As much as Ian Fraser Kilmister — best known as Lemmy —was lauded for his work as vocalist and bassist of Motörhead for 40 years, he was revered by many more as a living, breathing embodiment of the sex, drugs and rock'n'roll lifestyle that had claimed the lives of icons of the genre before him. When he passed away in December of 2015, fans both mourned his death and expressed wonder that anyone so entwined with their vices could live as long as he had.
While Lemmy's music with Motörhead will undoubtedly live on forever in rock and metal canons, biographer Mick Wall aims to paint a more complete picture of the legendary rocker as a person with Lemmy: The Definitive Biography. As a music journalist who briefly handled PR for Motörhead, Wall's close relationship with the group largely works to his advantage over the course of the read, which chronicles the rocker's early life, career in Motörhead and final days before succumbing to cancer.
Mining numerous interviews he conducted with Lemmy in the late '90s, Wall presents the bassist's early recollections, from bringing a guitar to school as a child in an effort to woo girls ("I couldn't play it…I was immediately surrounded by women…I thought: 'It works!'") to being fired from a job in a factory for telling his superiors, "real men like John Lennon and Kirk Douglas do not wear hairnets."
Wall goes in-depth on Lemmy's burgeoning, rarely fruitful early music career with the Motown Sect and the Rockin' Vicars, and even his time as a roadie for Jimi Hendrix. His time in Hawkwind is chronicled in detail as well, including his drug-related arrest at the Canadian border that led to him getting sacked by the band following a gig that same night in Toronto. The seemingly fantastical tales of Lemmy's insatiable appetite for drugs and booze run alongside these tales all the while, leading the reader to question just how potent these substances were at the time.
Wall provides some welcome counterpoint to Lemmy's scrappy tale via interviews with the man's former Hawkwind bandmates, early Mötorhead guitarist 'Fast' Eddie Clarke and drummer Phil 'Philthy Animal' Taylor and longtime band manager Doug Smith, to name a few. While plenty of the interview subjects touch on Lemmy's admirable traits, there are a few more morose tales that stick out. One story reveals that following his firing from Hawkwind, Lemmy reportedly returned to London and slept with the wife of each band mate, while another details a drunken brawl with a former girlfriend.
Wall's overview of Motörhead's work through the 1990s is also a bit too selective. By both his and Lemmy's admission, the band were spinning their tires a fair amount when it came to their musical output. Certain records from that era only get a passing glance, while others aren't mentioned at all.
A book on the whole of Lemmy's rock'n'roll lifestyle would likely require much more than the 300 pages Wall has filled in this work, but Lemmy: The Definitive Biography proves to be a balanced, authentic portrait of the man and musical icon who was born to lose, yet lived to win. (Trapeze)