Thunder In The Guts – A Celebration Of Lemmy Kilmister


The existence of truly uncompromising men has never been, and will likely never be, commonplace. This world just is not fit to sustain high levels of conviction in people. With celebrities and Rock stars, it is even more unlikely. Between the fickle push of fans and the heartless pull of media and record label execs, individuals who once knew exactly who they were can, and often do, get lost in the shuffle. Perhaps they find themselves unable to live up to their perceived personas. They get engulfed amid the steamy haze of their own successes, drowning beneath the waves of drink, drugs, sex, and excess, while the incoherent pace of touring slowly eats them up and spits them out. On the 28th of December, 2015, the most shining exception to this rule left our world forever. Ian Fraser, known to the Rock-n-Roll universe as Lemmy Kilmister, was the pulse of the band Motörhead from the day he began it in the Summer of 1975 until the last note he played on December 11th, 2015, on a stage in Berlin.

Big Beat

In the blistering three minutes of fury known as “We Are Motörhead,” Lemmy grates, “We are the ones you heard of but you never heard.” The song was the title track of the 2000 album, fast and gritty as you please, even twenty-five years into a forty-year career. It exemplifies in its simple fashion a truth. Many know of or have some idea that Lemmy existed, even if they never heard a note of his music. It takes a special character to come up through the underground and without scandal, become insinuated fully into the mainstream consciousness. Nowadays, fame is generated by YouTube hits and appearances on vapid network ‘talent’ shows, but at the dawn of Hard Rock and Heavy Metal’s glory years, it took guts, hard work, and unwavering conviction. Lemmy had all of this in spades. It was his trademark. That and his grizzled appearance, of course, from his mutton chops and his moles down to the iron cross around his neck. He played bass guitar, but the sound that lurched from that Rickenbacker Custom LK1 was nothing short of thunder in the guts, played on stage so loud that hearing loss from Motörhead concerts has become standard procedure for fans.

Best known for 1980 megahit “Ace of Spades,” Lemmy perfected a speedy, direct method of songwriting that was equal parts Punk Rock, Rock, and NWOBHM, resulting in a slew of rough and tumble stormers who sound as mean today as they did back then. Despite the hard and fast, in-your-face nature of most of Mötorhead’s 23 album discography, it was not the only facet of Lemmy’s sonic arsenal. He had depth, soul, and the lyrical acumen of a poet. He had an appetite for Jack Daniels and amphetamines as well. He abhorred religion, government, and authority, but his endless sense of humor saw him partake in the comedic film Eat the Rich (1987), as well as make an appearance on British television series The Young Ones. Lemmy loved women, supposedly bedding over one-thousand two hundred of them in a lifetime. He was an outspoken opponent of heroin, despite his debauchery, because it killed so many who were dear to him. Far ahead of his time, Lemmy even tried to convince the Tory government of England to legislate the drug, making of it a healthcare issue instead of a criminal one.


But where did this renaissance man come from? How could a Heavy Metal speed-freak be so multi-faceted? How many people would look at a guy like Lemmy and dismiss him as just another rivet-head, blasted on drink and drugs, blaring his music and screaming into a microphone? Those who made the mistake of underestimating him might have found themselves taken to school. Lemmy was a walking encyclopedia of history, battles, politics, and the human condition, a student of the world with insatiable appetite for so much more than just liquor, pills and ‘birds,’ as the vernacular of his homeland goes.

Ian Fraser was born on Christmas Eve in the final year of the second World War, in North Wales in the United Kingdom. Music soon became his life. Early on, he was a roadie for Jimi Hendrix, and by 1971 had joined English Space-Rock legends Hawkwind, singing their most famous song “Silver Machine,” which reached number 3 on the U.K. Rock charts in 1972. It did not take long though, before Lemmy’s penchant for amphetamines landed him in hot water. Following an arrest at the U.S./Canadian border in 1975, he was fired from Hawkwind and quickly began his own band, Bastard. Being convinced that such a name would prevent him from being on Top of the Pops, Lemmy instead went with Motörhead. Being a title of a Hawkwind song he had written, the term refers to a nickname for a biker on speed. The famous umlauts were added because Lemmy thought they looked cool. Hard to argue, as so many bands have followed suit over the years and added the menacing, but ultimately decorative, dots over certain vowels in their own names.

Perhaps in his youth Lemmy felt a little out of place, being one English kid in a largely Welsh town. Yet even when his late teens had made of him a wayward soul, following women and playing in various bands, something inside him kept him focused. No amount of drugs, alcohol, or impoverished meanderings could deter Lemmy from his thirst for knowledge, particularly knowledge of WWII and the war experience in general. The father who left when Ian Fraser was only three months old was himself a former Royal Air Force chaplain, but that is the closest Ian Fraser would ever get to the service. Lemmy Kilmister, however, as a lyric writer, perhaps shined no brighter than when his gritty voice offered up its paeans to the experience of the soldier amid the tumult of hellish war. Scattered throughout the twenty-three albums he recorded with Motörhead are loads of poetic musings on man’s oldest form of organized, state-sponsored violence.

Motorhead 2015 promo

On the 1983 album Another Perfect Day, Lemmy was joined by Thin Lizzy guitarist Brian Robertson. The melodic tour de force included the song “Marching Off To War.” Within it, Lemmy’s liquor and nicotine soaked voice lamented, “Another battle’s over, it’s a million soldiers / Never rise again, we lost a million friends / Don’t try to understand, if you weren’t there / You felt different then, marching off to war.” The cynical chorus reminded us that Lemmy was also no friend to the delusion of religion, but more on that later. “Show no quarter, delight in slaughter / Up for your last long ride / maybe God’s on the other side.” Lemmy understood that he could not understand the experience of war, which is a nice example of his inner humility and wisdom. Fast forward to 1991, on the title track to 1916. Set to a martial tap-tap of drums and a lone cello, Lemmy’s rasp was dialed down to a mournful croon, “A thirst for the Hun, we were food for the gun, and that’s what you are when you’re soldiers / I heard my friend cry, and he sank to his knees, coughing blood as he screamed for his mother/ And I fell by his side, and that’s how we died, clinging like kids to each other.” The solemn dirge, comparable in delivery to Pink Floyd’s “When The Tigers Broke Free,” speaks for itself. Simple and gritty, just like Lemmy. Yet in its directness there lurked a certain poetic glamour which belied the raucousness about which his life orbited.

As the years mounted, and mortality crept up ever closer, such lyrics popped up with more frequency. For every clutch of odes to rocking out, going fast, and partying hard, Lemmy threw in a thinking man’s song concerned with war. There were cautionary tales like 2006’s “Sword of Glory” from Kiss of Death. Lemmy was nine years shy of his own death then, a hale and hearty 61, his body and his fans not yet aware that four decades of Jack, cigarettes, and umpteen drugs was even close to getting the best of him. Despite his age, and with the help of Phil Campbell and Mikkey Dee, the guitar and drum duo who comprised Motörhead for the long haul, he was making some of the loudest, brashest tunes of his entire life. “Read the books, learn to save your life / how can you find the knowledge if you don’t / All the brave men died before their time, you’ll either be a hero, or you won’t;” the godfather of loud, crazy Heavy Metal encouraging people to read books, of all things. To study, like he did. Because that was vintage Lemmy. No one who ever had conversations with him could ever say the man was not sharp as the edges of a bullet belt.

Motorhead live at Nikon at Jones Beach, NY 9-16-15

It continued on 2008’s Motörizer album with the hard rocking “When the Eagle Screams,” on which he roared, “In the heat of battle we were murdered / We lie forever in a foreign field / Bodies broken, future lost / Lives unspoken, what a cost / Still the young men come with zest and zeal / I’ll tell you why they want to fight and die, because the people over them are full of shit and lies.” As the first decade of the 21st century devolved into endless wars between the old Western powers and the Middle East, Lemmy’s words betrayed a poignancy and a brutal honesty that were the tokens of his character.

As stated earlier, Lemmy had plenty of vitriol for organized religion as well. Plainly stated in 1982 album Iron Fist on the song “(Don’t Need) Religion,” his thoughts were nowhere more eloquently elucidated than on 2006’s Kiss of Death album in the song “God Was Never On Your Side.” He declared, to the delight of all freethinkers, “Let the sword of reason shine, let us be free of prayer and shrine / God’s face is hidden, turned away / He never has a word to say.” Whatever a listener’s feelings on the matter, Lemmy told it true and he pulled no punches.

He was a hound for the truth, as evidenced by this quote from his autobiography White Line Fever from 2002. “Apparently people don’t like the truth, but I do like it; I like it because it upsets people. If you show them enough times that their arguments are bullshit, then maybe just once, one of them will say ‘Oh! Wait a minute – I was wrong.’ I live for that happening. Rare, I assure you.” Lemmy brought this no-bullshit attitude to everything he did, and his wit and honesty endeared him to legions of fans and friends. Coming from modest means, he understood the plodding monotony of the everyday working man. Motörhead sold over 15 million records, bringing a lot of happiness to a lot of people all over the world. It was this and only this that fueled the fire inside the man.


And so fans are left to sift through the lifework of Ian Fraser. The snippets of lyrics listed here are only a fraction of the insightful, humorous, and jagged turns of phrase he bestowed upon the world. As active as he was in both music and film, Lemmy could always be found at his favorite Los Angeles bar, the Rainbow, quietly gambling on a video game machine.

How does one measure his loss? There is no easy answer to that question. In Lemmy, the world had its elusive uncompromising man, whose wisdom and years never once diminished his thirst for Rock-n-Roll. “If you say you’re too old to Rock-n-Roll, then you are.” Such simple adages as this lent him a Yogi Berra-like aura amongst musicians. Quick witted and straight to the chase, with Lemmy, no bushes were ever beaten around. To lose that in the face of plastic modernity, fragile self-absorbed Rock stars, MP3’s, soundbites, and this growing generation of ironic fools parading around as something they are not, is devastating.

Make no mistake. Lemmy Kilmister lived his life pedal to the metal, and it is safe to say he was ready for the end with no regrets. He never let anything get in the way of the enjoyment he felt playing Motörhead music to his fans. Not recalcitrant band members, not record labels, and right up to the end, he did not even let a yet undisclosed cancer as aggressive as his music tear him down. There was a handful of shows he did have to cancel this past year, but most mortal men would likely have hung up the whole she-bang years ago. Not Lemmy; not the grizzled patron saint of all things dirty Rock-n-Roll. The world will miss Ian Fraser, for his kind is all but lost on this planet. His rasping words, his rustling croon, and the rumbling burr of his Rickenbacker will live on of course, and with any luck, some youngsters will embrace the zeitgeist of Lemmy, for their parts staving off ignorance, shallowness, and greed. He certainly was “the flame at night, the fire in the trash.” He was Motörhead . . . but he was so much more.

Motorhead live at Nikon at Jones Beach, NY 9-16-15

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  • Lemmy Kilmister was a hard rocking man but never fell apart. He just kept on rocking. Born in Great Britain. He made a lot of friends, a million friends. I loved Silver Dream Machine hawkwind. Ace Of Spades was and is still the greatest of the century.
    Lemmy was great and till the end.. After the death of Lemmy Kilmister there ain’t no more.

    R. I. P. Lemmy and thank you.

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