Apologies in advance if you’re looking for a rip-roaring Motörhead history piece with plenty of juicy facts, but unfortunately, this is kind of a letter to a good friend I never met or spoke to, and what that person meant to me on what would have been his 71st birthday.
It was close to midnight and weirdly enough, I was watching the movie Airheads when I got a text off of my friend.
“Hey man, heard about Lemmy. Hope you’re okay.” it read. What was he on about? Was Lemmy okay? Was I okay? I checked Twitter, as you do these days. Lemmy was reported to have died, which I dismissed as bullshit, of course it was bullshit. Lemmy can’t die, he’s just turned seventy for fuck’s sake, he’s got at least another million years in the tank, I’m seeing him, Saxon AND Girlschool in a month, he can’t be dead. It’s just one of those rumours. Before his sad passing, Philthy was rumoured to have died of AIDs at least 90 times, and Morgan Freeman is either shooting a moive or being dead. Bollocks was Lemmy dead.
Then Scott Ian from Anthrax confirmed it. Ozzy confirmed it. Several news outlets confirmed it. Motörhead’s own page confirmed it. In that moment, the world paused, I genuinely felt sick, and I felt the world start to spin. Blow for blow, I can strangely remember the evening despite having a memory like a sieve. Cliched as it may be, the first thing I did was (obviously) throw some Motörhead on and feverishly scour a festive kitchen for a bottle of Jack. Sadly we’d smoked all the Marlboro Reds with our Buck’s Fizz on Christmas morning, did all of the speed off the cheeseboard in the evening, and I’ve got little to no game so promiscuous sex, as always, was out of the question, so it had to be Jack & Coke, by the pint, of course.
I started crying. Should I be crying over the death someone I’ve never met in my early twenties? Debatable, but when that person got you through some hard times, caused you to pick up a bass guitar, taught you to never give a fuck about what other people think and to always be true to yourself, then you should damn well give them every last tear in your body.
To an end, I saw Lemmy as a role model. Of course this may raise a few eyebrows, but scratch beneath the surface of Motörhead’s iconic frontman and it’s not hard to see why. For forty years, Lemmy never once threw in the towel, fell out with numerous record companies over his blunt refusal to change their appearance of musical style, and was never documented to have given a fuck what the world thought of him, his band, his style or his music. Furthermore, from what I’ve heard, read, and seen, he was the nicest bloke you could ever meet, despite looking like a grizzled cowboy that could tear your head off, he was just an out-and-out gentleman. Though, that being said, if I’d ever met him, I’d have been more upset if he didn’t tell me to fuck off. “Born to lose, live to win” is a mantra I live by, and will someday die by.
Maybe I’ve read in between the lines here, but the way I saw Lemmy as a role model was to always be true to yourself, always be the best you possible, and never change for anyone. Years went by, winters came and passed, but one man stayed firmly rooted to ground, refusing to move with the winds. Towards the end, he wasn’t as strong as he used to be, but he summoned every ounce of strength to go out and play for his fans. Listening to the Clean Your Clock live album recorded in Munich is in equal parts upsetting, but awe-inspiring. His voice sounded weak, the tempo not what it used to be, but that fucking barrel-chested, iron-fisted, baddest motherfucker still went out there and played a Motörhead set, despite the fact he’d pass on but a month later. He could still play the harmonic on Whorehouse Blues and the bass solo on Stay Clean.
In an episode of ‘Guitar Moves’ by Noisey, released some months after Lemmy’s death, he describe how his diabetes was making it harder and harder to play because of what it was doing to his fingers. But did that stop him? Did it bollocks. In the end, you had to kill Lemmy to stop him from touring. He lived on the road, he lived for his fans, he lived for the name of rock ‘n’ roll. He never, ever gave up, and he gave everything he had, every night he walked on stage to deliver 110%. And to me, that’s a fucking role model, that’s a hero, that’s the man I aspire to be.
Not only a role model, he was a friend of mine, and everyone who ever threw a Motörhead record on. Whilst I may be using the word ‘friend’ in the loosest sense, as we never met, and he was never aware of my existence (but if he was, I’m upset he never phoned), his gravelly voice and thundery bass never failed to pull me out of a funk. Motörhead have soundtracked breakups, and gotten me through some hard times, and I’m very confident in saying that many others will back this claim up. Despite never meeting, Lemmy was the one you could always count on to pick you up. It was, and is, just uplifting music. It put a smile on your face and a spring in your step. So for that reason alone, he was a good pal of mine and I’m sure one of yours, too. Although we didn’t speak much, didn’t go for a drink, never hung out. Shame, but, still, great mate.
Despite the fact it’s been a year, I wouldn’t call myself “over it”. I still sort of wait with baited breath for the next Motörhead album to come around like clockwork, but life goes on. The best thing to do now is to keep the fire burning, to always raise a Jack & Coke when you have time, and above all else, to be stone deaf forever.
I’m going to leave you with the story of how Lemmy rescued a rapidly deteriorating Glastonbury weekend, and how at that point, I’d achieved a lifelong goal. You can leave if you want to now, but make sure you raise a glass of something potent over the next four days to one of rock and roll’s biggest stars.
On reflection, Glastonbury is the most fun you can have, with or without taking your clothes off. It’s five days of pure enjoyment, mystery and wonder. And through a small series of miracles including being dumped and left with enough money to afford a ticket, I was finally going to see Motörhead. I’d missed several tours due to being young and afraid of going alone to see Motörhead, a few tours due to Lemmy-based illness, and one due to holiday. All in all, this would turn out to be the last show Motörhead ever played in the United Kingdom, and I’m not one for fate, but the way this one played out was written in the stars.
I won’t bore you with the backstory up to this point, but by Friday afternoon, I was sunburnt, slightly ill and sitting in a rapidly flooding tent that was slowly slipping down the hill, all soundtracked by Mary J Blige, which was the only high point. But come rain, shine, sunburn or sickness, Motörhead was up next, and this was the moment I’d been waiting for my whole life.
When we got down to the pyramid stage, it was cold, wet, pissing it down, hardly making for the idyllic Motörhead concert, but that didn’t matter because whatever the weather, Lemmy would bring the thunder.
The screens went black and turned back on to see the camera pointing at a man in black having a Rickenbacker bass guitar fitted to him. I’m not sure if I did or not, but I was very close to squealing. At that moment, I swear to you now, or at least in the minute or so after he appeared on screen, the rain stopped, the clouds started to disappear and the sun started shining. Lemmy had changed the fucking weather, and burst into a classic Motörhead set. Of course it wasn’t like the Motörhead of old, but it was Motörhead. It was loud, it was filthy, it was rock and fucking roll. With the familiar Overkill ending, I was misty eyed, it had been a long journey, but I’d finally got to see my hero live in concert, and after that point, the weekend was perfect, all thanks to one hour on a Friday afternoon.
Looking back on it now, I’m very lucky to have seen him before he passed on. Again I don’t believe in fate, but the stars aligned to give me the opportunity to see the man in action, and I’ll forever hold that in my heart.
Don’t forget him.
He was Lemmy.
And he played rock and fucking roll.