I’ve had more pressing matters on my plate so my addressing the death of Lemmy Kilmister comes a few days late. It’s also true that my feelings about the passing of Lemmy were complicated, and it took a few days for me to be able to sort them out. But now, tonight, I just sucked down the dregs of a bottle of wine, and sat through an earthquake that reminded me of my childhood, and it’s time to talk about Lemmy.
I’ll let you know up front that this will not be an academic dissection of the man’s career in music, nor a retrospective from a melancholy celebrity who knew him personally.
I’m going to be honest with you; Motorhead was not the best metal band. Lemmy was great at what he did, but even in older recordings, when he was young, I often find his vocals difficult to pick out from the noise. But Motorhead wasomething new; something special. They took what was spearheaded by bands like Black Sabbath and Deep Purple (bands that I, in my youth, considered to be classic rock) and stripped out the blues influence and the heavy emphasis on virtuosity prized by the progressive rockers. They introduced a punk rock sensibility that took what had come before and reduced it to a palpable wall of noise. It was an animal scream trapped in a straining amplifier. It was chunky and whiny and heavily distorted. And it was this band that created what I would come to think of as heavy metal, but which I, in my dotage, am now told is speed metal.
Fuck it, speed metal is fine, I guess. It doesn’t matter.
What matters is that this heavy metal replaced the classic rock that my older brother had drilled into my head. There was something elemental about it, there was within that music permission to be angry and sad, things that due to both my upbringing and likely my gender I had nowhere else to feel. There was a longing to destroy in that music that matched my own. In heavy metal, I was no longer alone.
This would stay with me for many years. I wrote a term paper in some high school english class comparing and contrasting the works of Metallica and Emily Dickinson. I still pick it up sometimes even now, but I listen to the earlier stuff as it is wilder and stranger and angrier. The stuff people call metal today I mostly cannot recognize as metal, probably in much the same way my father could not recognize Ozzy Osborne as rock and roll, being from the days of Jerry Lee Lewis.
Regardless, the point is, this music made me, and in a very literal sense kept me alive, and the originators of this music were Motorhead, and the heart and soul of Motorhead was Lemmy.
He was a character, larger than life. He smoked several packs of cigarettes a day and drank and drugged prodigiously. He indulged his sexual appetites with abandon. He was held up as an icon of good times and the immortality of youth. And he kept this up for a long time, cutting back later in life, but never able to give it up. He played his last show with Motorhead just weeks ago, just weeks before he died.
He was among a group of men who stood before a young me, seeming to be giants nine feet tall, beckoning to me. Hinting at a world that I would never know.
Metal was for guys. In metal, women were decorations, or trophies; a part of the good times, but never full participants.
I tend to think of myself as twelve years old when all of this came and tore my head open, but that can’t be true. At twelve I was already dumping Tom Waits into my ears and just a few short years from a furious affair with Nirvana. So it must have been earlier than that. Seven? Eight? It’s so hard to tell. It was all so long ago, and everything gets so foggy over time.
When I entered puberty and, shortly after, teenagerhood, I hung posters of boy bands from teen magazines, because I thought that was what I was supposed to do. I thought it was who I was supposed to be. When other girls asked me which New Kid I liked best, I knew I had to pick one, so I did. But I remember looking at those little two-page pullout posters with a sense of echoing disappointment; was this it?
But I sat in front of MTV’s Headbangers Ball and feasted my eyes on Lemmy and Alice Cooper and Rollins and Iggy Pop and Zakk Wylde and Dave Mustaine and Sebastian Bach (though the last one there was a bit pretty for me), and these are the men that caused my first underpants feelings. And overwhelmingly each of them are still hot as hell as far as I’m concerned.
Lemmy Kilmister, as far as I’m concerned, went to the goddamn grave a sex god. And I don’t mean a sex god like he had sex a lot, or a lot of women found him attractive, or that I would’ve slept with him, though all of that is true. What I mean is that Lemmy, along with his cadre of fellows mentioned above, came to me to represent male sexuality, virility, and attractiveness, for better and for worse.
And so this is what dies in me when these men die. A part of my youth. A piece of my wildness. A part of me that wants so badly to believe the lie. And as those parts get pared away, I cling to what’s left, even if only in my imagination, all the harder.