The news of Motörhead singer/bassist Lemmy Kilmister’s death on December 28 last year shocked fans and seemed to kick off a domino effect of talent leaving the Mothership (shortly followed by Natalie Cole, David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Vanity and Prince, just to name a few). One fan—Katon De Pena, singer of long-running LA thrash band Hirax since 1984—morphed his grief into something positive with the suggestion of erecting a statue in honor of Lemmy in his favorite LA haunt—the Rainbow Bar & Grill.
“The first time I met him was here in the early 90s,” says De Pena. “He had just moved to the US and I was upstairs drinking and turned around on my barstool and he’s standing there and I go ‘Ian [Lemmy’s birth name], what are you doing here?’ He says ‘I just moved to the United States.’ I didn’t know he hung out here. I saw them on their first US tour. I’m just a big fan. For me it was about, this is someone I look up to and I want to do something for him,” he says of the statue idea.
“I feel like I need to pay him back for stealing so much of his music,” he laughs.
When he brought the idea to the iconic club’s owners (the Maglieri family), they gave it their blessing.
Left to right: Rainbow owner Mikael Maglieri, Mikael Maglieri Jr, Hirax's Katon de Pena, and artist Travis Moore
“Lemmy was a fixture here,” says 36-year-old Mikael Maglieri Jr. “Since I was a little kid he’s been coming around, playing his video games, smoking cigarettes. I used to go and set up his VCRs when I was a kid. I’d go to his house right down the street. If he was not on tour, he was here. Fans would come by and ask, ‘is Lemmy around?’ and we’d say ‘no, he’s on tour’ and they’d come back and find him.”
De Pena crowdsourced over $22,000 for the statue while Maglieri searched for the right people to create the monument. He commissioned a company called Big Statues and tapped local artist Travis Moore to project manage, making it a group effort.
Moore, who holds a BA in Fine Art and a Master’s degree in Kinesiology, ensured every detail was correct. “We had to get opinions of Lemmy’s best friends, his management people and his widow (girlfriend), because it has to look like him,” he says. “I even went and talked to the guy that made his boots.”
“It’s beautiful when you think about the bar and the history and the fans. It was all fans who paid for this. I think that speaks a lot of Lemmy,” says De Pena.
Now the beloved hellraiser is forever immortalized in a six-foot-two bronze likeness based on a photograph by rock photographer Robert John (minus the cigarette). After chants of “Lem-my, Lem-my” the statue was unveiled to hundreds of fans last night, with the cheerfully drunk crowd yelling along to “Ace of Spades.”
Many traveled just to get a glimpse of this new piece of rock history. Mike Dolan and Amanda Markowski flew in from Brooklyn because Motörhead has been a running theme in their lives. Dolan was in a Motörhead tribute band called Gimmehead when he met Markowski at a show. Shortly after, they started dating, and a year ago they got married. (They wear matching “Snaggletooth” rings.) They even took the Motörhead Motörboat cruise; they didn’t meet Lemmy there because “he had a big bodyguard,” but when flying from Miami to LA, they met him in first class on the plane. “Lemmy was right behind us with his girlfriend, reading History’s Greatest Battles and eating his cereal, so we got a chance to talk to him and get a photograph with him and he was really charming and sweet.” They planned to come to the unveiling as soon as they heard of it and arrived to the Rainbow hours early to get a good view.
Members of local LA band the Liquor Locos were among those in line in the wee hours, determined to get a photo with the new statue. “I lost my virginity to a Motörhead song—‘Jailbait,’” says guitarist Joe Ramirez.
“Motörhead was our biggest influence. If it wasn’t for Lemmy we wouldn’t be doing shit,” adds Spooky, their bassist. “I was fortunate enough to see the last show they played by USC.”
Further down the line, 23-year-old Elena Buenrostro says she’s been a fan since she was 13 because “Lemmy is fucking the man, man.”
Fans drank Jack-and-Cokes (now dubbed “Lemmys”) all night, sharing stories and taking turns taking photos with the new metal version of their metal god. The statue will remain at the Rainbow and open to the public, while De Pena says money leftover from the Kickstarter campaign will be donated to Ronnie James Dio’s Stand Up and Shout Fund. “All of us hate cancer and know survivors and some people who have it… plus Dio was a friend of his. That’s the right thing to do.”
Photgrapher Melissa Castro was on hand to document the unveiling (and the party that obviously followed).