"Hey, let's go hang out with Lemmy!"
"Lemmy?" I said. " The Lemmy?"
It was 1990 or '91. I was on one of my semi-regular visits to Hollywood from my home in New York City, and for six years now, ever since the drunken summer night we'd first met at the Sunset Strip's notorious Rainbow Bar and Grill, my friend Bea Dunmore had been exhorting me in her glorious, throaty voice to join her in "hanging out" with various louche locals. Among them were karate black-belted rock stars, wizened nightclub owners, "hair-metal" drummers, 70s-era record producers, Jewish drug dealers with bona fide pharmacy degrees, bachelor-party strippers, music-video vixens—"That's my ass you see in the close-ups in Billy Idol's 'Eyes Without a Face,'" a saucy brunette told me—and bikini-clad mud wrestlers.
Bea—or "Little Black Bea," as she more than once referred to herself—was quite persuasive with her suggestions. A talented actress, she'd worked at certain times as a video vixen, a stripper, and a mud wrestler herself, and she was a true queen of the Hollywood scene. Outrageous yet accessible; my own age yet way more worldly; petite yet buxom; whip-smart yet insouciant; African-American yet totally accepted in the white world of heavy metal, Bea was quite simply one of the most unabashedly alive people I'd ever met.
What we most shared, I think, was an unfettered love of rock 'n' roll; she loved the music as much as any musician did. And whenever Bea urged me to join her in "hanging out" with someone, I found it hard to refuse.
"Lemmy?" I said. " The Lemmy? Lemmy Kilmister, from Motörhead?"
"Sure," said Bea. We were sitting in her crash pad, contemplating how to spend the day. "He's one of my best friends. Fantastic guy—I love him. You will, too. The king of the headbangers! Plus, you can discuss history with Lemmy, he's a history buff. A scholar. He's always reading history books. In fact, he's got a new song he played me called '1916.' It's about World War One or something."
"Doesn't he live in, like, England? London?"
Bea shook her wild-haired (or wildly hair-sprayed) head. "Nope, he just moved here. He lives a few blocks down the hill from the Rainbow. That's his favorite place in town. He said we can come and visit!"
"Hang out with Lemmy?" I muttered. Finally, the invitation sank in, and I sat bolt upright on Bea's sofa. "Fuck yes!"
Not only did Lemmy's badass mustache, black gunslinger attire, rolled-up shirtsleeves, and—most importantly—prodigious facial warts mark him as the most essential rock 'n' roller in the inhabited Milky Way, he by all accounts walked his talk 24/7. "The Keith Richards's Keith Richards," you might call him. Just the way the Lemmster sang onstage—with the microphone not level with his face but pointed down at him, as if he were howling at the moon, or at the gods, in a fierce lightning-storm—told you all you needed to know.
Then there was Lemmy's music, which was its own thing of wonder. Aside from Led Zeppelin, whose deep cuts, especially on Physical Graffiti and Presence, constituted their own glorious genre, an exotically seasoned and crunchy loud funk, I couldn't stand metal—Sabbath, Slayer, Priest, Metallica—it was too much redundant thudding and too many teenage boy concerns. But I always had time for Motörhead. Their sound was irresistible—a mercilessly headlong rush that sounded like the MC5 on speed (and the 5 already sounded as though they were on speed, so this was an overdose of speed). With that rush, you could never forget Lemmy's close association with the best of the British punks.
As for Lemmy's lyrics, they were as great or greater than the music. Like the man's interviews in rock magazines, where the worldview he expressed was half 60s hedonism, half no-nonsense street-wisdom, and 100-percent hilarious, the Motörhead lyrics were sui generis—"beyond category," as Duke Ellington would say. Somehow they managed to mock the typical metal subjects even while serving them up with all the élan, and then some. Think of the song "Killed by Death"—those three simple words render completely foolish the blacker side of metal's Reaper fetishizing. How fun to sing that chorus loud, though! Or listen (again, loudly) to "Eat the Rich," in which the class struggle suggested by the title gets subsumed by blowjob innuendoes—or does it? Just how should one begin to unpack a couplet like, "Sitting here in my hired tuxedo, / You want to see my bacon torpedo"?
I couldn't listen to a lot of Motörhead, since it all began to sound alike after half-a-dozen songs. Nevertheless, as Bea readily agreed with me, nothing could knock you down the way those half-a-dozen songs did. The only music that comes close in this effect is Ween's perfect Motörhead parody, "It's Gonna Be a Long Night."
Off to Lemmy's house we went. I don't remember, 25 years later, precisely how we got there. I probably drove us—but I didn't always have a rental car in LA, so we might have taken a cab or taken a bus or hitchhiked or even walked (all of which we did together when I was visiting). I also don't remember much of what we spoke about with Lemmy once we found him by the pool at his modest apartment complex, though I did ask him about the book he'd been reading, a paperback biography of Hitler. Not at all "scholarly" though certainly historical, the book looked as if it had been purchased via an ad in the back of, say, Soldier of Fortune magazine.
I do remember a few things from that afternoon: how surprised I was by what Lemmy was wearing (a Speedo or some similarly small-sized bathing suit); how slightly disappointed by my presence he seemed at first (perhaps when Bea told him she was bringing "a friend," he assumed it was a lady friend); and how polite and quietly amiable he was once he'd warmed up with me conversationally. Hardly the raging rock beast of reputation, he was a perfect English gent.
I also remember that Bea kept peppering Lemmy with questions about his latest music. She likewise kept wanting to dance. (As I've said, her love for rock 'n' roll was deep, wide, and nonstop.) Eventually the three of us walked to the Rainbow together, where the staff gladly greeted Lemmy and Bea, valued customers, and me, their "guess-he-can't-be-too-bad" companion. By then, of course, Lemmy had ditched his bathing suit and put on his proper rocker uniform, and we left him at the bar when he got started on his second glass of Jack Daniels.
Since that afternoon, I've "dined out" with fellow Motörhead fans on the story of my hang with Lemmy. Unfortunately, I couldn't share the fond memory for very long with Bea, because we fell out of touch. This was mostly accidental: In those pre-cellphone, pre-internet days, it wasn't so easy to keep up with someone when they kept changing their address and therefore their phone number. But I've always felt particularly responsible for losing contact with Bea, because the last time I saw her (about a year after I met Lemmy), she got in a strange mood with me when I stopped by to see her, and this annoyed me, and I decided not to see her again during that LA visit.
Back in New York a few months later, however, I started to miss Bea and tried to call her, but her number had been disconnected. She'd often mentioned her mother and brother to me, but I had no way of reaching them either. And whenever I returned to Hollywood, I made a point of visiting the Rainbow and asking the bouncers there if they'd encountered Bea.
"Not in a long time," they always said.
Meanwhile, my enjoyment of Lemmy's music continued. I went to Lemmy's 50th birthday concert at the Whiskey on the Strip, and laughed along with everyone else at the opening act, Metallica, who all dressed up like Lemmy and played Motörhead songs.
While waiting to get into the venue that night, I felt sorry for a drugged-out patron who'd been kicked out of the place. Because he was too drugged out to notice that some prankster had set his pant leg on fire with a lighter, I started stamping on his leg to put the fire out, and not understanding why I was doing this, he turned all his fury on me, thereby proving true the adage, "No good deed goes unpunished."
In the late 90s, I began dating a lovely Norwegian woman in Paris. We didn't stay a couple, but we had a child together, becoming dear friends as well as co-parents in the process. Ingunn too was a Motörhead fan, and her brother Ols was an even greater Motörhead-head. Whenever I found an article about Lemmy in a magazine, I clipped it and sent it to him. Then, as soon as my son with Ingunn was old enough, we started playing Motörhead music for him, and Gabriel came to dig Lemmy as much as we did. At nine or ten I brought Gabriel to one of his first rock concerts, Motörhead at the Zenith in Paris, and one of my sweetest memories of my son's childhood is our dancing like lunatics together to "The Ace of Spades."
From time to time while in LA, I ran into Lemmy again at the Rainbow—he was usually alone, usually at the video-poker game—and I would remind him of how we'd met. I figured he might know where Bea was, but he didn't. Or maybe he did know but said he didn't in order to protect her privacy from a New York guy he only dimly remembered meeting, if he remembered me at all. From time to time, too, I would look up Bea's name on the internet, but never found out where she was living, much less any way to contact her.
Her trail was cold—until two years ago.
Two years ago, checking her name online for the first time in many moons, I saw that a party had just been held in her honor at, where else, the Rainbow. Except the party wasn't in "her honor," exactly—it was in her memory. She'd passed away a few days before, at age 50.
Despite our not having spoken in 20 years, the news of Bea's young death shook me up terribly. To lose a friend who's your own age reminds you that you're mortal; to lose a friend you'd tried and failed to reunite with teaches you something different: how cruel fate can be. If only I'd tried harder to reconnect with her , I kept telling myself. And now, two years after Bea, Lemmy has left the Hollywood scene, too, dying of cancer just following his 70th birthday.
I can't say how close Lemmy and Bea remained with each other as friends, or how close they ever were. But I think of Bea now as a sort of yin to Lemmy's yang—the true fan who complements the artist by a boundless love of the art. What Lemmy heard in early rock 'n' roll, Bea heard in Motörhead and the other headbanger music she loved, and in her own fashion, Bea was every bit as colorful, as electrifying, and as archetypal a rock 'n' roll figure as Lemmy was. It took each of them, rocker and rock fan, to make the music pulsate to the nth degree. The two of them, their two kinds, were both needed to complete the aesthetic circuit. So I'll be missing them separately, the Bea I once knew well and the Lemmy I hardly knew at all—but I'll also be missing them as a unit, missing them together.
Gary Lippman is a journalist, author, and visual artist whose work has appeared in the New York Times, the Paris Review, VICE, Open City, Sex and Design, and Fodors Travel Guides.