Los Angeles – Academia’s loss is heavy metal’s gain.
Ian Kilmister, a.k.a. Lemmy, the frontman for Grammy-winning English rock trio Motorhead, could have made a stimulating history professor, sharing his begrudging admiration for Goering and disdain for “bastards” like Hitler and Roosevelt with eager students.
Instead, the 59-year-old achieved cult fame with generations of headbangers by singing and writing furious anthems like “Killed By Death” and “Orgasmatron.”
But he remains fascinated by World War II and he spends his money collecting Nazi memorabilia, which is piled high in his two-bedroom apartment off the Sunset Strip.
“I was born in ’45, the year it all ended,” Kilmister said in a recent interview over Jack Daniels and Cokes at his local watering hole, the Rainbow Bar and Grill. “It’s not ancient history to me, and I don’t see it as all the good English and Americans and all the bad Germans.”
While his views have drawn controversy, Kilmister has in the past maintained he is anarchist.
His most prized possession is a rare Damascus Luftwaffe sword, which could be worth at least $10,000, according to a dealer.
Kilmister’s friend, rocker Ozzy Osbourne, who lives up the road in considerably more luxurious surroundings, gave him an SS dagger and some huge banners after deciding he did not need so much darkness in his life.
“It’s my old-age pension,” Kilmister said of his collection.
Coincidentally Motorhead, which Kilmister founded 30 years ago, is biggest in Germany, and he never misses an opportunity to tour historic sites across Europe – though not the concentration camps.
“You’ve got to draw the line between what you like to collect and what they actually did,” he said.
Hermann Goering is “the only one I admire at all,” in part because the portly Luftwaffe chief set up the Gestapo, the Nazis’ secret police, and took the blame when he went on trial at Nuremberg after the war. His suicide, hours before he was due to be hanged, was “fantastic,” Kilmister said.
But he lumps Adolf Hitler, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Neville Chamberlain and Josef Stalin all in the same category “as lying, thieving, groveling bastards.” Current U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair also annoys him. “Anybody that smiles that much, there must be something wrong with him.”
He says his interest in history and current events has taught him about hypocrisy and people’s refusal to learn from the past, and that it also inspires his songwriting.
“Sex, war, murder and death,” he said. “And injustice, and there’s plenty of that around. I don’t foresee being short of subject matter in the foreseeable future.”
Yet, many of the songs are laced with humor, such as 1984’s “Killed By Death,” and the band somehow landed a song on the soundtrack for the children’s movie “SpongeBob SquarePants.”
METALLICA’S FAVES Kilmister is the sole original member in Motorhead, playing bass and singing alongside guitarist Phil Campbell and drummer Mikkey Dee. The band tours for about eight months each year.
It has released 21 albums in 30 years, most recently 2004’s “Inferno,” none of them selling particularly strongly. He said the best-selling release is 1981’s “No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith” with worldwide sales of about 500,000 copies.
But the band’s influence is inestimable. Metallica, for one, was hugely influenced by Motorhead, and they repaid the favor by covering four Motorhead tunes on their 1998 album “Garage Inc.” Motorhead, in turn, covered the song “Whiplash” for a Metallica tribute record, winning its first Grammy in the process last month.
Kilmister also wrote lyrics for a few of Osbourne’s hit songs, including the ballad “Mama, I’m Coming Home.”
The royalty checks are much appreciated, but the great wealth amassed by Osbourne and Metallica has eluded Kilmister.
“I couldn’t have done anything different, could I? Because I’m not cute, you see,” he said, acknowledging the giant warts on his face. “I was always too old, or too young for whichever thing we were doing. It’s just the way things work out.”
But don’t shed too many tears. Never married, he has a Hugh Hefner-style coterie of about five women in the 18-to-25 demographic that he can call on. In the past, he has even shared a few girlfriends with his son. “But I never had his wife. I had to draw the line somewhere.”