A tribute to Lemmy: 49% Motherfucker, 51% Son of a Bitch

A month after his passing, pays tribute to the life and legacy of one of the biggest names in metal

lemmy As 2015 came to an end, rockers and metalheads alike bowed their heads in respect as it was announced that Ian Kilmister, better known as Lemmy, had passed away at age 70. Some of the most famous rockers in history, Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne, Metallica, Iron Maiden all acclaimed it as the passing of a titan, with Tommy Iommi describing Lemmy as ‘the epitome of rock and roll’. On the 9th January, in a service in Lemmy’s memory, we saw people like Dave Grohl, Rob Halford and Lars Ulrich paid tribute to someone they described as a hero. But chances are, the non-rockers amongst you might only have a passing knowledge of who Lemmy was. You might have heard ‘Ace of Spades’ at some point, or caught the name Motörhead in passing. But why was he such an icon in the rock world?

Motörhead felt no need to change with trends. They instead stood as a jagged rock as music changed around them.

Well firstly, his musical credentials. Lemmy had been part of rock music for more than 50 years, a succession of bands followed by roadying for Hendrix, joining Hawkwind in 1971 and then forming his own group, Motörhead, in 1975. He remained the only constant member of Motörhead for 40 years, and released 22 studio albums with them, with Bad Magic, their last album, coming out in 2015. But it’s not just the longevity of Lemmy’s musical career that made him stand out, I mean, Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, they’ve all been around for ages too, it was the influence he had on music. If you’re in any way familiar with Motörhead’s music, you will have noted they had quite the quintessential style, which can be described adequately in two words: fast, and LOUD. And that was them for four decades, and while some naysayers claim that Motörhead’s songs all sound the same, they have made a critical misperception. The band’s style never really changed over the years, it stayed the same growling, harsh-edged music right to the end. But that’s what they liked playing, and Motörhead felt no need to change with trends. They instead stood as a jagged rock as music changed around them.

Motörhead’s music, as loud and harsh as it could be, was based soundly in rock and roll, as Lemmy proudly proclaimed. Listen to ‘Going to Brazil’ or ‘Doctor Rock’ and you’ll hear that solid rock n’ roll sound blaring. But what set Motörhead out were the two characteristics listed before – they took rock and roll and turned it up to eleven. In Lemmy’s case this was entirely true – almost every dial on his amp was turned up to its maximum setting, and this overdriven bass threw out hammering riffs accompanied by his signature gruff voice, wailing guitar and thumping drums to make Motörhead’s signature sound. This aggressive fast-paced style is often credited as the progenitor of speed and thrash metal, to the point where James Hetfield labelled Lemmy as the ‘Godfather of Heavy Metal’. Lemmy though would continue throughout his career to proclaim almost every time they went on stage that ‘we are Motörhead, and we play rock and roll’. Rock and roll or not, Motörhead’s raucous sound has inspired countless others into music (the author included).

The Motörhead lead had so many myths about him he could give Chuck Norris a run for his money

But it’s not just enough to be an awesome musician, there has to be something more that makes a person an icon. They have to be a character, and Lemmy certainly had character in spades. He is perhaps one of the few musicians I know of that could stand at a microphone, bass in hand, and just command attention without almost any activity at all. All eyes were inevitably drawn to Lemmy at a Motörhead gig. Even for those who only had scant knowledge of metal music, Lemmy’s mutton chops, prominent facial moles and iron cross made him an instantly recognisable figure. And to back up the appearance, Lemmy also had the personality, something easily noticed when you hear he was kicked out of Hawkwind for ‘doing the wrong drugs’.

The Motörhead lead had so many myths about him he could give Chuck Norris a run for his money, except the former’s tend to be true, including such feats as him drinking a bottle of Jack Daniel’s a day for the better part of four decades. The final one of these myths, and one we cannot substantiate, is that Lemmy is God. But for all the loud, grizzled, outrageous exterior, it is evident that there was something more in the cocktail of drugs, drink and loud noise that made Lemmy Kilmister. At his memorial service, Dave Grohl said that on first meeting Lemmy and introducing himself, ‘the first thing he ever said to me was ‘I’m sorry about your friend’’, in reference to Kurt Cobain, Grohl’s former bandmate. To Grohl that turned him from a ‘gunslinging, whiskey-drinking, badass motherfucking rockstar, into a gunslinging, whiskey-drinking, badass motherfucking rockstar, with a heart.’

Though Lemmy might not be well known outside of a comparatively small circle of rockers and metalheads, his greatest chart success having come scant weeks ago with Ace of Spades hitting #13, he remains to that community an icon. He was larger than life, one of the pioneers of a genre, and one of the coolest musicians ever to rock out. With Lemmy gone, the rock world has gotten a whole lot quieter, and we raise a Jack and Coke in his memory.

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