Life Before Rock and Roll: What We Learn From Lemmy
There’s this moment in the VH1 Roc Doc “Lemmy” when he tells the camera, “I remember before there was rock and roll.” The fact that Lemmy – or Ian Fraiser Kilmister – is 67, I think his statement is fair game. Lemmy goes on to talk about what it was like growing up in England before the Beatles (he also tells nice stories of befriending them), what childhood was like before he heard Elvis for the first time, before he realized that someone, in fact, could sing on a record like that and play music that way. I’m not a big Motorhead fan, early speed metal and before it was called thrash-thrash isn’t really my preferred music genre. But when I see Lemmy talk about music and when I see the talking heads of Ozzy and Dave Grohl and James Hetfield and Duff McKafgan and Slash and Scott Ian talk about how important Motorhead is to their music – the music of the Big Four and metal and doom metal and speed metal and hard rock, really – it’s a new kind of history lesson. A history lesson that only VH1 Classic will take time to make and point out.
Maybe there isn’t this moment in every music fan’s life where they get to learn, or have a moment of realization about music. But I hope I’m wrong because without these moments of realization it’s pretty hard to grow – grow out of the box you live in, grow to love another kind of music or, hell, even appreciate it. I’m not asking you to listen to Motorhead and go out and downlo…er…buy their records, I’m just telling you that even if you don’t like their music it doesn’t mean it’s not good – and that it doesn’t matter. Because it does.
Lemmy is one of the greatest fucking front men ever. A great fucking bassist, a groundbreaking vocalist and a really under appreciated lyricist. A speed freak, an alcoholic gambler who quite literally lives life in the fast lane, he is your walking talking smoking living breathing example of what rock and roll is. You probably can’t understand a word that’s coming out of his mouth – due to the rasp of his years and the English accent that is pretty much indecipherable, but please forgive him. It’s Lemmy.
Rock music means something different to everyone. To some, it’s Justin Townes Earle and to others its the Rolling Stones. Some people think it’s the Grateful Dead and other people think it’s Lynyrd Skynyrd. [Enter every other band name ever here please.] To a point we have to forget that there’s a difference and just let music be however it wants to be. Evolving naturally since before the day the music died, music has been stolen, copied, reinvented and re-imaged, repackaged and resold to ‘mean’ a million different things. We’ve gone through format after format from vinyl to 8 track to casette to CD to mp3 to the cloud. 50 years ago they never could’ve imagined that music wouldn’t be tangible. That you wouldn’t be able to hold it in your hands and tell people why you love something so much. No one could’ve pictured the downfall of rock radio and the rise of the DIY sound cloud-twitter release. Recently, my best friend called me after she had a couple of beverages and told me that she thought my cloud theory was right. A theory I had forgotten about – a theory that one day all the clouds will crash, peoples’ lives will be lost and we’ll have nothing but really cold buildings full of broken machines. We then got to talking about how kids will grow up, learning to read on an iPad, learning to swipe before they can walk and learning whatever demented thing technology will show us how we can live better with it, next. Did you know that the new Netflix show “House Of Cards” (you know, the one my roommate and the entire world – OK maybe just DC – is addicted to) was produced by Netflix after doing market research based on what you watch on Netflix. That Netflix specifically chose Kevin Spacey and David Fincher. That it was the first television show made to be ‘binge-watched’? They are literally making television differently.
What’s the point of all this? To tell you that I have a new blog about my vinyl collection? To tell you that music is changing in more ways than one and that no on can stop it? [It already has.] Or that it’s too late to even think about it any other way than that? To tell you that before you complain about the Grammys next year and how they’re constantly five years behind the actual music industry (and they know it) or wonder why The Late Greats never get played on the radio – that everyone needs to realize that music will never be the same. It hasn’t been for decades. This is the new world we live in. Music distribution will never be the same. Music consumption will never be the same and the way music is made will never be the same. Sure, it will sound the same, it has for years. But that’s just preferential. It just depends on how you want your bass to drop.
Or maybe all of this is just an internal monolog about my acceptance of music. My musical identity struggling with other people’s tastes, preferences and the way they live their music life. [It really is a constant struggle that can haunt a person.]
The point of the Internet and having a music blog is to be able to write whatever you want, break the forth wall however you want and to get better at whatever idea of writing you have. Some people will tell you to give up and others will tell you to keep going. I’m going to keep going. Because when I have a thought about Lemmy I want to be able to tell the world about it. That you need to care about Motorhead and English speed metal that you don’t even like – because it matters. Music that you don’t even listen to – matters. All walks of life in music matter because without one we wouldn’t have the other. There is no need to close anyone out – you don’t have to listen to their records but at least listen to what they have to say. Without Elvis there wouldn’t have been the Beatles to rival him. Without Pet Sounds (gross) Sgt. Pepper would’ve been further away or maybe might have existed in totally different context. Without Ozzy we wouldn’t have Metallica. And without Bob Dylan we wouldn’t have gotten to Black Flag. (Don’t ask me how that degree of separation works out, it just does.)
There’s this moment in the VH1 Roc Doc “Lemmy” when he tells the camera, “I remember before there was rock and roll.” Well, I remember the world before the Black Keys and before Vampire Weekend and before Death Cab For Cutie and hell, even before there was a “chillwave.” I remember not having a cell phone and actually hanging out with my friends. I remember the rise of Napster and its’ downfall. (And I remember Limewire and BearShare.) I remember making mix CD after mix CD, I remember burning my tens of dozens of CDs into a computer tower and I remember the first time I linked my iTunes to an external hard drive. I remember the first vinyl record I ever bought and I remember the most recent vinyl record I bought. But I sure as hell don’t remember the world before there was rock and roll. I can only read about it.