Lemmy: Death of a Legend

In my first post regarding the life and career of Lemmy Kilmister, I examined his relentless progress through the UK rock n' roll scene of the '60s and '70s. By 1980, Lemmy and his band, Motorhead, stood atop the British charts. By 1984, the other two members of the "classic" lineup had left the band. A decade of work, shot to hell. Lemmy didn't care. He had a fearsome reputation and prowess to burn. That would have to be enough.

A decade--and a million miles of touring--later, Motorhead had solidified into the form it would maintain until the end: Lemmy on bass, Phil Campbell on guitar and Mikkey Dee on drums. 

The next twenty years saw Lemmy and Motorhead playing big venues in Europe, Asia and South America while generally being an opening act for top-tier rock bands in the US. Lemmy was philosophical about it. As long as he was able to make records and tour the world, he was good to go. Or, as Conan might say, "Let me live deep while I live; let me know the rich juices of red meat and stinging wine on my palate, the hot embrace of white arms, the mad exultation of battle when the blue blades flame and crimson, and I am content."

Meanwhile, Lemmy was becoming a living meme, making cameos in movies and on TV, the epitome of the rocker too tough and mean to die. Triple H of the WWE had Lemmy write one theme song for him, then another one to top that. The writers of the Spongebob movie were fans and had the band rewrite an old tune for the soundtrack.

Coming off Motorhead's fortieth anniversary tour in 2015, Lemmy planned on spending his seventieth birthday in Vegas. Like Conan, he always loved wine, women, gambling and song. However, his friends noted that he didn't seem that well, so the nativity celebration was held in his hometown haunt of Hollywood. Almost immediately after, Lemmy was diagnosed with several dire health issues and died just days later on December 28th. The British rock community never expected him to get to thirty. He outlived many of his more sedate peers, dying with his full three score and ten, after spending fifty years touring constantly--he wanted to die on stage--in one of the more dangerous professions. 


There is this reminiscence from veteran actor, W. Earl Brown:

I once did a film in which I was being chased by wolves. I had a scene where the Alpha of the pack leapt on the hood of my car and stared me down through the windshield. I will never forget staring into those eyes, this wasn’t a dog - not even a tough, bad-ass dog - no, this was a Wolf. Those eyes were feral, primal, part of some spirit that has connected Wild Things since the beginning of time. It was both exhilarating and terrifying in equal measure.

I felt the same way when I first met Lemmy.

My friend, Zachary Throne, was playing a gig with Lemmy and the Upsetters. Knowing of our shared love of Motörhead, Zach called me up and invited me to the rehearsal. It was a Sunday morning, around eleven a.m. (for Rockers, that is the crack of dawn). “Hey Lemmy, this is my buddy, Earl. Earl, Lem.”

Lemmy was shirtless, wearing skintight jeans and white cowboy boots. He gives me the once over, head to toe, then, in that voice that sounded like bourbon filtered through gravel and smoke... “Earl?” I gulped hard, then nodded my head... “Earl, would you like a drink?”

My first thought was - it is Sunday morning, I really should be in church. But when the coolest mother****er on the planet offers you a drink - you drink. Maker’s Mark on the rocks, served from Lem’s custom built carrying case. We drink. One. Two. Three. We start to sing Beatles songs. After a half dozen or so, Lem turns to me and says “Earl, you ever listen to Abba?” Thinking he is pulling my leg, I say, “Uh, NO.” “Well, you missed the greatest sense of pop melody outside of Lennon & McCartney. Zach, you know any Abba?” Since Zach knows every song ever written, we launched into Abba tunes.

I was drunk on a Sunday morning, trying to harmonize on Abba with Lemmy Kilmister, thinking I really, really should be in church... Then it dawned on me - I was.

I got to know Lem a little better as time passed. We exchanged numbers. Talked a few times. When Patrick Stone started working on DEADWOOD, he found that I knew Lem and suggested we invite him out to play cowboy. So, we did; we had Metal Day on set. Lemmy, Scott Ian, Pearl Aday, and Charlotte Taylor spent the day playing with us and I got to know Lemmy even better.

I asked him once about his love of rock and he said it dated back to 1957 when his dad took him to see Buddy Holly and Little Richard in London. Lem said he was 11 years old, but as soon as he saw Little Richard play his first song, he said to himself, “I’m doing THAT for the rest of my life!” And he did.

Lemmy was the coolest motherf***er on the planet (aside from his own Badassery on the Bass, he was also Jimmy Hendrix’s first roadie in London after the Experience was formed AND he followed the Beatles around starting when they were still known as the Silver Beatles), but he was as down to earth as any man I’ve ever known. He lived and breathed Rock and Roll but he was never too-cool to share it with anybody. If you loved Music, Lemmy was your friend, regardless of who you were or where you came from. He loved the Ramones and he loved Johnny Cash.

Lemmy was a voracious reader and was whip smart. I asked him once about his huge collection of Nazi paraphernalia and the rumors around it. He said, “I’m not a f***ing Nazi—never have been. It is just that my earliest memories were that those were the bastards who were trying to kill me with their f***ing Nazi bombs - they’re the ones my dad went to war against—and now, I am still alive and I have got all their shit.”

From what I gather, Lemmy turned 70 on Dec 24, found out he had cancer on Dec 26, and died on Dec 28. That’s just like Lem - when the time comes to get the show on the road, you get on the f***ing road.

While I do not want to live my life like Lemmy chose to live his, I can’t help but admire the strength and determination it took for Lem to do it all on his own terms and remain true to himself.

Lemmy Kilmister - there will never be another like him. He didn’t break the mold, it f***ing melted when he stepped out of it.

As Earl Brown noted above, Lemmy was in an episode of Deadwood.

It's fitting that Lemmy would've made a cameo. He loved Westerns, especially the Eastwood films. Also, Motorhead's classic, "Ace of Spades", references the Dead Man's Hand, which got its name in Deadwood.


Out of many Western-themed Motorhead songs, here are a few lyrics from "Outlaw":

Die or live, shoot to kill, the old routine you know so well.
Gun law rules, that's what I said, another dreamer woke up dead.
Justice means the fastest gun, no appeal, done is done.
Know it's quick, hanging tree, courthouse, whorehouse set you free.
Born to live, don't know how long, never know right from wrong.

Outlaw, face down in the dirt,
Outlaw, the one that kills you never hurts,
Outlaw, lying in the street,
Outlaw, the last gunslinger you will meet,
Outlaw that's all. 

Lemmy, as noted in my previous post, was a bit of a Moorcock fan, though the "fandom" between the two seemed to flow more in one direction (Lemmy never dedicated an album to Moorcock). Kilmister was also--unlike Moorcock, but just like Jim Cawthorn and Clark Ashton Smith--a Tolkien fan. All in all, Lemmy seems to have been a fan of fantasy with plenty of swords in it, as well as being a devotee of history in general and military history in particular. It's a pity that no one ever gave Lem a copy of The Book of Robert E. Howard.

Out of many possible examples, here are some good sword & sorcery lyrics from Motorhead:

Stoneface dog, swirling fog, gates open on the dark, dark night
Standing stone, skull and bone, dead witness to an unseen fight
Beat the drum, beat the drum, beat forever on the endless march
Stricken dumb, cut and run, someone is screaming and the sky is dark.

Sword and shield, bone and steel, rictus grin
Deaf forever to the battle's din.
March or croak, flame and smoke, burn forever in eternal pain
Charge and fall, bugle call, bone splinter in the driving rain

Horses scream, Viking dream, drowned heroes in a lake of blood
Armoured fist, severed wrist, broken spears in a sea of mud.
Mother earth, mother earth enfold you in her cold embrace
Sinking down, killing ground, worm crawling on your cold white face

Win or lose, nought to choose, all men are equal when their memory fades
No one knows, friends or foes, if Valhalla lies beyond the grave.

Before and after Lemmy's death, there was one constant theme from everyone who knew him. The man was a straight-shooter with utmost integrity. Duff McKagan called him the Johnny Cash of rock n' roll. Kilmister was an alpha male who never bent his neck (as an adult) to anyone. At the same time, he was never a bully. He walked his road and any who had what it took to follow, could. Lemmy led by example and died with his boots on. This world is just a bit less interesting—and much quieter—without him.