Lemmy, Wacken 2013, and the Eschatology of Rock n’ Roll
The clouds were gathering and storms were brewing around Fortress Roulette. The air was tense, and those within were hushed to silence. Suddenly, the thunder began to rumble. The vapour sprang to rain. And CRACK. The lightening made a stab at one of the turrets. Motorhead, withered and whiskey-soaked paradigm of veteran speed metal, were suddenly forced to prematurely abandon their set at Wacken 2013. Dealing a hand? Overseeing their brothel? Nope – frontman Lemmy’s health was sadly not in a good way.
Exiting their performance at the world’s most prestigious open-air metal fiesta after a mere 30 minutes of a promised 75 and after just six songs, Lemmy’s apology to his fans was as unreserved at his own anger at having to let them down. “I’ve been ill recently,” he confessed. “I’ve come onstage to play some rock n’ roll and fuck myself even more.” But as the 67-year-old was forced to admit defeat, leaving the expectant eyes of tens of thousands and obeying the doctor’s orders (the same orders that recently advised his full retirement, by the way), horns at the fingertips of the global metal community began to tremble in fear.
‘Fie!’ you cry, ‘This is Lemmy! He’s immortal!’ Indeed, this is the same singer, bassist and paragon of sheer bastardery who has survived abortion, his peers injecting rat poison into themselves when mistaking it for heroin and just about every pernicious chasm thrown up by the emerging rock n’ roll sensibility of the 60s and 70s. This is Ian Kilmister, who has become a cult icon in his own right, having brought new meaning to the term ‘warts and all’ and proclaimed himself ‘49% Motherfucker, 51% Son of a Bitch’. But beyond that, he is also one of the last standing totems of home-grown UK metal at every stage of its evolution.
Hell, it’s no small wonder he’s tougher than an armoured buffalo. Through the narcotic-ridden fats to the mainstream-battling slithers, he journeyed with the primitive formations of rock as a roadie to The Jimi Hendrix Experience, tumbled through the psychedelic haze of Hawkwind and chugged the gears up to 11 with his current and most recognisable beast, Motorhead. As a fleeting glimpse, that is a shamefully condensed cherry-picking of his contributions to the heavy metal hall of fame, and his legendary status is one that is neither overblown, nor undeserved.
After a few further statements defending his defibrillator-fitted, cowboy boot-wearing wellbeing, it looks as though our Lord of No Fucks Given is fighting fit yet. But his momentary lapse on the plane of invincibility not only shook his followers as a concern in itself – it ruffled the fabric of something much more poignant, with which friend or foe of the rock sphere must get to grips.
A pressing inevitability that once seemed somehow impossible suddenly became starkly, frighteningly real: the pioneers of rock n’ roll, heavy metal, soft rock and the nexus of other inspirational subgenres that we see throbbing in today’s popular music will not be around forever.
They are human, and will die, like everyone else. Gasp. Not everything they stand for must go with them. But when it came to the potential toppling of the hard-player’s reluctant poster-boy, who growls about dancing with the devil and still allegedly sinks a bottle of Bourbon a night, it suddenly dawned on us that our visions of the indomitability of rock n’ roll are simply visions; they cannot always be literally embodied by its frail and mortal figureheads.
The Black Sabbaths, Iron Maidens, Judas Priests, Pink Floyds, Rolling Stones, Queens, Led Zepps, Fleetwood Macs and Motorheads of this world will all succumb to inexorable fate. The vibrant, stunning music created by these people will not be able to be captured live for very much longer. Many of these bands are approaching or straddling their mid-Six Zeros, and while in today’s terms this is in no way considered to be old age, we mustn’t deny that the quality of their output will eventually be affected by the ravages of time. Ozzy lost his distinctive pipes many moons ago, with 2013’s album being modulated several keys down to accommodate his flailing range, while substance-frazzled Stevie Nicks’ once-impressive belt waved its final goodbyes during her recent collaboration with Dave Grohl, for the soundtrack to his nostalgic Sound City.
But dry those eyes. All is certainly not lost yet. Many of these bands are arguably writing, playing and touring harder in recent years than in a considerable stretch prior to them – albeit with different members, where nature or litigation has already had its wicked way. And for now, they’ve all still got it – just about. So even a whisper of a chance to experience their new material, latest ventures or performance mastery in the flesh, and you will have snatched a piece of historical and cultural magic that is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in 2013.
Giving fresh, up-and-coming bands the attention they deserve is also imperative. They will be the successors to the bar-setters, and they will have some gargantuan clodhoppers to fill. The cream of these artists need cultivation to rise to the top, and to become the show-stopping, life-altering and emotionally-charged phenomenons that their predecessors are.
They must be willing and able to take those studded-leather crowns, and don them with all the prestige that is required to uphold our visions of the unequivocal greatness of rock n’ roll, because however the terrestrial realm may shape him into the closest living thing to a black-clad Dionysus, Lemmy himself knows that one day, he’s going to lose, and that gambling’s for fools…but that’s the way he likes it, baby – he doesn’t want to live forever!