Today marks a tragic passing in rock ‘n roll history: the death of Motörhead’s Lemmy Kilmister, at 70 years old. Reading the news had me reminiscing about the very first time I heard Motörhead; Lemmy’s growling voice, those monster riffs, that thumping bass piercing through the speakers, leaving a huge impact on me as I grew up.
Dad, my brother and I were stuck in traffic on the motorway on our way to some restaurant on a Friday afternoon after school. It was the height of summer in England, so the temperature was probably tipping a sweltering 25 degrees. My mum had left earlier, for a trip to the Welsh countryside with her friends, so it was just ‘the boys’. We were packed into our old Honda, the windows down and the breeze filtering through.
I was skipping through the radio, listening to different stations that were playing the latest chart entries of 2003, when my dad decided he had had enough. My brother and I were old enough, we could handle it. He ushered my hand away from the dial, and slid in a CD without introduction. No amount of godawful pop hits from Robbie Williams or early Justin Timberlake could have prepared me for the proceeding five minutes. They obliterated my tiny ten-year-old mind and left pieces of it dripping all over the dashboard.
There’s nothing quite like hearing Motorhead’s Overkill for the first time.
It is the type of song that hits you square in the face without apology, showing no signs of mercy while it pummels you into submission. The drums kicked in straight away and were the fastest and hardest I had ever heard them hit before. The drummer seemed to be actively trying to destroy his whole kit. The car speakers spat and crackled as they tried desperately to keep up. My dad just smiled and turned the volume up louder.
Then a voice came in that sounded like it had been dragged through a pit of gravel, doused in litres of whiskey, then left to marinate in the dingy backgrounds of a local dive bar. It was music, but music like I had never heard before. I withdrew back into my seat, unsure of what to make of it all. It sounded dangerous but exciting at the same time, the musical equivalent of playing with fire.
I scanned the album cover. It displayed a grizzly man who looked like a wicked cross between a hustler, a cowboy and a deranged madman. I was instantly hooked on the image, and couldn’t tear my eyes away as my dad looped the track over and over again. By about the fourth time around, all three of us were collectively air drumming like mad while trying to impersonate Lemmy’s voice. I had no idea what he was singing about, but that didn’t stop me from shouting out any words that came to mind while trying to ape his unique style.
After the initial introduction, the album didn’t leave the car for months. It soundtracked every shopping trip, every football match, and every family occasion that we drove to. My mum tried to swap it out, but it always found its way back in. It stuck around like a noisy neighbour who refused to leave, going so far as to turning the music way up whenever they were told to turn it down. It became as much as a fixture in that old car as the steering wheel or engine.
As I grew up, I drifted away from the sounds and bands that I had listened to throughout my childhood, trying to find my own individual tastes. Certain bands faded away and have never really returned to me, but Motörhead has always been constant. There was always a time that Ace of Spades, Damage Case, or Bomber needed to be played. And there was always a time where Lemmy was there to provide a laugh with his wild stories and antics.
I don’t know what it is, but there is always something alluring about a rock star who does what he wants, when he wants. The more I read and watched about Lemmy, the more I liked him. From the early beginnings of his band, which was started after he was kicked out of Hawkwind for as he says “doing the wrong kind of drugs,” to his numerous debauched antics. He is undoubtedly a god of rock, and someone who Dave Grohl, amongst many others, credited for first getting him into music. Over time his legend had become as big a part of him as his music. In fact, to such an extent that his musical output has often been overlooked or even ignored in lieu of his lifestyle and image (lest we forget his brief time playing with 60s psych band Sam Gopal.)
There was always music in our house, but Motörhead were the first band that I remember my dad properly introducing me to. It was the first exchange of music that kickstarted a whole obsession. When I became old enough to have my own tastes, it became a tradition to share as much music with each other as possible. It was the constant search to find that band or track that impressed and excited my dad as much as Motörhead had woken me up when I was ten years old. In some way though, it has always been an impossible task. Neither of us can never quite scale those same dizzying heights again.
Music connects to memories and can immediately transport you back to a particular moment in time. For me, Motörhead will forever be linked with my dad and that first introduction to Lemmy. It’s the sight of endless registration plates ahead of us on the road. The uncomfortable leather seats against my skin. The crackle of the speakers as they struggled to keep up. My dad smiling, as though letting me into a secret society for the very first time.
Rest in peace Ian Fraser ‘Lemmy’ Kilmister: 24th December 1945- 28th December 2015.