29th December 2015

I just heard that Lemmy died. I hadn’t seen him in years, but to me he represented the spirit of the sixties, still living on through the seventies and eighties. The times I remember best are the three Christmas Days spent with him, in the mid eighties, in New York City. There was quite a sizeable ex-pat Brit community in Manhattan in those days: we gathered only rarely in that capacity – Guy Fawkes Night being one of them, when someone would bring in fireworks from one of the Southern States where they were legal and we would make a bonfire and set them off, usually on the landfill site where they were building the World Trade Centre. The other time was Christmas, when even the most down-town and hip members of the New York arts-drug-music scene went home to see Mom and Pop. Betsy Volk, then married to Mickey Farren, always cooked a Christmas meal. They lived in a late-eighteenth century Federal building, with its own tiny backyard, just yards from the entrance to the Holland Tunnel, an extraordinary survivor of old New York on a site presumably too small to develop. They had the whole place, which was tiny, and were slowly doing it up. I hope it is still there.

Betsy would begin the cooking and a dozen or so of us would gather. Sometimes she would need a rest and I would take over, trying to pace myself with the wine. These were not abstemious people. Apart from Lemmy, Mickey and myself, the other Brits were Felix Dennis and usually Victor Bockris. Mickey, Felix and now Lemmy are no longer with us. Lemmy was always very relaxed; though he took a lot of speed, he also drank a lot of Jack Daniels which tended to smooth it out. He enjoyed talking about the early seventies Notting Hill scene that he and Mickey were so much a part of. I remember one long conversation about H, one of Jimi Hendrix’s roadies who used to have in a room in the house I rented in Westminster in the late sixties. Lemmy was fed up with talking about his days as one of Jimi’s roadies with journalists, but in fact he had very fond memories of those days and we knew a lot of people in common. He said it was where he learned how to live the life of a rock star, even though, of course, he wasn’t one yet. I remember him laughing and saying, ‘They call me the godfather of punk. I don’t know why, I’ve got the long hair and all these hippie connections.’ It was of course his attitude. Hawkwind was not a flower-power band.

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