by Matt Thompson
You can’t stop rock & roll; it’s been tried before. Ever since it roared into the scene kicking and screaming back in the ’50s, the Powers That Be have tried to silence that rebel yell. Preachers, teachers, parents, law enforcement officials, and other such paragons of public morality have tried to protect us for the evil power of rock & roll. But they are, as a wise man once said, blowin’ in the wind. As long as there’s some pissed off kid with a beat-up, Japanese copy guitar in a garage somewhere in Middle America, there’ll be rock & roll. And as long as Lemmy is still kicking around, rock & roll is in good hands. Why? Because Lemmy is Motörhead, and Motörhead IS rock & roll.
“Rock & roll is healing music; like Little Richard said, it’ll heal your soul,” the infamous bassist explains in his magpie croak of a voice. “Rock & roll means rebelling for it’s own sake with no particular goal, ‘cos that means you can’t be tied down. Rock & roll crossed the Berlin Wall. Rock & roll is a revolution without a cause, it’s just a revolution. It’s just to piss your parents off. When you hear them say ‘Turn that shit down,’ you know you got it right.”
Lemmy should know. For the past 25 years – a quarter of a century, for cryin’ out loud – Motörhead has been kicking serious musical ass and driving parents completely up the wall. The band’s high-octane, hell-bent-for-leather speed mixed with Lemmy’s “gargle with razor blades” vocal yowling combine for a truly potent mix. Too heavy for punk and too fast for metal, Motörhead nevertheless manages to attract both the headbangers and the safety pin crowd. As for lyrics, with tunes like “Ace Of Spades,” “Dr. Rock,” “Killed By Death,” and “Bomber,” let’s just Lemmy and the boys stick to classic themes, and all with a winking sense of humor.
“Compared to most hard rock lyrics, I’m fuckin’ William Shakespeare,” Lemmy jokes. “It’s either a broken heart or the joy of rock & roll or fuckin’ or war; that just about covers it. Even if I’m against guns, wars are still more fun than peace. You don’t wanna read about mediaeval agrarian reform. You wanna read about Attila the fuckin’ Hun.”
Against all odds, Motörhead still exists in this era of faceless pop divas and too-cute boy bands. As a matter of fact, they flourish with killer live shows and a rockin’ new record, entitled appropriately enough We Are Motörhead. Quite possibly the band’s best record since 1980’s Ace Of Spades, and heads and shoulders above the last few Motörhead releases, the new album is classic Lemmy. A few tunes glorifying the beauty of rock & roll, a song or two about war and death, a balls out cover of the Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen,” and the middle-finger-wagging title cut, Motörhead is in fine form for the new millennium.
“Sacrifice (1995) was great and Overnight Sensation (1996) was half great,” Lemmy says. “Fucking trouble with Snakebite Love (1998) was those last two songs. (We Are Motörhead) was the first album in a long time we got to say, ‘OK, it’s done.’ We’re doing what we’re doing. That’s what we’ve always done, you do what you do the best you can. Next week, who knows, I might make a remake of The Sound of Music. Whatever you hear, it will be us at that moment.”
In the last few years, there’s been a resurgence in the popularity of good ol’ rock & roll, as opposed to alternative or metal or the like, what with bands like the Supersuckers and Nashville Pussy making big splashes on the national scene. Without fail, these bands and their regional counterparts – like Tallahassee’s Syrup or New Orleans’ Supagroup – site the Holy Trinity of Rock & Roll: AC, the Ramones and of course, Motörhead. The popular perception, of course, is that true rock & roll is making a comeback from the silliness of ’80s hair metal and the mopiness of ’90s alternative music. That’s not the case at all, Lemmy explains; rock & roll has always been around, but the media and the Powers That Be keep trying to shut that loud noise off. Motörhead keeps on delivering the goods, though, and the band has built up an incredibly loyal grassroots following. Despite any wavering in quality as the years wear on or changes in fashion, Motörheadbangers tend to stay true to the band, a fact that both touches Lemmy and makes perfect sense to him.
“Because we’re loyal to you, we never let you down,” he explains. “We keep deliverin’ it, year after year, keep punching you in the fucking mouth and you keep enjoying it ‘cos you keep coming back for more. We are rock & roll. We are the logic[al] descendants of Eddie Cochran, Buddy Holly, and Little Richard.
“Rock & roll will always survive ‘cos people wanna hear it. If you work in a factory making machine parts, it’ll drive you crazy. It’ll make you stupid. That’s what we do. We take you out of the factory for an hour and a half on the weekend and make you feel 10 feet tall and give you the strength to go back and do that shit job.”
Part of Motörhead’s appeal, and what separates them from the Ramones’ haiku-like minimalism or AC’s party-till-you-puke hedonism, is Lemmy’s intelligent, cutting lyricism. Equally passionate – some would say obsessed – about history and class struggles as he is about rock & roll, that sense of perception gives Motörhead’s lyrics an extra edge, be they about soldiers being ground up in a meaningless war or chasing groupies after a show.
“We’re not metal, really; we always had more in common with the punk thing than the metal thing, but what we are is rock & roll,” Lemmy points out.
“You have a sense of humor of what you’re pretending to be. It’s acting, still showbiz.”
While he has a penchant for history, social theory, and collecting German war memorabilia, Lemmy’s true love is rock & roll, and that’s just what Motörhead is: a rock & roll band. Sure, bands like Metallica and Slayer took their cue from Motörhead’s hell-bent-for-leather speed and crushing sound, but Lemmy maintains his band isn’t metal just as it isn’t punk.
Still and all, tunes like “On Your Feet or On Your Knees” or “Just Cos You Got the Power” do betray a certain social conscious. Lemmy maintains Motörhead isn’t political, instead reveling in the pure anarchy that is true rock & roll.
“Anarchy is a good name for rock & roll, just fuck you-ness,” he explains. “We’re here to poke ’em in the eye. I just wish we were bigger so the poke could be deeper. We just play rock & roll, man. I don’t think rock & roll should be political, it should be apolitical. I don’t think any band should say ‘elect this president,’ ‘cos they don’t know shit about it. We did benefits in Hawkwind up the ass and I’m sick of it. I don’t believe in causes, ‘cos as soon as you get causes you get a slogan and dumb motherfuckers getting shot for it. I believe we should be anti-everything.”
While Motörhead has passed its silver anniversary, the band’s story really starts with the son of a Blackpool, England, vicar. Born on Christmas Eve in 1945, Ian Kilmister grew up to play in a number of local R&B bands (including the Rainmakers and the Motown Sect) at 19 before moving on to bands like Rev. Black and the Rocking Vicars, Opal Butterfly, and Gopal’s Dream. After working briefly as a roadie for Jimi Hendrix, the man now known as Lemmy (reportedly from his repeated urgings of “lemme a fiver”) joined the prog-rock outfit Hawkwind in 1971, as a bassist. Originally slated to spend only six months with the band, Lemmy wound up staying with the group for four years, even penning their signature tune “Silver Machine” in 1972.
After spending five days in a Canadian jail for drug possession, Hawkwind booted Lemmy in the spring of 1975. Lemmy regrouped to England to form his own band, originally called Bastard, but later Motörhead (slang for a speed freak), after the last song he wrote for Hawkwind. Recruiting Pink Fairies guitarist Larry Wallis and drummer Lucas Fox, the trio made their debut in July, and for the most part, with certain line-up changes, Motörhead’s been a trio ever since, with Lemmy as the only constant.
“Well, there’s more money (in a trio),” Lemmy says. “The trio is easier ‘cos there’s always a casting vote. It’s a benevolent dictatorship. If I really believe something should some way, I’ll do it and I’ll tell ’em later, but mostly we agree. But I get the nod ‘cos I’m the oldest and it’s my fucking band.
“I was fired from every band I was in before, so the only way I can think of to not get fired was form my own band. And then you motherfuckers can’t fire me… and I’m sure it’s the only reason I haven’t been fired yet.”
After an abortive shot at recording with Dave Edmunds, Fox left the band and was replaced by Lemmy’s mate Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor. The band also drafted guitarist “Fast” Eddie Clark, making Motörhead a foursome. However, Wallis left after only one rehearsal, and the final band consisted of Clark, Taylor, and Lemmy, which many consider the band’s “classic” lineup.
The band signed a one-record deal with Chiswick, which released Motörhead’s eponymous debut in June 1977. The band then switched to Bronze and released a spate of classic albums, including Bomber, Overkill, and their first American release – and quite possibly their best record to date – Ace Of Spades. Tensions between Clarke and Lemmy caused the former to leave after 1982’s Iron Fist, replaced by Thin Lizzy’s Brian Robertson.
Throughout the ’80s, Motörhead kept plugging along, despite numerous line-up changes and an injunction by Bronze that kept the band out of the studio until 1986, which saw the release of the Bill Laswell-produced Orgasmatron on GWR. By then, the band consisted of Lemmy, drummer Pete Gill, and guitarists Phil Campbell and Wurzel (born Michael Burston).
Taylor rejoined the band briefly for 1991’s excellent 1916, but by 1993’s Bastards, the band’s best record since Ace Of Spades, he was gone again. Mikkey Dee, formerly with King Diamond, was behind the drums for the band’s second “classic” line up… that is until Wurzel split after 1995’s Sacrifice.
Which brings us pretty much up to date. Along with the killer double-live Everything Louder Than Everything Else, We Are Motörhead proves the band’s once again a recording force, and Motörhead’s live shows have never been more intense. Most bands with Motörhead’s influence and longevity – even like-minded outfits like the Rolling Stones or AC- seem to be resting on their laurels and past fame, but at 54, Lemmy has no intention of slowing down. Hell, he’s having WAY too much fun and, really, that’s what rock & roll is all about.
“What keeps me going? Injustice, and there’s always plenty of that,” Lemmy explains. “Listen, if you’re a retirement manager, what have you got for me to retire to that’s better than this? Make no mistake, believe me, there’s no better job, except possibly being God, and I don’t believe in God. This kid said to me, ‘Wow, Lemmy, you’re God.’ And I said, ‘No I’ve seen God, on acid, and He’s much taller.’
“We go on blindly and stupidly into the future, just like you do. We got no control over the motherfucker, so you just make the best of it. I ain’t done yet. I got all kinds of shit to kick your ass with yet.”