The Day It All Began
THE DAY IT ALL BEGAN: The Prequel
by Simon Sessler
“All there is is one short life as far as we can find… And if you don’t know how to live you’re going to lose your mind” (ONE SHORT LIFE – MotÖrizer)
At the beginning of June 2015, Lemmy arrived in London. As usual, he got himself settled at the hotel and then rang me but he sounded absolutely exhausted. So, instead of going straight over to see him, we agreed to leave it until the next day.
Around midnight, the phone rang. “Come over, if you want, I’m up now.” He sounded no more awake than he had before, so I refused. For the first time in our lives, we had to embrace the concept of ‘being realistic’. It had always seemed ludicrous in the past, but with these new developments, it was time to give it a whirl. “I’ll see you tomorrow. Go back to sleep.”
I arrived at the Royal Garden the following afternoon and went up to find his door open. A voice from the bathroom announced rather dramatically, “Si, you’d better prepare yourself.” This was something we’d done a few times, now. For Lem, it was bad enough not feeling himself, now he felt he no longer looked himself, also, and the last thing he needed was to have that confirmed by the expression on everyone’s face, particularly that of his friend.
At the same time, Lemmy was not a man who looked for sympathy and he hated the thought that people might feel sorry for him. Fortunately, in my case, this would never be an issue. I barely had enough time to feel sorry for myself, without squeezing out some pity for him.
“Don’t worry,” I said, reassuringly, my trigger finger itching to fire off the John Merrick (Elephant Man) impersonation I’d loaded earlier. “I’m ready.”
As he emerged, prepared for the shock that I was prepared not to show, perhaps the only reaction we hadn’t planned for was the one we ended up having to go with. Thanks to a cocktail of nervous tension, sheer relief and the joy of seeing him, I just burst out laughing!
“You look great.” I gushed, hugging him.
“I’m telling you man, this is the best you’ve looked in ages.” And it truly was.
I can’t tell how happy this made him. Lemmy was not exempt from vanity and he’d become a little self-conscious, so, when he heard something like this, it could lift his whole demeanour, both mentally and physically. In fact, anyone who saw the band play from 2012 onwards, whether knowingly or unknowingly, experienced that. Often, the man who set off for the stage, barely had the strength to polish his own watch (stick with me here…) but whatever pain or worries he may have felt on the journey, the moment he felt the intensity of the crowd and heard them chanting his name, everything was forgotten and he added about ten inches to his chest and grew a foot in height. Suddenly he was Lemmy again and, now, he really could “clean your clock”!
So, duly enlivened, we got down to what we did best – we poured ourselves a couple of drinks and began to talk and laugh (which was the most important thing in his life and something he needed to do, now, more than ever) as we listened to the rough mix of “Bad Magic”, while flicking through pornography in our favourite format: the magazine. (That’s right kids – in pre-You Jizz world, we took our porn static, silent and interspersed with informative articles on the environmental impact of soybean cultivation and what women really think of the foreskin!) One trait we shared, was that rarest of male attributes: the ability to multi-task. We could talk, read, listen to music, watch TV or play games, all at the same time and in any order!
Needing a quick bathroom break, totally unrelated to spending time in the company of Miss June, Lexi from Cedar Bluffs, Nebraska, I left Lemmy flicking through the Royal Garden’s notoriously appalling choice of TV channels, desperately searching for something to watch. Imagine, if you will, the person you most hate getting hold of the remote control (everybody has one). Well, on their best day, I guarantee you that Lemmy was 30 times worse.
Initially, no matter how hard we tried, all we found was Columbo…twice…two separate episodes, on two different channels, at the same time…now… in the second decade of the second millennium. It seemed to hit him pretty hard. “This country’s fucked!” he announced.
Determined not to be beaten by the programmers, with whom he’d been at war his whole life, he kept going, which was kind of a thing with him. I remember the days when there were only four channels and he could flick through those for about half an hour, which wasn’t irritating in the slightest! Finally, he settled on “The History of Tupperware”, or something along those lines but after a couple of riveting minutes, I felt we needed a change of pace.
“Do you remember the day we met?” I asked.
“Wow! Where the fuck did that come from? Feeling a tad nostalgic are we?” he replied.
Perhaps I was, but a few days earlier, I had passed the pub where it all went down and the whole thing came flooding back to me, leaving me on the street, bent double in uncontrollable laughter.
A smile crept over Lem’s face. He was about to say something but started laughing, which set me off again. Suddenly, there we were, two grown-up (technically) men, in hysterics and barely able to speak actual words. We’d come a long way since I walked through that open door, which was great, but it’s equally great when you discover that something can seem just as funny today as it was almost 35 years earlier.
I guess I should probably explain what those things are…
THE DAY IT ALL BEGAN: Part 1 ( 2 really)
(I apologise that, in telling this part of the story, it’s impossible not to focus more on myself than on Lemmy. I’ve tried addressing this but a) I’m not a good enough writer and b) the nature of the story makes it hard. So please try to understand, whiz through it and forgive me!)
“Don’t matter up or down sideways in or out… If it makes you feel good, do it and then get out” (CRADLE TO GRAVE)
It all began one afternoon in 1982. I was on my way somewhere to do something (I’d love to be more specific but I think I did pretty well just remembering that!), when I happened to spot Lemmy going into the Midland Bank on the Kings Road.
It’s strange, because, as I write, it feels like what you are about to read happened over a fairly leisurely period of time but, thinking about it, it can’t have.
Lem only went in there to cash a cheque and, back then, before today’s fully-automated-time-saving-everything-is-so-much-quicker-these-days-oh-sorry-the-system’s-slow-let-me-reboot-it-which-should-take-a-minute-but-we-all-know-it’ll-be-at-least-fucking-ten world, we were playing under the archaic 1982 rules. This involved human beings, bumbling around with all their human-being frailties, trying to work everything with little more than their opposably-thumb-operated hands. As a result, everything got done in a fraction of the time, so, it probably took him no more than two or three minutes.
So, that’s how long I had to decide, firstly, that I was no longer going to go to wherever it was I was going. And, then, I had to formulate my plan for “bumping into” Lemmy and, the rest would sort itself out…probably.
Actually, let’s quickly go back a bit.
* * * *
I should probably explain that, over the years, I’d met Lemmy a couple of times. On neither occasion, however, had things gone exactly, what you might call, well.
Although, I hadn’t approached these meetings with any kind of pre-conceived notions – there were no high falutin delusions of instant soul-mate-ery and just watch, by the weekend, we’ll be finishing each other’s sentences. In fact, had we forged one of those, cursory nod and “ssup” type things, I’d have been thrilled.
But, as it happened, even that would have been way out of reach. On both occasions, I still have no idea why, I seemed to lose my ability to speak. Rather than showering him with wit and charm, I just stood there, staring at nothing, a kind of half-smile frozen on my face, just like the ones serial killers have before they get to work. I couldn’t even seem to walk away. It was as if I was slowly sinking in a pool of social quicksand.
Why Lemmy didn’t tell me to fuck off, I have no idea. Perhaps he sensed I was in trouble, who knows? And remember, this happened twice!!
Perhaps that’s why it continued to bother me so much and I swore that, if the chance to be in his company ever arose again, I would show him just what I was made of.
* * * *
And, now, that chance was here. All I had to do was hold it together, bump into him and then hold it together again: but how?
I’ve never been one for elaborate schemes. The British have been hatching weak, half-arsed plans, guaranteed to end in failure or the certain deaths of almost everybody involved, for centuries. My plan, like me, had to be simple. I decided that my best bet would be to, quite literally, “bump into” him. Easy. What could possibly go wrong?
Truth be told, I don’t really remember the bump itself. I was probably too ‘in the zone’, but I’m sure it was an absolute triumph…half clumsy, half stumbling away…to think that this was anything other than an accident would be madness. My next memory, is using the ‘extra surprised’ voice, I have perfected over the years, upon ‘discovering’ that this other person was no less than Lemmy from Motörhead (a brilliant touch, I thought).
Everything was going great. He might as well have just handed over the spare key right there and we could’ve begun working on the bathroom rota!
Then, for no reason at all, my mouth opened and in my out-loud speaking voice, words I had not ordered just came tumbling out. I cannot be sure of exactly what I said, because it’s possible I might also have been having a mini-stroke at the same time, but I remember saying quite a lot in quite a short space of time and finishing up with the offer of buying him a drink, in exchange for some advice.
When my mouth finally closed, I probably wondered how long it would be before the words “restraining order” came into play, which would more than likely have played havoc with the bathroom rota! Instead, he just casually offered me yet another lifeline, when he replied, “Sure! Let’s go get a drink over the road.”
Luck, it seemed, was definitely on my side.
THE DAY IT ALL BEGAN: Part Two (3 really)
“Use what you find in yourself to succeed, stand or fall wearing your heart on your sleeve”
So, my plan had worked. Sure, there were mistakes and, yes, we could dwell on the negative but, really, what would that achieve? In the end, thanks to the luck that had chosen to step up and act in my favour, I had the outcome I wished for. The only downside to my success being that I, now, only had as long as it takes to cover a hundred-odd yards, to ensure I had my shit pulled tightly together.
Buying every last possible second of thinking time, I remained rooted to my spot on the pavement but, as I turned to say something to him, Lemmy, I couldn’t help but notice, was already on the move, scything his way through the oncoming traffic and virtually at the other side of the road, already. I didn’t know it, then, but when that man set off for somewhere, he did so in a hurry.
Clearly, my departure could be put off no longer, so, with my trusty luck to guide me, I spun round and stepped confidently off the pavement…
…straight into an oncoming car!
I can still see (and feel) it, as if it were yesterday. There I was, splayed across the bonnet of a still-speeding car, my face pressed against the windscreen, staring directly into the angry-looking eyes staring back at me from the other side.
Now, over the years, it feels as if the Gods of comedic wishful thinking must have done a little tinkering with my memory, because, this must sound ridiculous… but, it’s here in my brain, that, as we sailed past and I peeled my face off the glass, I swear, I saw Lemmy giving me a little wave!
If he didn’t, I can assure you it’s what he would have meant to do, so, for him, that’s exactly what happened.
* * * *
Finally grinding to a halt, my dismount took the shape of a dart, flying through the air and landing in a heap on the eastbound carriageway of the Kings Road, from where, I watched Lem disappear into the Man In The Moon pub.
In his defence, we were not yet well enough acquainted to warrant any diversion from his alcoholic quest, just on the off chance that a stranger might require some sort of vital organ replacement surgery!
Anyway, bruised, rather than broken…dazed, but seemingly not confused, I managed to pick myself up, only to see the driver, for whom, things were clearly far from over, leaping out of his undamaged vehicle and, charging towards me, screaming something about personally finishing the job his car had started.
Believing that violence is never the answer, I, simply, engaged in that most British of attributes: I apologised for having been run over! Sadly, this did nothing. Not fighting appeared not to be an option for him, which he confirmed when he began poking me in the chest.
The pub emptied out and quite a crowd gathered to watch the kafuffle. And there was Lem, hand outstretched, walking towards me with a very large Scotch and American. I went to meet him, gracefully stepping over the body that had only just appeared in the road, grabbed my drink and off we went, to get things back on track.
Nothing more was said about the incident. Lemmy also hated violence, but for many years, if we were in a “tricky” situation, he would often say to the aggressor, ‘if you’re serious, poke him in the chest…you may have second thoughts!’
* * * *
Back in the pub, we plotted up at the fruit machine (not for the last time!) and, as he pumped in money (that he would never see again) at super-human speed, we began talking. Perhaps, it was the day’s events so far but there was no small talk. Well, who knew how much longer I had left? In addition, my nerves, which were a constant threat in every new social scenario, must have dropped out in the melee, because, for the first time in Lem’s company, I was just me.
Then, my luck came out to play, again. The first of several Beatles songs blared out from the jukebox. The only one I remember was “Paperback Writer” because we harmonised well on it and I remember being surprised that he could hit the McCartney high part. As it turned out, we were both obsessed with The Beatles. In fact, we were probably never more than two drinks away from talking about them. One of the happiest days we ever spent was watching the entire Beatles Anthology box set without a break, before, going through it again to re-watch some favourite moments!
And it wasn’t just a love of The Beatles, we shared. There was also our sense of humour. Even on that first day, I remember him reciting a couple of lines from the Python Architect’s sketch (think rotating knives) and that began an afternoon of one of us saying a line from Pete and Dud or Derek and Clive, the Goons, Python, Hancock, you name it and, both of us reciting the whole sketch. I can’t speak for him but I had already forgotten that we weren’t old friends.
It was at that moment, that fate took it upon itself to well and truly seal the deal: by introducing a busker.
Now, I know what you’re thinking…
…A busker on the Kings Road; got to be long haired, scruffy, semi-washed, wielding an acoustic guitar with CND sticker. Kicking off safe, with a couple of verses of “Streets of London”, then, up a notch with something a little more Simon and Garfunkel-ey, before launching into the crowd-pleasing finale, building to a crescendo of out-of-tune harmonies as everybody sings every word, followed by cheering, the raining down of coins, several offers of a drink and the mandatory 40-something drunk chick, (the one that earlier kissed the guy who’s so plowed he’d pissed himself and in about 15 minutes they’ll be in a screaming row, trying to glass each other) who wants to know if he can play American Pie?
If that’s what you had in mind…Well, you’d be quite wrong, I’m afraid.
* * * *
What first alerted us to the possibility of our impending danger, was a tortured, asthmatic, wheeze, closely followed by what sounded like a bag of small animals engaged in some form of horrific suicide pact.
Scouring the room for clues, we discovered the hellish racket seemed to come from the doorway, where a be-kilted man, fully accessorized in the style of a Scot going to war or a wedding, was grappling with, what I can only describe as, a set of bagpipes. Even worse, the way he held them seemed to be in the ‘loaded-with-intent-to-play’ position.
It’s common knowledge that the bagpipes are the instrument of choice for seeing in the end of the world and, certainly, our subject seemed to have mastered the ‘blowing up the bag’ bit and the ‘elbow-ey pushing out the air’ bit (or as I like to call it – the one minute warning). This all pointed to one thing. He was winding up for an imminent attack.
However, as I now know, whatever hell you think you’re in, as the bagpipes make ready at phase one, nothing prepares you for what’s on the way in phase two. Also, no matter how good the blower is at filling the fucker up, the tune-playing bit is a whole other ball game. And, it was that, even with my negligible bagpipe experience, that I sensed our “piper” had failed to master. It didn’t much matter, though – he had began blowing and pushing and sucking and was now passed the point of no return. Plus, he was already blocking the only fucking exit!
Lem, meanwhile, was still focussed on the spinning plums and cherries but I do remember him saying, ‘you ain’t gonna believe this.’ And just seconds later, his prophecy was fulfilled and we were treated to a deafening onslaught that bordered on the life threatening.
Now, Lemmy and I both knew loud. He, after all, had only recently upset a nice gentleman, who was trying to watch a little afternoon telly, when, several miles away, Motorhead began their soundcheck, rendering his programme unwatchable. This, however, was something else.
As he went through his repertoire, which seemed to be made up of those samey-sounding tunes the Scots play while they walk proudly into battle, I genuinely started to think my eyes were going to blow up.
It’s one thing blasting this shit out, on your way to a clan dust-up, in the highland glens of Argyll, but to do it at lunchtime, in a South West London pub, well, that’s tantamount to terrorism in my book.
Most people just did whatever they could to find comfort as they waited for the blessed relief of death. There was no escape and covering your ears was pointless. Everyone’s face was twisted and gnarled.
Lemmy and I went a different way. What began as simple laughter, soon turned into an uncontrollable howling, tears running down both our faces and, for me, anyway, I had to desperately try not to piss myself. I’ve never felt like that, before or since.
I can’t tell you how long any of this lasted. It felt like hours but it probably wasn’t much more than a minute or two. And, it would have gone on longer, too, were it not for the quick thinking publican, who launched himself over the bar and started to grapple with the bag-blower, forcing him to the ground and sitting on him, while he waited for the police, whom he had already called.
Bad as it was, we’d all been through quite enough and nobody wanted the law involved.
While we tried to reason with the landlord, the piper was trying to break free, a struggle that was accompanied by the now familiar soundtrack of deep moans and high squeals.
Eventually, he agreed to let the Scotsman go. The guy dusted himself down, thanked everyone and mentioned a large Scotch might be nice. As no one rushed to buy him one!
As he started organising himself, nobody noticed that he was winding up for the second half! Raising the pipe to his lips, you’ve never seen so many people spring into action, lunging at him from all corners, desperate to cover any part of the contraption that looked like it might be used in a noise making capacity, at the same time bustling him gently out the door and on his way.
Back inside, it felt like the aftermath of a battle. Everybody was trying to take stock of which, if any, of their senses, were still in tact. Lemmy and I just stared at each other, sore, as much from the laughter as the sonic Armageddon. There were no words, he simply held out his little finger and motioned me to wrap mine around it. And that was that, we were now, officially, friends.
And all it took was a well timed bump, getting run down by a car, a fight, The Beatles, Monty Python, a busking bagpiper and a 3 week headache and Bob’s your uncle…the start of 34 wonderful years of friendship with the guy out of the Kit Kat advert!