Kerrang! Editor James McMahon Explains What Lemmy Meant To Him
Following the news of Motörhead frontman/metal legend Lemmy Kilmister’s passing, Kerrang! Editor James McMahon has paid tribute to the great man, and explained what Lemmy meant to him…
Of all the places to have a rock’n’roll epiphany, a Post Office in Barnsley is an unlikely location.
I’d spent weeks coveting the object of my desire; Motörhead’s fourth album, Ace Of Spades, on cassette.
Sandwiched next to a dusty copy of Michael Bolton’s Greatest Hits and Prince’s Batman soundtrack – which, in time, I would return for – I would pick it up, I would sigh, and then I would mentally count down how many more days I would have to starve in order for the cumulative total of dinner money I’d been saving up to be enough to liberate said cassette from the Post Office’s grasp.
‘She will be mine, oh yes, she will be mine,’ I might have mumbled – if, that was, I could hear anything above the rumbling of my stomach.
Lemmy might have often bemoaned how much Motörhead’s biggest hit towered within the public consciousness – “We have written many songs,” he would drawl sardonically over the years – yet Ace Of Spades is a song so extraordinary, bottled lightening let loose, that it really is rock perfection. As a teenager, it called to me from that Post Office like sirens upon the rocks.
At that juncture, the only Motörhead song I’d heard was the album’s title-track. But I could only imagine what songs called things like Love Me Like A Reptile and Bite The Bullet might sound like! There in the Post Office, I would rotate the plastic shelves that stocked the shop’s cassettes, anxious that the cassette might have been sold in the meantime. Then I would gaze at the sleeve until the lady behind the counter asked me if I “needed anything”.
I would buy a strip of stamps and scamper out the door, cursing how it would now take even longer to raise the required sum.
But, of course, I would return. Repeatedly. It’s a hell of a sleeve and it’s not like we had Sky or the internet to look at. Lemmy, guitarist ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke and, spread-legged in front of them both, drummer Phil ‘Philthy Animal’ Taylor, the three of them dressed as Wild West bandits, brooding under blazing American sun. Years later I would learn that the sleeve photo was shot in a sandpit in Barnet, north London. That was a sad day, it really was.
You know, there’s much I envy about future generations. It is unlikely I’ll ever get to tread upon the moon, unless NASA lively themselves up and they install stairlifts upon their space shuttles. But the ability to stare upon a record sleeve and enter another world is something I don’t think many of us really properly valued, until they made music into MP3s, and it became invisible and intangible.
I would wonder who these three men were. In class. At home. I would wonder if the music came first or second to their banditry. Certainly, they looked nothing like any musicians I’d laid my eyes on before. “If you’re going to be a fucking rockstar, go be one,” said Lemmy years later. “People don’t want to see the guy next door onstage; they want to see a being from another planet.”
Someone who frightened them perhaps. Challenged them. Because the idea of owning that cassette seemed like a betrayal of anything good and decent I’d ever done in my life. I wondered where I would hide it at home. Where I could keep it where my parents couldn’t find it. If I needed to wash my hands afterwards. I wondered if buying it meant I was a bad person. The more I thought about it, the more I decided I didn’t care.
The day I reached the required total amount to make the cassette mine, it was in my Walkman before I’d even left the shop. Nothing was ever the same again.
People say that too much, don’t they? Nothing was the same again… It changed my life… Here at Kerrang!, in a thirst to bring our readers endless excitement, we’re as guilty of this as anyone. But we’ve all arrived at a juncture in existence where we’ve sold out our superlatives too easily. But, while I walked out of that Post Office with the same amount of eyes, ears, legs and arms as I’d possessed walking into it, I was unquestionably a different person coming out.
Motörhead essentially made all other music sound crap. Theirs was music channeled from the heart, born from the crotch, but with just enough head involved for their music to not be doofus, gonzo crud. Other bands played their part; Nirvana for one, the early singles output of Oasis for another, the Sex Pistols and the Ramones retrospectively. But without Motörhead, there’s no question my life would have gone in a more listless, boring direction.
For years I wanted to be one of those bandits, stood upon the sand with Lemmy and his mates. Unfortunately, I’m a big guy, and I think I might have fainted in the heat if I’d put upon that much leather. Yet that good stuff, that magma that ebbs at the heart of that rock’n’roll music, still calls to me, even now that cassette is mine, and has subsequently been replaced with a variety of other formats. Lemmy understood this feeling better than anyone.
“If you can give the kids a good time then that’s all it’s for,” our man told Kerrang!’s Sylvie Simmons in 2006. “Forget art and all that – that’s bullshit. If you can send that shiver down a kid’s back, then that’s what it’s all about. All else is bullshit. That’s what rock’n’roll was for in the first place, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s what it’s still about.”
“I’m trying to give them that feeling the first time I heard All Shook Up,” he continued. “Or Good Golly Miss Molly. I just want to send that shiver up their back, because it’s the best thing I ever felt…”
As I grew, so did Lemmy. The less he looked like a bandit and the more he did my dad, the more I started to worry – about Lemmy, and about my dad. It seemed unfair at the end. That this man, this conduit for an immortal spirit, was wearing down, physically at least, while his offerings didn’t dim a little. This year’s Bad Magic, album number 22, made a mockery of swathes of the young, modern rock scene. It sounded like a record made by men plugged into the mains.
Yet this is not the Lemmy I will remember. Because you never, ever forget your first time.
I wasn’t the first to experience a Motörhead-related epiphany. And I won’t be the last. And while the proprietor of those feelings may have now left this mortal coil, as long as teenagers continue to be thrilled by Bomber, Overkill and the like, he’ll never, ever leave us.
Words: James McMahon
Pick up the new issue of Kerrang!, out January 6, to read our touching tribute to the legend that is Lemmy Kilmister:
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