When cancer took the life of Lemmy Kilmister on December 28th, 2015, it took Motorhead with it. Lemmy was Motorhead. I found it odd when in recent years Lemmy discussed doing a solo album. It’s not as if Motorhead was a shared vision. Nothing against Phil and Mikkey. As important as they have been, they joined this circus. Lemmy was everything to Motorhead. With his passing, I thought I’d toss my thoughts into the ever growing pile of tributes to what may the last true rock n’ roller.
Part of his legacy is hard for me. The ‘brand’ that Motorhead became. In many ways they were more a t-shirt than a band. Which is really just a sad by-product of how as a culture, we care so little about these things. When he was alive I was less offended at the idea that Miley Cyrus was more likely to be seen sporting a Motorhead t-Shirt than James Hetfield. That cross-pollination of the Motorhead brand made it easier for the band to stay financially viable. Which meant the band could survive for those of us who actually enjoyed the music. But with his death I think I’m kind of mad at it. That ‘brand’ wasn’t something wood-shopped in a corporate conference room and test marketed to a target audience. It was Lemmy. It was who he was. And if you have no interest in that then take the fucking t-shirt off!
Lemmy and Motorhead were in the bluntest of ways rock n’ roll. He bristled at the band being labeled metal. I hope he was aware how successful he was at that. I can’t think of another artist to be so accepted by 70’s punks, 80’s rockers and early thrash metallers. People who knew the music knew it was pointless to try to label. Motorhead was quite simply Motorhead. He pushed boundaries most of us never knew were there. He created a sound that will always be his. And in many ways he made it OK to be whoever the fuck you wanted to be. And when we’re talking legacy that seems as good a place to start as any.
Of course his lifestyle has to be part of the discussion as it certainly played some role in his passing. Lesser minds will talk of Keith Richards or Ozzy Osbourne when discussing examples of unlikely substance abuse survivors but they were tourists in Lemmy’s world of self-induced bodily harm. You know you live hard when you switch to vodka and orange juice because it’s healthier. So while Keith Richards is vacationing on his private Caribbean island and Ozzy is cow-towing to Sharon’s latest demands Lemmy was washing down copious amounts of speed with a couple gallons of Jack Daniel’s while writing the next Motorhead record. Not exactly how you want to raise your kids but a feat of some sort. He lived to see his 70th birthday. Can we really be surprised how it ended?
I used to feel Motorhead was an acquired taste. But I’ve grown to believe that not liking Motorhead is a sign of some sort of deficiency. Like a “level of cool” indicator. In some way, Motorhead is the most important band we have. It brought us together. And I think that togetherness is why many of us didn’t want to see the signs that he may not be indestructible. I never met Lemmy but I sense the most important lesson to extract from his life is to be gracious to others and live your life for you. It is yours after all. Unlike Hendrix, Morrison, Cobain, and the like, Lemmy got to experience his legend while still alive. He never stopped right up until the end. Playing his last show on another continent just a couple weeks prior to his death. His music and his legend will remain forever. And he will be missed. He was Motorhead. He played Rock N’ Roll.