Watching Lemmy’s memorial wasn’t easy. As my thoughts went back to the beginning, I struggled to reconcile the unassuming, youthful musician I met the summer of 1968 with the famous heavy metal icon he had become. Here he is, revered by so many, a staggering 300,000 people watching. The memory of who Lemmy was, and the times I spent with him in our youth have crystallized as one of the most meaningful experiences in my life. I had grieved over the loss of Lemmy as he was then, in spite of the happy memories. Now I was sorrowfully saying goodbye to the man he had become. “To only see you…”, Lemmy’s lyrics in “Yesterlove”, a song he wrote that summer about his own first love have echoed in my mind for 47 years.
When I first met him I wasn’t aware that he was actually writing songs. All that summer he was working on an album to be called “Escalator” with Sam Gopal. He never talked about it at all, but I’d show up at his door and he’d pull me into the room, guitar in hand. “I’m working on this new riff. What do you think?” We’d climb up onto his bed and I’d listen to him play. I’d quietly pick up his acoustic guitar with no strings and pretend to play it. God, I was so young and silly I suppose, but it was just the kind of thing a hippy flower girl would do and he seemed amused by it. He gave me that guitar.
Lemmy had taken me to Sam’s flat one August evening. I didn’t realize it then, but he group was named after him. I liked Sam a lot. He was handsome and had beautiful long, thick, black hair. I was in awe of the hippy atmosphere of his home. Colorful Indian prints were draped on the rose colored walls, incense burned, bells tinkled. His very beautiful young girlfriend, who’s name I can no longer recall, was lounging on a leather hassock on the Persian rug, smoking hashish from a hookah on the low round wooden table and the smells of exotic, Indian food wafted through the air. The lighting was soft and had a golden hue. I had come from a suburban home in Massachusetts and was studying ballet at the prestigious Royal Ballet School. I had never seen anything like this before. I liked this lifestyle…
Lemmy wanted to show me everything he did, his artwork, his music, his writing. When I had to get home, because I had a curfew, he’d always stop me at the kitchen door playing something for me, trying to keep me there. “Listen to this” he’d say. “How does this sound?” Or, “What musicians do you like besides the Beatles?” (because of course I would like the Beatles best, that was a given). “Donovan”, I said. I was pleased to see, many months later, that the only cover on “Escalator” was Donovan’s “Season of the Witch”, a song about the hobbits in “Lord of the Rings” That summer he wrote in a song:
“If you are going, go very swiftly. Don’t linger saying tender goodbyes. My lips are moving. I’m only speaking to try and make you stay with me here”
And that’s how it felt whenever I was leaving.
Lemmy called and asked me to go with him to see “Traffic” with Stevie Winwood in Hyde Park. This was my first rock concert, so it was exciting for me! (I still love that I can say I went to my first rock concert with Lemmy!)
We strode into the park towards the music. I have a vivid image in my mind, as if we were shooting a scene from a movie. We are passing the camera focused up from the grass, the camera lens seeing the stage and the ocean of hippies sitting on the grass through our legs as we walk past hand in hand. I was wearing a new dress bought in Earl’s Court at “Lady Cynthia’s Boutique”. It was an empire waist dress with wide flowing sleeves, made of a blue/purple Indian print, and I wore those sandals that laced up to the knees. Lemmy was wearing his Edwardian suit with pink flip flops as usual… I’m not sure I ever saw him wear anything else that summer, not even the new trousers! He wore a hat with a colorful scarf tied around the brim and a feather floating on one side. One time, in his flat, I was looking at the photos strewn across the floor, proofs from a photo shoot, and he said I could have one if I liked. I chose one of him wearing that hat and smiling a broad smile. Sadly, that photo was lost, but is etched in my mind.
Thankfully, it wasn’t a mercilessly hot and sunny August day- that would have made the day unbearable for me. We were in London, after all. It was pleasant and breezy, and the overcast English sky was perfect with just a hint of sun from time to time.
Brian Auger and the Trinity and Julie Driscoll, “Jools” opened the show. They were the latest group everyone was talking about in London. Jools was as cool as can be, and Brian Augers’ organ music was powerful and impressive.
But we had come to see Stevie Winwood and “Traffic”. “Dear Mr Fantasy” will forever bring me back to that afternoon. And my favorite Traffic song, “Forty Thousand Headmen”, I heard for the first time that day. I see myself sitting there on the grass, sun glinting in my eyes just enough to put a sparkle on the scene, my long straight hair brushing across my face in the slight breeze. I could hardly believe I was here. We were happy.
That particular moment in time, the late 60’s, was a time like no other before or since. If I could go back in time, 1968 would be the year I would choose to re-live again. There was something in the air, and we all knew it, though it was unspoken. The times were changing, we were a part of it, and the world would never be the same again.