Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister, bassist and singer with Motörhead, died on December 28, 2015, after a short battle with an aggressive form of cancer that sources say he had only learned about on December 26, though fans and observers had begun to worry earlier. He had just turned seventy, and he will be missed by people all over the world.
Back in 2011, while interviewing Lemmy for Detroit's Metro Times, this writer asked him what he had planned for the forthcoming show in Detroit. He replied, “I plan to play in Detroit.” His only complaint with touring the States? “Americans can’t make decent cheese.”
Those two statements might sound to the uninitiated like he was being grumpy and deliberately difficult. Those that had even the briefest of conversations with him know different. Lemmy was witty and, at times, hilarious. His wit happened to be dry, the only giveaway often being a gruff chuckle. He once professed his admiration for British comedy troupe the Goodies, perhaps the closest the English ever came to the Three Stooges, raising parallels with Iggy & the Stooges. Apparently, hard-living rockers like the goofiest comedy.
In his autobiography White Line Fever, Lemmy said, “The Americans didn’t quite know what to make of Motörhead at first.” That might be true; crowd reactions were muted during that first tour with Ozzy. But the country soon caught on.
Lemmy had already been thrown out of Hawkwind (one of the most psychedelic of psychedelic bands) for partying too hard. When he named his new band after the song “Motörhead” that he had written for Hawkwind, the title another word for somebody who indulges in speed, it was only ever going to be a fast, noisy, wild band.
That said, Lemmy always denied that Motörhead was a heavy-metal band. He had formed the group with a view to it sounding like a combination of the MC5, Little Richard and, of course, Hawkwind. Regardless, fans of metal as well as punk and classic rock took Motörhead to their hearts, and many will grieve.
When the news of Lemmy’s death was reported on the Motörhead Facebook page, the statement said, “Celebrate the LIFE this lovely, wonderful man celebrated so vibrantly himself. HE WOULD WANT EXACTLY THAT.”
Who can argue with that?
There’s a quote from the movie Airheads that you are likely to see all over social media right now. It goes, “Who would win in a wrestling match between Lemmy and God?” After the hapless recipient of the question gives both answers, he is given the answer: “Wrong, dickhead. Lemmy is God.”
Clearly, he isn’t. But we did all start to think that he would go on forever. It seemed that he had gotten this far on a diet of rock and roll and Jack Daniel's. Why would he stop now? There were hints that something was wrong when he told reporters he'd switched from whiskey to vodka, and then shortened or canceled some shows this summer, including at Denver Riot Fest. His mortality is all too real now. But we can rest easy knowing that he lived the way he wanted to.
Lemmy isn’t God. But then God didn’t record a tune as stellar as “Killed by Death."
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Editor's Note: For more memories of Lemmy, check out Michael Roberts's vintage 1996 interview "Lemmy at Fifty."