The list of rock bands with no living members is short one, so far – but, weirdly, the ones that have all gone are all connected.
There’s the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Mitch Mitchell, the last of them, left this 3rd stone from the sun in 2008.
The Ramones - Tommy Erdelyi, another drummer, went down to the basement in 2014.
And the death of Fast Eddie Clarke signals the passing of the classic line up of Motorhead – stone dead forever – the band that connects all three.
The connection? Lemmy famously roadied for Hendrix in the late 60s and his friendship with Dee Dee and Joey, and love of their music, led to him writing R.A.M.O.N.E.S. in 1991.
(Note to the pinheads: This is what’s called A Coincidence. It’s not a CIA conspiracy, a message from God that drugs, fast living and faster music are the devil’s work, or evidence of some Kilmister curse.)
If it tells us anything, it tells us something about Motorhead themselves and why they’ll be so sadly missed.
Motorhead were rock’n’roll lifers, guys who found salvation in The Beatles and the hum of a Marshall amp. In a world where there was nothing to believe in – religion was a crutch, the church was full of hypocrites, government was a total shit show (we were and are led literally by the worst of us), and all honest hard work had to offer was a lifetime of back-breaking graft to line the pockets of the bosses – Motorhead were a colossal FUCKTHATFORAGAMEOFSOLDIERS.
Motorhead resonated because they weren’t faking it. Here were three working class guys who were out to shag your women and drink your beer – they were uncompromising, fearless and full of piss and vinegar (well, cider and sulphate). A star like David Bowie – with his background in mime and his many image changes – seemed like he’d come from another planet. Motorhead, meanwhile, were like the guys you went to school with: piss-takers and trouble-makers. Beer drinkers and hellraisers. They were born to lose, but they lived to win. (In a recent BBC radio documentary on Lemmy, biographer Alan Burridge, was asked what it was about Motorhead he’d fallen in love with. “It wasn’t the sound,” said Burridge, “It was the character of Lem. He was a cunt, just like we were.”)
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Their music was ugly, carnal and war-movie-exciting. It didn’t have pretensions. It was rock’n’roll – it wasn’t trying to win a Mercury Prize or get a pat on the back from the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. “Rock’n’roll should not be art,” said Lemmy. “Rock’n’roll is the alternative to art. It should just be fierce joy. It should make you stand up straight and send a shiver up your back - that’s what rock’n’roll is for.”
Lemmy’s love of rock’n’roll is what connected us. What made him beloved of metalhead and punks. It’s what led him to Hendrix, what drove him to hang out with the Ramones. It’s why the thrash bands idolised him, why Motorhead toured endlessly, why they sold so much merch (you wear that t-shirt and you know exactly what it stands for).
But he wasn’t a rock’n’roll animal. Lemmy hung out with page 3 girls and sex workers but he respected women. (On a legendary shag-and-tell message board on Groupie Central in the 2000s, Lemmy stood out from the other revelations of kinks, violence and abuse by being described as “harmless”.)
He was anti-violence (“Motorhead songs use violent images but to promote non-violence”), read books, loved history, was anti-racist, pro-choice (“The anti-abortion lot,” he told me in an unpublished part of this 2004 interview, “I don’t see any of the anti-abortionists saying, ‘I’ll take him! This rape victim child, he can come and live with me!’ None of them say that”). He had an opinion on everything and didn’t care what anyone thought.
Motorhead were not PC. But they were ‘woke’ way before you were, and they were on the frontline every night.
And maybe that’s what we’ve lost now that the original Motorhead are all gone. We’ve lost a band that believed in the power of rock’n’roll to change your life. Today’s rock stars kick photographers and cry about it afterwards. Motorhead stood for something that is deeply unfashionable and terrifying to the self-conscious, virtue-signalling, holier-than-thou culture we live in: they didn’t give a fuck if you judged them. In a world gone-to-shit, they tried their best to live it up and be decent, wise and dignified. Which is no easy feat when you’re out of your mind on Jack Daniel’s and amphetamine.
“If I believe in anything,” Lemmy told me in 2004, “I believe in reincarnation. Because you have these flashes of memory of something you’ve never known before. And then you have periods of history you’re really interested in and then other periods you couldn’t give a shit about – even though they’re just as interesting as a period. But you just don’t have a connection with them, somehow. Other bits you are and I think it’s because you were alive in the bits that you’re interested in.
“That makes sense to me. But then, who says it has to make sense? That’s just wishful thinking of another kind…”
Who knows? Maybe we will see their likes again.
Listen to BBC Radio Stoke’s Lemmy’s Legacy. The show is only available until 28 January 2018.