Motorhead's Lemmy Kilmister, a rock god for the ages, dead at 70
It’s one thing for a man to look like pure rock ‘n’ roll.
It’s another thing entirely for him to live like it, roar like it, smell like it, love like it -- to embody it so wholly that rock ‘n’ roll starts to look like him, rather than the other way around.
Lemmy Kilmister. Even his name sounded like something you needed a permit to carry
Lemmy died Monday, and his death hit the world as hard and fast as his music – he turned 70 on Dec. 24, was diagnosed with what his bandmates called an “extremely aggressive cancer” on Dec. 26, and died just two days later.
But up until then, the singer and bassist of British hard rockers Motorhead lived four decades as one of the most iconic and idolized figures in hard rock, and boy, did he live ‘em hard. He careened and caroused around the planet like the rules of life and music didn’t apply.
And in many ways, they didn’t.
Lemmy couldn’t really sing, not in the traditional sense; nor was he a world-beating bassist. But Motorhead were one of the few bands upon which both punks and headbangers could agree. They played fast and they played hard and they cared not whether you knew their songs or not.
And if you weren't a real punk or metal fan, you probably didn’t – with one blazing exception. Ace of Spades, from the 1980 album of the same name, remains one of the rawest, realest punk songs ever written, a runaway chainsaw about not giving an ever-loving eff about anything.
Playing for the high one, dancing with the devil
Going with the flow, it’s all a game to me
If life was a game to Lemmy, he almost always won. He breathed speed, bathed in whiskey, loved as many ladies as any rock star before or since – around 1,000, he estimated in a 2009 interview with the Tampa Bay Times.
“But, man, I mean I’m 63, right?” he said then. “I’ve been screwing since I was 15. I haven’t been married ever. So, y’know, that’s pretty reasonable after that many years.”
Oh, yeah, Lemmy was always good for a quote. His crusty voice and lupine appearance only added to his larger-than-life personality, captured memorably in the 2010 documentary titled -- because what else could it possibly be called? -- Lemmy. The film contrasted his formidable onstage presence with his life in a cramped L.A. apartment, from which he’d frequently emerge to play video trivia at a bar on the Sunset Strip. He loved that game almost as much as his music, and yet anytime a fan walked by, he’d always smile for a photo.
As a band, Motorhead was much more than just Ace of Spades – 22 albums, a Grammy, gigs at some of the biggest festivals known to man – but even the hardest of hardcore fans had to admit a lot of that was due to Lemmy’s personality, pure and simple. You feared him, you loved him, and he made sure you never forgot him. No musician he ever worked with ever did.
“A warrior and a legend,” Ozzy Osbourne called him Monday.
“A true rocker from beginning to end,” tweeted Aerosmith’s Joe Perry.
“One of a kind,” said Kiss’ Paul Stanley.
“My hero,” wrote Flea.
The tributes came in waves and won’t stop for days – Lemmy was that titanic a figure, that irreplaceable a creature, in hard rock. And yet for every peer and follower and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer who will flood the world with odes to his honor, the best tribute of all to his legacy came in the 1994 comedy Airheads, a clip from which swiftly made the rounds online Monday night.
In the film, a rock band takes a radio station hostage in a desperate attempt to have their music heard. When a record exec comes to the door to try to negotiate a deal, the singer tests him with a question.
“Who’d win in a wrestling match,” he asks, “Lemmy or God?”
God, he says. Wrong. Lemmy, he stammers.
“Trick question, d---head,” laughs the drummer. “Lemmy is God.”
Gods, of course, are immortal. In his own way, Lemmy Kilmster is, too.
-- Jay Cridlin