When I was a teenager, like lots of other teens of my time (I was a teen from 1997-2004) I listened to a lot of hard rock and alternative stuff. My sister was a rock lover and metalhead, and she exposed me to plenty of new bands I wouldn’t have heard around my parents or even many of my friends – Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains, Metallica, The Cramps, AC/DC, and plenty of others I’m sure I’m forgetting. She may have been the one to cause my first exposure to the ass-kickers that are/were Motorhead.
And the man that led Motorhead through its history in the 1970s until his death last month was Lemmy Kilmister. An odd-looking warted man with funny facial hair and a voice the consistency of a rockslide-affected road, the man known as Lemmy fronted and gave voice to some of the coolest rock tracks of all time… the most notable of them all was “Ace of Spades”, a fast and loud song about living life to the full and worrying only about not having a good time. It’s one of my favorite songs of all time, both for its message and its simplicity, and his voice sounded like the most mature person that could give the message to a teenage me.
Some of those songs have bounced around my mind over the past few weeks, including a one-off track called “Shake Your Blood” that he performed with Dave Grohl (another of the best musicians writing and performing today). The more I listen to the stories of people who knew him, the more I view of his own words and speaking for himself, the more I admired just how nice a man he seemed. He was pretty soft-spoken, he would perform with everything he had (even after the brain cancer hampered his ability to speak he was still managing to get through concerts… somehow), and off-stage he just wanted a cigarette and a drink. And to read; turns out he was a voracious reader, and a history buff/historian. A smart, quiet fella, at home in the quiet corner of the bar as well as the stage. Maybe he preferred the corner to the stage.
After multiple interviews, this is what I’ve learned about David Bowie. The not-heterochromia-ed Bowie (he had a permanently-dilated left eye which gave him his distinct look, but both his eyes were otherwise blue) was, quite possibly, the most naturally handsome man in rock; a fashion icon and trend-setter; re-inventor extraordinaire; and yet, he was also very private with his personal life. He lived about as “normal” as he could, given that he was, indeed, David-fuckin’-Bowie. He would create a character, let them run to their highest point, then coldly and quickly cut them off and begin again.
Bowie was someone who didn’t simply make music, but simply made. He created music, played many instruments in his career, and generated characters that even I as an extremely casual fan recognized – the biggest two being, of course, Ziggy Stardust and… himself. Acting, writing, singing, performing, he was one of the few true renaissance artists of the 20th and early-21st century. He married a supermodel, genuinely one of the most gorgeous women in the world, he had children, effortlessly and publicly broke with the status quo more often possibly any other person in his industry or otherwise, and yet – somehow – still appeared down-to-earth (which, as Ziggy, completely broke character).
Oh, and I never heard an actually-negative thing about him. He was always just there, creating something new, asking his audience to come with him wherever he went. Always inviting, always daring, and yet never intimidating. And I respect the hell out of that.
These two men were very, very different, with very different ways of reaching their potential; both were, in multiple ways, geniuses that nobody really saw coming. They lived their lives on their own terms, yet stayed very kind in their journeys there. From what I can tell, they really only had about four things in common:
- They were rock icons (Bowie for flexibility in presentation, Lemmy for steadfastness in rocking out).
- They earned the respect of ALL of their peers, contemporaries, and the generation that followed them.
- They ended their careers – and their lives – with new albums and performances until they were absolutely no longer able.
- They both died from cancer.
Lemmy dressed in all black, Bowie in every color he could. Bowie with flexible vocals, Lemmy with a trademark gutteral growl. Bowie hitting every genre well, Lemmy driving hard rock harder than anyone else. Lemmy quiet in the corner playing his video game of choice and sharing a drink with fans, Bowie introvertedly developing new characters and creations for everyone to experience at home.
Is this an obituary for two great icons of music? Not really. I don’t like writing obituaries, though I’ve written a few. I much prefer writing a tribute and tipping my proverbial hat (and lifting my non-proverbial drink) to those who I can appreciate both as people and creators. And with both Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister and David Bowie, we’ve lost two heroes in an incredibly short period of time. It’s easy to say “fuck cancer”, especially when two of our greatest just fell from its ravages, but the best way I know to react instead is to put on some face paint, make a Lemmy (Coke and Jack Daniel’s, in case you weren’t aware) and crack up the stereo to show appreciation.
If you don’t have any JD in the house – or you don’t drink – and you’re averse to wearing make-up, cranking up their tunes works just as well.
Lemmy had a bigger influence on me personally than Bowie, but the level of respect for both men is there. Both had long and powerful careers, ending with a crescendo for their respective audiences. They gave their all until the end, and they lived with both open and quiet dignity. And that’s what I celebrate tonight, and have celebrated in creating my own material improved by their influence. I looked up to them both not because they were famous, but because they kicked ass on their own terms. And, more importantly, as decent human beings.
Rest in rock, Lemmy.
Fly the heavens, Ziggy.
Stand tall and rock on, my friends.