November, 1986. I’m one of the few people inside Rhode Island’s most popular music club The Living Room. I’m there because I live in RI and have just begun working as a freelance writer for a pair of music magazines called Rock Scene and Metal Mania, published out of New York.
It was a great scenario for me. By being in RI and not a hot spot like New York or LA, I had no competition for interviews, except an occasional radio DJ on one of the state’s smaller stations. This meant a more relaxed environment with the bands and no rushing.
I’ve only been interviewing bands for a few months and had just started my second year of college at the University of Rhode Island (our j-school’s most famous graduate is CNN’s Christiane Amanpour). Journalism, I quickly realized, was not a profession of book study, it was one of practice. So I set out to do it with all the moxy a 19-year-old could muster. I called some New York metal magazines until Metal Mania talked to me and agreed to bring me on board.
It’s a typical New England winter day outside. Freezing rain has been coming down for hours. Fans sat in their cars in the parking lot, waiting for the doors to open. I got in because the Room staff all knew me by this point and knew what was going on when I showed up with a notepad and tape recorder.
This was a highly anticipated show. Motorhead was returning after a three-year hiatus with a whole new lineup, and as a four-piece. Guitarists Phil Campbell and Wurzel replaced the departed Brian Robertson and former Saxon drummer Pete Gill replaced Philthy. Motorhead had just released a new album, “Orgasmatron” and fans were stoked.
Motorhead’s tour manager approached me and said that the tour bus had not yet arrived (the band had come by taxi) and the dressing room was its usual chaos, so would I mind doing the interview at the hotel? The band was staying at the Biltmore, downtown’s fanciest hotel.
“Sure, I’ll just follow you in my car,” I said.
“Oh, you have a car? Can you give us a ride?”
My fate was sealed.
Now, a little info on The Living Room. It was in an industrial part of Providence and the entrance was up a two-story flight of stairs to the pahking lot, as we called it in RI. I don’t know which was tougher, going up those stairs sober or coming down drunk. I’ve done both. The area in front of the club had a narrow driveway where trucks backed in to unload gear.
Now, if I’d been thinking clearly, I would have gone down to my car, warmed it up, and driven it up the driveway so the band could scoot out, get in, and split. But in a move reflective of a writer with all of three months experience, I simply led the band out into the freezing rain and down the steps.
Well, every fan in the parking lot spotted the band and charged out of their cars, roaring in approval. At the bottom of the stairs, Lemmy turned to me, bringing up the rear and at the top of the stairs, and roared in disapproval. I don’t remember what he said because let’s face it, he was hard to understand in a conversational voice, let’s alone when he’s yelling at you from 50 feet away.
Realizing my mistake, I tore down the stairs (stupid move, there was an inch of sleet on the steps and I could have broken my neck) and bolted across the parking lot to my car. I threw all four doors open and the trunk, then hopped in and started the car. The band quickly followed after tossing stuff in the trunk, and so did a few hundred metalheads.
Now, what happens when you put six warm bodies – me, Motorhead, and their tour manager – in a car that has been sitting in freezing rain for about 2 hours? You guessed it, the whole damn thing fogged up before they could even close the doors. I couldn’t see a thing. I wiped down the windshield on my side but it made a smudged mess.
Lemmy was to my immediate right, followed by Phil. Wurzel, Pete and the manager were in the back. Just as I was ready to go, someone on the passenger side stuck an open beer bottle in and offered it to Lemmy, fairly insisting he take it. Lemmy, ever the gentleman, took it, and once the guy walked away turned to me and said “You want this? I don’t like American beer.”
“Just put it in the cup holder,” I told him.
Did I mention that I was 19 years old, two years under the legal drinking age, and I now had an open container of alcohol in my car, which is very illegal?
After considerable honking of the horn, fans moved away and we rode off. We rolled down Westminister St. and I realized I was in trouble due to the condition of the car and I was too scared to use acceleration. Motorhead talked quietly among themselves but grew silent. I think it finally dawned on them that their driver was terrified. Because I absolutely was.
The roads were unplowed and piled up with sleet. I couldn’t see shit out of the windows and the defogger was taking forever to warm up. This was a 1980 car, after all. And this was just two months after Cliff Burton died on an icy road in Sweden. I did not want history repeating itself. And I had an open alcohol container in the car which would get me and possibly Motorhead arrested.
At one point I had to take a hill with a considerable rise and I could hear my tires spin and the back fishtailed slightly. Thankfully I regained control quickly.
The drive should take about 15 minutes. It took about 30. I never got that car over 25 MPH, had a death grip on the steering wheel with both hands and looked around, hoping a window would defog. I had to wipe down the windshield a few times with my hand, but it made a streaky mess. For most of the ride I looked straight ahead and didn’t say a word.
Finally came the turn down to the Biltmore. It happened to be right in front of the Providence Police Station. Why no, officer, that’s not a beer in my cup holder.
At last, I rolled up on the curb in front of the Biltmore, put the car in park, let out a long breath and leaned forward on the wheel. It took a few seconds to pry my hands off. I could hear the band chuckling as they got out, and Lemmy turned to me and said “Didn’t think you were gonna make it, eh?”
“Neither did I.” He winked and slid out after Phil.
I got out, grabbing the beer instinctually, and opened the trunk, then stepped away as they emptied it. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the hotel bellman, and his outfit looked disturbingly like a police officer’s uniform. After my initial panic, I quickly poured out the beer, which Lemmy saw.
“What’re ya doing?”
“I’m 19, I can’t have this!” I said as the last of the beer hit the sidewalk. Lemmy roared with laughter and went inside.
After disposing of the bottle, I approached the bellman who gave me a heart attack and asked if I could leave the car there since I would only be an hour or so. He said sure. So I walked inside, looked at the check-in desk and…
Oh shit, I’ve lost the band?!
Thankfully, the manager had told me they were on the fourth floor. He didn’t say what room, and the Biltmore has a long hallway. So I went up to the fourth floor, looked around, then slid down against the wall, knees at my chest, wonder how else I could fuck this up. Well at least I didn’t get them killed.
Only a minute or two later a door opened a few doors down and out popped the manager’s head. He called me in, and informed me Lemmy was doing a phoner and I would be next. I had no problem waiting because he had a pile of fanzines from around the country about 6-7 inches thick. In RI, we had next to no access to these. I was lucky to get Kick Ass and Kerrang! So I was devouring those zines and a little disappointed when he sent me down to Lemmy’s room, only a few rooms away.
“That was a ride, wasn’t it?” Lemmy joked.
“Not one I want to repeat.”
“Well I sure didn’t want anything to happen to you guys.”
What a ball buster.
So we did the interview, after I declined a Marlboro and a JD and Coke. Lemmy leaned into my tape recorder and said “Here’s another healthy interviewer, everyone.” It was a very pleasant conversation, except for the fact Lemmy was frustrated with what was going on during the shows. It didn’t dawn on me then, but now I understand.
Motorhead went dormant in 1983 and came back in 1986. What happened in that time? Thrash exploded. That year had been the breakout year for thrash with “Master of Puppets,” “Reign in Blood” and “Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying?”
With thrash came mosh pits and stage diving. Lemmy was not used to this. Watch an old live Motorhead video, like the one for “Iron Fist.” You don’t see that kind of activity in the crowd.
“I have never seen such violence as I have on this tour,” he complained. Motorhead was touring with Lizzie Borden at the time, but their previous opening act was the hardcore band The Cro-Mags, and he did not like their audience at all. “We tended to get the cream of the fucking crop with The Cro-Mags.” I bet. I interviewed them a few months later, by the way. Nice guys, but the audience scared the hell out of me.
I tried explaining moshing but he just responded “It’s just so stupid!” And he really, really hated stage divers. “When I’m on stage it’s MINE and no fucker better come up there,” he growled.
Anyway, the formal chat ended and he walked over to his suitcase, which had a huge pile of t-shirts acquired on the road, picked on off the top, tossed it to me and said “‘ere ya go.” It was a Houston metal store I never heard of and would never see, but I thanked him profusely even though it was too small.
His room phone rang. I tuned it out since it wasn’t my business. Then I heard him say “Unless we can get a ride from this gentleman.” I looked over and realized he was looking at me. I nodded, and he said “yeah” into the phone.
Knowing what a mess the windshield was, I stole a hand cloth from his bathroom. Yeah I’m a thief. We went down and met up with Wurzel and Phil. Pete and the manager would come separately, so we headed out.
The car was still warm and the defogger had done some of its work. So with just four bodies, the fogging wasn’t as bad. The hand cloth made things much better, and I could finally see. The result was a much more relaxed drive with much joking.
So much so I missed my turn. The road was empty behind me so I just put the car in reverse and backed up, causing Phil to express concern about being slammed from behind. I believe his exact word was “Crash.” This prompted an inappropriate joke on Lemmy’s part about being slammed from behind.
This time, I got it right. Instead of going into the parking lot I drove right up to the door, with just inches of room on either side. Lemmy told me to hop out for a sec, walked up to the doorman and talked to him and pointed at me. The doorman nodded and I knew. I parked and walked right in.
It was, of course, a deafening show. Living Room bartenders were used to volume, but after the show was over I saw the bar covered in napkins. I took a look and saw they all had orders written on them. Even with customers leaning over the bar and screaming their order, bartenders couldn’t hear them.
I only saw Lemmy once more after that, about a year later. Gill was gone, replaced by Philthy, and a woman manager for the band was giving out pins that read “The Animal is back!” But there was a major technical problem during sound check and Lemmy was frustrated. He saw me, smiled, and said “Not a good time, mate.” So I left him alone.
A year after the interview, the owners of Metal Mania shut it down, so I moved on to Faces Rocks, where I wrote until 1990. I interviewed Slayer, Testament, Overkill, Fates Warning, Nuclear Assault, and eventually, this up and coming band called Soundgarden.
I have only one regret. For 11 years, I lived in Marina Del Rey, California. The Rainbow, his second home, was a 30 minute drive on surface streets but about 12 miles as the crow flies. I passed it a million times. I knew he was always there when not touring, and never did get my ass up there to say hi, remind him of who I was, and jokingly offer him a ride somewhere.
My career now is kind of boring compared to the early days. I’ve been screamed at over the phone by Steve Jobs, treated like dirt by Dr. Who #4 Tom Baker (two months prior to the Motorhead ride) and got totally lost in Las Vegas with John De Lancie, Q from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” when I was supposed to be his chaperone. These days, I blog about Windows 10.
So I can’t imagine anything surpassing that experience on a freezing November night. Goodbye, you warty old bastard (and I say that with all due affection).