Tuesday, 29 December 2015

2015 In Memoriam: Lemmy

26th December 2015 - Lemmy, 70

("Lemmy-02" by MarkMarek at the English language Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - )

I've always thought these Memoria need time to digest, that you need distance and perspective to write a decent one. Then, Lemmy goes and spoils all that by dying on December 28th. What kind of timing do you call that?

True to form, typical Lemmy.

He did things his own particular way, without needing to cover Frank Sinatra to announce it to the world. Even in his final weeks on earth, he sauntered around, being the lead for Motorhead, the rock icon of the world, the hard living touring legend, not even noticing that his body was ravaged by terminal cancer.

It's fair to say that 90% of all rock bands, since the 1980s, have been heavily inspired by Motorhead. It is fair to say that, because most of them have outright announced Motorhead as one of their chief inspirations. Hell, one of my favourite bands, Metallica, started out as basically 90% Motorhead and 10% Iron Maiden.

As well as being the iconic rock figure, Lemmy delivered an address to the Welsh Assembly on heroin policy. It was in school in Wales that he got his "Lemmy" nickname (his real name was Ian Kilmister), though he never understood its origin.

After living with Jimi Hendrix's bassist, Lemmy joined Hawkwind as their bassist. During this time, he wound up singing on their most famous track, Silver Machine, before being sacked from the band in 1975. For taking too many drugs. In Hawkwind. Too many drugs. This is like being sacked from the modern Conservative front bench for being too much of a Thatcherite.

"Lemmy was kicked out of Hawkwind in the spring of 1975 after he spent five days in a Canadian prison for drug possession. Once he returned to England, he set about forming a new band. Originally, it was to have been called Bastard, but he soon decided to call the band Motörhead, named after the last song he wrote for Hawkwind. Lemmy drafted in Pink Fairies guitarist Larry Wallis and drummer Lucas Fox to round out the lineup. Motörhead made their debut supporting Greenslade in July. Two months later, the group headed into the studio to make its debut album for United Artists with producer Dave Edmunds. Motörhead and Edmunds clashed over the direction of recording, resulting in the group firing the producer and replacing him with Fritz Fryer. At the end of the year, Fox left the band and Lemmy replaced him with his friend Philthy Animal (born Philip Taylor), an amateur musician."
Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music

Motorhead's guitar playing, accompanied by Lemmy's guttural voice, was a new phenomena in rock music. 

"“The doctors said my blood was far too toxic for other humans,” says the singer. “They said, ‘what ever you do, don’t let him give any blood transfusions’ – there was all sorts of s*** in my system back in those days. But what about now Lemmy, you’re not getting any younger. “Nah, still smoke a pack and a half a day and drink a bottle of Jack,” he shrugs. But isn’t that bad for your voice though? “Have you heard my voice? All that actually improves it.”"
Lemmy, interviewed by Nathan Bevan, Wales Online 2007

In 1980, Motorhead released Ace of Spades. As an album, and as a song, it was their calling card left upon a genre of music moving from the Stones and Beatles, by way of Judas Priest, punk and synth, into the 1980s of power ballads, guttural voices, and guitars that went all the way up to eleven. Lemmy could be the voice of a new generation - he appeared on The Young Ones alongside Rik Mayall and friends and looked entirely part of their furniture - while bridging the gap between old and new rock.

Lemmy and the boys continued to party and record through the next two decades. It is said that, at one point, Lemmy's doctor told him never to give up drugs and alcohol, as his body would be unable to deal with the change at this point. As mythical as it may sound, when in doubt, print the legend. And much of what made Lemmy an iconic rock star was legend. "Nobody could be as tough as I look" he self-deprecatingly once said, whereas he, like Ozzy Osbourne, reveled in all the legends that formed around him, like he was a planet and the myths were all moons and comets. Debunking or confirming, he thought, would spoil the whole appeal of the rock star in the first place.

"The other day I was thinking, ‘OK, if Lemmy was a girl and played guitar, what would he do?’ I wrote a couple of riffs with that in mind.”
Lzzy Hale, Loudwire,  4 June 2014

"Well, METALLICA's starting to feel the old age bite now, aren't they? (laughing) They've been around a long time now. I mean, you can't top METALLICA. They're really a fucking excellent band. I'm delighted that they said that I was one of their influences. Like, they have all of their influences, and you can't hear the influences in them, which is great. They've become their own people, and that's great. I like them a lot."
Lemmy, Blabbermouth interview, 30 March 2011

Presumably not half as delighted as James Hetfield was the day he heard Motorhead had covered his song, Enter Sandman!

"A glass of Jack Daniel’s fused to his fingers, in person the man born Ian Michael Kilmister in 1945 comes off as a consummately polite, older English gentleman. He generously answers nearly any question, no matter how outrageous, but when the conversation dives too far into an uncomfortable zone, he’s quick to set one straight with a withering gaze. “Man, do you think can we stop talking about drugs?” he spits in his trademark guttural rasp. “I don’t want to talk myself into being arrested. It’s a very real risk, you know.” Indeed, Lemmy hardly seems to be mellowing with age. “I’m only interested in my band — never cared about anybody else,” he growls. “Still don’t. Everybody else can go fuck off!”
Lemmy, interviewed by Matt Diehl, The Spin 1 April 2009

In 2000, interest in Metallica brought Motorhead and Iron Maiden, naturally, to my attention. I wouldn't call myself a diehard fan, more a dilettante, but one who appreciates Lemmy's role in rock history. The folk who helped the folk you like have a living from music. 

And then, in 2001, he became intrinsically linked with the WWE. You see, in late 2000, someone had decided that main villain Triple H needed a better theme tune. His previous, though fun in its own way, was not becoming of a true main eventer. He needed a big brass, loud theme that made everyone in the arena, and watching on TV, stand up and take notice.

He needed Lemmy!

Much to the shock of the real life massive Motorhead fan Paul Levesque (as Triple H is not better known), Motorhead agreed to record his theme tune. "The Game" echoed throughout arenas for the next decade, and Lemmy's band appeared twice at WrestleMania, performing live. As HHH's influence and role in the company grew - he is now married to the bosses daughter, a VP in his own right, and he became a legend in the genre - so did Lemmy's trademark vocals following him everywhere he went. And when he became a bad-ass hero, even more so.

When Triple H created his own group to mentor young wrestlers, Evolution, naturally, Motorhead provided the theme tune for them, with "Line in the Sand". 

And when Triple H became an evil authority figure, shedding years of fan support to become the worst thing possible - a suit! Yep, there was Lemmy, with a new song to suit the new character, "The King of Kings".

Much like bands announcing their heroes to audiences, the WWE link gave Motorhead new fans who'd never heard of Hawkwind or the like. 

But it was all part of Lemmy's ability to stay relevant, to move with the times. Though that is to do a disservice. Lemmy moved the times with him, making everyone else stay relevant to whatever it was he wanted to do at that particular moment.

He was himself till the end, and there's not many you can say that about.