Music News

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.

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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Brian Bardwell