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Lemmy, Feminism, and Ambivalence

Veröffentlicht am 28.12.2018

My Third Obituary for Lemmy Kilmister (Dec 24, 1945 – Dec 28, 2015)

It's been three years now that Lemmy passed away and it happened exactly as I predicted: since he's left us, the world has gone nuts. Trump and the rise of global populism. Catholic Church sexual abuse cases. Russian hybrid wars. Return of the Taliban in Afghanistan. See the connection? All because there's no more Motörhead, the last and loudest bulwark of reason!

Remember that line from "God was never on your side" (2006)? "Let the voice of reason shine / Let the pious vanish for all times / God's face is hidden, all unseen / You can't ask him what it all means." Well, this couldn't be more topical – not just regarding the religious pious but also the self-righteous voices in public debates.

The appreciation of irony and ambivalence, of the cathartic power of black humor, of mutual respect despite disagreement, of the universality of justice, of pluralism beyond multicultural kitsch is under fire and thus the best sides of the postmodern era. Lemmy was a true postmodernist. His relation to women was a case in point.

Today, we often expect people to be universally good. If they aren't, they must be bad. If someone is not left-wing, she must be right-wing. If someone criticizes political correctness, he must be reactionary. If someone is critical of feminism, he must be macho chauvinist masculinist misogynist, right? Somehow, we have forgotten that reality is complex, ambivalent, dirty, confusing, and manifold. All attempts to squeeze it into well thought out schemes only makes things worse.

On the one hand, Lemmy was an old school sexist. He spoke out against feminism, he wrote lines like "I like a little innocent bitch", he neglected his parental duties, and so forth. On the other hand, he was respected by women all over the world. How come? Rather than griping about academic gender issues aloofly and condescendingly, Motörhead collaborated with female musicians from early on and on an equal footing. The band supported and toured with Girlschool, Lemmy duetted with singers such as Nina C. Alice, Doro Pesch or Wendy O. Williams and he spoke admiringly about strong female musicians. Lemmy was all in favor of having more women in the rock genre and he treated them, according to the public accounts that I know of, with respect. In his autobiography White Line Fever (2002) he wrote: "I liked the idea of girls being in a band. I wanted to stick it up these pompous bastard guitarists' asses."

As an anarchist, Lemmy craved personal freedom – for himself and for others, male or female. That's rather against the grain of patriarchy, isn't it? So when it came to actually DOING gender, Lemmy and Motörhead were in some ways more progressive than many self-proclaimed progressive academics who believe that reality is being created by their words like the world was created by the words of God. The metal genre, in which Motörhead used to be included despite Lemmy being wary of it, is characterized by the same janus-facedness, as Robert Walser has shown in his book Running with the Devil (1993): "Metal replicates the dominant sexism of contemporary society, but it also allows a kind of free space to be opened up by and for certain women, performers and fans alike. Female fans identify with a kind of power that is usually understood in our culture as male – because physical power, dominance, rebellion, and flirting with the dark side of life are all culturally designated as male prerogatives."

Metal in general and Motörhead in particular have helped to open up such "free spaces" with benefits for men as well as women. At the same time, Lemmy did not subscribe to the often priestly and sometimes even patronizing discourses of inclusion and diversity. Simply because they don't feel like freedom, I guess. Anarchy can do without a guiding culture. If there's freedom and respect, non-conformism and integrity, humor and tolerance, openness and criticism, power relations will change anyway. Maybe that's why the feminist punk rock band Half Girl decided to release the song "Lemmy I'm A Feminist" in 2013: "Lemmy, I’m a feminist, but I love you all the way / I love the way you dress and shave, and I love the way you play." The lyrics are among the smartest ones that I've ever come across, all in praise of self-confidence, humor, ambivalence, and ambiguity. In Frank Schäfer's superb metal anthology Hear 'em All, you'll find the whole story of how Half Girl singer Julie Miess tried to become Lemmy's best friend, notwithstanding his rejection of feminism: "Lemmy war alles, was ich sein wollte. Stark, unabhängig, jenseits aller Bürgerlichkeit und allen Sicherheitsdenkens. […] Ich stellte mir vor, dass sich sehr gut mit ihm [über Feminismus] reden ließe und er sehen würde, dass Feminismus gut war, schließlich war er selbst ein Revolutionär." But read and listen for yourself – and raise your glass to the great Lemmy Kilmister, involuntary feminist icon!