Anyone who knows me in real life will know that usually I wear jeans and a rock t-shirt. However I have some t-shirts that are my favourites – Motorhead shirts. To explain this, I’ll have to give a quick history lesson.
Motorhead was formed by and always was defined by one man – Lemmy. He was a larger than life figure (despite being quite short), he was a roadie for Jimi Hendrix, then a member of Hawkwind. When that band kicked him out, he formed his own band on his own terms. At first they were a joke – too loud, too fast, too rough. “If Motorhead moves in next door your lawn will die” was an oft-quoted review. But Lemmy dug in. Through a chaos of bad management, poor contracts and line-up changes he continued to record albums and play concerts. He didn’t ever give up or compromise his principles. For over 40 years. Eventually Motorhead became a force to be reckoned with, not least because their fans were unswerving in their loyalty. In his own way both in interviews and behind the scenes, Lemmy proved himself to be one of the good guys.
I had tickets to take my sons to a Motorhead gig in early 2016 and they only missed out because Lemmy passed away just before the end of 2015. This shook me – the passing of a phase of my life that started in the mid-80s when my brother brought home a copy of Ace of Spades. For over 30 years of my life there was a Motorhead, a Lemmy.
So, back to the T-shirts. The iconic logo combination of Motorhead curving over the top, the Snaggletooth (the name of the big skull with the tusks) in the middle and England across the bottom first emerged about 40 years ago. Joe Petagno (who did artwork for Led Zeppelin) created the original Snaggletooth which then changed with each successive album cover across the years. It has now become synonymous with Motorhead.
However, recently I was researching bike clubs for my next book and came across an interesting fact. The most extreme bike clubs or gangs are known as outlaws or 1%-ers. (The most notorious of these gangs are the Hells Angels.) The members are in it for life with total commitment and are often viewed as criminal organisations by the police. They are also very protective of the system of patches worn on the backs of their jackets. What’s significant here is the three piece patch. A top patch called the top rocker will identify the club, the logo will be in the centre and the bottom rocker will identify the chapter, effectively staking a claim to a territory by that gang. The format of the three piece patch is fiercely defended. If a new club starts up with a three piece patch, they’d better have the approval of the local outlaw gang or a war will start.
So I read all this, then looked down at my t-shirt. Motorhead took that precise format as their logo – band name at the top, territory at the bottom. And they didn’t get any criticism for it. I cannot think of any other band that has dared to try this. It’s a sign of the respect that Lemmy commanded even in the beginning. It’s also equally telling that I can wear a shirt that says “England” on it while living in Wales and get no grief for it at all — not even during Rugby World Cup season!
I wanted to write this post (and well done if you’ve read this far!) because I bought five new Motorhead t-shirts recently as I was running out of clothes to wear. I made a conscious decision as a sign of respect for Motorhead and recognising what it means to me. And since I’ve made that choice, I’ve got into so many conversations with strangers. Yesterday I took the children to a museum and the bloke serving coffee said “Did you see them live?” It took me a minute to twig and then we had a long chat about music, mostly the concerts we’d been to and what was coming up soon.
This wasn’t an isolated incident, I’ve had shop worker chat to me about whether my kids listen to the same music (they do and they’re also finding their own way too), I’ve heard “great band” by way of greeting when I pass someone in the street.
I think what’s happening is a tribal thing. Most people when they get to their late forties aren’t in a place where rock t-shirts are their day-to-day attire. The people who comment are usually in work clothes, but can see me as a member of their tribe and it warms their hearts.
I’m lucky that I have many friends in many walks of life. And whether we all like the same classic car, or our children all face the same problems, when we’re together we feel like we belong. We can relax.
Something similar happens when I go to a rock festival. Even though I’m surrounded by strangers, I get a strong feeling of coming home, of being with people-like-me. What’s great is that through my t-shirts that feeling is now leaking out into my every day life. From what I know of him, Lemmy would’ve been proud that his music is still bringing people together over eighteen months after his death. He certainly didn’t suffer fools, but he was definitely one of the good guys.
So, next time you see me, or someone else, in a Motorhead t-shirt, you’ll know why.