Motörhead's Lemmy Kilmister Remembered: A Hero, Rock Star, Warrior, Pirate, Legend, Human
Ian Fraser "Lemmy" Kilmister was born in Burslem, England, the day before Christmas 1945. For nearly a half century, he didn't just play rock n' roll, he ate, slept, shit and made love to it. We met in the late '80s, often colliding at the salacious and storied, Rainbow Bar & Grill on Sunset. As my career started to evolve into syndicated radio and MTV, Lemmy was always there for me if I needed an interview, a sound bite or just some sage advice on life. About 10 years ago, I accompanied him to a skate and surf event in Huntington Beach where scantily clad ladies 1/3 his age lined up on the sand so he could inscribe their right breasts. His credibility was ageless; his cool, timeless.
When I got the gig to music supervise the Fox motion picture Airheads in 1994, I pushed for the Motörhead anthem "Born to Raise Hell" to theme the film, inviting two giant Lemmy fans -- Ice T and Ugly Kid Joe's Whitfield Crane -- to add guest vocals to a remix of the track. Director Michael Lehmann cast the hilarious cameo where Lemmy shouts to the Dungeons & Dragons crowd, "I edited the school newspaper!" And who can forget the scene where Brendan Fraser confronts corporate suit Harold Ramis with a question before he'll let him into the radio station that he, Adam Sandler and Steve Buscemi had taken hostage: "Who'd win in a wrestling match, Lemmy or God?" Ramis fumbles, "Lemmy? God?" Fraser pounces, "Wrong dickhead. Trick question -- Lemmy IS God."
Mortality aside, there was something about this literate, fearless madman that set him apart from the rest. I'd go so far as to say he was a genuine Renaissance Man. Though his music was loud, rapid fire, thrash punk metal; he worshipped the Beatles and the divine essence of a perfect ballad. Just listen to "Ain't No Nice Guy" off 1992's March or Die. Valerian steel covering a poet's heart.
Lemmy was the first artist I pitched to lend B-roll commentary to the 30th Anniversary AC/DC Let There Rock DVD package. During the interview, he proclaimed under no uncertain terms that the history of rock n' roll boasted only three true pirates: Bon Scott, Keith Richards... and him. Did Lemmy rape and pillage or set fire to villages and ships in the Black Sails sense? I think not. He did, however, wield his four-string weapon of bass destruction with punishing skill and had no shame drinking, popping or eating whatever he chose. His zest for life was uncompromising, his love of performance, untouchable. During a robust two-hour exchange on my KNAC.com streaming program Breath of Fire back in 2000 after being forced to cancel several European dates due to ill health, Lemmy confessed, "I'll probably drop dead on stage, with my boots on. Wouldn't be the worst way to go."
Motörhead has released 22 studio albums, 10 live recordings, 12 compilation albums and four EPs. Lemmy never stopped working, no matter how shitty he felt. We sat in the dressing in March 2014 when he opened for Megadeth at the Pearl inside the Palms Hotel & Casino. "My heart's going bad, got a fucking device in there," he said with a wry chuckle, followed by, "You doing okay, man? Need anything?"
Six months into my self-imposed divorce desert exile in the spring of 2004, Motörhead was playing House of Blues, Las Vegas. Arriving at the venue shortly after 5 p.m., several hours before set time, I made my way to the claustrophobic backstage area and banged on the headliner's dressing room door, uncertain whether anybody would answer. A buxom young lady peeked out and asked, "Who is it?" I stuck my head through the jam and sparked, "Hey Lem, welcome to Sin City." At the behest of the master, I was ushered in, poured a generous glass of Jack Daniels and immediately engaged in personal conversation. "You're living here, eh, Lonn?" inquired the heavy metal legend that graced many a page of RIP Magazine, the hard rock monthly I helmed back in the day. "Going through a rough time? You need some cash?" My first instinct was to respond with some forced leather-clad bravado like, "Doing awesome, man, love it here!" but he'd seen through me like a broken window. So instead, I told him the truth, that I was barely getting by and missed my daughter in L.A. Without skipping a beat or sip of his cocktail, he grabbed a cell phone to call his longtime loyal manager, Todd Singerman. "Todd, yeah, listen, wire Lonn Friend a thousand dollars. Do it now. Thanks."
Three hours later, this magnanimous soul whom I proudly called "friend," took his classic spot center stage behind the tilted mic, neck arched back in upward wail, ballistic bottom at full throttle. With bandmates Mikkey Dee on drums and Phil Campbell on guitar, Motörhead rocked the house, leaving no fan unscathed by its incendiary, infectious assault.
Hero, rock star, warrior, pirate, legend, human. The yogis say, "We are nothing but the memory we leave behind." With respect to Lemmy, remember this -- he rocked hard and true for fans around the world, never resting too long, never selling out. At his close pal, Dave Grohl's gala goblet and joust Medieval Times 40th birthday party a few years back, I was honored to be amongst the 100 or so lucky invitees. As the two fisted boy wonder walked the room to greet each and every one of his guests, he passed by me and fired, "Dude, is this the greatest party or what?" I nodded and replied, "The best, dude." Then, suddenly, Dave paused for an instant, lowered his beer and sighed. "Only one person missing to make the night perfect -- Lemmy."
Missing. But never forgotten. Horns and halos, my friend.
Lonn M. Friend is former editor of RIP magazine and author of Life on Planet Rock (Doubleday/Random House)