Simon Reynolds wrote something on his Facebook page a few days ago that bothered me. He wrote, “Got to be honest though – Motörhead’s records have rarely been on my turntable, or CD player. I should think that is the case with a lot of the Lemmy-love – it’s largely independent of the music.”
It is not that I think he is failing to capture a truth. Lemmy, who died on 28 December 2015, a few days after he was diagnosed with cancer, is a cultural touchstone. He was also, like many cultural touchstones that folk liked the idea of more than the actuality, someone who created his own identity. It bothers me Simon displays such a fundamental lack of empathy for rock music, though. The creation is enough in itself. It did not matter that Ramones followed the same formula year in, year out. You hear one Ramones song, it is enough. You hear 100 Ramones songs, it is still enough. You can listen to entire Ramones albums endlessly, if you so choose. (I have.) You could hear them just once a decade, and still feel the same thrill (only a lot less times). You want to walk around with their insignia on your chest, knowing the titles to only about three or four songs at best? You are still part of the rock. You know the image: Converse sneakers, ripped jeans, leather jackets, 1-2-3-4.
You have only heard one Motörhead song? Motörhead itself perhaps? Ace of Spades, more likely. Bomber, with an actual real life bomber descending during the tumultuous, brain-frying live set. Killed by Death. Eat the Rich, maybe? No Class. Overkill. It does not matter. Let me state this again loud and clear so even the thinkers at the back can catch up.
IT DOES NOT MATTER.
I knew little of Lemmy the person beyond what most people know, and certainly a lot less than some. He collected Axis regalia. He had a giant wart on the side of his face. He wore leather jackets, liked to pose with strippers, sang with a gravel-wrecked voice that so influenced the world that two of the biggest bands in Christendom later went on to steal his chops. (Metallica, Nirvana – Kurt Cobain was memorably referred to as a “baby Lemmy”.) He did not fuck around or suffer fools or follow rules, particularly. Unless he did. He was Lemmy 24 hours a day.
Unless he was not.
IT DOES NOT MATTER.
I interviewed him for the NME in 1987. I would like to say it was like two musical and personal polar extremes colliding, except I am fully aware I was outclassed on every level (something that NEVER happened to me again). He was playing the fruit machine (slots) when I walked up to him in his local. I played the slots too (addicted), so we did not talk beyond fruit machine talk.
I gave him a bottle of Jack Daniels, which I later saw smashed on the ground.
IT DOES NOT MATTER.
I did not know about rock music before punk. All I knew of rock music was that it was bloated, corrupt, eternally not sated by its own greed. Perhaps The Who were great once? I had no way of knowing. Perhaps Genesis or Pink Floyd were able to commune with nature, or anti-nature, or whatever. I did not care. On one side was punk – the male component of which rocked, the female component of which changed my life. On the other, was pre-punk. There were three records that I could not ignore even in my blinkered, baseless post-pubescent discovery state: Thin Lizzy’s Dancing in the Moonlight, AC/DC’s Sin City and Motörhead’s Motörhead. And of these three equals, the most equal was Motörhead.
Aside. This, as all such recollections are, is revisionist. Flip back six months earlier – 60 years in those days – and you would see me, thumbs in belt hooks, swishing my hair wildly back and forth to Status Quo’s Caroline, Hawkwind’s Silver Machine and Bowie. Three equals among too many lessers, and none was more equal than Silver Machine, a song that even to this day I still cannot get my head around.
There and then, they became one of THE greatest five rock bands in the world. The other four, if anyone is keeping count, are Ramones, Ramones, Ramones and Ramones.
When Ace of Spades appeared a few years later, it merely cemented Motörhead’s status. It would not have mattered whether they had ever released another song to equal that early EP. The fact they did, time and again was just a bonus – a considerable bonus – but a bonus.
WHAT THE FUCK AM I TALKING ABOUT? If there is a purer distillation of the essence of rock music in existence I have never encountered it. Not even Ramones nor GOD’s My Pal nor …fill in your own favourites… can touch it. Everything. Everything.
The pure adrenalin thrill of music.
Motörhead gave me a pass into rock music that I was able to use retroactively when it came to discovering grunge music in Seattle in 1989. They allowed me to immediately understand bands like Soundgarden, Nirvana and TAD (and almost as crucially, decry bands like Pearl Jam, Mother Love Bone and Stone Temple Plagiarists for the fakers they were). I always thought of Nirvana as ABBA crossed with Motörhead. I liked Ramones more because Ramones did not believe in guitar solos – I shared a bond with Johnny when I considered them wastage – but it was a moot point. And it was only through the power of Motörhead that I was able to appreciate the power of guitar solos.
Slayer appeared. Loved them. Metallica appeared. Loved them. Megadeth appeared. Loved them. I am certain I do not need to spell the reason out for you.
Without Motörhead I would never have ‘got’ grunge, and Jeez. I guess I should be thankful for that.
You can find another, shorter tribute to Lemmy on Everett True’s personal blog