The word "legend" gets thrown around far too often in music journalism. It seems any musician who has risen above his or her peers – even if just for a moment, or only very slightly – gets christened as one. Cutting through that unjustified, over congratulatory noise is a man who has his own folklore, an army of followers singing songs about his exploits, and has for the last 50 years inspired (and intimidated) the rock world with his distinct, near-mythical image: Ian Fraser "Lemmy" Kilmister of Motörhead.
He's seen the record companies fall and streaming services rise, MTV's prominence in the music world come and go, and every one of his fellow original band members leave Motörhead along the way. He's also seen the bottom of a Jack Daniel's bottle more times than he can remember, his old lady die at the hands of heroin, and more than a few cancelled tour dates due to his declining health. But through it all Lemmy stands as a man who symbolizes everything about hedonistic, fast-living rock 'n' roll – only now at a much older age.
"You don't get bands of lustful females wandering around looking to get fucked," Lemmy laughs. "It's a shame."
Motörhead celebrates its 40th anniversary this year with a world tour to support the release of its 22nd studio album, Bad Magic. The gritty, overdriven rock band, known in part for Lemmy's unique, guitar-like bassplaying, comes to the Warfield on Monday, Aug. 24. The new album comes out Aug. 28, but fans of Motörhead already know what to expect: more of the same. The band has deviated a few times in the past, but much like AC/DC, mostly takes an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach to songwriting.
The music industry has transformed drastically in the 40 years since Motörhead formed. Problems the group faced in its early years no longer exist, but new challenges have arrived. A recent push to get Lemmy onto social media, a crucial marketing tool in the modern rock 'n' roll landscape, resulted in a series of short clips that see the bassist in his signature uniforms, clearly being instructed off camera to urge fans from Chile to the U.S. to come out and see the band.
Another video shows Lemmy in the back seat of a car holding a piece of paper with "#motorheadforlife" written on it in black Sharpie. Halfway through the clip he says, "Alright, enough of that nonsense," crumples up the paper, and throws it out, looking irritated.
I asked Lemmy about the hashtag video and how he's adjusting to social media, but he thought I was accusing him of smoking hash on camera.
"I would never do that. I dunno what the picture was of but it wasn't of any kind of drugs," he says.
I tried, unsuccessfully, to communicate to the 69-year-old that a hashtag has nothing to do with the drug hashish, but only got the response, "That wasn't a picture of a hashtag, really."
Overall, Lemmy takes the same cool approach to the advent of social media as he does to the rest of his life: "I don't adjust to it, I let it adjust to me," Lemmy says in a dry, gritty whisper. "I'm 70 in December, you know? I don't have much more of that to do."
That admission of mortality is normal for most, but maybe a bit more pertinent to the aging rock god who has suffered a bevy of health problems lately. In 2013, he had a cardioverter-defibrillator implanted into his chest to aid an irregular heartbeat. That same year, he suffered a severe hematoma. This year, a gastric illness forced Motörhead to cancel a string of shows. And at Glastonbury, the English music festival, Lemmy sang "Ace of Spades" on top of "Overkill," something he later told the Guardian was the result of a "mental block."
"You get to a certain point you think you're indestructible, but then something comes along and goes wham – you're not!" Lemmy says of his health. But of the Glastonbury slip, he's less concerned. "I knew I was fucking up when I was doing it, but it didn't matter really. It was the only time I've ever done that, so I'm kinda relaxed about it."
Doctor's orders to cut back on his well-documented proclivity for heavy drinking have urged the bassist to trade his signature Jack and Coke for vodka and orange juice – something even the most casual WebMD reader could tell you won't be much help. I asked him if switching out one high-alcohol, sugary drink mix for another could be much help.
"Each Coke has 10 spoons of sugar," Lemmy says. I remind him orange juice is also sugary. "Yeah, but not as much, you know?"
Regardless of drink choice, Lemmy is a legend in the truest sense of the word, and legends are about memories. When he thinks of San Francisco, the man who's slept with over 1,000 women has one epic tour stop that comes to mind. It was sometime in the mid-'80s (the exact year or tour escapes him), and he had just wrapped up a Motörhead gig before heading back to a hotel room with his companion for the night.
"I remember taking this chick home, and as we went into the hotel door she said, 'I'll do anything for you,'" Lemmy smiles. "That was quite a nice memory."