Things aren’t always what they seem on the surface, and sometimes we lose sight of the things that truly move the emotional needle – whether trends or people – until something dire happens. So it was at the end of 2015 when one Ian Fraser “Lemmy” Kilmister departed to wherever it is that Jimi, Janis, John, Kurt and far too many others are jamming.
Surely, far bigger stars – at least as measured by sales impact – have left us in recent times. Frankly, one needs look no further than the equally sad passing of Natalie Cole.
You expect both fans and fellow rockers to be terribly saddened by the news, yet the emotional reaction to Lemmy’s death has been remarkable in its breadth and depth. Oh sure, there were encomiums from the places you’d expect, though even those took on remarkable proportions. (How many music legends have been the subject of a well-supported petition on a prominent website asking for a statue to be erected at their favorite haunt?)
Yet, it was the tributes from less expected places that really made Lemmy’s outsized influence clear. Bob Lefsetz wrote a brilliant piece on Lemmy’s authenticity and attitude and what it says about rock & roll. You’d certainly expect the likes of Ozzy, Alice Cooper, or Metallica to react to his passing, but you wouldn’t expect CBS to feel compelled to compile the reactions, and you wouldn’t expect artists like Billy Bragg, Alison Moyet, and Ice T to react. I bet you wouldn’t expect Flea, as brilliant and innovative a performer as there is in rock, to call Lemmy “my hero“.
A week after his passing, with a little internet searching, you can find a plethora of seriously emotional tributes to the man. As a starter, here’s Ozzy’s tribute. You can also attend his 12-hour memorial service at the only place it could ever be held – and his favorite hang – the Sunset Strip’s Rainbow Bar & Grill, where an appropriate amount of alcohol and hedonism will doubtless flow.
The reaction to his leaving us has been, in short, overwhelmingly powerful. And with that, two quick observations, one professional and one personal:
Professionally speaking, when you’re busy thinking about the future of entertainment, don’t just look where the lights are shining brightest. Somewhere in a darkened corner of a legendary bar you’ll find someone – or perhaps several someones – who have a stunningly powerful emotional influence on both artists and fans. Watch this wildly entertaining video, and you’ll want to mock those fans, but rest assured that the kind of passion and commitment that an artist like Lemmy incites inspires a broader swath of audience than you see on the surface.
In our digital future, you need that kind of passion in order to thrive. Lemmy Kilmister had just turned 70. If he were instead, say, 20, what kind of following do you think he’d have built both online and off? Here’s guessing it would be off the charts.
Personally, I made a mistake I’ll always regret. A very dear friend of mine who was also friends with Lemmy – not surprisingly, someone with an extensive history in the music business – repeatedly told me that Lemmy and I should meet, that we’d have an interesting conversation. Knowing certain passions of Lemmy’s that I frowned on, I repeatedly deferred, figuring that we’d get around to it someday.
In this case, someday will never arrive. I looked at the little picture instead of the big one, and I missed an experience that I now wish I hadn’t. Stupid me. Hopefully, you won’t ever do likewise.
Two quotes with minor comments to close:
First a classic from John Donne: “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”
And then a modern classic from Lemmy: “If you’re going to be a fucking rock star, go be one. People don’t want to see the guy next door on stage; they want to see a being from another planet.”
Lemmy has left the planet, and the planet has been diminished just a little, or maybe more than a little bit.
Perhaps, in whatever world you inhabit, you should be a little more – okay, a lot more – of a being from another planet.