12/28/2015. Motörhead frontman, rock icon “Lemmy” dead at seventy the news channels screamed. How could god die?
I saw Motörhead last in Madison Square Garden at the Gigantour 2012. It was my fourth, and each time I’ve pleasantly impaired the natural performance of my ears. His bronchial rasp, that lowered microphone, those majestic whiskers, the Marlboro reds which he abused between songs, his shiny Rickenbacker guitar remained intact. Most millennials in the audience came to see Megadeth, the encore performance of the tour. When Dave Mustaine (Megadeth frontman) took a minute after the show to profusely thank Lemmy and Motörhead, some of the millennials in the audience learned who the headmaster and the student of the rock n’ roll school were.
Even my date for that evening, a fan of the eighties/nineties speed/thrash bands, was blissfully ignorant of the innovator. I had to explain an incident which took place in late seventies about a car that shadowed the Motörhead tour bus from San Diego, CA along the west coast. It was in the state of Oregon that the bus driver notified Lemmy about the stalker, Lars Ulrich, a pimply-faced nineteen y/o zealot who was later appointed the President of the US Motörhead Fan Club. He later went on to form Metallica that basically duplicated many of the attributes that Motörhead invented: song structure and versing, attitude, raspy vocals, fast-paced rock to mention a few. Many of the bands from Slayer to Sepultura and Anthrax to Death Angel aped Motörhead to become Billboard chart-topping rockstars who flew in private jets and slept with supermodels. Motörhead was where Motörhead is. Raw, passionate, authentic, and in-your-face.
Perhaps David Letterman should have introduced Motörhead with more deference or rather politeness to American audiences when they played a Chuck Berry classic in his Late Night show that only brought the beast out of his sidekick, Paul Shaffer. Perhaps the jury in Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame needed to identify and honor true rock icons for their contribution and influence. Perhaps Motörhead should’ve made flashy videos of leather-clad skinny girls for MTV audiences. Perhaps news journalists could refrain portraying him solely as a boisterous party-animal, coarsely scurrilous at groupie extravaganzas in their short-sighted requiem. In truth, these perhapses do not exist.
Ask most any music critic and he’ll tell you Lemmy Kilmister’s great artistic achievements from being Jimi Hendrix’s roadie to Hawkwind’s bassist to Motörhead’s frontman of forty years. Ask rock aficionados about Lemmy Kilmister, and they’ll explain how he singularly laid the foundation for the gritty aesthetic of punk, new wave heavy metal, no wave, thrash metal, speed metal, alternative rock, grunge, and death metal. Motörhead was not metal, but it was metal. Motörhead was punk, before punk was a recognized genre. For a musician ahead of the times and a key touchstone of the movements in rock music to follow, Lemmy had to develop his own ideology, his own myth and history; even his standard of greatness amply sited by fellow musicians from Ozzy Osbourne (of Black Sabbath) to Tracy Marrow (Ice-T) only recites a part of the story.
Lemmy Kilmister is a standard of human passion and perseverance. One cannot put it any simpler than that.
Passion: His passion is everywhere in his life, in the songs he wrote, in his keen intelligence of social and political issues, and in his amphetamine-fueled music; its attribution only raises your body temperature. Lemmy’s passion means many things, encompassing psychedelic rock of Sam Gopal, space rock of Hawkwind, or the intense singularity and devotion of Motörhead’s proto-punk. Unusual in the fields of heavy rock, we discover a philosopher and a thinker of great compassion; his antagonism towards religion (“Orgasmatron”), his hostility to any established authority (“Eat the Rich,” “March or Die”), his outrage to war (“1916,” “Get Back in Line”), his espoused bleakness to child abuse (“Don’t Let Daddy Kiss me”).
Perseverance: Born as Ian Fraser Kilmister, he was three months old when his father, a clergyman, deserted the family. He grew up at a time before rock music, listening to his mother’s Rosemary Clooney records. He was nine when Ian decided to play the guitar. When his mother remarried, he spent his teen years as a guitarist in obscure bands (Rainmakers, Motown Sect, Opal Butterfly, and the Rockin’ Vickers), short of money, eating when he can cadge a meal. “Lemme borrow a fiver.” Lemmy was baptized. Neville Chesters, Jimi Hendrix Road Manager, whom I interviewed for my forthcoming book on “Icons” told me that if Lemmy could not play in other bands, he’d carry their guitars and equipment. “He’s come in the hard way of persistence.” Years later after he found himself in band, Hawkwind, he was only unceremoniously expelled from it in a foreign country without dime in his pocket. Any ordinary human being facing such calamities and adversities from a fatherless childhood to frustrated adolescence and deep poverty would have imbued instant disdain to take a salaried employment as a security guard or a bus driver in England. It takes a Lemmy Kilmister to disregard circumstances and create a destiny that imposes gigantic hope as an immutable ideal which motivates fans, inspires other rock musicians, spurs human imagination, and makes even Beavis and Butt-Head bow their heads in respect; the only musician they ever elicited regard in the animated sitcom of implied criticism.
Rock stars are decided in the Billboard chart hits and in the decision of the masses. The masses are thrust upon to purchase what is publicized by the media that record labels and corporations pay money to publicize. Marketing then decides the super stars. But, there lies a difference between hero and legend, just as there lies a difference between talent and genius or brand and icon. Unsupportive of millions in records sale, a multi-million dollar account in a Manhattan bank, or a number one position on the chart, if Motörhead is the most tattooed band in the world (my research on brand logo tattoos), and if Motörhead’s true fans are in other bands, it just asserts that we live in a world where an Elvis Presley lived in a Graceland, but a Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart died in a hut.
“When I’m dead, we’ll sell millions, like Von Gogh, who couldn’t sell a painting while he was alive. Some other follower of ours gets all the bread today. I really do not mind one way or the other. I never cared about money; I cared to do very good rock n’t roll, and I’ll go on doing creative music until it kills me, which won’t be very long. I’ve been smoking since I was nine.” — Lemmy Kilmister.
On a few occasions Lemmy roared, “I’m sorry—I can’t sing today.” He covered his face. The crowds gasped. Throughout the past year, the bike engines phelgmily rumbled as if it were Motörhead’s last show. How long can the forty-year-old Motörhead train keep steaming?
Lemmy’s bones ached; his voice shot. The rags of age were upon him. But, he kept going. The older he got, the gnarlier he got. Last three studio albums, Motorizer, Aftershock, and Bad Magic bear abundant evidence. He was still there enduring the old age and defying death.
Denver show was cancelled. In Austin, TX, Lemmy left after three songs. The concert was empty: vacated seats of the arena and the cooling drum stool on stage. But, the crowds honored his frailty. Fans did not love him; they worshipped him. He was their god.
The microphone that stood higher than his head for four decades was removed on 12/26 when doctors discovered an aggressive form of cancer. Two days later, god disappeared from earth. He took with him the shooting rage of his larynx, the grave-digger acumen, and his gnashing, distorted sounds of his bass guitar. But, humanity’s middle finger left us with two lessons. Passion and perseverance.
The heart symbolizes red hot passion. The heart is also the most enduring bodily organ. It keeps on beating the moment blood joins earth, and throughout life. When it stops, we fall dead. If rock n’ roll were a living, breathing creature, Lemmy Kilmister is its heart. Made by passion and lived through perseverance. Born to lose; live to win.