Born the son of a ‘preacher man’, he grew up to play loud, proud, fierce rock ‘n’ roll. Ian ‘Lemmy’ Kilmister epitomised the hard living stars of yesteryear, but never wavered from his chosen musical career.
While tabloids and the news channels play the song Motörhead were most recognised for, ‘Ace of Spades’, Lemmy and the band had more depth than many could imagine.
Looking increasingly frail over recent years, Lemmy still managed to complete a final European tour, before he returned to his Californian home to succumb to cancer on December 28th.
The hard rock, punk and metal community has been paying warm tribute to Lemmy, and justifiably so. Lemmy was an icon, but also a true gentleman, in the shape of the old cliché of a British eccentric, following his own path and sod all the rest: ‘Born To Lose, Live to Win’.
With the claims about his womanising (he admitted to sleeping with more than 1,000 women), it is perhaps no surprise that he took his first tentative steps towards his later success when he noticed at school that if you carried a guitar “chicks flocked to you“.
As the son of a minister, he was part of an early beat rock band, the Rockin’ Vicars, and toured round the north west of England, an early induction into the ways of touring.
A quick glance round the web pages, magazine articles, a scan of his autobiography ‘White Line Fever’, and viewing the rockumentary ‘Lemmy’, will connect the dots to the point when Motörhead became one of the most revered bands on the planet.
Roadie for Hendrix, kicked out of Hawkwind for being caught with drugs, wanting to call his band ‘Bastard’, and forming Motörhead with Larry Wallis and Lucas Fox, and declaring themselves to be ‘Beer Drinkers and Hellraisers‘… this was only the beginning.
With Phil ‘Philthy Animal’ Taylor (who died on November 11th, 2015) taking over from Fox on drums, and drafting in ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke to replace Wallis on guitar, Motörhead began a march towards fame and no little infamy.
Early radio appearances for the first brace of Motörhead albums saw the fanbase amongst rockers and punks grow at a time when heavy metal was burgeoning with the NWOBHM, marrying punk with early metal.
Lemmy always distanced himself from any reference to metal – his ontsage declaration was:
“We are Motörhead, and we play rock ‘n’ roll“
but, it was the metal crowd, along with a healthy smattering of punks, who took Lemmy and Motörhead to their hearts.
Here was a man who, to use the stereotype, lived and breathed the lifestyle. Straight talking and unique, he trod a path through life few could imagine, and no-one could aspire to keep up with.
When the ‘Ace Of Spades’, single and album, smashed the charts open wide, Motörhead’s star was shining with the glitter of booze, speed, and stardom. Capitalized with the live album ‘No Sleep To Hammersmith’, Lemmy later recalled management and deals with labels left them seeing little of the millions those albums earned.
Undaunted, Motörhead and Lemmy continued. Appearances in advertisements and constant touring, through various line-ups, until settling down with Mikkey Dee and Phil Campbell, what had been stardom in the 80s became a tried and trusted live act, releasing albums sadly overlooked by many.
Life on the road was something Lemmy seemed built for. The prodigious alcohol consumption, amphetamines, and chain smoking, were but the norm until later years, when he dumped the ‘Jack and Coke’ for vodka and orange juice and quit the cigarettes, but amid the excess, lay a man of great wit and intelligence. He was almost painfully generous with his time, and had quips to spare for people. In interviews, however, very few noticed what a great lyricist he was. When Ozzy was struggling to complete lyrics for the ‘No More Tears’ album he noted that Lemmy “nipped” over and had three song’s words penned in a matter of minutes.
On Motörhead tracks, the early word plays evolved into increasingly sophisticated observational takes on society. Yes, the devotional tracts to rock ‘n’ roll were still there, but he also railed against warfare, religion, and abusers in affective invectives, with songs like ‘Soldier’, ‘God Was Never On Your Side’, and ‘Don’t Let Daddy Kiss Me’.
Perhaps his lyrics for ‘1916’ were amongst his finest. It was effectively a tone poem more than a song that captured the pain and slaughter at the First World War battle of the Somme.
An occassional actor, and sometimes TV special guest, Lemmy was involved in more side projects and musical collaborations than almost anyone in musical history.
In an era when ‘z’ list celebrities, reality TV shows, and wannabe boy bands, compete for tabloid coverage of their wild times, none of these tiny intellects could survive an hour with Lemmy, let alone spend a night on tour, or on the town, with him.
He lived the life he chose, and recently declared that when he died he would have no regrets. Ultimately, at the age of 70, that hard living three score and ten caught up with him. While one can never truly say what another person thinks in the final moments, it is hard not to believe that he had no regrets.
We, in the rock, punk, and metal communities are lessened by his passing, but Lemmy acknowledged what he had undertaken in life, when he reflected on the death of Phil Taylor this year:
“I think this rock’n’roll business might be bad for the human life.”
Ian Fraser ‘Lemmy’ Kilmister 24th December 1945 – 28th December 2015]]>