Wacken 2014 B 055

The heavy metal world ground to a halt yesterday (December 28, 2015) when the news was reported and confirmed that Lemmy Kilmister, legendary bassist and vocalist for the classic band Motörhead which, until yesterday, had been in existence since 1975. Lemmy, born Ian Fraser Kilmister in Stoke-on-Trent, England on Christmas Eve 1945, had just passed his 70th birthday four days before. Official statements said that he died of an extremely aggressive and fast-moving cancer, but the metal world has known for quite a while that Lemmy’s health has not been good. Motörhead was forced to cut short their set at Wacken Open Air 2013 due to Lemmy not being able to go on–the first time that had ever happened–and a vicious unfounded rumor swept the Internet, especially on Twitter, in the days following the festival that Lemmy had died. He hadn’t, and Motörhead returned to Wacken the next year (I was there and chronicled the show here) to roaring applause. All of us had an image in our heads of Lemmy as some sort of indestructible, immortal heavy metal deity, but in the back of our minds we all knew this was coming. Death comes for all people, and yesterday it came for one of the greatest metal icons of all time.

Lemmy’s death is a terrible loss to the world of music; that goes without saying. However, we should be grateful for the incredibly rich contributions that he was able to make during his life. No metalhead on the face of the Earth has not heard of Motörhead; I have never met a metalhead who didn’t like them. I believe I saw Motörhead live 6 times: first at a club show in Portland, Oregon in 2000, then at Wacken Open Air in 2001, 2004, 2006, 2009, 2011 and 2014. Lemmy was always engaged with his fans, always there to provide the best show possible, and it was clear even as he was old and getting tired that he was still a fan and he was doing this for the love of the music that we all shared. He knew he was one of the true founding fathers of modern metal but he was always extremely humble about it (something he had in common with other beloved metal icons) and often claimed he felt more at-home in the punk scene than the metal one. But still, he was there for the fans, and we all loved him.

Lemmy’s approach to live performances never varied. Here is Motörhead doing their signature song “Ace of Spades” in 1981. Except for the hairstyles, this could have been recorded this year.

With Lemmy’s passing, heavy metal is coming closer to the end of what might be called the first era in its history. Metal as a genre came from origins in the 1950s with artists like Link Wray, formed fully in the late 1960s with bands like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, and was perfected in the mid-1970s by Lemmy and Motörhead among other important acts and artists. With the passing of Wray in 2005, Ronnie James Dio in 2010 and now Lemmy in 2015 we have only a few of these “founding fathers” still left among us. When they pass from the scene heavy metal will enter a new generation. The imprint of Motörhead and Lemmy Kilmister on the genre, however, can never be overstated. May Lemmy’s family, friends and fans be comforted by the immense appreciation that the world has shown for his outstanding work, and the great tide of sympathy that’s resulted from the announcement of his death–of which this article is a part.

The header photo was taken by me and is copyright (C) 2014 by Sean Munger, all rights reserved.