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In this third year of pandemic life, 2022, I find myself playing a game. Whenever I hear some stupid conspiracy theory, whenever I catch wind of some politically motivated social unease, whenever I see governments screwing the pooch (and public), I imagine being at an apartment just round the corner from Harratt Street in North Hollywood, on a large and comfortable couch, large bourbon with a splash of Coke in front of me — and Lemmy Kilmister sitting to my left, holding a book or the TV remote.
I try to imagine what he'd say. What he'd make of all this. How he'd define the current state of affairs.
It's a fun game because I arrive at the same conclusion every time, one where Lemmy expresses — in his blunt, poetic, never-tainted Northern English accent — that it is all a load of absolute bollocks largely spun by uneducated fools who have only greed and self-interest at their core, not public welfare, protection or support. It ends with him muttering "assholes" (he always gave the word an American-by-way-of-Stoke-on-Trent pronunciation) or some such entirely accurate epithet. He knew then, and I know he'd know now too …
Lemmy, to me, was never less than seven foot tall (often rising to around 8'2"). He strode this earth with swagger, strength and style, all the time embracing you, you and you — making us all feel part of it, making us all believe that as long as we held our heads up and shoulders back (with bodies like Marshall stacks), we'd be OK in this world. He gave us — all of us — that confidence, whether from posters on our teenage walls 40-plus years ago, or from the stages he played on across the world up until his death on December 28th, 2015.
Lemmy was always there. Going nowhere. Indestructible. A human monolith like no other, a glorious constant that gave life some semblance of axis … You know, the sun rises in the East, sets in the West and Lemmy's either on a stage (or fruit machine) somewhere, with a bourbon and Coke an arm's length close at all times.
Wars, church scandals, the collapse of entire systems and ways of life, Lemmy was there through it all, armed with a quip, a tale or a more educated observation than any NewsNight or CNN host. I once asked him, many years ago, how he felt about the internet. Without missing a beat, he said, "It confuses people who are already confused enough. There's also a lot of misinformation on there from governments, as usual. What a fuckin' surprise!" As for his take on such light and breezy topics as history and nationalism, well, read for yourself.
"History teaches you everything," Lemmy told me. "It'll teach you what's going to happen, and it teaches you what did happen. What is going to happen is exactly what did happen, but people don't know any better yet. I think a lot of people submerge themselves in this love of country — the horrible thought that their land might be overtaken by some alien creed, which, of course, is not necessarily worse or better. Where you're born is a matter of geographical accident. I mean, if you're born on a plane, you don't fly all your life."
Lemmy never saw himself as an especially warm person in the fluffy sense. But he was warmer than ever he'd allow himself to recognize: His heart was absolutely fashioned from gold. A friend in need? Helped. A friend indeed? Helped. He once literally gave a friend of mine the shirt off his back post-gig.
I first met Lemmy when I was a 15-year-old school magazine reporter, and he treated me to an evening in the studio as Motörhead put the finishing touches on Another Perfect Day in late 1982. Me — just a school kid with a slew of fanboy questions. Not only did he give me three hours of his time, but he also gave me some large drinks and full control of the mixing board volume knob during a playback. Thus began the sort of friendship you don't think is possible from the sort of man you don't think exists in a rock star. It was something of a Jedi mind trick, this "man of us people" and the rock star he undoubtably was. I'm still not entirely clear how he did it.
It could possibly be down to the simple fact that Lemmy was not ever close to being an asshole (even when he tried to be!) and, indeed, despised them. His meter for detecting such negative creatures in his midst was impeccable, and he didn't waste a moment of his time entertaining them. I personally learned a lot from him on that score.
Lemmy was famous and revered for his sexual appetite. He genuinely loved women. And he respected women, raised as he was by them with his father nowhere to be seen. Think about how many women Lemmy helped in rock & roll — from Joan Jett to Girlschool (and believe me, the list is long) — and how many female rockers he consistently championed.
To me, Lemmy was the living embodiment of treating people with respect. His manners were impeccable, and he'd demand the same from those around him. Discrimination? Racism? Homophobia? He didn't fucking stand for any of that shit, because in Lemmy's world, the only thing he cared about was (as I've already sort of said) whether you were an asshole or not.
The bus was his domain. Earlier Silver Eagle's would see him commandeer the back lounge for entertaining, drinking, smoking, chatting and not sleeping, whilst later years (and European tours) would see him ensconced in the upstairs front lounge. I spent many hours in his Harratt Street apartment, amidst the piles of books and magazines and all sorts of bric-a-brac, the telly on, room soaked in the scent of cigarettes and alcohol. He loved to talk about history — from World Wars I and II to the Titanic (the latter was something of an obsession of his) and more. And he loved to listen to the likes of Spike Milligan, the Goons and Monty Python spin their wry and uniquely humorous takes on the world. He loved good humor — George Carlin, Steven Wright — the smart, dry ones always did speak to him.
Christ, what I'm trying to tell you is that besides the thunderous bass, besides the roaring vocals, besides the brilliant wordsmithery, besides the towering presence, besides the pioneering does and deeds, Lemmy was as great a man as you could ever have hoped for, with a moral code and sense of chivalry embedded in his psyche alongside loyalty and humor. For me, he was a wholly avuncular figure, someone who looked out for me from that first meeting in 1982 until he left us in 2015. But, if I may, I'd like to leave you with one the funniest answers to a question he ever gave me. I had asked him what it was like being the first Western musician to play behind the Iron Curtain back in 1965 with the Rockin' Vickers.
"It was right in the middle of the Cold War, '65, I think. Yugoslavia was pretty liberal compared to the others, which isn't saying much, because you couldn't get into East Germany with a hatchet. We played four shows, and the kids were setting their shirts on fire and whirling them around their heads. Then the secret police came and clubbed them all to the ground. We had dinner with President [Josip Broz] Tito. I didn't get to ask him much, but we all sat around the table. I don't remember what we had, probably the fatal Communist potato soup. It can't have been that bad, I suppose, especially when you've got all that food you don't allow other people to have. Oh, yeah, when you passed him the peas, he didn't pass them back. I suppose he didn't have to because his face was on all the money."
There were so many more, of course … I miss him so.