a bootlace tie.

Are people often scared of your Nazi collection? You must get weird reactions from people.

No, not really - I mean, I’ve also got photos of a couple of my old girlfriends on there, one of which is black. So I don’t get a lot of trouble - I mean, I’m the worst Nazi you ever met - I like black girls! I got a lot of black buddies, and a lot of Jewish friends. My manager is Jewish. We got a lot of Jewish pals - I’m not a Nazi, man. A lot of people collect that shit, it’s not just people like me. I mean, Hermann Goering’s brother-in-law had two daggers made, one for Hermann, one for him? And they were selling the brother-in-law’s dagger in one of the catalogues I get, and the starting price was a hundred grand - before you started bidding, right? So this is not your average skinhead buying it, this is lawyers and doctors.

Right. Actually, I heard a funny story the other day about a Jewish psychoanalyst with an SS costume that he got someone to try on...

Right, right. The biggest dealer in New York was this old Jewish guy, and he used to have a bundle of stuff, and all his relatives give him shit about it. And he says, “Hey, it’s business! You don’t like it - buy it! Burn it!”

Right, just pay for it. The only thing that would worry me would be that Neo-Nazis might think, “Oh, Lemmy is cool, he thinks this stuff is okay...”

Oh, a couple of them have tried that, yeah. One guy wrote and said, “Obviously you understand about the Fuhrer” - I wrote back and said “fuck off,” y’know? I got no time for that.


I mean, you shouldn’t worry about the Nazis - the Nazis are all dead. You should worry about the fucking government here (ie, the USA, where Lemmy now lives) and in Britain. That’s what you should worry about - that’s the next step.

I can understand why Germans are worried about Nazism, though - that there’s a law against wearing that sort of stuff in Germany. Do you agree with that law?

I don’t think it makes much difference - if people are Nazis, they don’t have to wear a badge. There are a lot of Nazis in this country that aren’t wearing any kind of badge, but you can hear them in bars every night - “nigger this” and “nigger that,” right? I mean, there are a lot of people in the States that are really prejudiced. Look at the trouble Obama’s got into - he got elected all right, but now he’s getting killed, he’s getting slaughtered - he’s getting obstructed in everything he tries to do. They’re even paying people to demonstrate against him.

Yeah. When you tour through Germany, do you go to any important historical sites - former concentration camps, or any of the old Reich buildings?  

Yeah, I’ve been to... well, there’s not much to see anymore, everything’s been flattened. There’s a couple of buildings in Berlin that are left - only a couple, though. In East Germany, occasionally you get an old village that’s like a time capsule as far as architecture is concerned. That’s interesting. There’s a place called Bad Blankenburg, that’s just over where the wall used to be. There’s a section of wall, still, in a field just to the west of it. We played in this place where the houses are nearly meeting across you in the street, leaning-forward houses - the old beam houses? It was really picturesque, the old Germany - the old Gothic sort of German buildings.

You like that sort of thing.

Yeah, I do - I like the old English buildings, too. I like the old English villages, too - I figure it’s a much nicer setting than sheets of glass, tinted (laughs).

Have you gone to former concentration camps?

Well, see - they’ve taken the bodies out, so it doesn’t affect you like it should. It just looks like a row of huts - they can have all the photographs they want, but it doesn’t bring the horror home to you.

That’s true.

If they showed you all the bodies as well as the buildings - that would have an effect, like it really should have an effect. Like when they paraded - they took all the Germans from the cities near the concentration camps at the end of the war and made them walk through, you know that?

Yeah - I’ve seen footage of that in the film Billy Wilder did for the US government for distribution in Germany, Death Mills.

Right. That’s what you should see.

You were born in 1945, right?

Yeah, I was born the year it all stopped. But it didn’t stop there, it went on for a few years... I remember a lot of the wartime stuff in my younger life. There was still rationing until I was seven, in Britain - and the Germans didn’t have rationing at all, they were straight on American provisions! (Laughs). You know, winning the war nearly killed England!

Do you see echoes of that - tension between Germany and England?

Well, the football crowds still shout “Okay, who won the war then?” occasionally, when the Germans are winning. We’re the only country that does that - the Americans don’t shout it.

Though there still is some British-American stuff that I’ve seen come up.

Yeah. There’s all kinds of lingering hatred in the world, whether it’s for real or imagined insults.

My father has some lingering issues with the Japanese, actually - he knew people who got tortured in prisoner of war camps. Do you have any lingering stuff...?

Well, our generation - although we were born close to it, we weren’t actually involved in it, and I think you have to be involved in it to feel that hatred. And I think that’s justified; if he was in a place where he saw all that stuff with his own eyes, y’know - that would be very different from theorizing about it, which is all we can do. I mean, we can tell ourselves that it was the way they were brought up, but it doesn’t make any difference to him, seeing his friends get tortured.

No, though he didn’t actually see them get tortured - he just saw them after they got back. But speaking of Japan, then... do you have any war relics from the Pacific?

No, I have a couple of swords - I have a couple of samurai swords, but they’re touristy stuff that I got in Japan. I don’t have any of the decorations, no. Maybe I should, because they’re beautiful.

Have you been to the Hiroshima museum?

No, but it was a really fucking terrible thing that we did to them. That was - I don’t think that was necessary. They were already trying to surrender.

You think the west was just trying to test out the bomb?

Yes, I do, exactly. And then the more disgusting aspect of that is, they saw what happened with the radiation poisoning, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and then they did it again in Nevada, and marched American GI’s into Ground Zero, as the bomb went off. I thought that was fuckin’ disgraceful. Because they’d seen what happened.

Yeah. There’s a lot of bullshit authority in the world, a lot of abuse of power. Let me ask - are there authority figures you do have respect for? Have you met cops, teachers, government officials that you actually admired?

I don’t make a habit of meeting government officials, really. It’s not necessary to find out what they’re about. I think there’s a lot of people who have tried to do their best, until they found out the temptations. And then they succumb, always, it seems to me. I don’t know about Obama. I think the jury’s just about still out on him - but I think he’s surrounded by the wrong people.

Yeah, it seems that way... I’m curious: what do you read?

Ah, the great lost art of reading, yes. I just read a really good book by a guy called C.J. Sansom called Sovereign, about Henry VIII’s progress around Britain.

So a lot of British history?

All kinds, but mostly British, because I’m British.

Do you take books on the road?

Yeah, always - I buy them on the road, more or less. I always take an emergency stock in case I can’t find any good ones.

I think I’ve seen in a documentary about you that you’re a PG Wodehouse fan.

Yeah, he was hilarious. He’s very English, as well - I think you have to be English to appreciate a lot of his stuff. Having said that, he was very big in America. He was writing about the wastrel upper class - the people who were born into lots of money and never did anything to justify it. The Lost Generation, they used to call them in the 1930s.

And there’s a butler who knows more than they do, that does everything.

Yeah - Jeeves, who sorts out all his master’s problems.

The other night, you dedicated “In The Name Of Tragedy” to William Shakespeare. What’s your favourite Shakespeare play?

Richard III.

(Laughs). Aha!

The Lawrence Olivier version. Did you ever see that one?

Yes - but I kinda like the Ian McKellen film, with the Nazi stuff in it. 

I like both of them actually, yeah, that’s very good. It’s hard to make a bad version of that - it’s a strong play, strong monologues from the characters. It’s very good indeed, one of his best.

Speaking of movies - there’s that movie being made about you (Lemmy: The Movie). Are you enjoying that experience?

Yeah, it’s fun. They’ve popped up around a lot of corners - they’ve been around on three tours, filming stuff. They should have enough by now. I think they’re editing right now.

Do you know when the release is slated for?

They always keep telling me, “next year,” so they’ll tell me that again - 2010.

It’s a great time to document the band - especially during the last few years. I think Inferno, Kiss Of Death and Motorizer are among the strongest albums you’ve done - you guys seem to be getting better with age.

We’re doing the same things, y’know; it’s just like - I think we just sort of hit our stride with Inferno. And the producer helped - Cameron Webb, he’s on all three of them. I think he’s a great help.

Is he lined up for the next album? (Motörhead plans to return to the studio shortly after their German tour).

Yeah, he is.

Terrific. Coming back to Germany - what happened with the album Bastards? That’s still only available here?

What happened was, it was on a German dance label (laughs). They offered us the most money, y’know? So we took the money and made the album - because they said at the beginning that we could hire whoever we wanted to distribute it in America. And then they turned around and they said, “No, we’re going to distribute it ourselves.” And since they knew nothing about American distribution, it fell flat on its ass.

It’s too bad. It’s a fantastic fucking album - there’s some great songs on that.

Thank you very much. 

I wanted to ask you about “Lost In The Ozone.” It seems like an unusual song for you - you’re almost wearing your heart on your sleeve, a bit, showing your vulnerable side a bit. It seems to be about loneliness and isolation.

I imagine when you’re shipwrecked, alone, it’s fairly isolating.

But is that you in that song - or is it just a character?

It was an exercise in imagination. I was imagining how it must feel.

Was there a specific inspiration?

Well, shipwrecked mariners have told all sorts of terrible stories - you know, being shipwrecked in a boat and they have to eat each other and shit. It must be fucking awful. And you’re surrounded by water, and there isn’t any. It must be incredibly tragic. They find boats with nobody in them, but I’m sure there was somebody in them when they started out. You don’t get too much of it these days, because there’s radar and everything; you can find people easier now - but in the old days, people were just lost.

Going back even earlier, what about the Sam Gopal album that you’re on? [The Sam Gopal album is a pre-Hawkwind psych-rock album founded by tabla player Gopal, with Lemmy, under the name Ian (Lemmy) Willis - his stepfather’s name - playing guitar, singing, and doing most of the songwriting]. Do you feel proud of that?

Yeah, it’s all right. I wrote all the songs in one night, except for the Donovan cover and “Angry Faces” - Leo Davidson wrote that one. It was the first album I ever did.

The Rockin’ Vickers (for whom Lemmy played guitar, 1965-67) didn’t put out a whole album?

No. We only did singles with the Vickers.

Okay. Well, it holds up - it’s a really interesting album. I love that your sense of dark humour is so visible on the album - with lyrics about how if “you like me when I’m living/ you’re gonna love me when I’m dead.”

That’s because people get better when they’re dead! I mean, Buddy Holly and Randy Rhoads - they acquired much more dexterity on the guitar when they were dead. Nobody seemed to notice it before...

Is death something you think about?

Well, as you get older, you think about it more, as a pressing thing. But it doesn’t really bother me. Being a live is the same thing as being dead - only more still! (Laughs).

(Laughs). Anything else you want to say to German readers?

Just say guten tag and (Lemmy says in German) “break your leg and your neck.” It’s a good luck thing, y’know.

Any special plans for the tour?

No, just we’re going to go over there and be Motörhead at them.

A final question - if you don’t mind, I have a question about substance abuse...

(Wearily) Do you really?

Do you get tired of being asked about drug and alcohol intake? Is it a boring subject?

Yeah, it is, really. I don’t recommend it, anyway, for anybody else. It’s not going to be particularly good for anybody. I’m not trying to espouse it.

There’s something kind of funny about it, though - it seems like some people try to make you into the ubermensch of substance abuse - people want to see you as this heroic figure who can take anything, drink anything...

I know, there is that about it, isn’t there. I don’t know where that came from - I certainly didn’t do it!

I heard a story from Vom, of Die Toten Hosen, The Boys and Doctor And The Medics, where he was talking to you and doctors said that the lack of substances in your blood might kill you - that you were told not to quit?

No, they didn’t say that! They told me not to give any blood transfusions (chuckles). 

Is there any other mythology around you in the media that you want to dispel?

Ah, I don’t really care. They’re going to come up with stuff anyway. I’ve been dead twice, you know? A French magazine printed my obituary. So when you get to that stage, anything else is just pastry, innit?