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Car and Driver: Killed by Death: Motörhead’s Lemmy Kilmister Was the Sound of Speed


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Lemmy Kilmister


A couple of weeks ago, I found myself on a Moto Guzzi Griso (more on that in a future Year of the Goose installment) hurtling down I-5 from Seattle to Sacramento. The 1151-cc, eight-valve twin thrummed away at 4k, sounding for all the world like a B-17. Or Motörhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister’s Rickenbacker bass. Can the the two things even be separated? For 600 miles, I rode along with the band’s “Bomber” stuck in my head, across the Rogue River, over the Cascades, and finally down California’s dead-end-at-both-ends Central Valley. And now Lemmy is dead. But you probably already knew that. If your social media feed hasn’t blown up with tributes to the man, who passed away yesterday at 70, might I humbly suggest that you acquire a better grade of friends?

Motörhead and Chevy Blazer

Blazin': Philthy Animal Taylor, Lemmy Kilmister, and Fast Eddie Clarke, Motörhead’s classic line-up.


But Motörhead, man. Booted from Hawkwind after a drug bust at the Canadian border, Kilmister founded the band in 1975, the year I was born. 1916—about the closest the band came to American mainstream success—arrived in 1991, the year I got my driver’s license. I grew bad hair and toted my early-‘70s Rickenbacker 4001 around in my ’75 El Camino with “We Are the Road Crew” cranked as high as my two-speaker, eight-watt-per-channel stereo would allow.


They were the band that everybody could agree on, from the Nova-driving dirthead to the heavy-duty aesthete with a penchant for the lowbrow. Lemmy played with The Damned. Lemmy played with Wendy O. Williams. Lemmy played with Metallica. Motörhead united the greasiest greasers, the crustiest punx, the most ferrous of metalheads, everyone in between and plenty of herberts outside the scenes. Even my father, who came of age when bebop was au courant, once came out to the garage and exclaimed, “This is some great rock ’n’ roll!”


The first feature I ever wrote for C/D saw me almost dead in the Permian Basin, nearly a dessicated corpse on the bench seat of a 450 SEL 6.9 built in the same year Motörhead’s eponymous LP was released. The sheer force of will inherent in “Bomber” helped get me to Eunice, New Mexico, an ice-cream bar, a Red Bull, and a whole lot of water. It remains the best meal I’ve ever had.


The first time I laid eyes on the Bonneville Salt Flats, I was listening to Motörhead. Is there a better choral accompaniment on a pilgrimage to one of the world’s holy temples of speed? The music is the sound of a demolition derby. It’s the essence of the aftermath of a nothing moment with a nowhere-town lady simply because you’ve got the hottest car within a hundred-mile radius. It’s 160 mph on the autobahn in a Mustang GT. It’s a late night in a Rust Belt hatchback with half an exhaust system. It’s crossing the Sierra Nevadas in record time because you’ve got somewhere to be; the Rockies rising impossibly high above your head, and Missouri stretched out before you. Motörhead, essentially, is all the best stuff about a life on wheels.


Perhaps the dawn of the autonomous, electrified age was the right time for the smoke-belching, alcohol-fueled man to depart. Farewell, Mr. Kilmister. You left a helluva trail of parts in your wake, and it’s up to the rest of us to make use of them. Built for speed? Indubitably. Built to last? As long as we’ve got nicotine and wheels, your art will sure as hell endure.


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