Overkill: The Untold Story of Motorhead By Joel McIver

By Steve Earles

Back in 2002, Lemmy published his excellent autobiography White Line Fever; Joel McIver’s Overkill book is the perfect companion to that tome, for while Lemmy’s book was the story of Lemmy, Overkill concentrates on Motorhead and it is a tale splendidly told.

Lemmy’s father abandoned him and his mother, and so he grew up for the first years of his life in a matriarchal household, giving him a very pro-women attitude (in every possible sense of the word!). Indeed, couple that with his love of good manners (something I share, and similar bemoan their decline), he comes across as quite a gentleman, despite the wild image. This is as it should be. The worse people I’ve ever met looked the most respectable, but that was chimerical, what lies beneath is very often vile.

Joel takes the reader on a journey through the 60s with Lemmy and the thing that strikes me, is that unlike so many people today, Lemmy really lived. He wasn’t experiencing life through the soulless zero-empathy internet, no, he was a roadie for Jimi Hendrix and seeing the Beatles up-close (wisely Lemmy doesn’t rate the Stones too highly, seeing them as a brand today rather than a band. My dad saw them back in the day and concurs). In the 70s Lemmy would join the mighty Hawkwind, a band who’ve influenced everyone from Monster Magnet to The Prodigy, and really deserve a lot more respect than they’ve gotten. Lemmy’s longstanding friendship with Hawkwind’s magnificent dancer Stacia is yet another of his endearing features.

Sacked in 1975 from Hawkwind, something Lemmy comments ironically on: “Being sacked from Hawkwind for taking drugs is a bit like being pushed off the Empire State Building for liking heights.” But it is Lemmy’s ousting from the Hawks that led to the birth of Motorhead, and this is where Joel has really produced a book of worth and value. He gives a voice to all the members of Motorhead, and many of the key people connected with them.

Oh, I loved reviewing this book, it was like a time machine back to a golden age, one that importantly still continues, as Motorhead are still as awesome as ever. Motorhead’s story would make a great film indeed, with its incredible highs and lows (often literally!). It’s also important to remember just how influential Motorhead are, while I accept that Lemmy sees the head as a rockn’roll band, nevertheless Motorhead’s influence on metal is gigantic (second only to Black Sabbath and in front of Venom). Without Motorhead, there would have been no Venom, no Metallica (and all that followed therein)! Just think about that, not a nice thought. Moreover, they were highly important to the New Wave of British Heavy Metal because they gave it a shot of energy and aggression at a time when it badly needed it.

Finally, it has also to be said, that Joel has captured the characters (not just Lemmy) that have gone through Motorhead over the years. It’s sad that we so seldom see new characters of their ilk coming through. With the sad passing of the likes of Ronnie James Dio (whom Joel rightly dedicates this fine book too), you realize that the originals are being replaced with the bland. It’s a sad thought but when Motorhead are finally gone, there will be a terrible void that will never be filled.

But, in the meanwhile, we still have Motorhead, get out and go see them and get their albums. The most recent The World Is Yours is a magnificent album (the scathing “Brotherhood of Man” has to be one of the best Motorhead songs ever (and would put many metal bands to shame), a razor sharp assessment of man’s inhumanity to man, and this was written by a man in his 60s, proof indeed that age and experience can often trounce youth. Indeed, we still have much to learn from out elders. Respect!)

With the added bonus of an introduction from the great Glenn Hughes, I recommend this book highly, and as a long-term Motorheadbanger (even joined the fan club!), I don’t say that lightly.

Now put on Orgasmatron and get reading!

(Omnibus Press)



Sean is the founder/publisher of Hellbound.ca; he has also written about metal for Exclaim!, Metal Maniacs, Roadburn, Unrestrained! and Vice.