News of Lemmy Kilmister's death filtered through social media yesterday afternoon, only four days after he celebrated his 70th birthday. It wasn't a total shock, because the man had been battling various ailments for the last several years (including a hematoma and an irregular heartbeat). According to the Motorhead Facebook page, he finally succumbed to an "extremely aggressive cancer" that he only found out about on December 26.
Whatever got him in the end is irrelevant. Lemmy WAS rock 'n roll. How else do you explain a 50-year career in music for a guy who looked like he should be on a wanted poster instead of an album cover? You could call him a rock 'n roll Zelig, but unlike the movie character, Lemmy was no enigma. He kicked around in a variety of bands in his teens and early 20s, roadied for Jimi Hendrix and then joined space rockers Hawkwind in 1972. He switched from guitar to bass and created the distinctive, aggressive bass style he later became known for, which basically sounded like he was beating the crap out of it.
Three years later, he was kicked out of Hawkwind after getting busted on the Canadian border for drugs. Lemmy went on to form Motorhead, a loud and dirty hard rock act that found favor with both heavy metal and punk audiences. The band released 22 studio albums, nine live albums and 10 compilations. Chrissie Hynde cites Lemmy as a big influence in the Pretenders; she had befriended him after moving to London in the late '70s and he encouraged her to pursue her dream of forming a band. Lemmy also mixed easily with the burgeoning punk and metal scenes. Who didn't want to hang out with him?
I first became aware of Motorhead in 1980 after watching a concert aired on CBC and immediately was a fan. Ace of Spades is one of the greatest rock albums ever. Even as the original lineup fell apart and various members came in and out of the band, Lemmy was the one constant. One of my big regrets is never seeing Motorhead live, even though they toured constantly.
There's still great rock music being made, but there will never be another Lemmy.