Still seems strange, you know; a world where Lemmy no longer lives. I mean he was Lemmy, ferchrissake. If ever there was a character, and a guy, who epitomised the ro…. yeah yeah yeah. I know. We all do. Except we don’t really, do we? I mean I’m a Motorhead fan, a big one but not an uncritical one and I don’t really know, do I?
I kinda grew into Motorhead curiously enough. As a teenager when it was Overkill and Bomber and Ace Of Spades I liked them but was not a huge fan. You see with no internet existing, severely limited funds ‘cos I had no Saturday job, my parents being skint and no such thing as even a cassette walkman I had nothing by them. I listened to them round at mates’ houses, borrowed them, and thought “OK, after I get that copy of 2112…” y’know? Didn’t even know he’d been in Hawkwind at the time but Hawkwind were a mystery to me until I crashed into university life anyway. Amusingly the first album I bought by Motorhead was Another Perfect Day, when it came out, mostly because Iron Fist annoyed me so I didn’t get that. Didn’t stop buying them over the years after that though until I realised I had all their studio albums and official live albums and was, I guess, a genuine fan. And I’m so casual by the standards of some of my friends. None of them have personal stories about meeting the guy, though, which considering every other fucker in the world seems to have one is odd.
And Lemmy was Motorhead, but Motorhead was always strangely a band.
What that preamble means is that this book was something I had to read. And after his very readable but very much conversational-stream-of-consciousness, one sided auto-biography White Line Fever, and the Lemmy documentary, I wanted to read at least one of the no doubt deluge of ‘biographies’ which would emerge after his passing. Just didn’t want to read any sensationalist destroy-your-idol crap, or equally some hagiography which would kinda go against what I take as Lemmy’s philosophy of life and would tell me nothing. Then this tome came along.
I had several second thoughts: Firstly anything saying ‘definitive biography’ gets my hackles up as it’s predictable publishing hyperbole; impossible to justify or prove. But it was at least written by a guy whose name I have known for decades: Mick Wall. And (if he ever reads this, hang in there Mr Wall, it’s not as bad as it seems here for a few lines) that was my second problem. I hated his reviews and interviews as a teenager, really. Which basically means I guess he never agreed with my obviously correct teenage opinion. Actually in fairness to my teenage self there was another problem; I devoured music mags back then and you get the hang of reviewers when you constantly read them, you get to know their personal prejudices, likes and dislikes and even reviewers you disagreed with could help if you knew their style and filtered the review through that. I never felt I knew where Mick Wall was coming from, and often it seemed too much revolved around Mick Wall particularly in interviews. All unfair I’m sure with retrospect, and the guy has made a fine career out of writing over the years which is about as hard as making one out of being in a band, but when you’re a teenager or early 20s… No one can tell you anything, right? Ask Lemmy…
So why did I read this? Because as the blurb on the cover says, Mick Wall can write. I knew that even back then. Maybe that’s why he bothered me more; because I could see he could write so well and had the knowledge and love to back it up when I stopped bitching about his opinions. And I knew he had most definitely been around and through the circle of people covered.
So yeah, quite pleased when it was page 199 before he annoyed me. Won’t go into too much detail but his dismissal of Motorhead past the ‘three amigos’ era is going to annoy and even insult lots of fans, as is the lazy line about replacements which ignores how long that last line-up was together. But stick with it ‘cos the book is worth it regardless – remember reviews are just opinions, pretty much like this one.
What you get here is actually pretty much the perfect companion piece to White Line Fever, a book Mr Wall rightly praises at least twice herein. It’s based on recorded conversations and documented quotes and written so that you really do hear the individual voices coming through. This time though it’s not just Lemmy, it’s views from the outside, too, the people who shared his some of his journey at least some of the time. There’s a few missing from key moments (no one from Girlschool was tracked down for the odd quote really, Dee and Campbell are as good as absent too for the most part), a few people who come across far better in print than they do on film (Doug Smith being the most notable) but frankly this is a damn good attempt at being comprehensive.
It is also so very, very readable. From the childhood sketches, through the weird life of a successful sixties jobbing club band and the madcap, random drug haze of the seventies, which in particular is drawn in great primary colour chaos to vivid effect, it is engaging, enthralling and at times laugh it loud funny. Not sure I will ever get over the ‘logic’ behind Robert Calvert’s writing of Silver Machine… The eighties turbulent excesses are well studied, darkening the fun a great deal, and the restless nineties feeling a little hollow as Lemmy strides on but Motorhead stumble. As we slide down into 2015, though, the time turns more reflective and poignant. As readers we know time is running short, and it is a hard person who won’t wince or pause once or twice here as the man speaks. The writing is sympathetic but not indulgent, trying and being successful at painting a coda to an extraordinary life of the kind we will not see again.
I think that is the unexpected theme here, the fact that Lemmy was one of the last of a dying breed; scene, decade and genre straddling, loved by his chosen fans and yet known by far more of the mainstream than his musical exploits would have predicted. He found out who he was early enough to grow into the clothes, a man who was content alone but never lost in a crowd, a man of loyalty and honesty by his standards but who brooked no one fucking with his band. For better, for worse and now forever. Mick Wall has achieved that delicate balance of neither hatchet job nor puff piece and done it I reckon with affection and with a long hard look besides. It’s a grand job and in the end leaves you under no illusions but with no memories shattered. It also has that engagement that makes you want to read more about other peripheral characters; particularly the Hawkwind Captains, people like Michael Moorcock (but if you’re my age and you haven’t read at least his Eternal Champion stuff, frankly you may be beyond hope) or the enigmatic Mick Farren (try and find ‘The Song Of Phaid The Gambler’ or ‘The DNA Cowboys Trilogy’); and for their roots I would recommend Jonathan Green’s ‘Days In The Life: Voices From The English Underground, 1961-71’ as something to lead you further down the rabbit hole..
A fine, fine book. Thoroughly recommended. For better, for worse, he was who he was. He was Lemmy and he fucking played rock ‘n’ roll. End.