Lemmy Kilmister, front man for legendary hard rock band Motörhead and all around rock god, recently died (spoiler alert?). There’s a documentary out there about him, and plenty of articles talking about his life, with other rock stars saying nice shit about him, so if you want to know more about the man himself, then go read some of those. But this is Fierce Bearding, so we’re going to focus on something more specific: Lemmy’s facial hair.
Terminology might be a bit hard to nail down, as different people use different terms for various styles. Most would agree Lemmy wore what you’d call a “friendly chops” style, sometimes known as a “chopstache” or even “friendly chopstache.” By any name, it has always been a signature part of his look.
The Rockin’ Vickers (Vicars)
Or has it? Lemmy died at the age of 70, surprisingly slightly outliving both David Bowie and Alan Rickman in their “it always happens in threes” death trio. So when Lemmy was starting out in the rock scene, it was the early-to-mid sixties. To have a chance to make it, he had to wear a pretty clean cut look. Being English, he got to wear his hair a bit shaggy and do the mod thing, but it’s still light years away from the Lemmy we all came to know.
What I love about images like this is that it’s fun to look back at this generic mod rocker from the 60’s – one of a million at the time – and think of how he turned out. He grew, he learned, and he distinguished himself in a way that so few of his ilk at the time managed to.
In the 1970’s, Lemmy joined up with space rock band Hawkwind. He was hired on as a bass player, despite having basically zero experience as a bassist. The story goes that he was encouraged to join due to his love of amphetamines (another member at the time was the only band member who liked them, and he wanted a drug buddy). The music scene used to be a lot different.
In the above picture, Lemmy is on the far right. Doesn’t look like him, right? If you zoom in, you can kinda see the trademark warts on his cheek. And yes, you can also see the swastika on his breast pocket (Lemmy may have been a bit of a troll at the time). Though his facial hair hasn’t fully formed into the chopstache just yet, you can see he’s starting to grow it out here. You can even tell it’s not growing in so well on his chin, which may be why he eventually settled on the style he did.
When Hawkwind booted Lemmy over a drug bust in ’75, he went on to form Motörhead, which I’ll go ahead and tell you now, gained slightly more notoriety than Hawkwind (aka that band you just heard of a couple paragraphs ago). Not long later, the two bands went on tour together, with Hawkwind opening up. He stayed friends with his old bandmates, but you know Lemmy must have gotten a strong sense of satisfaction out of surpassing the guys who had rejected him.
The above image, taken a few years later once the band was a bit more established, is one of the earlier shots of Lemmy with the full chopstache. Not quite as majestic as it became later on, but you can still see the scruffy little chops beginning to form.
I think it’s this picture, taken in the mid-80’s, where we first see the dream of Lemmy’s chopstache realized. Unlike in earlier images, like this:
. . . wherein we might see both chops and ‘stache, it wasn’t until around the time of the previous image that we got to see it all come together. He never seemed to have a ton of trouble growing facial hair (except, I theorize, maybe on his chin), so I think what we see here is Lemmy finally coming into his own. He has gained enough confidence as the front-man for Motörhead, and is secure in settling on a signature look. It’s touching, in a way, to see a man who would go on to become a rock legend evolve his look over time until you can see him finally go from being Ian to being fucking Lemmy.
It’s not my desire to reduce such a complex and awesome man to nothing more than a cool mustache and some chops. This is a way to track the evolution of this man. None of us are our beards or our mustaches, but the way to choose to look is a part of our identity. Do you wear a tight ‘stache instead of a full beard? Why? Chances are, if you think about it, you’ll realize the answer is “because I’m a mustache kind of guy.” Our personal styles are often our projections of our self-images; how we show the world who we are inside. Seeing Lemmy settle on his eventual look is, therefore, a way to learn more about him as a man – something you should definitely do if you haven’t already, because he was awesome.
Okay, so remember where I said I thought Lemmy’s chin game may not have been too strong? I did actually manage to dig up a photo of him with a bit of chin growth. The photo is a tad grainy, and at first looks like he’s doing the donegal thing, but look closely and you can see a little bit of a mustache up there. So, while it’s patchy and short, we’ve actually got a shot of Lemmy in a full beard here. For the full beard types (myself included) this is actually pretty badass!
. . . and then there’s this brief period in the 80’s when he decided to toss a few bills Gilette’s way, and ended up with a baby face (well, a bit stubbly perhaps, and with sideburns so long they almost qualify as chops).
And I have to share this one. This is Lemmy is Ron Jeremy’s John Wayne Bobbitt Uncut, a 1994 porn that capitalized on one of history’s most insane runaway news stories. I have never seen the movie, and I honestly had no idea that Lemmy had a bit part in it. Don’t worry, it’s just a cameo – there’s no Lemmy ass. Check out about 25 seconds in for Lemmy’s oscar-worthy dialogue.