Rainbow Bar & Grill Sends Off Lemmy Kilmister With Boozy, Loving Anecdotes
"I have to pee, but that would mean taking my chaps off." This is no ordinary wake. This is the wake of Lemmy Kilmister, 70-year-old living fable, who passed away hours before this sentence was uttered. The lady who just has realized she needs to relieve herself is in a bar on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, and she's about to order a Jack & Coke, Lemmy's own tipple.
A Jack & Coke in this establishment costs $9 and is worth every penny, being about one-eighth of a finger of Coke to two full fuck-you fingers of America's most rock n' roll whiskey. To quote Hawkwind, one band Lemmy blessed with his metal prowess during his time spent on earth, "Tonight I took a ride in a silver machine." (OK, mine was a black Prius… but you take what you're given with Uber). My destination? The Rainbow Bar & Grill on Sunset Boulevard. The Rainbow is the first home of Lemmy, an institution who has now gone to the other side of the sky. It's not Hawkwind that covers the t-shirts of those drinking the Rainbow dry tonight, though. It's Motörhead, who are so engrained in the history of metal that Apple knows to autocorrect the word with an umlaut when you type it into your iPhone.
The man born Ian Fraser "Lemmy" Kilmister died Monday, Dec. 28. It was announced via Motörhead's Facebook page. He was a rock star so true to the word that he received online tributes from WWE itself. The emoji symbol for an ace has never seen so much action on Twitter, as listeners turned to his most iconic track "Ace Of Spades" to assuage their grief. I, too, was listening to it while screaming down the Sunset Strip on an L.A. night oddly colder than England.
The Sunset Strip is trapped in time. You still see hair here before you see faces. It's home only to people who take it seriously. It is unapologetic. It is some of the only history L.A. has got and Lemmy was its most reliable living artifact, found often in a corner of the outside bar of the Rainbow playing virtual poker on a computer screen.
On the Monday between Christmas and New Year the bar staff at the Rainbow are panicked. "It's so busy tonight, darlin'" says the floor manager as I walk in. A basketball match between the Lakers and the Hornets is drowned out by heavy riffs from the bar's jukebox classic rock. The air smells of vinegar, chicken tenders and leather. There are fish tanks on the walls, and fish crumbs on the floors. Photos of Lemmy with many members of staff are dotted around every corner. A man orders "two with Coke and one on the rocks." Jack, of course. Nobody is without Lemmy's signature combo in their glass. A guy called Ronnie is in a corner with friends, toasting "the homie." He didn't know Lemmy but his pal used to tend the bar here. Ronnie's trade is working the power lines. He is embarrassed that he's not important to L.A. types, that he's not a rock star himself. "Nobody cares about the power 'til it cuts out," he says. But Lemmy would have cared about Ronnie, even when the power was going. He was a community man -- and this was his world.
There is a lot of displaced hair here tonight. "Man, I just didn't know what to do. None of us can believe that Lemmy's fucking gone. We are all here for Lemmy," says one bearded regular. "He was in here this Saturday, nah what I mean?" says a randomly placed English guy. "Ask one of these geezers. They love this guy."
Before long, we're all new friends, ordering each other more Jack & Cokes from the bar. A man in a trucker hat starts a cheers-ing chorus: "To Lemmy!" Not that he needs to cajole people. People start chinking my glass wherever I turn; it's become the thing to do. Outside near where Lemmy would sit on his Jack Daniel's-endorsed stool, the bar is teeming with people who knew and worked with him, including his tour manager and friends he collected along the way. The poker videogame is not here tonight. Allegedly, Lemmy had it brought to his second home -- his actual house -- nearby for his amusement during his final days.
"Everybody knows a story about Lemmy," says a regular named Omar. Omar's favorite anecdote is from his own birthday a few years back. His friends had a little too much fun, and after coming to the Rainbow to cap the night off, began to unleash some happy rage on the furnishings. He points to a spot at the bar where they smashed up an old television. Lemmy was not involved in the party but wrote a blank check to Rainbow's owners anyway, so that nobody else paid for the damage done by a few guys invoking the spirit of rock n' roll. "He lived simply," says Omar. "As a man he was like a book of psalms." Lemmy used to tell Omar that hope was far more important than faith. "He told me, 'I'm content with who I am. I don't need to do anything else.' So he didn't do anything else but be Lemmy."
Another regular, Kenneth "Sonny" Donato (a self-professed original L.A. poet, local raconteur, and author of a book he carries on him titled A Poet's Guide to the Bars) was summoned by Rainbow's manager Mario earlier this afternoon, as the troops were being rallied for this evening. Sonny tells me that Lemmy loved anyone who was proud to be individual, particularly Lou Reed. He also tells me about Lemmy's birthday party for his 70th just three weeks ago. It was at the Whiskey a Go Go one block down from here. "Everyone was waiting for Lemmy with this big cake. I was gonna write a poem in that moment called 'Where is Lemmy?' because we couldn't work it out. But his girlfriend knew. She came in here to the Rainbow screaming at him: 'Lemmy, get off that machine! They're waiting for you!'" Lemmy continued to tap on the videogame screen. His people could wait.
Another man who works at MTV Germany shows me a phone video he took last year of Lemmy propped up at the bar, again playing the videogame. He recalls the day Lemmy turned up to do an interview at MTV Germany at noon with a bottle of Jack in his hands. Everyone was amused, recognizing that here was a man who knew how to be a rock star. The Rainbow refused comment on Lemmy's death when I asked them on the phone earlier. That's not because they don't have plenty to say about their most loyal and revered customer, it's just that if you're the type who can't be bothered to go down to the Rainbow on a Monday night when civilized society is tucking itself into bed, then you probably understand little about rock n' roll in the first place.
As Lemmy once said at the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame: "If you're going to be a fucking rock star, go be one. People don't want to see the guy next door on stage; they want to see a being from another planet." For all who came through these doors during Lemmy's tenure as our metal god from Valhalla, their connection with him was once-in-a-lifetime. As I'm trying to leave, Sonny has some words of advice he's borrowed back from Lemmy: "Don't wait for anyone to approve of you. Just make sure you approve of yourself. Oh, and come back tomorrow night. We'll all still be here." The slogan for the Rainbow is "Home of the moving stars." Up in the night sky tonight is a new arrival -- one who was born to shine forever more.