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When Lemmy died in 2015, Metallica were one of the first bands to pay tribute, writing on Twitter, “You’re one of the primary reasons this band exists. We’re forever grateful for all of your inspiration.” They weren’t hollow words – Lars Ulrich was such a big Motörhead fan that he helped to run their fan club in the early 80s and the two bands crossed paths repeatedly over the intervening decades. For Lemmy’s 50th birthday bash in 1995, Metallica memorably opened up the show, billed as The Lemmys and playing a set of Motörhead covers, as detailed in Dave Everley’s excellent piece here.
A couple of years after that show, Lemmy sat down for an interview to look over the state of rock’n’roll and was asked his opinion of where Metallica were at. It was a period when the metal titans were taking a lot of flak, either because some fans weren’t into the recently-released Load or because James Hetfield & co. had gone and had their hair cut off, causing some fans to have an absolute meltdown. Always a man with a great perspective on rock’n’roll and life in general, Lemmy offered up some words of encouragement for his old pals.
“I don’t see any change in them… they’ve tried to change their music a bit but you have to if you’re gonna survive, you have to explore different avenues,” he said. “If it doesn’t work, you can always go back and do another one within the thing you do. We never made an album that sounded like a recycle of the last one, in my head anyway, I know it wasn’t, it might sound like that to a layman. I can’t get in that place because I’m in this place.”
The idea that Metallica had sold out, he said, was a load of nonsense. “That’s from people who wouldn’t know their ass from their elbow anyway,” he decided. “That’s from people who want to be 16 for the rest of their life and they want the background music to stay the same and I can’t do that for them because time goes by and you can’t stop it.”
Earlier in the chat, he also recalled the first time he met Lars – not an encounter either part was likely to ever forget. “Lars was president of our West Coast fan club at one time, it was only him and his mate in it I think,” Lemmy laughed. “He came down the Beverley Sunset hotel and tried to match us drink for drink, which is a foolish thing to do when you’re about 14. He suddenly said, ‘Could I go to your room a minute?’ I said, ‘yeah, alright,’ and in a very genteel manner, he vomited all down his front. So I mopped him up and sent him back out. Poor little devil’. “
Turning his thoughts to the idea that Metallica were getting pelters for cutting their hair, Lemmy said any criticism went against what rock music was really about. “I couldn’t believe the amount of flak they got for getting their haircut,” he stated. “Individualism is what they’ve always preached and what I’ve always preached as well… People saying ‘oh the new album is rubbish, they cut their hair’, in the same breath. Shame that.”
Of course, it didn’t turn out to be the apocalyptic haircut that a portion of their fans feared. Metallica didn’t suddenly lose everything that made them Metallica. But Lemmy knew that. Lemmy was wise, a man who always knew what was what. Watch the full interview below: