I’m not normally one to put fingers to keyboard when somebody famous passes but on December 28th 2015 the world lost Ian Kilmister, better known to the public as Lemmy, frontman of veteran noisy bastards Motörhead and general rock n’ roll icon. Why should this sad event lead me to put some thoughts down? In a year when we lost Christopher Lee and Wes Craven – two other people I admired – why did the death of Lemmy hit me hard? Because, like many rock fans my age, Motörhead were an essential part of my heavy music education and Lemmy wasn’t just the singer in a band I liked, he was an inspiration and somebody to learn from.
That may sound like fanboy worship taken to the extreme but I’m not keen on the word ‘hero’ and the implications it can bring, although if that fits then so be it – Lemmy was my hero. I cannot remember the first time I heard Motörhead – it may have been their legendary appearance on The Young Ones, playing ‘Ace of Spades’ in the student’s front room, or it may have been earlier, perhaps dressed as gangsters on Top of the Pops performing ‘Please Don’t Touch’ with Girlschool – but I honestly cannot remember them not being around, and I was certainly aware of who Lemmy was; look at him, the guy just practically looks like he would play the noisiest and gnarliest rock music you could get. During the latter part of the 1980s, when I broke away from listening to what my older sister listened to – which was Duran Duran and A-ha, since you’re asking – and started to seek out what I liked, Motörhead were one of the first bands whose music I owned, as I found a copy of “Overkill” on cassette in a gift shop and lapped up that brilliant double-bass drum intro and Lemmy’s opening gambit of “Only way to feel the noise is when it’s good and loud…” – yes sir, Motörhead were fast, loud and heavy, and Lemmy spoke to me through those songs like no teacher, boss or authority figure ever could.
They say you should never meet your heroes, and in my amateur and very limited experience I can see some truth in that. I never met Lemmy but I did come close a couple of years back when I was due to cover one of Motörhead’s gigs on their UK tour for the website I was writing for. However, Lemmy’s more severe health issues were just beginning and the gig was cancelled so I never had the pleasure. In all honesty, part of me was relieved as I’m not a confident public speaker and I was stressing a bit about what to ask him; I mean, what do you ask a man who has seen it all from Elvis onwards that he hasn’t been asked a hundred times before?
Ironically, an answer presented itself when I was doing an ADR driving course as part of my day job, as I happened to be wearing my well-worn Motörhead t-shirt. As the rather stern tutor was walking up and down the room telling us all about toxic liquids and hazardous goods he suddenly stopped, pointed at me and said “Is that a Motörhead shirt?”. When I said yes he broke out into a big grin, leaned back on his desk and told us that he was a roadie for Motörhead on the “Bomber” tour, just before going off on a tangent about how he used to recite Monty Python sketches with Lemmy as part of the soundcheck. I told him I was likely going to interview Lemmy so he gave me a message to pass on to him but, as I said, the gigs were cancelled and the interview never happened. However, I like to think it would have been a nice ice-breaker and maybe would have given us something other than the usual topics to talk about.
Part of being a fan of anything is trying to justify to others why you like something so much, and in this day and age of production-line ‘bands’, music shows where you have to vote for who you think is good or bad and vacant, bland ‘stars’, bands like Motörhead stick out for not being like 99% of everything else forced in your ears. After Lemmy’s death was announced I tried to explain to my son why Lemmy and other musicians like him were – and are – so important, and trying to get across about the influence of the music and the attitude of somebody who refused to compromise in an industry that favours the opposite of what he represents to a 12-year-old whose only real exposure to popular music is what is on the radio or Saturday night television isn’t an easy thing to do, especially when it is somebody who you never met or had any personal dealings with. “It’s just something that connects with you deep inside and you can’t really explain why” is the best I could muster, but I think it sums up what Lemmy and Motörhead mean to me and other like-minded fans.
I gave up drinking alcohol about six months ago. Not through any health or moral reasons, I just decided I didn’t really enjoy it any more so I knocked it on the head. On December 28th 2015 I put on “Bastards” – my favourite Motörhead studio album – cracked open a bottle of Jack Daniels and poured myself a Lemmy-approved measure, topped it up with some Coke and raised a glass to Mr. Kilmister. A small gesture from a lifelong fan but one I’m sure he would have appreciated.
Thank you for the music, Lemmy, and may your spirit live on in the lives you touched.