Friends and fans gathered at the Rainbow Room in Los Angeles to celebrate a man who was never supposed to die.
By two o'clock in the afternoon on Saturday, I was already covered in whiskey and coke. I'm not sure how it happened, but I suspect Lemmy would have wanted it that way. As the vocalist, bassist, and mastermind of Motörhead, the baddest rock band in the land, Ian "Lemmy" Kilmister loved his Jack Daniels, his uppers, and his favorite watering hole, the Rainbow Bar & Grill, located on Hollywood's Sunset Strip. Over the course of 40 years and 22 Motörhead albums, Lemmy wrote several (iron) fistfuls of thunderous classics that bridged the frenetic gap between punk and metal—"Killed By Death," "Ace Of Spades," "Overkill," etc.—but he always called it rock n' roll. He died on December 28, and on Saturday, several hundred fans crammed into the Rainbow, in full Motörhead regalia, to raise a glass to their fallen hero. They queued up to write messages on a massive wall-sized Lemmy poster out on the patio. They drank Jack and Cokes. A few of the stealthier patrons appeared to indulge in exotic powders by the outdoor bar where Lemmy once held court in front of his favorite video poker machine. The Rainbow's owner apparently delivered the infamous machine to Lemmy's nearby apartment shortly before his death. For the memorial, it had been replaced by flower bouquets and a sign that said "Lemmy: Born to Lose, Live to Win."
After an hour or so of pregaming, Lemmy's graveside memorial service was live-streamed to the dining room TV from Forest Lawn Cemetery. Rock luminaries like Slash, Dave Grohl, Rob Halford, and Motörhead drummer Mikkey Dee shared their memories of Lemmy, born on Christmas Eve in 1945, who fought off cancer just long enough to give age 70 the finger. Lemmy's longtime manager, Todd Singerman, was kind enough to speak with me in this time of mourning. "Lemmy had honor and integrity, and you don't see much of that in this business," he said. "He lived by a whole different set of rules. He was pure and he didn't have malice toward people, which is rare anywhere. You just don't see that in human nature. Everyone's got agendas and motives. I can't tell you he really had any."
Singerman briefly managed Marlon Brando before the famed actor died in 2004. He saw "enormous similarities" in how both Brando and Lemmy were adulated and respected by their peers: "At Brando's services, Johnny Depp and John Travolta and all these guys spoke about what Marlon meant to them. I'm talking every massive star in the world. What tripped me out is that it's the same effect that Lemmy has on other rock stars. They're nervous around him. They're in awe of him. So some average kid that he gave attention to was blown away because this wasn't just a rock star they loved giving them attention. This is Lemmy. This is the rockstar that their other favorite rock stars loved."
But Lemmy was nothing if not a man of the people. He was always gracious with his fans—no photo or autograph was refused, so long as you made it quick and let him get back to his poker machine/Jack and Coke/lady friend/what-have-you. If he wasn't occupied, he'd offer you a drink and talk music. And that was probably the coolest thing about being at Lemmy's public memorial at the Rainbow: Many of the folks there traded stories about meeting him at that very bar.
"Fuckin' Lemmy, man—he's been a huge inspiration," said Andy, a 28-year old musician who came to hoist a J&C in Lemmy's honor. "I heard Motörhead on a skate video when I was 18, and I've been hooked ever since. The first time I met him here was in the bathroom. We were taking a piss right next to each other and I wasn't sure what to say. I mean, what do you say to Lemmy? So I leaned over and go, 'You call that a cock?' He looked over and started chuckling."
A girl called Christina drove up from San Diego to be there at Rainbow Room. "About eight or nine years ago, I was on a first date with a guy who was designing a jacket for Lemmy," she says. "So we went over to Lemmy's apartment, right up the street from here, but there was no talk about the jacket at all. It was just Lemmy showing us all the stuff in his apartment. He was super friendly and nice. He took me into his bedroom and showed me like six freezer bags full of butane lighters that he collected from truck stops around the world. He's got crazy Nazi daggers everywhere, but he was more excited about the lighters than anything else. He shared his drugs with me and said, 'I brush my teeth with that shit.' When we left, he handed both of us a t-shirt from one of his dirty laundry baskets. It smelled horrible, but I still wanted to sleep in it because it stank so good."
Metal musicians rolled to the Rainbow in force, including Saviours drummer Scott Batiste. "I can't talk about him like he's dead," he said, shaking his head. "It's hard. Motörhead is my favorite shit. The first time I saw them was at the Maritime Hall in San Francisco in 1999, and it was just so raw—the power, the vibe; the way he plays. No one does it like that anymore."
Tony Foresta and Ryan Waste from Virginia crossover thrash kings Municipal Waste stopped by as well. "I met Lemmy in 2008 in France when we played Hellfest together," Waste said. "I was drinking all day and hanging out with these girls who breathe fire called the Fuel Girls. We stumbled back into our dressing room, not realizing it had changed over to Motörhead's room. But Lemmy looked right at me and handed me a Jack & Coke and mumbled something incoherent that basically meant I was accepted."
Scott Carlson, vocalist and bassist for legendary extreme metal outfit Repulsion—the band that arguably invented both death metal and grindcore with their first and only album, Horrified—estimated that he'd been to about 25 Motörhead gigs since first seeing them back in 1984. "From a musical standpoint, Motörhead was the game changer for me," he said. "It led me to punk, which shaped the way I wrote, played and judged music going forward. There is no greater influence on my taste than Lemmy. I even wear black jeans and boots every day, drink whiskey and play my bass with piles of distortion. I guess I've always wanted to be a little bit like Lemmy."
Just how hard Lemmy lived cannot be overestimated. "Lemmy lived the rock star life every day," Singerman said. "Keith Richards is known for partying heavy, but Keith Richards doesn't live it every day. Most people can't because they'll die. Lemmy went 70 years like that. I'm talking about a half gallon of Jack a day since the 1960s; two to three packs of cigarettes a day, plus speed daily. I've been with him 25 years and I've never, ever not seen him on all that stuff. When I started working with him, he was doing two or three broads a night on top of everything else. He had a lifestyle that nobody could keep up with. But he always maintained—always showed up, never fucked up."
It's telling that Lemmy's favorite drug was speed. Speed requires a commitment that other drugs do not. A line of coke might wear off in 15 or 20 minutes before you want another, but a line of good speed can keep you up for 24 hours. And Lemmy was nothing if not committed—to his fans, to his lifestyle, to rock n' roll itself.
Motörhead finished a European tour just two weeks before his death. "In retrospect, he was dying out there," Singerman said. "We just didn't know that at the time. But he finished the fucking tour. Can you imagine what it took for him to get up and play every day? It's a real Rocky story. And he did it all for the fans. He didn't want to let them down."
Singerman told me the recent death of longtime Motörhead drummer Phil "Philthy Animal" Taylor, who succumbed to liver failure at age 61 on November 11, had a severe effect on Lemmy. "He took it bad when Philthy died. You could see the change in him that night. He looked like he gave up. I'd never seen him like that before. It killed him inside—you could see it. Philthy was his brother."
In the end, Lemmy did everything short of dying onstage. "Oh, he wanted to die onstage," Singerman said. "He told me that a million times. But I ain't gonna lie to you—the way he lived, I'm surprised he made it this far. When the doctor came over to give him the cancer diagnosis, Lemmy had a drink in his hand. The doctor told him he had two to six months to live. Lemmy looked at him and goes, 'Two months, huh?' and then went back to playing video games. That's all he said. He was dead two days later."
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