Monday, 11 January 2016

Lemmy, Bowie and Von. A TSOM fan's tribute to two musical icons

The announcement of the untimely death of David Bowie, less than two weeks after Lemmy's passing, means that Andrew Eldritch has lost two of his inspirational heroes within the space of a fortnight.

As well as mourning the loss of two giants of the rock world in their own right, TSOM fans must also admit that without either of these two very different but legendary figures, The Sisters of Mercy would not have existed, a fact that Eldritch has willingly acknowledged on a number of occasions over the years
Like many early teenagers born around the dawning of the 1960's, life for young Andrew Taylor would never be the same again after July 6th 1972, when David Bowie appeared with his band on the BBC's iconic Top Of The Pops TV show. He often referred to this pivotal moment in interviews, telling Record Mirror: "I started with the usual thing - seeing David Bowie and 'Starman' on TOTP. That was brilliant, and I think that he basically kept music going throughout the Seventies." Von's comment about "the usual thing" reflects the fact that this moment had a huge influence not only on him but on a huge number of iconic singers of his generation, a situation referred to by Bauhaus' Daniel Ash in an interview with Zachary Lipez of in 2014 : "You always hear people like Morrissey, Marc Almond, Boy George and George Michael, they all talk about Bowie doing Starman on TOTP where he puts his arm around Mick Ronson...I remember going into town and before I bought this 7" single a voice in my head said, "If you buy this record, your life is never going to be the same. Do you want to go down this road?" Of course, I bought it."

Not only did Ash buy the single, but Bauhaus would pay Bowie a lavish tribute by covering "Ziggy Stardust", a UK top 20 hit some ten years later, whereas it would not be until 2011 that TSOM first performed a Bowie song in public, with Chris Catalyst taking over (most) vocal duties on a rendition of "John, I'm Only Dancing", first performed live in the Netherlands in Tilburg on the XXX tour.
Before then of course, Von had had the pleasure of interviewing his idol Bowie for the German edition of Rolling Stone magazine, around the time that the "Outside" album (influenced by Nine Inch Nails and the industrial scene) was released. Eldritch didn't hide his dislike of the album, and the interview reads a little strained as a result, although writing about the experience in Underneath The Rock afterwards, Eldritch confessed "For what it's worth, I told David Bowie that I think he's a genius...The poor sod actually told me how nice it was to do an interview which didn't ask after his ex-wife, so I reckon he's not going to be too unhappy." Ironically, on Bowie's comeback album of 2013, The Next Day, his vocals were likened to those of Eldritch by some heretical reviewers, and one track, Love Is Lost, certainly seemed to have some Sisterhood influence (all extremely ironic, of course, given the frequent comparisons with Bowie in reviews of Eldritch's own early work).
Motörhead were another frequently acknowledged influence from the early days, with Eldritch telling Adam Sweeting as far back as his first national interview in February 1982, "We're not as good as Motörhead but we're better than the The Birthday Party. That makes us pretty damned good." Or consider this Polish TV interview from 2003 : "Something tells me that when there's nothing left on this planet except for nuclear waste and cockroaches, there'll still be Lemmy."

Eldritch has paid tribute to Lemmy in many different ways throughout his career, with live cover versions of Hawkwind’s "Silver Machine" and of "Capricorn" (from Motorhead's Overkill LP), and a fascination with the early 1975 incarnation of the band which led him to record with drummer Lucas Fox (on "Gift") and then cover guitarist Larry Wallis' solo effort "Police Car" live in 2015. Eldritch told a Czech interviewer (Sukhoi on HL) "We went to see Motorhead in Bradford a few years back and they've still got it." However, Lemmy told the same interviewer "I've not seen TSOM perform on stage but I respect Andre and his commitment to music," showing that the adulation was not enirely mutual. The two had known each other for a long while, and according to the Sisters' official website, fans at the legendary show at the Royal Albert Hall show had Lemmy to thank for the fact that there was a final encore. "Andrew had been performing with a couple of cracked ribs, and he had decided to finish [the show], but Lemmy was in the dressing room to convince him that another encore was in order."

 All of the above anecdotes hint at Von's respect for Bowie and Lemmy, but give little indication of the ways in which their own influence shone through in the Sisters' oeuvre. Bowie unwittingly taught the future Andrew Eldritch a certain theatricality, the ability to adopt a new name and persona, the facility with which an artist could reinvent himself, the ability to flirt publicly with the feminine side of one's personality, the advantages of lyrical obtuseness, the exotic appeal of Mittel Europa and the very idea of rock as an art form. As a live performer, Bowie's various 70's reincarnations revealed to Eldritch, Peter Murphy and many others the blueprint for how a frontman can hold an audience in his power, itself a bastardisation of Iggy's raw power. As a singer, Von's vocal inflections, emotive power (eg in SKOS) or vulnerability (1959) are all redolent of Bowie, albeit with his own idiosyncrasies and in a different octave.

Lemmy, on the other hand, showed Eldritch the joys of life on the road, all lads together, band and roadies living out the rock'n'roll dream to the max, following amphetamine logic. Scuzzy bass driving guitar overload rock, the ultimate industrial groove machine, was the inevitable result, heard to best effect on the likes of Body Electric, Floorshow, or Vision Thing. Lemmy stayed true to his principles, despite the obvious physical ravages of the lifestyle, another similarity with Eldritch, whose vision for the Sisters remains the same as in 1981.

Both Bowie and Lemmy have been greatly and rightly mourned in their own way, but both live on in the legacy they have created, in their own output as much in that of bands they have influenced : go and see TSOM in 2016 and stage left you will find the sleek androgyny of Ben Christo, all flamboyant flourishes and sensitive strumming, whilst stage right Chris Catalyst is the personification of the 100% genuine rocker, living for music and the next tour. And walking the tightrope between these two extremes, and combining the best elements of both, another of the rock pantheon's most unforgettable creations : Andrew Eldritch. 

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