He's a living rock legend. Forty years of rock 'n' roll have left their mark, but Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead, the antichrist of rock, celebrated his 70th birthday on, of all days, Christmas Eve.
In an interview shortly after the terrorist attacks in Paris last month, Lemmy Kilmister seemed tired. With a cigarette in his hand and a hoarse voice, he told of how Motörhead had often played in the Bataclan concert hall, the site of one of the deadliest attacks. At least 10 times, he recalled - and Motörhead was due to perform in Paris the day after the attacks.
The concert was ultimately cancelled. "I would have played anyway," said Lemmy. "If they [the terrorists] stop you, then they win. And they're not going to beat me," he added, using some choice phrases. His clever, watery eyes lit up, and the grin returned to his face.
The rock legend is thin, seems almost fragile - his dark-colored beard and hair, crowned by the obligatory hat, do nothing to change that. Lemmy is turning 70 on December 24, and has led a life that would have brought down many others years earlier: Jack and Coke, cigarettes, drugs - and more recently, diabetes, a condition which has taken its toll and led to several postponed concerts and tours.
Motörhead are currently on a European tour, playing to sold-out venues. They play loud, they play fast - some critics even call them untalented. And yet, metalheads continue to worship at the altar of these rock 'n' roll trailblazers.
Birth of punk metal
In the early days, that wasn't exactly the case. After Lemmy was kicked out of the space rock group Hawkwind - he spent a few days in jail for drug possession - he decided to form his own band, first known as Bastard. After the group's manager told them they wouldn't go far with that name, they opted for Motörhead instead. Lemmy was particularly drawn to the "ö" - it was so menacing, so German.
Their musical style: biker rock mixed with punk, not an easy sell at first. Nobody really believed they could make a go of it, neither as rock band nor as punk band. But Motörhead kept playing and playing, before breaking through with their first hit, "Bomber," in 1979.
For Lemmy, it's incredible that the band has been able to continue playing for four decades - almost a joke, he says. He's amused that Motörhead is often seen as the forefathers of heavy metal. "We were never a metal band," said Lemmy. "We're a rock 'n' roll band." One made up of three musicians, on drums, guitar and bass guitar. That's it.
Lemmy plays the bass guitar like no other, treating the instrument like a distorted electric guitar and slamming the listener with deep, thumping power chords. And he sings as if he's swallowed a spoonful of glass shards and sandpaper. Motörhead's sound can only be described as unique.
Role model for metalheads
Many fellow musicians have been inspired by Motörhead's fast rock, especially those in the metal scene. Lars Ulrich, the drummer for Metallica, founded Motörhead's first fan club in the US. And "Bomber" is seen as the foundation stone of thrash metal, a particularly fast brand of heavy metal.
The band followed the outlaw lifestyle with every fiber of their being. Sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll: these were their words to live by. They partied, they drank, they fought - and there were always plenty of women. Lemmy cultivated the image of the rock 'n' roll villain, one you wouldn't want to meet on a dark street at night. "If Motörhead moved next door to you, your lawn would die," he once said, according to the "Rough Guide to Rock."
Lemmy collects military objects - he has an extensive collection of Nazi memorabilia. He says he likes the style, not the belief system behind it, often pointing out that the Nazis "simply had better uniforms."
Antichrist of rock
Ian "Lemmy" Kilmister was born on December 24, 1945 in the English county of Staffordshire, in the West Midlands. His father left his mother when Lemmy was still young. His earliest memory: standing in the playpen, clinging firmly to the bars and shouting at the top of his voice. "I must have been rehearsing," he once said.
He's often asked about his relation to his date of birth: the antichrist of rock, the singing monster, was born, on all days, Christmas Eve. In response, he shrugs. "It's the day before Christmas. Christmas begins on the 25th, and that's the day when Jesus' birth is celebrated."
Many stories have swirled around Lemmy over the years. As a roadie for Jimi Hendrix in the 1960s, he was said to have been responsible for providing the drugs, for example. Or that he taught Sid Vicious, of the "Sex Pistols," how to play bass. One story that he doesn't like to hear is the rumor that he wears diapers on stage.
Another anecdote: in 2011, the Foo Fighters got Lemmy to appear in their video for "White Limo." In it, he sits behind the wheel of a white stretch limousine, smoking and drinking whisky as he drives through the city. In reality, however, it's said Lemmy doesn't actually have a driver's license.
Lemmy has meanwhile switched from whiskey to vodka, often mixed with orange juice. He takes pills for his diabetes, but otherwise his lifestyle is still pretty much the same. But he wouldn't recommend it to anyone: "Too many people have died from living like this. Many of my friends, too," he once said. "I've just been lucky so far..."