Lemmy was the exception.
Even if you didn’t think you liked heavy rock (I know, I know, noisy Rock n Roll is what I am meant to say), you liked Motörhead.
He was one of the most enigmatic and captivating front men in rock. He looked like he had a story, and he did. There are plenty of heavy drinkers and fast lives in rock, but he seemed different. He didn’t bang on about his excess, others did that.
Others talked about the night they went out drinking with Lemmy and ended up hospitalised and stomach pumped. He didn’t need or want to brag about his consumption, he just seemed to shrug and drink another pint of whisky and coke. That was his life. To the observer, no one epitomised what a heavy rock front man was meant to be more than Lemmy, though it needed him to exist for us to know that is what a rock icon was meant to look like. When he walked on stage at the Classic Rock awards, looking frail, many of us stood. Some of my table welled up. He was loved. (full blog post on that night here)
The warts, the facial hair, the cowboy hat, he moved and talked like he didn’t give a fuck what you thought about him. No stylists or PR consultants were required to draw up plans for what Lemmy should or could be to sell records or a draw a crowd.
The first growl of his voice, the thunder of his bass – the adrenaline kicks in – the first experience of Lemmy must have been what it felt like to hear Little Richard in the 1950s – what the fuck is this and is it allowed to exist?
Lemmy may have been “rock ’n’ roll”, but unlike so many, he didn’t adopt an American cadence in his voice.
I reckon I was about 11 when I became aware of Mötorhead. No one in the playground had heard the bass played liked it was on Ace of Spades (though JJ Burnel did some pretty wonderful things with his too). Soon the urban myths sprung up as they do in schoolyards.
I remember Paul Thompson telling us all about someone he knew who had gone to a Motörhead. He had headbanged so hard that he got terrible headaches and then he died two days later. I think at the autopsy it was discovered that his brain was in four pieces. So from a young age we knew – Beware Mötorhead, they can kill you.
My tastes were more Two-Tone/ska than rock, but comedy pulled me back for further poundings. (sad to see that John Bradbury of The Specials has also died today)
Mötorhead’s appearance on The Young Ones and The Comic Strip Presents…Bad News and More Bad News meant I had an inkling I might like rock more than I imagined. My librarian demeanor meant i wasn’t sure it was meant for me, nevertheless, I put Iron Fist and Iron Maiden’s Live After Death on my vinyl pile.
Lemmy appeared in More Bad News and then took a more dominant role in Eat the Rich, a film and a Mötorhead single (he also popped up in Richard Stanley’s Hardware).
Watching Motörhead at a festival with a friend some years ago, he presumed the opening of each new song was Ace of Spades. I explained that there may be some similarities amongst the songs, but like jazz, with a little effort and time, you can master the division between songs.
As well as the fast and brutal, Lemmy also wrote songs that were quieter and tragic. Don’t Let Daddy Kiss Me, a song about child abuse that Lemmy had apparently offered to female vocalists such as Joan Jett, is made even more powerful by Lemmy’s delivery. Then, there is 1916, the title track from their 1991 album, about the devastation of youth in the first world war.
The 2010 documentary Lemmy is another essential and captivating picture of the man. Though he might not give a fuck what others thought of him, this did not mean he didn’t give a fuck about anything. His interviews are often thoughtful and insightful. He really knew what rock n roll was meant to be. His lyrics were not merely carousing and boozing (though he wrote those kind of lyrics pretty well too).
Knowing of his interest in history, I once suggested a TV series where Lemmy walks around the castles of England and Wales, talking of monarchs and battles, and then scares David Starkey or plays pinball with Simon Schama. Sadly, no one else seemed very interested. Stupid Telly people.
I have wasted your time with this, you should have been listening to Bomber or Overkill or 1916 or Bad Magic, maybe you were.
Lemmy, the warty and alluring entrancer who seduced generations into heavy rock with a growl and a thud.
Hear two men squabbling about music at Vitriola (latest one is our top songs and albums of 2015)
Book Shambles podcast is up to episode seven now – Mark Gatiss. previous ones include Stewart Lee, Sara Pascoe and Chris Hadfield. They are all HERE.