Good Night, Lemmy: A Tribute to Rock's Ultimate Badass
Lemmy at Warehouse Live, September 2009
Photo by Eric Sauseda
Lemmy Kilmister’s death is the kind of news that hits you right in the feels with both fists. Nobody can say we didn’t see it coming, but who wants to see these kinds of things? To forecast the end is no winsome deed. Death, in all of its uncomfortable permanence is the last thing we want to see in others — and the last thing we will see in ourselves. Its dreaded reminders are the stuff of anxiety and despondency.
News of his death spread through the music world rapidly; ironically, not unlike the cancer that killed him. But, in a conquering display of metal uniformity, the community usually strife-ridden with arguing and criticism came together in remembrance and love for one of the towering figures of rock and roll.
As we usher Lemmy's soul on to Valhalla, his presence remains — the spirit of what it really meant to be a zero-fucks given rebellious badass. We hated to see his health struggles, his vulnerability. It’s only when our heroes break down into their own humanity, with all its mortal flaws, that we’re reminded of the failings of temporal residences.
Lemmy gave us his best and worst this year. Walking off-stage midsong unable to draw a breath required no apologies, though he gave them anyway. He returned to the stage, ever the felicitous fighter and sagacious soul. Delivering performances despite what we all knew — he was dying — and in that final act before the curtain closed, he gave us his last energies.
Lemmy’s final months were spent with us. His final memories and final breaths were all given back to his fans. In his last farewell, Lemmy imparted what his fans have long held, and now recall with the poignant platitudes that death can only impart: Memories.
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I’m an 11-year-old kid, dragging milk crates of records across shag carpet, pushing back my messy blonde mop to peer over our family’s stereo turntable. Watching the wide, black disc rotate lazily while it spun the yarns and tunes of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Queen. That record collection would be my lone companion as my blue-collar parents worked late nights. I, a typical latch-key 80's kid found solace in music, pining away hours in deconstructing apocryphal lyrics and pondering cover art.
The first time I set the needle on a Motörhead record as a kid — a curious find in my dad’s record collection — I listened with near repulsion to the hiss of Lemmy’s acrid, electric voice and the pounding kicks of Philthy Animal's drums.
Like an astringent against a wound, the shock of his voice would soon turn to salve. Motörhead would be the first band I hated and loved within a single record’s inaugural rotation. By the time the music concluded and the arm of the needle snapped back into place, I was consumed.
Repulsion turned to curiosity turned to obsession. There was an undeniable hypnotic magnetism in Lemmy’s songs. Those records of my dads were his ancient personal history. A time before he knew my mother, a time before he knew me. And, in the absence of my working parents, I longed for their presence, more so to know them as people. And to know what a person loves, is to know who they really are.
Lying on my back, listening to the speakers vibrate, watching the slow centrifugal force of our ceiling fan push the hot Texas air and wonder out loud to no one at all, What kind of person dances with the devil? What kind of person doesn’t want to live forever? It's the narrative of my young life.
I was already in metamorphosis, and the wings of teenage rebellion I would glean from reading so many dark lyrics, were affixed, sealed and made ready by my hours of study in metal. In his presence, my father taught me how to be a good kid; in his absence, he taught me about good music.
Those influences become the fabric of our identity. It’s why we wear Motörhead shirts, share stories of Lemmy’s shows — his memories are our memories in a collective, communal and unifying way.
Years later, after ending a loveless marriage, I found myself altogether lost. A monumental birthday approaching, representing a half-way marker as I looked into the reflecting pool of my own mortality and found the very best way to celebrate my own life, my own breath, my own new beginning — I needed to see Lemmy live.
Motörhead tickets, bought and never used (under Darth Vader). Like the promises they hold, dusty and fading.
Photo by Kristy Loye
I had two tickets to see Motörhead in Houston for my birthday, a gift I gave to myself, memories intact, feeling the loving weight of my father’s influence. I needed nothing more than a cold beer and a grizzled, old rock star on a hot September night to remind me who I was and where I belonged.
Those tickets remain on my nightstand, dusty and fading as the promise it holds.
It would never pass. Lemmy fell seriously ill and cancelled a string of shows. I couldn’t even catch him in the next town over; he was already as good as gone. I am the solitary kid sitting in an empty family living room, searching for ghosts, haunted by knowing someone I’ll never meet. Whispers of records long silenced play in my subconscious, never quieting like the drip of a faucet you can’t turn off.
Lemmy was the granddaddy of rock and roll. A quintessential motherfucker who would have thanked you for the compliment if you were so brave to say it to his face. He said what we all wanted to say, voiced the emotions we all felt, but didn’t have the guts to express. A colossus immortalized in that spirit to which we metalheads cling so fiercely: It’s my life, and I’ll live it how I damn well please.
And, in that respect, Lemmy taught us all that life is short, brutal and precious. Drain it of its pleasures with every force you can muster. Bring all that life gives you — good and bad — under your own goddamn dominion because you win some, you lose some, it’s all the same to me. May your body rest and your soul amplify the heavens as they gain one more star.
Good night, Lemmy.