If you’ve seen Airheads you know that’s a trick question. If you haven’t, I’ll let you go look it up.
Back in the later days of LimeWire and AudioGalaxy folks would name songs so that they might slip past the scanners that would pull any copyrighted songs. There were the usual misspellings and l33t versions, but the one that caught my eye said simply “Fuck Metallica”. Upon downloading the song, I found it to be the Motorhead cover of Enter Sandman. Fuck Metallica indeed; Lemmy gave the song an edge that James Hetfield couldn’t match if he had a gun to his head. So in honor of Lemmy Kilmeister, who died on Boxing Day, (that’s the day after Christmas to Americans) I want to talk about Lemmy and Motorhead.
Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys had a great tribute to Lemmy with a question that I think needs to be answered.
“It’s strange. I haven’t felt quite this kind of deepening sense of loss since Johnny Cash died. Why is that?
I remember a late night ride in a car in LA with Adam Jones, Dale Crover and maybe another person (don’t think it was Buzz); coming back from the studio, where we were working on the music I made with the Melvins. We were asking ourselves why we were all feeling such a lingering sadness because Johnny Cash was gone. It’s not as though he hadn’t lived a long full successful life, and given so much to the world. This was a life well lived.
Finally a voice piped up from the back seat (Dale, maybe? Can’t remember..), saying, “He was our Abe Lincoln..”
So now what does that make Lemmy?”
Johnny Cash might have been Lincoln but Lemmy was George Fucking Washington. This is a guy who was a roadie for Jimi Hendrix before he joined the band that sang songs written by the science fiction writer Michael Moorcock, Hawkwind in 1971. When he was kicked out of Hawkwind for getting them jammed up at the Canadian border for possible possession of cocaine, in 1975 Lemmy just formed his own band and never looked back. Okay, sure, that doesn’t sound very Washington to most folks but this was a guy who stuck to his guns even in the face of crippling defeat. Lemmy showed up no matter how bad things were.
Motorhead changed members over the years but Lemmy was the core. He took heavy metal from the seventies and drove it through the eighties where he had his biggest success with Ace of Spades but that wasn’t the end. Lemmy managed to take elements of punk, speed metal and thrash to create his very own brand. So he kept the battle going for all the folk who felt ostracized and unsure of themselves. There is a reason that in my music collection the most covered song is Ace of Spades. So many bands recognize the influence of Lemmy and Motorhead, it’s impossible to list them all.
This was the a big, mutton chopped, rough voiced, hard living, not the least bit handsome, bass player who wrote his own music and was more than willing to take the piss out of himself, just the kind of person a kid in a garage could aspire to be. I have a friend who met him in person and said that he was the nicest guy in the world. Friendly and kind, not at all the rock star attitude that you would expect from someone who had been the center of attention for so long. Like Washington, he didn’t want to be king.
Lemmy didn’t become a corporate entity, didn’t sue to ‘protect’ his music. He didn’t need to reinvent himself. In fact, I can’t think of many bands except maybe The Ramones and ACDC who just kept making music year after year with the same energy, sweat, and grit. Lemmy might have been in a movie or three but it was never without humor, often poking fun at himself. He offered advice to young rockers, including a classic bit to a young black metalhead who asked about people making fun of him because of the music he liked. Lemmy’s advice, “Fuck them, you like what you want.”
I’ve mentioned that if you want to blow your neighbors out of the water one of the best albums is the vinyl version of the 1981 concert No Sleep Till Hammersmith. That is true enough, but it is also a perfect capture of Motorhead. You’ve got the song that gave them their name. Iron Horse, a song that is perfect for bikers everywhere, a tribute to the people who haul the band equipment and of course, Ace of Spades.
- “Ace of Spades”
- “Stay Clean”
- “The Hammer”
- “Iron Horse/Born to Lose”
- “No Class”
- “(We Are) the Road Crew”
This some of their best stuff and the recording is first rate. I give the MND a lot of credit for his work but the vinyl was pretty damn clean in the first place. Get this album you can’t go wrong.
One of the first reviews I ever read of Motorhead said that you either like them or they made you want to go out and set cars on fire. I’m sure there are people who find Lemmy’s voice grating or Motorhead’s music too … I don’t know, simple, loud, something like that. The fact is it fills places in the soul that might be taken up with anger, rage, or white noise, that we all tend to carry around, sometimes without knowing it. Motorhead makes it safe to blow out that pain, to scream at the heavens, to set those feelings free without hurting yourself or others. We need more Lemmy, not less.
Lemmy didn’t die from too much rock and roll or drugs. He died of fucking cancer. Like Jello said, I have a deep sadness about losing Lemmy, much the way I felt when Joey Ramone died. This was the music that made my tastes and, at time, kept me sane. I don’t usually feel all that much about pop culture icons passing away. Their work carries on and we can treasure them that way. When it’s something like suicide or cancer… I just feel like that person deserved something better.
So in closing, I just say thank you Lemmy, fuck cancer and fuck Metallica.