I never saw Motörhead, but I saw Lemmy Kilmister. I attended two of the band’s gigs, but my antisocial agoraphobia got the better of me and I left. One night a rather timid friend and I waited in line at famed Hollywood burlesque bar Jumbo’s Clown Room for about an hour. I was eager to see the twerking beauties in their bikinis. He less so.
When we finally got in, there he was, the five-and-half-foot-tall god. In the course of my profession, I meet lots of celebs. I’ve made a blubbering fanboy of myself in front of Duff McKagan, but Lemmy was the only one who ever left me speechless. I stood there, silently, for about 20 seconds, which is an eternity for a slack-jawed stare. He nodded his head at me and I wandered in. The rest of the night, I can’t remember, but I’ll never forget that encounter, not until the day I die.
Almost no one gets to be in two legendary rock and roll bands. Lemmy did, playing bass for Hawkwind before starting Motörhead. For those of you who aren’t hip to them, Hawkwind are a glorious British proto-metal space rock version of The Dead. The musical similarities begin and end with meandering noise jams, but the “fuck you” hippie biker aesthetic unites them.
Heavy metal or punk rock? Who gives a shit? Motörhead were a kickass band that knew how to use a double kick drum and still swing.
Lemmy was too much for Hawkwind, who were more or less too much for the rest of British rock. After being booted from the band, he founded the group he would lead for the next 40 years, Motörhead. He quickly pushed out Pink Fairies frontman Larry Wallis, replacing him with “Fast” Eddie Clarke. Alongside the recently departed “Philthy Animal” Taylor, the classic lineup of Motörhead was forged. They recorded Overkill, Bomber, Ace of Spades and Iron Fist, easily four of the greatest rock and roll albums ever committed to wax.
But Motörhead was ultimately Lemmy’s baby, soldiering on to record Another Perfect Day with former Thin Lizzy axe man Brian Robertson. Rock and Roll was the band’s last truly great effort for almost 30 years, though Orgasmatron and 1916 certainly didn’t disappoint.
Unlike a lot of so-called “legacy” acts, Lemmy didn’t rest on his laurels, though he could have easily done just that. With 2013’s Aftershock, it appeared that Lemmy knew his demise was imminent and planned to make the most of his remaining time. The result was a better record than anything a twentysomething band has put out since Appetite for Destruction, and better than a sextagenerian has ever mustered. Bad Magic wasn’t quite up to that level but wasn’t far from it, either.
Heavy metal or punk rock? Who gives a shit? Motörhead were a kickass band that knew how to use a double kick drum and still swing. Lemmy—whose conquests dwarf Wilt Chamberlain—was the genuine article, leaving Keith Richards as the undisputed king of real rock and roll with his untimely demise at the age of 70. There were none like him when he was around and there will be none like him in the future. A giant hole lies at West Hollywood’s Rainbow Bar and Grill where Lemmy was known to wile away the hours playing video poker.
To say he will be missed is the great understatement of the year’s end.