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White Line Fever
By Lemmy Kilmister, Janiss Garza
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2002 Ian Fraser Kilmister and Janiss Garza
All rights reserved.
I started life in Stoke-on-Trent, in the West Midlands of England. Stoke consists of about six towns clustered together. Burslem was the nastiest, so it's only fitting that I was born there. The area is called the Potteries, and the countryside used to be black with slag from the coal used in the kilns that produced all kinds of pottery, including the famous Wedgwood. The ugly slagheaps stretched over the landscape wherever you looked, and the air was dirty with the chimneys' smoke.
By the time my wayward father took off, we had moved to Newcastle, my mum, my gran and I – Newcastle-under-Lyme, that is, which is not too far from Stoke. We lived there until I was six months old, and then we moved to Madeley, a village nearby that was really nice. We lived opposite a big pond – nearly a lake – where there were swans. It was beautiful, but definitely amongst the hoi polloi.
My mum had it rough, trying to support us on her own. The first job she had was as a TB nurse, which was rotten fucking work, because in those days it was like being on a terminal cancer ward – so she was more or less just seeing the patients on their way. And she saw TB babies being born – apparently there were some real horrors. TB does something weird to the chromosomes: she saw newborn babies with rudimentary feathers on 'em, and another one born with scales. Eventually she left that job and worked for a time as a librarian but then she stopped working for a while. I didn't quite understand the pressures she was under and I figured we'd be all right. Later on, she was a bartender, but that was after she married my stepfather.
I had problems at school right from the start. The teachers and I didn't see eye-to-eye: they wanted me to learn, and I didn't want to. I was always like a fuckin' black hole when it came to maths. You might as well have spoken Swahili to me as try to teach me algebra, so I gave up on it early. I figured I wasn't going to be a mathematician so I might as well fuck off. I played truant constantly, and that was it from day one, really.
The first episode in my difficult schooling that I remember clearly was at primary school. This stupid woman wanted to teach the boys knitting; she was probably a feminist, right? I must have been about seven, so really it was a bit pointless. And this woman was a real brute, too – she quite enjoyed hitting kids. I wouldn't knit because it was sissy. In those days, we still had sissies, see. They weren't running the country, like they are now. I told her I couldn't do it, and she hit me. Then I said I couldn't do it again, and after a while she stopped hitting me.
Honestly though, I think hitting a kid's good for him if he's a bad kid – not if he gets hit indiscriminately, but when he does something wrong. It'll stop him from being bad early if he's fucking terrified of a teacher. I used to get it regular: I got the board rule, the T-square that hung near the blackboard. The teacher would stand behind us and he'd whop it in the back of your head. Later on, the physics teacher would hit us with the leg of a chemistry stool. That was a good one but I never got it 'cause I was pretty good at physics. That is, until I left school, by mutual agreement.
If you get a good smack around the ear so it rings and sings for about half an hour, you're not going to do that shit again in class; you're going to listen to what you're being told. That's how it worked, but now it's gone. It worked for me and it worked for my generation pretty well, because as far as I can see, we're smarter than this generation's shaping up to be.
Anyhow, my mum remarried when I was ten. His name was George Willis, and she met him through my Uncle Colin, who was her only brother. I think the two of them were friends in the army (Colin and George, that is ...). He had played professional football for Bolton Wanderers, and as he told it, he was a self-made man with his own factory, which made plastic shoe stands for shop windows. That went bust about three months after my mum married him. He was too much. He was fucking funny as shit: he kept getting busted for selling purloined washing machines and fridges off the back of lorries, but he wouldn't tell us about it. He used to say he was off on a business trip; you know, 'I'll be gone about a month, darling,' and he'd go and do thirty days in jail. We didn't find out about this for a while but he turned out all right in the end.
With him, of course, came his two children from his previous marriage – Patricia and Tony. I was the youngest of the three and was constantly being bullied by these huge, newly acquired siblings. And I had a very fraught relationship with my stepfather, because I was an only child, as far as my mother was concerned. She used to fight like a fucking bantam for me, so he'd get a terrible hard time. Patricia's lofty ambition was to work at the Treasury, of all things, and eventually all her dreams came true. Tony lives in Melbourne, Australia, head of some plastics division (I didn't know plastic was hereditary!). He went in the Merchant Navy for about ten years and didn't write to us for nearly twenty. My stepfather thought he was dead.
When my mum and stepfather married, we moved to his house in Benllech, a seaside resort on Anglesey. It was about this time that I began to be known as Lemmy – it was a Welsh thing, I believe. I was in a very bad school, being the only English kid among about seven hundred Welsh – that was made for fun and profit, right? So I've been known as Lemmy since I was around ten. I didn't always have the moustache ... I've only had that since I was eleven.
But I did manage to entertain myself. By stealing some gelignite and rearranging the coastline of Anglesey. There was this construction company redoing all the drains in the village. They could only work in the summer because after that the weather got too cold. So they used to pack up around September or October and they would stash all their supplies in these PortaKabins. And around the end of October, beginning of November, me and some friends would break into them. I mean, Jesus Christ, if you're a boy of about ten or eleven, it was like finding buried treasure! We found caps and overalls, gelignite and detonators and fuses, all kinds of wonderful shit. We would bite the detonator on to the fuse and shove it into the gelignite. Then we'd dig a hole in the sand on the beach, shove the contraption down it, twill the fuse out and cover it up. We'd finish up by putting a big rock on top, lighting the fuse and running like bloody fuck. And BOOM! – the stone would fly fifty feet in the air. It was great! Later, I'd find crowds of people standing there in the rain, looking at the damage and muttering, 'What do you think?', 'I don't know – aliens?' I have no idea what the village copper thought was going on, 'cause he'd hear all these terrifying bangs and he'd come out to the beach and half the cliff had slid into the sea. About two miles of coastline was different when we were finished with it. Just innocent fun, right? Schoolkids get up to all kinds of shit, and after all, why not? That's their job, isn't it – to piss off their elders and give them a cross to bear; otherwise, what use are they?
Of course, these were mere diversions compared to my growing interest in the opposite sex. You have to realize that in those days, the fifties, there wasn't Playboy or Penthouse. The kicks then were those magazines that featured things like nudists playing tennis – Health and Efficiency and shit. That's what an awful world the fifties were. And people call it the age of innocence. Fuck that – you try living in it!
My sexual education began when I was very young. My mother brought home about three uncles before we decided on one being Dad. But that was always fine with me – I figured she was lonely and she was working all day to feed me and my granny, so I didn't mind going to bed a bit early. And growing up in a rural area, one would find people goin' at it in the fields. Plus there were always cars, of course, with the windows steamed up – you could always get a good look at a bared leg or breast as the couple crawled from the front into the back seat. In those days, the fashion was those skirts with the two petticoats underneath, which you whizzed around dancing the jive – so I used to dance a lot. I gave up dancing when the twist came in because it offended me – you couldn't touch the woman any more! Who wants that when you've just discovered adolescent lust? I needed to get close and warm; tactile, hands-on, experiencing, giving and receiving and counter-groping and stuff like that, you know!
But it was when I was fourteen and working at the riding school that I really discovered my lust and desire for women of all shapes, sizes, ages, colours and creeds. And political persuasions. The whole of Manchester and Liverpool would come down to our little seaside resort town every summer. College students on holiday would take out the rides at this school. And the Girl Guides would come every year, en masse – the whole troupe, with their tents and gear. And there were all of two Guide mistresses to look after them – ha! Who were they kidding? We were going to get to those chicks if we had to don wetsuits! And the girls obviously felt the same way. They were eager to learn and we were eager to learn and between us, we learned it. Believe me, we learned every fucking note.
I got a job at the riding school because I loved horses. I still do. We had a good time there because horses make women horny. There's a sexual power to a horse. Women would rather ride a horse bareback, and it's not for the obvious reasons. I think it's to feel the animal's body next to the skin. Through a saddle, you can't, especially an English saddle. And then there's the fact that they're fucking strong too. A horse can do anything it wants with you, really, but it doesn't because, except for a small minority, they aren't temperamental animals. They give in to you. I think that's what women like about horses – a being so strong that gives in without fighting back, or at least trying to assert its rights. It won't do the washing up, but that's a small price to pay.
I was in love with Ann. She was five years older than me, which at that age is an impossible gulf to cross. But I can still recall how she looked – very tall, mostly legs, sort of a broken nose on her but she was well attractive. She went out with this really ugly geezer, though. I couldn't understand that. I caught them fucking once in a barn and I tiptoed out, going, 'Jesus Christ.' But the funniest story regarding those Girl Guides involved a friend of mine called Tommy Lee.
Tommy only had one arm – he was an electrician and one time he put his finger on the wrong wire and the shock literally burned his arm off up to the bicep. They had to remove the rest of it and stitch up his shoulder. He was never quite the same after that – he used to listen a lot to things that only he could hear. But anyway, he had this false arm with a black glove on it, which he would hook on to his belt or put in his pocket. So one night, the two of us sneaked over to the Girl Guides. We crawled under the hedge and through the gorse ... but when you're fourteen, you don't care, do you? You'll do anything for a piece. We finally got there and I went into this one tent with my bird and Tommy went in the other tent with his. Then it all went quiet, you know, apart from the sound of bed springs. Afterwards, I dozed off for a bit, like people do, because it all just felt so nice (that's why I keep doing it!). Then I was startled awake.
'[Whack] Ow! [Whack] Ow! [Whack] Ow! [Whack] Ow!'
So I peeked under the tent-flap and there was Tommy, stark naked with his clothes under his one arm, running like a maniac. Following closely behind was a furious Guide mistress beating him on the head with his own arm! I laughed so hard, they caught me! I couldn't move, I couldn't run, I was just helpless. That was one of the funniest fucking things I'd ever seen in my life.
My initial discovery of sex came before rock 'n' roll, because you have to realize that for the first ten years of my life, rock 'n' roll didn't even exist. It was all Frank Sinatra and Rosemary Clooney, and 'How Much Is that Doggie in the Window?' – that one was on the top of the charts for months! I experienced the birth of rock 'n' roll firsthand. I heard Bill Haley first – 'Razzle Dazzle' I think it was. Then there was 'Rock Around the Clock' and 'See You Later Alligator'. The Comets were a very poor band, actually, but they were the only ones at the time. Plus, it was tough up in Wales – you could get Radio Luxembourg, but that was patchy. It would fade in and out and you had to keep on twiddling the knob to get any kind of reception. Then you'd never find out what they were playing because they announced it once at the beginning and if you came in five or eight bars into the song, they'd never mention the guy's name again. It took me months to find out the name of 'What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For?' by Emile Ford and the Checkmates. (There's a geezer who just vanished. Emile Ford and the Checkmates had five hits in England. He was huge and then there was a scandal – he was caught charging a kid money for an autograph, and that's what killed him. The Checkmates went out on their own for a while after that but it was no good.)
Then if you wanted a record, you had to order it and wait a month for it to arrive. The first 78 I ever bought was by Tommy Steele, the British answer to Elvis Presley, and then I got 'Peggy Sue' by Buddy Holly. My first full album was The Buddy Holly Story, which I got right after he died. Actually, I saw him perform at New Brighton Tower. See, that fuckin' shows your age – I saw Buddy Holly live! Nevertheless, I must say, my street cred is impeccable!
It was a long time before I bought an Elvis Presley record – the first I purchased was 'Don't Be Cruel', I believe. His style, his look was great, he really was a one-off, but I thought he was inferior to Buddy Holly and Little Richard. The problem was he had really naff B-sides. See, albums in those days were different: an album could be a collection of the last six hit singles and the B-sides. So half of Elvis's albums were crap. He only started making good B-sides when he did 'I Beg of You'. Buddy Holly never did a bad track, as far as I could hear. Eddie Cochran, too, was an idol of mine. He used to work at a studio in Hollywood and if somebody finished an hour ahead of time, he'd dash in and make a record. And he used to write and produce all his own stuff. He was the first one ever to do that – a very inventive guy. I was supposed to see him on the second leg of his tour through Britain, but that was when he was in the accident out by Bristol that killed him. I remember being dismayed. That was a great tragedy for rock 'n' roll. He and Holly were the ones who inspired me to play guitar.
I decided to pick up the guitar partly for the music, but girls were at least sixty per cent of the reason I wanted to play. I discovered what an incredible pussy magnet guitars were at the end of the school year. You get shunted in the classroom for a week after the exams with nothing to do, and this one kid brought in a guitar. He couldn't play it, but he was surrounded by women immediately. I thought, 'Ah, now, that looks like fun!' My mum had an old Hawaiian guitar hanging on a wall in our house – she used to play it when she was a kid, and her brother would play banjo. Hawaiian guitar had been very popular not long before: they were lap steels with a flat neck and upraised frets. Hers was very smart, covered with mother-of-pearl inlay. So that was a stroke of luck – not many people had a guitar lying around the house in 1957.
So I dragged the fuckin' thing into class. I couldn't play it, either, but sure enough I was surrounded by women straight away. It actually worked, instantly! That's the only thing that ever worked so immediately in my life. And I never looked back. Eventually, I got the idea that the girls expected me to play the thing, so I taught myself, which was pretty excruciating on that Hawaiian guitar with the strings raised up.
When I was fifteen, we went on a school trip to Paris and I'd learned 'Rock Around the Clock'. So I played that for three hours one night, even though I'd just nearly cut my forefinger off with a flick-knife that refused to do what it was told. I bled on my guitar, and the chicks thought that was absolutely cool. You know – sort of the equivalent of a Sioux warrior going out into the tall grass and killing a bear with his own hands, I suppose. Bleeding for 'em!
Excerpted from White Line Fever by Lemmy Kilmister, Janiss Garza. Copyright © 2002 Ian Fraser Kilmister and Janiss Garza. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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