How Motorhead Became Relevant Again Without Changing Anything

What can we make of Ian "Lemmy" Kilmister these days? The 65-year-old frontman of semi-legendary punk/metal outfit Motörhead is still the same bird-flipping rock 'n' roller who changed the lives of innumerable angry suburban children with guitars. But he's also turned into a bit of a grandpa.

Yes, he's still pounding Jack and Cokes and banging everything with two legs and functioning lady parts, but his AARP card is starting to peek out his back pocket, too. He's making puzzled queries regarding the enigma that is Justin Bieber, issuing edicts against fancy water, and wondering what's so great about this "music" they call "hip-hop."

"You think they could come up with sounds of their own, even some basic sounds," he says.


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MotŲrhead is scheduled to perform Thursday, March 17, at the Marquee Theatre in Tempe.

But even if Lemmy hasn't heard The Black Album or My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy — or any rap since Puff Daddy's "I'll Be Missing You," for that matter — the fact is that this guy is relevant again.

Sure, any die-hard will tell you that he and Motörhead have always been relevant, that their music is timeless, that every album was better than the one that came before it. But die-hards are insufferable idiots, whether they're backing Motörhead or The Beatles.

As influential as the band may have been, the truth is that it was never especially successful — not commercially and not in America, certainly. I'm sure the gang made enough to get by very nicely, but they weren't getting a ton of airplay, even with "Ace of Spades," their signature anthem. While their albums usually performed decently over in Britain, they barely charted here, if they charted at all.

Thirty years since the band cut its best-known album, it's hard to distinguish Lemmy from Mick Jagger or Bob Dylan or any of the other frontmen of geezer-rock acts that have outlived their usefulness, constantly reshuffling their lineups, releasing new albums pro forma, and pretending that their tours are anything other than a simple — but totally understandable — attempt to continue cashing in on their glory days.

But check out the headlines from some of the fawning coverage over the past few months: "Lemmy and the life of an outlaw," "Lemmy: The folk & the fury," and my personal favorite: "Lemmy has only had sex with a thousand women."

Suddenly, Lemmy and the latest incarnation of Motörhead are fashionable. Their latest album, The World Is Yours, despite being just another excuse to go back on the road and rake in money from ticket sales, actually charted higher than any of their albums from the '70s or '80s — though that's not saying much. They're getting a bunch of favorable press, and Lemmy is the subject of a new documentary, Lemmy: 49% Motherfucker, 51% Son of a Bitch.

On paper, it doesn't make sense; these guys are just another bunch of washed-up has-beens.

But here's the thing: Lemmy really is a badass motherfucker. And a son of a bitch. You can't blame people for not knowing, since Motörhead was, to most of them, just another metal act with an umlaut for a long time, but now that people are catching on, this 65-year-old ass-kicker is as popular as he's ever been.

Thanks to the documentary, the product of three years' worth of behind-the-scenes access to Lemmy and almost every minute of his personal life, people are finally figuring out why Motörhead still sounds exactly the same today as it did in 1975: because Lemmy said so. Because punk and metal still kick ass when they're put together. Because Lemmy is too drunk to give a shit whether it doesn't sell.

That's the spirit that makes Lemmy worth paying attention to again. If rock 'n' roll isn't about flipping the bird to the world, what is it about? And Lemmy is flipping the bird the way only a 65-year-old man can.

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Pen Fifteen
Pen Fifteen

or... How Brian Bardwell stayed irrelevant and didn't change anything. Well, at least his copy beats reading the ads.


Dear Brian Bardwell,

Fuck you.


A "die-hard" metal fan


This article is so painfully ill-informed that I don't know where to begin. Trying to unnecessarily throw Bob Dylan under the bus on this one is very puzzling. He has been making great, relevant music for the past 13 or 14 years - since Time Out of Mind. This is written in a style that seems like the guy heard about Motorhead recently, googled some information and then threw it all together before handing it to the editor. Assuming the editor even bothered to look this one over. God, I hope not. New Times music coverage has been horrible since the addition of Martin Cizmar but even this one makes Cizmar look Shakespearean in comparison.


I cant beleive this this useless writer even has a job. What a moron. If he new anything about music he would be dangerous. I think the insufferable idiots name is Brian Bardwell. Come on New Times you can do better than that. Respect your elders boy.

G Korneyev
G Korneyev

Many acts from europe or uk such as slade status quo or.... yeah motorhead did not make it in us. Different reasons. Most important is that us record companies hold their consumers for dumb asses. That's why over the last 40 years lots of amazing music passed by the American ear. I do not know the age of this critic or what is his protege, one thing is that most of this day acts kinda fail to perform especialy live, especialy here. Even in 90 you were kinda required to play an instrument well..... spinning the record is not quiet that. The writer should be there to see the concert. The only reason Lemmy is popular is because he can play and deliver.


Despite all the annoying snark in this article, it is actually not a bad first look at Motorhead for the uninitiated. At least the writer got *some* of his facts right, unlike a lot of other mainstream writers who have been trying to articulate the phenomenon that is Motorhead in recent articles. LOL though at getting the show date wrong, after making that "insufferable idiots" statement!


The article is one big backhanded compliment. Meanwhile, Lemmy has remained uncompromising, living his life his way, staying true to his ideals for well over three decades. The writer approaches his suject from the wrong angle entirely, and completely misses the point. Lemmy is a rock and roll treasure and an inspiration.


Brian Bardwell???? What are you....12? It would be nice to have a writer that's not bought into the "success" of mainstream music that is ground out by the capitalist machine. A Punk band that makes chart hits, ceases to be a Punk band. Punk is not a genre, it's an anti-social, non-conformist attitude....not exactly conducive to "mainstream success" standards. Take off your blinders, Brian. Park your beamer and disengage from the Matrix for a while. Maybe then you can be "relevant" writer in regard to some artists besides Justin Bieber.


So does it make me one of those "insufferable idiots" if I mention that you guys didn't even get the date of the show correct?


...your statement that "these guys are just another bunch of washed-up has-beens" flies right into a mountain of evidence to the contrary...perhaps indicative of an unfamiliarity with the hard rock/metal scene worldwide on the part of the writer. The band has been headlining huge hard rock/metal festivals featuring current acts since the early eighties worldwide. The band sells out almost every 3-5000 seat venue it has played for a good 25-30 years regardless of record sales and/or chart position a la Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Ozzy Osbourne etc. Once a band reaches this exalted status, currency/chart position means nothing, or at least that's what die-hard Motorhead fans are telling you when (1) they spend upwards of seven-figures annually on Motorhead-related merchandise, and (2) many of them get literally half their bodies covered with Motorhead tattoos (see for further proof). Bottom line is that if the kind of seven/eight figure money and rabid fan adulation generated by Motorhead constitutes "washed up has-beens", just what is the writer's definition of success in today's music business?


The latest incarnation? Phil Campbell has been the lead guitarist for 26 years while Mickey Dee has been the drummer for 19 years.

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