Eleven thousand four hundred and eighty days have passed since the night I met Lemmy in Napier. I think I'm on safe ground in supposing that I've had more sleeps since than he did.
Motorhead were on a 1984 regional tour of New Zealand conceived by the mainstream promoter Stewart McPherson. It was unusual for a band of Motorhead's stature to be playing this sort of tour – last night Palmerston North, tomorrow night Rotorua – and not every house was full, but no one in the touring party seemed to mind. They drove between shows and marvelled at the scenery. It probably helped that McPherson had the impeccably cool Graeme Nesbitt running things on the road.
I had just turned 22 and had arrived in Napier by bus, dreaming dramatically to the sound of Bill Direen in my headphones and talking to a very friendly blond chap who was heading back home after his release from prison (I didn't ask).
On arrival, I paid a visit to a fresh-faced John Drinnan, then a cub reporter at the Napier Daily Telegraph, before heading to the Municipal Theatre, venue for that night's show. Graeme met me there and after an hour or two had passed, facilitated the arranged interview with Mr Kilmister.
Lemmy said what he said many times before and since: "We play rock 'n' roll." He expressed disdain for bands who wore spandex tights and teased their hair. He drank bourbon and coke. He was larger than life. And he mercilessly look the piss out of the serious young music journalist. I couldn't really object: he was fucking funny.
Outside, in the gloom, Napier was not looking like the art deco treasure chest in the tourist literature. There were some heavy dudes gathering on the streets and I thought it prudent coming back from dinner to remove my own leather jacket.
The gig itself was – spoiler alert! – really loud. But they rocked pretty fuckin' hard to a two-thirds full theatre. Graeme had given me a backstage pass, so I was able to confirm that they were also very loud from the side of stage. Dredging up this memory has made me say to myself: Seriously? I was side-stage with Motorhead?
Their onstage sound guy spotted me wearing earplugs, which I had bought specially and for the first time in my rock'n' roll life, and he, too, took the piss out of me.
Afterwards, the tour party adjourned to a lock-in bar where The Dance of the Flaming Arseholes was performed. This ritual had been mentioned earlier in the evening as a potential, and it turned out to consist of this: two members of the road crew were furnished with a pint each, then stood on one of the tables, lowered their trousers to their ankles and had a length of toilet paper inserted between their buttocks. At the word, the end of each length of toilet paper was set alight, and the players had that long to drain their pints, unclench their buttocks and avoid the burn. It was quite spectacular.
I don't know if they played this game every night, but it would be fair to say that Motorhead and their crew embraced life on the road. But also that Lemmy himself, even then older than many of those around him, was content to sit back and watch the others and have a laugh.
That turned out to be the first and last time I saw a Motorhead show. I met up with the tour again in Auckland, but a series of events on a somewhat Lemmyesque night out meant that I arrived for their second show at Mainstreet just as they had finished. It wasn't the only time that night I thought "well, this is bizarre".
But I'll always be glad I met Lemmy. One of the lessons from those early years interviewing people who made music was that charisma is real – just not universal. Some people tried too hard, some people had it. Lemmy had it.
A good deal of heavy metal music sounds pretentious and lame to me – there's nothing in it that I would aspire to – but I always loved Motorhead (and, to be fair, the parts of Hawkwind where Lemmy is front and centre). No Sleep Till Hammersmith , with Phil Taylor hammering away at his double kick-drum, might just be the best live abum ever.
Everyone with an interest knew that Lemmy's heath was not good. A couple of Motorhead shows had been cut short and the tour postponed because he'd taken ill. He already had an internal defibrillator and his legs didn't work very well. He'd long switched from Jack Daniels to vodka "for health reasons". But the sheer rapidity of his death – given a terminal cancer diagnosis on Boxing Day, carked a couple of days later at home, playing a pokie machine transported from his local pub – was quite remarkable.
But as Kim Kelly wrote for Noisey, it was still hard to accept:
Accepting that he would one day leave this mortal coil was as scary as acknowledging that my grandfather, with his strong back, big laugh and quick temper, will do the same. It just seemed impossible—until it wasn’t. We can never truly prepare ourselves for the loss of a hero, but unfortunately, it’s not something we have much say in. The past few years have eased us into the idea that Lemmy might possibly be mortal but still, no one ever really believed that the end could be near—until it was.
But it was. No one is immortal, although it's sometimes the most mortal who seem that way.
Cheers, Lemmy. Thanks for the rock 'n' roll.
Lemmy always said he never settled down because the true love of his life lost hers to heroin when she was 19. He hated heroin. But he nonethless fronted up to declare (to the Welsh Assembly, at the invitation of an alarmed Conservative MP) that the only sane response was to make heroin and other drugs legal and regulate them.
He was also in a video game. As James Rae Brown explains, he "voiced a character called The Kill Master, a man who could heal people by playing rock music on magical strings spun by giant metal spiders."
He was also interviewed by Dylan Taite. On their next visit here, in 1991:
Check out Phil Taylor's post-pee cameo at the end. Ha.
Lemmy: The Movie doesn't seem to be on YouTube, but the Live Fast Die Old documentary is:
And oh yeah – Hawkwind. It couldn't last. Some fucker's playing a flute!
Meanwhile, the New Statesman on on Wilko Johnson – the rocker who was told he was dying, announced so frankly – and then didn't. And he's quite pissed off about the way it all happened.
And The Specials' drummer John Bradbury, who has died.
I talked to Melody Thomas of RNZ Music 101 about the year in music and technology – which turned out to be a year in which the technology was settled and the business was in uproar:
In another musical world, the New York Radio show Retro Grooves has posted a mix from the expat Aussie DJ Copycat and it's reworked vintage funk, hip hop and electro galore. Free download, click through for track listing:
Ahead of his January 17 Auckland show (click the ads on this site for details and tickets), John Morales has posted a groovy household chores mix that he claims will "get your cleaning done in half the time". Free download.
And designed for lazing in the sun, a new Loop Recordings mixtape features Electric Wire Hustle, Latin Aotearoa, Spycc and others. Free download:
These should help put some groove in your New Year's Eve.
Me? DJing and having it large at a friend's party.
But if you're looking for options in Auckland, there's the Jafa Mafia party at the Edinburgh Castle, which will be full of reggae goodness.
And Anthonie Tonnon has a free New Year's Eve show at George the Bar in Ponsonby. With lazars!
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