I really thought Lemmy would make it to 100. All the stories, songs, myths and facts seemed to accumulate into a person stronger than life itself, like he had figured out the trick and thought “To hell with it.”
Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister played bass with Motorhead for forty years, releasing a staggering 23 studio albums. If being in a stable rock and roll band for almost half a century was the craziest thing Lemmy was known for, this tribute would end right now. Instead, his life story reads like Forrest Gump, if Forrest was a hellacious Rock God.
At 16, Lemmy saw The Beatles in the Cavern Club and by 22, he was a roadie for The Jimi Hendrix Experience. After puttering around in local bands, he got his first real exposure in the psychedelic rock band Hawkwind playing bass, an instrument he was totally unfamiliar with. It was only after being arrested for possession of speed in 1975 and getting kicked out of Hawkwind that Lemmy found his lifelong occupation, permanent hellraiser for Motorhead.
The band played in Pennsylvania a healthy amount, with their most recent show being at Philly’s Tower Theatre in September of this year. According to setlist.fm, the band played at the The Forum in Harrisburg on April 23, 1981 – right in the middle of their heyday.
If anyone knows anything about Motorhead, it’s “Ace of Spades.” Both the song and album are where Motorhead perfected their sound: hard, fast and punishing. The album came out in 1980, five years into their existence.
The craziest thing, and possibly the reason Lemmy’s death was so unexpected, was that they never stopped. “Ace of Spades” was a moment in time, but for the next 35 years, you could reasonably expect a Motorhead album and tour roughly every two years. What sort of band operated like that; playing music as physically punishing? Guitarists and drummers all tagged in and out, but Lemmy never did.
Once the band found success with the sound of “Ace of Spades,” they mined that sound until the end, always sculpting but never adapting. It’s hard to say if that was for better or worse.
I came into Motorhead through the backdoor. As a 10-year-old nerd playing Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3, the sounds of “Ace of Spades” washed over me an infinite amount of times as I tried in vain to pull off dumb skateboarding tricks. Not long after that, the band supplied one of the best professional wrestling themes ever created for the dastardly heel Triple H, “The Game.”
In a way, just like the Wu-Tang Clan, you might say Motorhead is “for the children.” Something about how reckless and fast the music moved appealed to me then and never let me go.
The tightrope walk between punk and metal was something Motorhead did well for their entire existence, and is partially the reason why they were seemingly ignored for the last decade or so. Motorhead was an interesting experiment in never changing for the sake of changing. If you do something better than anyone else, why try something else?
In the last couple years, Motorhead creeped up on Kiss in the memorabilia department, releasing officially licensed condoms, beer mugs and vibrators (hey, one of their albums is called Orgasmatron, after all). We’ll never know if they were starting to feel the pinch of the music industry and were cashing out after forty dedicated years living fast. Honestly, it’s better not to know.
Lemmy represented a long-gone idea of Rock and Roll™ as a way of life that couldn’t be further removed from music today. Then again, Motorhead was always a little different. They lived through disco, hair metal, grunge, hip-hop, bro-country and every type of metal and punk music that has ever existed and kept going. What’s more inspiring than that? That Lemmy only made it to 70 might be the most shocking thing he ever did.