It always seemed like it would be a cold day in hell when Lemmy died. The man was indestructible. I caught a whiff of the unfortunate future when Motörhead was forced to cancel a show in Houston this past September after Lemmy fell ill. His exhausted condition had forced him to walk off stage in Austin after struggling through three songs, announcing, “I can’t do it.” He recovered later that month in time for the second annual Motörboat cruise, the “Loudest Boat In The World,” featuring Lemmy as captain among an insane lineup of metal heavyweights. When he reached his 70th birthday this past year on Christmas Eve, fans around the world celebrated this milestone, unaware of what was right around the corner. Just two days after his birthday, Lemmy learned that he had an extremely aggressive cancer, in addition to previous health conditions he had been battling. Then, on Monday December 28, 2015, Ian Fraser “Lemmy” Kilmister passed away at his Los Angeles home (that was very hard to type and honestly, I did start to tear up).
With the sad part out of the way, I’d like to focus on the many things that we have to celebrate, like the plethora of achievements during Lemmy’s longer-than-expected life. And let’s face it, when a person’s daily habits consist of sex, cigarettes, whiskey, speed, and extreme rock’n’roll, you don’t expect such longevity. Lemmy’s humble story begins in North Wales, where a rocky childhood eventually led him to pick up a guitar and subsequent short stints with a couple of local bands. Often stating later in life that he remembered a time before rock’n’roll, his early musical influences were the most energetic and rebellious rock’n’roll pioneers, such as Chuck Berry, Little Richard, The Beatles, and Elvis. In the ‘60s he relocated to Stockport, England and wet his feet in the garage rock scene with a few bands, most notably The Rockin’ Vickers. By the late ‘60s, he moved to London to seek out a more successful music career and eventually became a roadie for Jimi Hendrix, whom he adored. Around that time he had a few short-lived runs with psychedelic bands, which led to him picking up the bass guitar to join space rockers Hawkwind.
This is when the signature “Lemmy sound” we all know and love began to develop, as he strummed his bass like a rhythm guitar and his distinct vocals started coming into play. His taste for amphetamines rivaled that of the psychedelic preference of his bandmates, but he was eventually booted after an arrest for possessing speed in Canada. At that point, he went on to form a band that he could not be fired from. Lemmy’s new band, Bastard, was no-holds-barred rock’n’roll with an aggressive side that had yet to be revealed in the music world. The mid ‘70s were a strange time for rock’n’roll, where the late ‘60s sound gave way to overindulgent, overproduced jammy solos and washed-up rock’n’snooze epic journeys. Kilmister was fed up with beating around the bush and decided to keep things straight up for this new project. He brought in a couple of blokes that kept a beat, but they were soon replaced by what was to be the classic lineup for a band that changed the face of rock’n’roll forever. Under the manager’s recommendations, Lemmy came up with a better, more marketable name for the band: Motörhead, based off of the slang term for a speed addict and Lemmy’s last writing effort for Hawkwind. With Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor beating the skins and “Fast” Eddie Clark sleazing up the high end, the band created a new type of music that brought a certain angst to the surface—pure energy with uncensored cynicism. Artist Joe Petagno designed the self-titled record sleeve for what was to become an influential work of art to thousands of musicians world wide; he also created the infamous logo that followed the band through its entire career.
Motörhead got more popular with each new album, and once the essential Ace Of Spades record hit in 1980, they had basically become a main contender in the world of rock, something many people didn’t think was possible, given their raw and simple approach. Lemmy’s formula of outcast indulgence mixed with fast-paced living came across in the sound and the people loved it. Punks and metalheads bound together to appreciate a sound that brought it back to the roots of rock, with an intensity that was unmatched. Album after album, the band delivered a driven force that was clearly the real deal. If Motörhead was one thing, they were consistent. With infinite touring and over 20 studio albums that eventually featured an evolving cast of guitarists and drummers, Lemmy kept things just like he started it: fast, loud, and true.
With over 40 years of making people like me smile with his sharp, to-the-point, realistic executions on record and an existence that personifies the rock’n’roll lifestyle, Lemmy has single-handedly given us a light at the end of the tunnel. Even in death he confirms that sticking to your personal beliefs and toughing out the hard times brings a life you can reflect on with pride. Though his lyrics were often angry and spiteful, the man himself was held in the highest regard by almost everyone that met him. Honesty goes a long way and people respect him for that. He always stated that he expected to be dead by his 30s and would change very little about his life if he had the chance. So with that in mind, we should celebrate his life with the fondest of memories, like he would have wanted. If you pour one out for Lemmy, make sure it’s down your throat!!!