I vividly remember the first time I saw Motörhead play. It was October 18, 2003 and the venue was London’s Hammersmith Apollo. There were health-and-safety-defying pyrotechnics, inexplicable women in bikinis cavorting onstage and half-full pint glasses arching their way through the air before crashing into the sweaty crowd. And in the middle of it all, behind his trademark Rickenbacker bass – the one with the elaborate, almost Medieval wooden carving on the body – was Lemmy, a man who for who no surname, no introduction and no apologies were needed. At that point he would have been well into his late 50s, but he showed no signs of slowing down, shutting up or deciding to escape to the country and resigning himself to work on a glum acoustic album. And thank fuck for that.
For a long time Lemmy was – alongside the miraculously still-standing Keith Richards – the very vision of the indestructible rock star, using and abusing his body and literally rendering it toxic, according to blood tests taken in 1980. Bullishly committed to living a wayward life of indulgence and debauchery, a bottle of Jack Daniels could be found practically welded to his hand and a fag perpetually dangled from his lips.
Even so, he was still much more than an endlessly quotable cartoon creation. His wildly entertaining 2002 memoir White Line Fever showed off not just the frontman’s sense of humour, but also his sensitive side, revealing a traumatic past of love and loss that he’d attempted to obliterate with a ravenous appetite for speed and booze.
The 2010 documentary Lemmy fleshed him out even further, with tenderness, wit and an intimate look at his complex relationship with his son, the pair bonding in Lemmy’s pokey rent-controlled apartment around the corner from his favourite bar, the hair metal paradise of The Rainbow on LA’s Sunset Strip.
A vicar’s son, born in Stoke on Trent on Christmas Eve in 1945, Lemmy’s part in the development of rock music as we know it today is impossible to ignore. Starting out as a roadie, he worked with the likes of Jimi Hendrix before playing in psych band Sam Gopal and then joining the mighty Hawkwind, a bunch of LSD-addled space-rockers, whose fondness for tripping didn’t quite mesh with Lemmy’s own taste for amphetamines.
Though he contributed lead vocals to their biggest hit, 1972’s epic ‘Silver Machine’, he was later fired. That left him free to start up his own group in 1975. Initially known as Bastard, Motörhead went on to invent speed metal, paving the way for the brutal thrash of Metallica and Slayer. And so it goes on – without Motörhead there would be no Queens Of The Stone Age, no Guns N’ Roses, no Nirvana, no Nine Inch Nails… Without Lemmy, rock’n’roll – both the myth and the reality – would be very different indeed. Let’s all raise a JD and coke to a man who will forever remain a legend.