Remembering Lemmy Kilmister

By Brian Ives 

Last night, as the news of Motorhead frontman Lemmy’s death at 70 circulated, tributes from around the world appeared all over social media.

Related: Musicians Pay Tribute to Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilmister

Joe Perry, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, Social Distortion, the Foo Fighters, Judas Priest, Henry Rollins, Ozzy Osbourne, Juliette Lewis, Tom Morello and Flea were just a few of the artists paying their respects. But possibly the most powerful tribute came from Metallica.

“Lemmy, you are one of the primary reasons this band exists.” That’s a huge statement for any band to make to any other artist. And consider that it comes from one of the most consistently popular artists over the past two decades; Metallica has been arena headliners since the ’80s, and every album has gone at least double platinum. But this commercial behemoth might not exist without Motorhead.

As Jon Wiederhorn and Katherine Turman wrote in their essential book, Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal, “If it weren’t for the thundering tempos of Motorhead, thrash bands wouldn’t have had a bar — or a Jack and Coke — to rise above.” Those thrash bands included Slayer, Anthrax, Exodus and Metallica, among many others. Motorhead inspired a ton of bands that would go on to sell more records than them; in that way, they were like the Velvet Underground, or their pals in the Ramones. Motorhead never hit arena-level status in the U.S., nor ever had a radio hit. But being a fan was a badge of honor, and the fans came back year after year. Motorhead was always able to play the clubs and small halls in the U.S. Trends have never mattered to the band or their fans: Motorhead has always gotten respect.

How much respect? Metallica has performed as a tribute just band once: when they did a gig as “The Lemmys.” It’s true: in December of 1995, all four members dressed as the man himself, to play at his favorite bar, L.A.’s Whiskey A Go Go, for his 50th birthday bash. That says it all.

He got respect from outside the metal community as well. Here’s what Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders posted to her Facebook page today:

“Darling Lemmy
Without you there would be no Pretenders
And so I continue to be true to your ethic
You better believe it!
Love you forever –
Chrissie aka Fido”

A big part of Lemmy’s legend went beyond the music: it was his larger-than-life personality. I experienced this once, face to face. In 1996, when I was starting out in the music industry, I worked for a heavy metal trade paper called F. We were part of a company called Concrete Marketing, and Lemmy came to the office, I think, to discuss the marketing plans for the next Motorhead album (which would have been the cheekily titled Overnight Sensation).

I was told to do a quick interview with him for a short feature in F, and I thought I’d get 5-10 minutes, at best, with the man. I walked into the conference room where the interview was to take place, and there he was, wearing a denim vest and nothing under it, a true rock star. He also had a big cup, a bottle of Coke and a bottle of Jack Daniels.  I don’t even remember what I thought we were going to discuss – I don’t think I’d actually heard the album yet – but he wanted to tell me about the time his pre-Motorhead band Hawkwind played some party and they spiked the punch… with acid. And then chain locked the doors closed. And then started to play. “The good old days!” he laughed. Anyway, he finished both bottles by the time we finished talking. It was just as much watching a legend in action as the times that I saw Motorhead live. I couldn’t believe I’d just experienced that.

Speaking of which: Motorhead was awesome live, every time, and now I wish I’d seen them a few more times. But every show I saw, they floored the crowd. Like AC/DC or the Ramones, they had a vision of what they were and stuck with it. They never, ever, gave their fans cause to be embarrassed. I imagine that every metal band who decides to experiment with a “new direction” has nightmares of Lemmy laughing at them. Other bands have surely made more money, but no one gets more respect.

As Lemmy told Classic Rock (via Rolling Stone), “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.” Motorhead played their final gig less than three weeks ago, on December 11 in Berlin, Germany.

The man went out doing what he did best, and with the respect of countless artists. Not a bad way to go. So, have a drink (if you’re so inclined) and celebrate the man’s life. Shed a tear. Watch The Lemmy Movie. But, as Motorhead said on their official Facebook page, “Play Motörhead loud, play Hawkwind loud, play Lemmy’s music LOUD.”

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