Ian Fraser 'Lemmy' Kilmister has died, and lots of people are sad.
I am not going to write some sort of douchebag THEY SHOULDN'T BE YOU KNOW blog. But it is interesting to me why his death has touched so many people.
Both he and his band Motörhead have maintained a profile that far outstrips their actual commercial success – they've not really been what you'd call meaningfully 'popular' since about 1982, and folk memory has essentially whittled the sum total of their achievements to one (admittedly awesome) song (The Ace of Spades, obv). That's not to be disparaging: from the ever-accurate social barometer that is BTL on The Guardian, Motörhead fans seem as bemused/irritated as anyone at the scale of the mourning for the man.
It is very apparent that it is Lemmy's unapologetically hard-drinkin' etc lifestyle that was key to his appeal as this almost sort of folkloric figure: he was ugly and unfashionable in a way that transcended ugliness and fashion, he looked broadly the same throughout all 40 years of Motörhead's existence, and people used to fondly joke about his indestructibility, especially with regards to The Booze and The Drugs.
It's good that The Booze and The Drugs didn't kill him (not directly, anyway) because that might have felt like some sort of awful cautionary tale about drinking and drugging too much. But no! Drink away. Drug away.
So that's a victory. Maybe a major victory. I think on some level people are sad that Lemmy is gone because we had colluded in this myth of his being indestructible, and though none of us *believed* it, we wanted it to be true. I can't link to it, but a friend posted a cracking anecdote on Facebook that strongly suggests Lemmy didn't really drink a huge amount after the '80s, but thought it very important to 'keep up appearances', not (I would imagine) because he gave a shit about the Motörhead 'brand', but because he knew he'd disappoint millions of people if he gave the public appearance of mellowing. We believed in Lemmy's indestructibility less than, say, gravity, but more than Father Christmas.
I am 34 and for my generation and the generation before and maybe even the generation before that (I am always hazy on how long 'a generation' is) Lemmy was a constant – he was simply THERE, less a human being, more an archetype (if you're feeling extravagant you might even say he occupied a position tantamount to a minor god of the modern cultural pantheon). I think maybe him going is upsetting to far more people than those who knew him or who were serious fans of his music because he was one of the great constants of our age and he has winked out: for me there has always been a Lemmy, there has always been a Paul McCartney, there has always been a Queen Elizabeth, there has always been a Morgan Freeman, there has always been a Keith Richards, there has always been a Stevie Wonder… they have always seemed about as old to me, mostly because all of them have essentially spent their entire lives playing the same role, and it'll be a shock when they go (and in probably 20 years they'll all be gone).
He was a 70-year-old man who played his last ever gig – a full-on rock gig, probably louder than then ones he was playing 40 years ago – a fortnight before he was diagnosed with cancer. He died two days after that. He didn't fade out or retire. I honestly don't think that's how I want to go (provided I can still write I quite like the idea of twilight years), but there's something intensely admirable about it all: Ian Kilmister was Lemmy until the very end, and then he stopped. It's not a tragedy that he's gone, but it is a diminishment.