Was Anthony Trollope right? A tribute to Lemmy, David Bowie and Paul Haley

My Dad used to say that bad tidings come in threes – a throwback from his mother who knew every superstition there was to know. Having been being resigned, then subsequently liberated to the randomness of the universe, I tend not to have any truck with superstition. But this year, the death of three significant individuals in this last month sneaked a wormhole of doubt into my theory – the price of an over-active imagination probably. It’s almost like they willed themselves onwards through December, only to give up the ghost once the Christmas celebrations had died down. It got me searching on the interweb for any factual basis behind the claim that mortality rates are higher at this time of year. According to this article it’s true, although, deaths from cancer are higher in the Summer – so the pattern isn’t clear cut, seeing as two of my three figures lost their fight with this insidious disease. Still, Anthony Trollope’s quote about the perils of winter still have resonance:

Let no man boast himself that he has got through the perils of winter till at least the seventh of May.

-Anthony Trollope, Doctor Thorpe 1858

So, you’ve probably seen where this is going.

Firstly, the passing of Mr Lemuel Kilmister, aka Lemmy of Motorhead. To be honest I was more surprised last Summer when I heard that Lemmy was still alive and touring! So it was with an inevitable sadness that I woke up on December 28th to the news that an aggressive form of cancer had snuck ahead of the diabetes and heart problems to claim the prize of his influential life.

Secondly, the genuine surprise that, after releasing the album ‘Blackstar’ to great critical acclaim, the starman, David Bowie had succumbed to cancer on the 10th of January too.

Finally, a more personal and close to home tragedy. I heard via facebook that a musician friend of mine, Paul Haley had passed away suddenly.

At times like these, it does make you think about mortality, the impact that certain individuals have on the collective consciousness and what lies ahead in the great beyond. Of course, with celebrities and the age of social media, the outpouring of grief, tributes and obituaries take on epic proportions; even to the extent that you acquire a Princess Diana-like grief fatigue when you see another meme or post with the words RIP in the text. So, it is with a modicum of trepidation that I post another tribute of sorts in my blog this week, but try to draw some parallels between these wonderful people’s lives.

Firstly, their music.

Ziggy

Bowie, Lemmy and Paul each made an impact in a way that changed the face of music to a greater or lesser degree. I never followed Bowie as a fanatic until I was asked to play Ziggy Stardust at a solo acoustic gig I performed at a local pub. The next year I was asked to join a Bowie tribute band named ‘Diamond Dogs’. I knew the aforementioned Ziggy Stardust, and Space Oddity, but I had to learn a host of other hits, together with some fairly obscure numbers too (Moonage daydream anyone?) When I started my homework, what I’d anticipated as an easy ride mastering the songs from a technical point of view, proved to be quite a challenge in terms of the unusual chord progressions and meter of the lyrics; (it’s a well-known fact that melodies written by singers tend to straddle the beat in a way that makes it difficult to play guitar and sing close to the original style at the same time.) Being brought up on blues and hard rock, I’d play the chord sequences expecting a certain chord sequence to follow, but with Bowie they shot off in all sorts of directions. This made it necessary to repeatedly practice the songs daily rather than trust to my musical intuition.

When you learn songs in this detail, you also pay a lot of attention to lyrics – and Bowie was a surrealist poet: ‘… but where were the spiders when the fly tried to break our balls?’ This line precipitated out of Bowie’s twangy delivery make me say to myself – so thats what he sang! If Top of the Pops had known, they’d have surely censored it – which shows how much we mishear lyrics in our younger years.

I think, of all Bowie’s hits, my favourite song was probably  Starman– the refrain was just so hooky. No doubt you all have yours.

The only possible connection with Lemmy’s music was perhaps that Mr Kilmister was once the rhythm guitarist and occasional singer with Hawkwind – a trippy hippy band of the early 70’s when Bowie was beginning to make a splash. Once Lemmy had ‘graduated’ to Motorhead, his music, instrument and voice had evolved significantly. He played his bass like a rhythm guitar through a Marshall guitar amp (not bass amp) and those of you in the know realise how much the sonics of bass amplification differ from six-string. I always say you know the difference between a rock icon and someone who is merely a musician if you can recognise them by their silhouette, and Lemmy fulfilled this criterion perfectly. With his Rickenbacker bass and microphone positioned in a southward direction, you knew instantly who it was.

Lemmy Silhouette

As for his lyrics, well – I can’t say they were exactly poetry, but he was the only rock scribe who could work the word ‘parallelogram’ into his canon:

Fourth day, five day marathon,

We’re moving like a parallelogram,

Don’t move, I’ll shut the door and kill the lights,

I guess I’ll see you all on the ice,

I should be tired,

And all I am is wired,

Ain’t felt this good for an hour,

Motörhead, remember me now, Motörhead alright.

                                                             from the song Motorhead

Well – at least he got his lines to rhyme!

One claim to fame both Bowie and Lemmy shared was an appearance or namecheck on the eighties comedy program The Young Ones. Check out the hippy, Neil and his adventures after inhaling the vapours of a bong here .

You can also hear a version of Motorhead’s ‘Ace of Spades’ from their 4-piece days here .

Bowie’s influence went one further when a real spaceman sang his song on a space station. Listen to Chris Hadfield’s rendition of Space Oddity here .

Bowie was so much more than a musician, though. He went several stages further than Alice Cooper and had several on-stage personas as he evolved through the seventies; Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, the Thin White Duke, Pierrot the clown; not to mention his characters from the films Labyrinth and The man who fell to earth. This animated graphic shows the myriad forms he took over a period of four and a half decades:

Bowie Gif

Lemmy wasn’t so diverse in his characters – he was basically himself both onstage and off. You would find him at his most laid back supping on a Jack Daniels and Coke in the Rainbow bar and grill, L.A. In fact, they’ve named the drink after him:

Lemmy Jack Daniels

For me, Motorhead’s classic lineup was the three-piece Philthy Animal Taylor/Fast Eddie version from the late seventies to eighties. Their albums, Overkill, Bomber, Ace of Spades and Ironfist are the four major arcana. They played my hometown, Carlisle back in 1980 but I didn’t get to see them. My friends who did, still had tinnitus the next morning from Motorhead’s 129 dB show (130dB is the threshold of pain.)

Another sign of a great icon is the relationship they have with their audience or fanbase. The generosity of spirit shown by Bowie and Lemmy was shown several times over during their lifetime. Bowie saved Mott the Hoople’s career when he gave them his song All the young dudes .

Lemmy would invariably engage you in conversation if you ran into him at the bar, and took bands like Saxon under his wing in order to introduce them to fast living while on tour. To get a feel for the man, read his biography, White Line Fever or the documentary of his life available on dvd.

Book-link: White line fever

(This is for the Kindle edition – if you want the paperback it’ll set you back at least 60 quid and the hardback’s currently selling for just under a grand!)

Dvd link: Lemmy – The movie

Of course, once they’ve died, we tend to view our icons through rose-tinted spectacles. For example, remember Bowie’s nazi overtones in his Thin White Duke era? Lemmy spent most of his life stoked on amphetamines and bourbon, so much so that he was once told he couldn’t receive a total body washout of pure blood because it would kill him.

Paul Haley

So, as these two figures of history fade into the sunset, I turn my attention to a man with a much lower public profile, but a wealth of talent – Paul Haley. Paul had a short stint as bass player in our band, ‘Guns 4 hire.’ I subsequently collaborated with him when he recorded my instrumental Metamorphosis for the EP Real Frantic One (click the player below):

We would run into each other at festivals, open mics and gigs in and around Carlisle, where he cut a dramatic figure with his black strat and DADGAD- tuned acoustic. I have fond memories of watching him play his moving piece, Western Plain which you can hear by clicking below:

– believe me it’s well worth a listen. His hands would move with virtuoso-like dexterity as he finger-picked this tune. The day we spent recording ‘Metamorphosis’ was absolute magic as we created something truly memorable and spent the day talking about music and our inspirations.

In conclusion, these are all men who left an indelible imprint on the people they touched. They will be sadly missed.

 

RIP indeed.

1 Comment

  1. Carole says:

    Paul was a fantastic musician and friend thinking of him today

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