Hard to believe the news I heard last night: Lemmy is dead. I knew it was coming, but I expected a long, slow decline, and not the sudden shutdown from a cancer just found a few days ago. I knew he had health problems, and I’d heard he was moving a bit slower, using a cane, not able to make some recent tour dates. He also didn’t sound great on Maron’s podcast recently. But shit, it’s easy to think of that medical decline as the same calculated swagger a rode-hard-put-away-wet aging rock start like Keith Richards also sports. It seemed like Lemmy would plow on forever.
Like many, my first memory of Motörhead is seeing them on the show The Young Ones, back when MTV showed the reruns late Sunday night. This must have been like my freshman year of high school, so it was years after the first era of the band, right before Lemmy moved to LA to start the second round. There were a lot of great bands on that show (The Damned were another standout for me) but “Ace of Spades” was the one that hooked me. My metal diet at the time consisted of a lot of Metallica and Iron Maiden, so it made sense that Motörhead would click with me.
I asked my buddy Ray about the band, since he was the only one of my friends into anything cool metal-wise at that point. He immediately loaned me his two-tape copy of No Remorse, and I dubbed them onto a C-90, which I memorized over the course of a few thousand listens. I admit I didn’t do much exploration of their back catalog (not that it would have been easy in that pre-internet era) but I did listen to both sides of that tape constantly. I remember many a time walking across the IU campus with that thing in my walkman, wearing my leather jacket, wishing I had a Harley (even though Lemmy didn’t really ride motorcycles.)
The one album that really burned in for me was 1916. I bought it when it came out in 1991, and listened to it constantly. It was a year I was commuting to the IUSB campus from Elkhart, and would fit in a complete listen each day, for months. I also hung out with Ray a lot in that spring semester, and it was permanently stuck in his tape player, too. I got my VW Rabbit that spring, and I think 1916 was the only tape I listened to for the first six months I had the car.
I was dating someone in Bloomington while I worked in Elkhart in the summer of 1991. Every other weekend or so, I’d finish my second-shift duties at midnight on Friday night, take a quick shower, then hit the road for the four-hour drive down the middle of the state, that tape blaring in the little VW. “Nightmare/The Dreamtime” is the eerie song that still reminds me of driving wide-open-throttle through the darkness on the way down there.
Another big memory of Motörhead was when internet commerce and my collection fetish really geared up in the late 90s. Right around then, Castle reissued all the old Motörhead albums on CD, all remastered with new bonus tracks and b-sides and whatnot. And of course, I immediately had to have all of them. I bought a lot at Silver Platter records in Seattle, but also used to shop online at I think CD Connection, or one of the other early online sites (which have all long since died.) But searching the used bins and scouring all the new CD stores in the greater Seattle area was a constant process I remember well.
I haven’t followed the band as much as of late. It’s no fault of theirs; just that I haven’t been following music as much as I drift into the great Midlife and become much less enthused about anything new coming out. It feels much better to put on No Remorse and think about tooling around in my beat-up Camaro back in high school than it does clicking the Buy button on iTunes and making the somehow unsatisfying purchase — actually “lease” — of some songs out in the cloud I will only listen to twice because, life. I think the last physical purchase I made of theirs was 2004’s Inferno, and I couldn’t name a single song on it. But, I could tell you exactly what points drop out of that original C-90 tape I played a million times in the last 30 years. Funny how that works.
I didn’t know much about Lemmy in the early days of no wikipedia and shitty J-cards with no text inside them in the old releases of tapes. I only knew him from his image, his swagger, and the way he talked in Decline of Western Civilization 2 (which he apparently hated). I found out more about him later, from the internet and his book White Line Fever. It always amazed me that Lemmy seemed like the ultimate persona someone would invent, especially in the era of guys like Alice Cooper or Gwar or King Diamond creating an outward appearance as a representation of their work. No offense to any of those acts, but no “act” could ever keep up the the act 24/7 for decades, especially as times changed over the years. Kiss dropped the makeup; the big hair bands lost the hair and turned to “unplugged” shows and ballads. But Lemmy was always Lemmy. When music was about punk and speed metal in the early 80s, he was Lemmy; it moved to heavy metal, and he was Lemmy. When grunge killed everything, he was still Lemmy. You could never group Lemmy into another category – he was always just Lemmy. A lot has been said in the last day about how much of a badass he was, how much he drank, how loud the music was, and all that is true. But the biggest takeaway for me was that he did what he wanted, even when that was something that the popular trend didn’t want, and he was what he did. That amazes me.
There was some Lemmy quote that I can’t find about not eulogizing the dead, so I won’t. I think he’ll always be alive as long as we still have his music, so that’s where I’ll leave it.