It was reported last week that Lemmy from Motörhead has died at the age of 70. As you might expect, tributes flooded in from around the world. It was the messages from other musicians that interested me most. A number of them commented how much influence he had over their own sound and attitude.
It reminded me of an epiphany I had a few months back: that I like it when the people I admire also look up to other people.
For example, I recently developed a slight obsession with poet Scroobius Pip who looks up to his contemporary Kate Tempest, with whom I then developed a slight obsession. In a 2010 interview, Tempest stated that her influences include Virginia Woolf, Samuel Beckett, James Joyce, W B Yeats and W H Auden.
You will encounter the occasional person who claims to have done it all by themselves. Some years ago, I interviewed an up-and-coming Glasgow band. One of the questions I asked each band member was Who are your influences? One of them – I can’t remember which – rather grandly claimed that she wasn’t influenced by anyone as she didn’t want to copy anyone.
Firstly, there’s no way she had no influences. She would have learnt her instrument by playing other people’s music. And around the time of the interview, Franz Ferdinand were big and The Fratellis were breaking through. Every Glasgow musician was keeping an eye on these home-grown bands, even if it were only to make a deliberate move away from their sound. For a writer, even a bad novel can show you how not to pen a book.
Secondly, an idol might merely be different from the person who looks up to him or her, not necessarily better. Is it possible to compare Joyce or Yeats with Tempest? It would be difficult. But nobody writes in true isolation; any author you’ve ever read. regardless of genre or style, can potentially have a bearing upon your current work.
So next time you enjoy someone’s work, remember your idols also have idols. Find out who they enjoy, and see whether you can spot their influences.
PS: I am not obsessed