No sleep 'til heaven ... for Lemmy

A tribute to a fallen legend
By Peter Lindblad

R.I.P. Lemmy Kilmister
Nobody really believed that Lemmy Kilmister was actually indestructible. He was human after all. His recent death only serves to sadly drive that point home like a knife plunged straight into the heart of rock 'n' roll.

A kind of mythological figure, Motorhead's leader of the pack and former Hawkwind space-rock astronaut only seemed impervious to the Grim Reaper because he could guzzle bottles of Jack Daniels at a time, take as many drugs – never heroin, of course – as he liked and have as much sex as humanly possible with a multitude of partners.

None of that made him especially heroic, although, if blessed with an iron constitution like Lemmy's, who wouldn't want to experience such uninhibited and unfettered debauchery, if only for just a month or a week? Alas, all most of us can do is live vicariously through someone like Lemmy, someone who embodied the rock 'n' roll lifestyle and happily indulged in its all-you-can-eat buffet of vices. We needed the larger-than-life Lemmy in that strip club. We needed Lemmy knocking back enough booze to kill a horse and apologizing for nothing. Live free or die. No compromise. That made him rock's greatest anti-hero, untouchable and cool and immune to the judgement of self-righteous arbiters of morality. He ate sacred cows whole and spit out the bones. He had his own moral code, his own fashion sense – he wore "daisy dukes" shorts for god's sake and he wore the hell out of them – and interests outside of music that some might find distasteful. Lemmy didn't care what anybody else thought. That was his super power, and it made him bulletproof, as least when it came to criticism.

They made a movie about him, of course. How could they not? It was called "Lemmy," it came out in 2010 and if you haven't watched it, go and do so immediately. It was a revelation, and it showed that behind that tough, fearsome exterior was a generous soul, a proud father and a staunch, if unconventional, feminist. Not everything about it painted Lemmy in a good light, but he wouldn't have wanted some whitewashed version of the truth anyway. This was Lemmy, warts and all, and you couldn't help but love him. In the end, he emerged a beloved figure, a mentor even to some artists and to others a loyal friend for life. Nobody seems to have a bad word to say about him, and the outpouring of affection and adoration – things he abhorred by the way – since his passing has been a flood of biblical proportions. Punks and metal heads may not agree on everything, but they do find common ground on this: Lemmy and Motorhead were the genuine article, the band he fronted an exhilarating juggernaut of violence and speed and he played thunderous bass with reckless abandon, like an old moonshiner fleeing Johnny Law down treacherous country back roads. And if you didn't want to come along for the ride, so be it. There were no hard feelings on his part.

Incredibly candid and matter-of-fact about his own extraordinary, swashbuckling exploits in the movie "Lemmy," its namesake had nothing to hide and very few, if any, regrets, making it plain to anyone that this was a man who lived life on his terms. Artistically, he was no different. In a tweet following Lemmy's death, Alter Bridge's Myles Kennedy called him a "rebel poet," and that's fitting. His lyrics were searing in their honesty. They were philosophical and funny, and the furiously filthy, punk-metal nastiness of Motorhead, delivered with such volcanic intensity and ungodly volume, roared like the bikes of the Hell's Angels, providing the perfect vehicle for his defiant point of view. It was good, honest rock 'n' roll, just like the early stuff from the '50s that he loved. And don't forget that Lemmy also sang lead on Hawkwind's brilliant "Silver Machine" and served as a roadie for Jimi Hendrix. His story has many chapters, and all of them are utterly fascinating.

Lemmy leaves behind a slew of great Motorhead albums, such as Overkill, Bomber, Ace of Spades and the full-throated live LP No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith, and the band's most recent output – including this year's Bad Magic and 2013's Aftershock – could absolutely hold its own against the classics. Whether there was a will or not, everyone gets an inheritance from Lemmy, be it in the form of great music or the example he set. Think about it. How many of us desperately want to be truly free? And how many of us are so tied down with responsibilities that it becomes an impossible dream? Lemmy had mastered existence.

And even though he probably would be horrified at the thought of being put up on a pedestal or considered some kind of role model, there are lessons to be learned from Lemmy, especially for the next generation of musicians. Don't chase trends. Play to your strengths. Be true to yourself and your artistic vision. Honor the past, but don't be a slave to it. Be unique and be real. All are somewhat esoteric ideals, and it's harder than it sounds to stick to any of them. Lemmy did, and he was a legend because of it. And even though he had no use for religion, if there is a heaven, they should make welcome him with open arms at those pearly gates. The parties would be legendary.

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