Books, Non-Fiction, Reviews

Lemmy the Definitive Biography by Mick Wall review

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LEMMMMYYYY!!! I don’t give a fig about Motörhead, nor Hawkwind or their music but I really enjoyed this book.

I’ve never paid attention to the Motörhead because hard rock/metal has never been my thing. But I did manage to catch the Ace of Spades Classic Albums doco a few years ago and that left me intrigued.

There was Lemmy (real name Ian Kilmeister), smoking one ciggie after another, a never ending glass of Jack Daniels and Coke in his hand, wearing a grimy old Confederate uniform as he waxed lyrical about Hawkwind (his first, hippie, space rock band) and the impact of Motörhead on rock music in the post-punk era.

Now rock writer Mick Wall’s reverent Lemmy:The Definitive Biography tells us more about the Lemmy persona – a man whose speed freakin’, no fucks attitude also applied to his growly singing and (mostly) banal lyrics. Lemme died in 2015 aged 70.

Wall was an insider of the band, working for Lemmy as a PR hack over the years. While his book is overwhelmingly positive there are revelations others might not know of. Wall is adamant that the name “Lemme” dates to Kilmeister’s poor, early days when he asked anybody and everybody to “lemme a fiver” .

Wall contrasts Lemmy the performer with Ian Kilmeister the man. Offstage, he was apparently content to be himself and happy with his own company. He seems not to have much empathy for others but Wall writes he able to be sensitive and offer condolences to him when his mother died.

There’s a lot about Lemme’s early days, roadie-ing for Jimi Hendrix, falling into Hawkwind as a bassist who’d never played bass and the jealousies that erupted when Lemmy got to sing their biggest hit – Silver Machine. This  culminated in his sacking, supposedly for a drug offence, but really due to that simmering rage between Lemmy and Robert Calvert ( the band’s lead singer).

Mick Wall delves into these and other dichotomies – how Lemmy was always his own biggest mythmaker. He claimed, for instance, that he’d always knew what he would do after Hawkwind (plainly he didn’t and nearly starved in the interim until Motörhead got going), and the infamous story about his doctor supposedly ordering he not be given a blood transfusion a la Keith Richards because the presence of actual blood would kill him.

That is the real appeal of this book – the ascension of Lemmy to the realm inhabited by Keef and Jim and Jimi and Janis, those who lived fast and died young.

This book is a celebration of excess. Mick Wall seems in awe of Lemmy’s prodigious intake of drugs, (mostly speed, despite dabbling in just about everything else), and how it both sustained and made him into a living legend, even as Motörhead’s sales and tours faded.

There’s something weird about our deification of rock stars for their ability to fuck themselves up. They live out our rebelliousness vicariously. The post-war generation teenagers rejected the greyness, rationing and misery of WWII of their parents and not much has changed. We seem to want to emulate rock stars’ outlaw ways, even though the reality is that it squalid, full of vomit, sordid events and the very opposite of glamour.

That is the real appeal of this book – the ascension of Lemmy to that realm that is inhabited by Keef and Jim and Jimi and Janis, and many more, those who lived fast and died young – and increasingly those that lived fast but managed to survive. They are our heroes now – especially as the boomer generation grow into old age and conformity – we still like to think of ourselves as the rebels of Woodstock, still sticking it to the man when we are the man.

Mick Wall seduces you into believing these myths as he describes Lemmy. He is a man who in many ways was outrageously awful but within had a heart of gold as he sat around in his greasy old Confederate uniform (itself a symbol of failed war over a practice that is abhorrent), taking speed, drinking booze and playing the pokies. It’s not edifying, but it is fascinating and provides an insight into our modern myth making ways.

Lemme The Definitive Biography by Mick Wall is pubished by Hachette Australia

4 responses to “Lemmy the Definitive Biography by Mick Wall review

  1. I’m sorry, but I don’t agree with the statement of how Lemmy got his nickname. He says himself that he acquired that name when he was a child and first went to school in Wales – he was the only English kid there.

    1. Maybe, all we know for sure is that Lemmy made up many other stories – Mick Wall met him many times in Lemmy’s broke early days and says that “lemme a fiver” or a variation of it was what he always said. As always though who really knows? The book has quite a few myth making anecdotes and it’s a good trawl through much of the pre Motörhead days.

  2. Probably good reading, but saying Lemme was in the same galaxy as “Keef, Jimi, Janis, Jim, etc” is like saying a Holden is in the same realm as a Porsche.

    You just can’t explain that to either Holden fans or Motorhead fans..

  3. Thanks for the review Shane. Wasn’t aware of the book so will now be buying it. If you enjoyed the “Ace of Spades” making-of docu, and obviously you enjoyed the book, my I recommend you watch the highly acclaimed documentary “Lemmy (49% mother***ker, 5% son of a bitch” ( by Greg Olliver and Wes Orshoski. In fact I’m pretty sure the making-of docu used some of its footage, and Mick Wall might have delved into it as well. I know you’re not a fan of Motorhead, but this really makes it clear just what an influence he was -the interviewee list is pretty impressive- and offers a great insight into his extraordinary lifestyle.
    Disclosure: I’m a huge Hawkwind fan. Sorry 🙂

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