NO SLEEP TIL HAMMERSMITH

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Tonight we say goodbye to Lemmy Kilmister.

Born Christmas Eve 1945, the English bassist (and occasional singer) was a member of the space-rock band Hawkwind before being caught in Windsor, Ontario with drugs.  The band fired him, but the Canadian border guards mistook speed for cocaine and so he was let free on a technicality.  He went on to form a band called Bastard before being told that no one would slot a band called Bastard into BBC’s Top Of The Pops.  Lemmy renamed the band Motorhead, and…

The man seemed immortal.  He was, up until his death, recording high-octane rock ‘n’ roll, pounding back liquor, and touring the hell out of his singular battering-ram vision of music.  Listen to that link – the man just turned 70 two days before he would learn that he had a particularly aggressive and incurable form of cancer.  Two days after that – today – he is dead.  Victory or die, indeed.

There is something incomprehensibly pure about Motorhead’s music.  There’s no subtlety in it, whatsoever.  It has no finesse, no delicate turn of phrase or hint of pretension.  It is straight-ahead, damn the torpedoes, punch you square in the face rock and fucking roll.  It is the juggernaut in musical form, bearing down on your with no hope of escape.  It was the purest distillation of living exactly as you wanted, with no strings beyond the next city, no regrets beyond not rocking out hard enough.

Tonight, for Lemmy, we listen to No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith, a document of the live show that Motorhead was famous for.

Motorhead – Bad Magic

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Motorhead – Bad Magic

Once upon a time there was an ancient civilization that spanned the earth.  For millenia there was peace and prosperity, but then a schism occurred.  This schism lead to hatred, hatred lead to war, and with the advanced technology of this global empire, war lead to total annihilation.  Out of the twisted, radioactive scars of this apocalypse emerged a new form of life:  Lemmy Kilmister, Scourge of God, Avenger of All That Is Metal.

Seriously, though, Motorhead has been a force in metal forever.  The tour only stops long enough to record a new album and then it’s back on the road, bringing their signature barrel-roll of sound to every part of the world that will let them in.  Like AC/DC, Lemmy and Co. haven’t changed up their sound much in the 38 years since their debut.  Unlike AC/DC, Motorhead haven’t gotten depressingly cheesy with their later albums.  If anything, they’ve become more bombastic, more visceral – just check out the intro to “Victory Or Die” and tell me you don’t want to go around busting your head through the wall and swilling whiskey.  Sorry!  It’s vodka now, “for health reasons“.  As usual, there are a couple of songs that break up the cavalry charge of rock and roll:  “Fire Storm Hotel” goes more for a groovier type of rock, something like one of their Eighties anthems (“Killed By Death”, maybe?), while “Till The End” adopts a more dirge-like tone that serves as the only moment that portrays the idea that Lemmy might actually be getting old.  The best part of the album, however, (aside from that opening), might just be the ending track, a drum-heavy, cut-you-up cover of “Sympathy For The Devil” that is so much better than the Guns ‘n’ Roses cover that they’re not even on the same planet.

It’s impressive that this band is still going all in nearly forty years after their inception.  Lemmy needs a cane to walk around and has been told that he needs to lay off the sugary stuff, but he’s still on the Endless Tour, melting faces from one end of the globe to the other.  Their studio work in 2015 is nearly indistinguishable from their work in any other decade, in a good way.  Lemmy’s going to go ’til death, and let’s hoist a glass to toast that this may be a long, long way off.