Lemmy in 1984: 'God-like and unapproachable … Of such stuff, legends are made'
In December, 1984 – 31 years before the death of their frontman, Ian (Lemmy) Kilmister, earlier this week – Motorhead played Toronto's Concert Hall. To The Globe's Liam Lacey at the time, the rock 'n' roll star was 'such a blithely, insensitively and thoroughly loathsome lout that you can end up falling in love with him'
Right up near the front of the stage, barely 10 feet from Lemmy – who stood, neck back at an impossible angle exposing his missing front teeth as he yelled up into the microphone – the slam dance action was really moving on Tuesday night at the Concert Hall. It was exciting, trying to keep one eye on the long-haired, mutton-chopped bassist roaring away on stage, and to keep the other out for the skinheads, who were tussling and shoving in a circle. If you watched Lemmy too long, you could easily end up in the middle of the vortex of slam dancers. If you watched the slam dancers, you missed the show – and besides, you could still get hit by somebody headbanging, or waving a fist in the air in front of you.
That Motorhead should have forged a meeting ground between hardcore punks and long-haired heavy metal fans is one of the great rock enigmas of our era – but of whatever persuasion, the fans seem a likeable lot. Since the band has changed all its other members by now, it's more obvious than ever that Motorhead is Lemmy, and it's his character that gives the band its appeal.
Lemmy comes across as such a blithely, insensitively and thoroughly loathsome lout that you can end up falling in love with him despite yourself. Conventionally speaking, he has absolutely nothing going for him as a musician – he doesn't even work very hard at trying to get the audience excited. It's Lemmy's vast indifference to everything conventional – looks, musicianship, style – that makes him so perversely refreshing.
You go through stages with this band: the first concession – the chink in the wall, in a way – is compassion. You start thinking it's sort of nice that Lemmy, a post-40-year-old hippie who was once a roadie for Jimi Hendrix, who has a vocal style that sounds like "ARRGGGGH," who plays the electric bass as if it were a ukelele, so it sounds like an amplified garbage disposal unit, can actually find work in this harsh world.
After the compassion, you get sucked in by the novelty of it all. Motorhead is actually a fun idea – an ostentatiously awful band which draws together warring rock and roll factions by offending every form of rock orthodoxy. In the next stage, you end up, like a fool, defending the virtues of Motorhead at parties. At some point after that, you go out to a Motorhead show, and you realize that as brutally awful as it is, the music really rocks, and you really do sort of like it.
At some point during the show, when the volume is so loud you begin to wonder seriously how you can possibly make it home if your head should explode, you reach the Major Insight that Motorhead may indeed be one of rock's great stupid jokes – greater and stupider than Alice Cooper, The Ramones, and Twisted Sister combined – the ultimate social misfit group.
Not all of the joke is lost on Lemmy, who tends to introduce songs with such lines as: "This is a little minuet we wrote; it's one of our slower numbers," and then deliver what sounds like exactly the same exercise in sonic mayhem that he's been playing all night at a cranium-pulverizing volume and pace.
There were other more endearing discoveries to be made about Motorhead. From around the room, or above the stage, the crowd looks like a rioting mob, but up near the front, where the headbangers are banging their heads, and the skinheads are slam-dancing, there's a really friendly, jolly atmosphere. People bounce off each other, and as long as you keep pushing right back and duck the odd wayward fist, there's little serious danger of getting hurt; the whole experience is a lot like wrestling with your brother on the livingroom carpet.
From the back of the stage – from the band's position – things don't look so terrible either. The kids in the very front row, sometimes with their faces contorted from the pressure of the bodies behind them, keep trying to get Lemmy's attention. Sometimes they make hand gestures, or try talking incessantly at the lead singer, as if there were a faint hope he could hear them. Lemmy, oblivious to their clamor stood God-like and unapproachable, strummed his bass, roared and sprayed spit. Of such stuff, legends are made.