Well, fuck you very much 2016. We hardly need to go into the devastating losses of creative forces we have seen so far this year, and especially of those key cultural presences that we thought would always be with us – and two in particular. So rather than choose which is more worthy of tribute first, I intend to deal with them in chronological order.
The death of Ian 'Lemmy' Kilminster is a massive loss for the entirety of rock and roll; but it also contains a strange kind of triumph. It seems almost bizarre that we are somehow surprised that this 70-year old man who had lived one of the longest and most prolonged periods of excess in modern history would eventually pass on; his declining health had been signposted for a long time and the smart money was on Motorhead's January UK tour being his last, but nobody appeared to have been prepared for the inevitable. Lemmy had been a constant presence for over 30 years and he had become a key pillar for alternative culture. Yet there is still something vividly relevant about his legacy, which if anything has become even clearer with his death. So, what can we learn from Lemmy?
The first thing I would suggest is that he represented a real link with a counter culture that is in real danger of vanishing entirely. From his roots in the hippy subculture of squats, collectives and lock-ins that Hawkwind represented to the greasy spoons and punks of Ladbroke Grove, to the bikers and rockers and goths and crusties and hitch-hikers, of every service station, free festival, alternative nightclub, and live music venue – this was the world that Motorhead came from. Whilst we may have become used to Lemmy as a kind of mainstream media darling he was still liable to do all sorts of strange left-field things, such as his role as assistant spy Spider in the anti-Thatcher cult movie 'Eat The Rich'. Traces of that world are virtually extinct now – so what are we doing to continue such a universal renegade, alternative ideal?
The second observation I would make is the musical contribution that Motorhead made; a stripped-down, primal aggression that reduced rock to it's core elements and removed all traces of ideology. The basic neutrality of their philosophical approach was on occasions ('Orgasmatron', '1916', 'Voices in the Sky') actually quite profound: anti-religion, anti-war, anti-politics, anti-government, anti-authority. Musically and conceptually they maintained a kind of integrity and purity that most bands have either lost or never had.
Thirdly, his doctrine of liberalism and libertarianism was essentially empowering and based on consent. Personal responsibility was key – if you didn't hurt anyone else and were ready to take responsibility for your own actions then you could (and should) do what you want. Ready to condemn racism, violence and heroin, everything else was fair game. Lemmy's legendary personal excess was a logical expression of this, and although it may have ultimately knocked years off his life who can say it wasn't worth it?
So for a life lived with clarity, passion and a creditable lack of sentimentality, as well as a musical approach which was uncompromising and seminal, Lemmy can give us a few indicators of where to go next. But even more vital for us all is to try to rediscover and rekindle that unique British counter culture and spirit of rebellion that we are in danger of losing altogether. So play 'Overkill' loud, get some drinks in, and try and find it again.