“Looking through crystal spectacles, I can see you had your fun” Epistle to Dippy Donovan
I was just coming off the platform at Earls Court Road one day, and as I ran up the stairs to the Warwick Street entrance I saw Lemmy and his friend Leo. I stopped and joined the conversation. Leo struck me as a wild, wired guy. He looked a little like Philthy Animal Tayor, Motorhead’s drummer before Mickey Dee, similar energy. He was a speed freak, very friendly, and I liked him. After just a few minutes, Leo took his leave, and we watched him bounding up the stairs, waving goodbye as he went. When he was nearly out of site Lemmy turned to me and said “ Leo called me Motorhead…isn’t that cool?” I had no idea what that meant, but agreed that it was. So many times over the years Lemmy would say things that I wondered about, and that was one of them. I should have asked “Well, what does that mean exactly?” “Why is it cool?”
I’d never heard that word before, and wouldn’t hear it again till twenty years later, but it was the key to finding Lemmy again.
“We’ve moved”, Lemmy said happily and with an excited air about him, “over to Nevern Square. Come on, I’ll show you”, and he grabbed my hand and pulled me along. It was only a few blocks away, still in our neighborhood. As we walked he told me that they had recorded an album and he couldn’t wait to show me. “What?… Wow!”, I exclaimed. This was a big deal, and a complete surprise to me. In those days, recording was a complicated and expensive endeavor, involving a contract with a studio, not like it is today, with recording options so much more accessible.
This new place was a room in the front of the house with a big three sided window that bowed out, very light and airy, with high ceilings. Lemmy had a bed right in the alcove of the window overlooking the square, the large garden guarded by a tall wrought iron fence. These squares are private, only for residents surrounding them, who have keys. It was a lovely street, and stately townhouse. Going back to London forty years later to reminisce, I couldn’t be sure exactly which townhouse it was.
The room was large and white, with crown molding around the edges of the ceiling and artful details gracing the walls, giving it a formal feeling character. This room was built to be an elegant parlor or dining room, and now it had been reduced to a flat for wild rock and rollers. There were four disheveled beds arranged around the room. Like the last flat, it was rather dull and nondescript, but it had a cozy, lived in feeling about it, a nest, and was a definite upgrade from the last place on Philbeach Gardens. Noticeably, there were several guitars about the room. Roger was living there too, one of his band mates whom I had met briefly, and two other musicians I would never meet.
I sat down on his bed, taking in the room. He had a little bedside table, strewn with stuff like cigarettes and lighters, rolling papers. On top of the pile was a pair of unusual eye glasses which immediately drew my eye. They were spectacular Two oval, many faceted crystals were the “glass”, one blue, and one a turquoise green. The frames were clearly hand fashioned of copper, holding the crystals in place with a swirling design at the sides and circling around the ear. I immediately picked them up and put them on. It was like looking through a kaleidoscope. Everything I looked at was multiplied, and moved as I moved my head, and any light was lined with a rainbows of color. “ Aren’t they incredible?”, Lemmy asked coming from the kitchen offering me cocktail franks, in cellophane packages, slices of ham, and cheese, the kind of food he’s always liked! “They’re psychedelic spectacles, meant to wear when your tripping”, he said, “ I drove all the way to Newcastle wearing those!” I nodded incredulously, as I scanned the room, especially focusing on the sunlight streaming in the windows onto Lemmy’s bed.
“Look at this!” he said as he picked up the album on the bed and handed it to me. It was a black textured album cover with large yellow letters saying “Sam Gopal” over a portrait of Lemmy with his band mates, Sam, Roger, and Phil. It was called “Escalator.” I was speechless and I was impressed. I just looked at him and smiled.
As I was looking it over, Lemmy said “ Listen, I’ve got to go. I’ve got to meet Roger.” He took the album out of my hands, pulled the record out of the cover, put it on the record player. “Stay and listen to it” he said with a twinkle of pride in his eye. He kissed me lightly on the cheek and left.
I sat there alone in the darkening room as evening came on, and listened to the whole album. I loved it. It was psychedelic, electric, sound effects conjuring haunting images along with the music, like the Beatle’s “Sergent Pepper” album. Sam Gopal played tablas throughout giving it an unusual sound, coupled with Lemmy’s distinct voice, soft and romantic in some songs, and driven and passionate in others. This was the first time I really heard him sing. This was incredible.
I had had an overwhelming desire to wear the eye glasses outside in the sunlight. I knew Lemmy wouldn’t mind if I borrowed them. As I walked home in a psychedelic haze wearing the crystal spectacles, Donovan’s song, “Epistle to Dippy” in my mind.
I also wore them to school the next day. Later that evening Lemmy was at my door. “Do you have my spectacles?” he asked anxiously, sounding out of breath and slightly panicked. “Yes,” I said, “ I didn’t think you would mind if I borrowed them”. With a look and a sigh of relief he said “Oh no, that’s alright, “I was just worried about them disappearing.” I got the spectacles from my room and handed them to him. “Gotta run, he said, we’re off to Newcastle again!” With a quick smile he ran up the stairs.
I wouldn’t see him again for twenty years.
Trouble was brewing at home unbeknownst to me, and I would be leaving London rather suddenly later that week while Lemmy was away…
Over the years I was always on the look out for crystals like those in Lemmy’s glasses, with the intention of making some just like them. It took thirty-five years.
But I did find the crystals in Dublin, in a bead and crystal shop on Batchelors’ Walk on the River Liffey. I got some copper wiring, and struggled to fashion the frames around the crystals, somewhat successfully, although a little crudely. The next time I went to see Motorhead, I presented them as a gift to Lemmy. I had told Phil and Mickey about the glasses and they were watching with me as Lem opened the box. When he saw them, he literally lit up with a childlike delight, and completely surprised, as if they were the original glasses, long lost and returned again. I was beyond joyful myself, having made him so happy.