Lemmy and friends look more and more like a tribute band.

Patrick West

Patrick West

Topics Culture

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  • Motordead

There is an old joke, which I remember last seeing in the letters page of Viz magazine, in which a man boasts that broomsticks manufactured in the good old days were designed to last. Sure, he says, the handle needed replacing twice and the brush on five occasions, but otherwise the same old broomstick had survived the passage of time admirably.

The paradox here is that this brush can be said to be the one he originally purchased, yet at the same time, a completely different one. It is a play on the theory of forms, which is aired in another familiar paradox: since every cell in the human body completely regenerates within a period of seven years, are we the same person we were seven years ago?

In real life, this paradox can be witnessed in the changing line-ups of rock groups. Fans of bands often tolerate the introduction of a new drummer or guitarist, without protesting that the integrity of the band is being comprised. Yet when a figure central to the identity of the group is replaced, we find it disconcerting, suspecting that the outfit we loved so much does not really exist in true, Platonic form anymore.

When Ozzy Osbourne left Black Sabbath in 1979, many felt that the credibility of the band’s name had been compromised. Shane MacGowan’s departure from the Pogues had a similar effect, as did the Stranglers and the Undertones continuing without their famous frontmen, Hugh Cornwell and Feargal Sharkey. The remaining members of The Doors really stretched the boundaries of feasibility when they recruited Ian Astbury as a replacement for Jim Morrison in last year’s ‘reunion’ tour.

Motörhead have gone through a similar process. Their classic line-up at the height of their powers, from 1976 to 1982, was that of Lemmy, Phil ‘Philthy Animal’ Taylor and ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke. When I last saw them in concert in 1990, Clarke had been replaced by Phil Campbell on guitar. Yet there remained a credibility to the outfit, as Taylor’s outrageous, Animal-from-the-Muppet-Show-style drumming was as intrinsic to the band as Lemmy’s pounding bass playing – even if he was not as immediately synonymous with the metal combo’s imagine.

Having seen them at Hammersmith again last Saturday, it was clear that the process had gone too far. It wasn’t just the further change of personnel. There were too many mainstream, non-metal idiots there who had only come along because they liked The Ace of Spades or have noticed that Motörhead t-shirts are now fashionable, or in the manner so characteristic of Britain’s bovine multitude, because they had read that in our post-Darkness era, heavy metal is no longer ‘sad’, but ‘cool’.

As for the group, it sung too many new, lame songs that nobody really cares for. The songs were all played too hastily; yes, Motörhead songs should be fast, but not at a Napalm Death-like speed that drowns all composure, not to mention the lyrics. And for a band that boasts its punk ethic, Campbell’s tortured, self-indulgent guitar solos and Mikkey Dee’s clumsy and boring drum solos were something to behold. Were it not for Lemmy, who was excellent as ever, it might as well have been a Motörhead cover band.

So why not just advertise themselves as ‘Lemmy and Friends’? Overall, this was a poor imitation. More to the point: when Lemmy leaves, who are they going to recruit as their next lead singer and bassist? And will this be a band we can call Motörhead?

  • Ask how, not why

On the train this Tuesday I was subjected to a fellow traveller across the aisle talking loudly into his mobile phone. This was not just your average, annoying, ‘I’m on the train’ caricature, the one so beloved of Private Eye cartoonists. This one was recounting to ‘Mark’ the news from the Daily Mirror that Diana, Princess of Wales, had a premonition about her death in a car crash. ‘I always knew she was murdered. This goes to prove it!’ he barked excitably.

It goes without saying that conspiracy theorists are a truly tragic lot – both credulous and unhappy souls. They are a strange breed: always sceptical when there is plenty of evidence (Diana’s driver was drunk, for instance), always credulous when there is none (seeing flying saucers, abductions, etc). Conspiracy theorists are the symptom of a society that has lost faith in government and authority – they thus believe everyone is lying to them.

But they are also a by-product of a miserablist society that may have jettisoned mainstream religion, but has not embraced rationalism in its place. Research has shown that those who fall for conspiracy theories have often been bereaved at an early age or in unusual circumstances. We as a society still don’t accept or understand the concept of chance, or the reality that accidents – often fatal and tragic – will happen. Some people still can’t accept that someone can die in a car crash by accident.

Part of making society better is to ask how these things happen, in order to ensure that they don’t again. At the same time, part of being rationalist is to resist the temptation to ask why.

Patrick West is the author of Conspicuous Compassion: Why Sometimes it Really is Cruel to be Kind, Civitas, 2004. Buy this book from Amazon (UK).

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Topics Culture


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