BOOK REVIEW: Lemmy – The Definitive Biography by Mick Wall
Reviewed by Shane Pinnegar
Mick Wall writes what are arguably the best rock bios at this point in time because not only did he know his subjects well – hanging with them, interviewing them, doing PR for them – but he also lived a similar life to them, sharing drinks, dawns, and dealers.
It is the completely sincere authenticity he brings to his subjects that make his books un-put-down-able, not to mention the unrivalled wealth of contacts he has in the industry feeding him information, anecdotes and memories of his subjects.
Wall was as close to a friend as Lemmy had in the music business. For decades they sparred over interview Dictaphones, worked on press releases, leant on bars and convened in rehearsal rooms and dingy bathrooms for a line of Lemmy’s favourite: speed.
Lemmy himself is a rock n’ roll (he hated the term ‘heavy metal’) legend. As a member of bands as obscure (yet intriguing) as The Rockin’ Vicars, Sam Gopal and Opal Butterfly, on to the hippy bothering Hawkwind (where he wrote the song witch would gift his next band its name, amongst others, and sang the lead vocal on the band’s only real chart hit, Silver Machine), Wall covers Lemmy’s formative days in great detail.
Drawing on his many interviews with the man many thought (or at least joked) was immortal – “the bass-playing Keith Richards” – Wall tells a story of a man who received very little life guidance or discipline from his family, school or any other role models apart from his earliest influences The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix.
This isn’t exactly a recipe for a stable adult, but as we all know, Lemmy was a messy mass of contradictions. A lover of women who orated at length about why marriage and monogamy were terrible ideas; a gentleman with a long record of superb treatment to women he was not involved with, yet an equally long history of groupie action; a man with a penchant for nazi regalia who insisted it was about the style, not what they represented; a guy equally at home in early pop rock bands, psych experimentalists, and proto-punk/metal legends.
Wall’s only downfalls are the usual ones: he glosses too briefly over his subject’s latter years (is it a “definitive” biography when a man’s last three decades take up less than 30% of the book, a lot of that given over to ruminations on his demise and death rather than his achievements during that time?), dismisses many of his latter efforts – especially the excellent cult band The Head Cat, as well as leaving some poignant questions unanswered. Who was the woman he had a near-20-year relationship with, and what was the nature of that relationship? What about his relationships with other bands and artists to whom he was obviously a big part of their lives, such as Wendy O Williams (mentioned only in relation to the Stand By Me single which led ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke to exit Motorhead), Doro Pesch, and many other bands he toured with, mentored or just partied with? How did he amass a supposed US$10 million fortune before his death?
Most importantly of all, why was he touring himself into the ground, apologising heartfeltly every time he had to cancel a show (with relentlessly increasing regularity) in the last few years of his life, when he didn’t need the money?
Despite these reasons to doubt the “definitive” label attached to the book, Wall gives us a gripping picture of a driven, but very private man, an avowed loner and contradiction, who lived his life the way only he could, and became a role model along the way… something he secretly revelled in as much as we, his fans, did and still do.
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About the Author: Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE