By Mike Finkelstein
Rock ‘n’ roll has always been the province of bad-asses. For the misunderstood, the misfits, and black sheep, rock’n’ roll is a sanctuary. It’s not that you have to be a badass to play it, but to live the lifestyle you’d better have that gear ready to go. And living it does make the playing authentic. It’s that very edge that attracts people to rock ‘n roll to begin with. But, it’s a lifestyle that eats people up just to spit them out dead. Not just anyone can pull it off.
Some start out loud and fast, burning it at both ends, and then settle down if they live through the peak of the craziness. And a handful of them amazingly keep up the wild pace for longer than we can imagine. They go the distance, living on that edge. Keith Richards certainly comes to mind as a cat with at least nine lives. Joe Cocker, also was a member of the club. And right up there at the top of the list was Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister of Motorhead. Lemmy died Monday December 28, at age 70, of a very aggressive case of cancer.
As a teen, Lemmy roadie-ed for the Jimi Hendrix Experience. His own bands were named the Pink Fairies, Hawkwind, and Motorhead. Motorhead song titles included “Iron Fist,” “Overkill,” “Killed by Death” and “Eat the Rich.” The premise of Motorhead was, “It will be so loud that if we move in next door to you, your lawn will die.” Motorhead recorded 22 albums since 1976.
Could you ever pick a more evocative name for a metal band than Motorhead? The band’s sound matched the name and the song titles perfectly. Just a three-piece band: guitar, bass and drums. But they were enormously loud, not at all fuzzy, just pure and clear overdriven power, ripping out of the speakers. Listening to them was the sound of riding a thunderous motorcycle, ecstatically, through the gates of hell. Lemmy’s voice was as rough and powerful as any of the instruments he sang over. He bellowed above them until the very end.
This was a man who knew that only death would keep him from playing music for, “as long as I can walk the few yards from the back to the front of the stage without a stick…or even if I do have to use a stick.” There is footage from less than a year ago, where in the middle of a Motorhead show, Lemmy simply cannot continue and excuses himself. And, the crowd understands, knowing that he has gone as far as he possibly can for them. You kinda knew, right there, that it wouldn’t be long until he was gone.
Lemmy remained articulate and irreverent the whole way, despite the substances. Replete with facial moles, mutton-chop sideburns, a raspy voice roughened by cigarettes-and-booze, dressed in black with a cavalry hat, he was as badass a geezer as you could ever want to meet – a swashbuckling rocker if there ever was one. His drug of choice was amphetamine. For a lifetime, he also loved his Jack and Coke. His gear was iconic, too. Lemmy played a Rickenbacker bass that was a one-of-a-kind, beautifully carved showpiece. His microphone was always hung down from the boomstand, like a resting bat. There was no mistaking who would step up to that mic.
Lemmy was the quintessential heavy metal rock ‘n’ roller, obviously one of a kind…and they definitely broke the mold after him. He maintained an enduring equilibrium with life and the lasting vices that came with it. To reach 70 at his pace was impressive. But, he was always in control of his act, aware of his life’s curve. He knew how fortunate he was to have something as welcoming as rock ‘n’ roll be his livelihood, much like Keith Richards has. There are many pearls of wisdom that Lemmy put out there in songs and in interviews. I’ll share a few.
Here is his take on rock stardom:
“If you’re going to be a fucking rock star, go be one. People don’t want to see the guy next door on stage; they want to see a being from another planet.”
Here is his take on a life of regrets:
“I don’t do regrets. Regrets are pointless. It’s too late for regrets. You’ve already done it, haven’t you? You’ve lived your life. No point wishing you could change it.”
And of course he had at least one take on death, too:
“Death is an inevitability, isn’t it? You become more aware of that when you get to my age. I don’t worry about it. I’m ready for it. When I go, I want to go doing what I do best. If I died tomorrow, I couldn’t complain. It’s been good.”
And here’s his song, “Ace of Spades”:
You know I’m born to lose and gambling’s for fools
But that’s the way I like it, baby
I don’t wanna live for ever
None other than kindred spirit Ozzy Osbourne tweeted, “Lost one of my best friends, Lemmy, today. He will be sadly missed. He was a warrior and a legend. “I will see you on the other side.”
I don’t doubt it for a second.