Upon Lemmy's Death (2015)
Back in the late 1990s, I was living in San Antonio, Texas, and working at the San Antonio Cancer Institute. As a comic book and sci-fi nerd, I was also reading DC Comics’ “Michael Moorcock’s Multiverse,” written by Moorcock himself and drawn by Walter Simonson. I was reading this comic because (i) Moorcock is one of my favorite fantasy writers of all time and Simonson is a favorite artist, and (ii) because of the Mississippi connection. Moorcock, who presently lives in Texas, is married to Linda, who is from West Point, Mississippi. Back in the late 1980s, you could go to Square Books in Oxford and buy signed copies of Moorcock’s “Elric” and other titles. Like many writers, he made the pilgrimage to Oxford, Mississippi, albeit while traveling to West Point.
Moorcock is British. As an artist in Britain in the 1970s, he was writing mind-blowing fantasy and science fiction, and he was also making music. Moorcock was part of the band Hawkwind, who played interesting psychedelic mood rock in the early days of that genre. Hawkwind is barely remembered now, and when they are, it is usually because of the member they kicked out of the band: Lemmy Kilmister. Lemmy went on to found another, much nastier band named Motörhead.
Motörhead is one of those rare bands that both punks and headbangers revere, and Lemmy was the steel fist that drove them to record his epic songs “Ace of Spades” and “Killed by Death,” among others. Lemmy was a rock and roll god, and his death from cancer on December 28th, 2015 made the whole leather-and-chrome clad world shudder, especially those of us who weren’t that much younger than Lemmy. Lemmy’s death was a Hell’s bell tolling the metal Ragnarök.
But in 1997 I was reading “Multiverse” and it just wasn’t for me. Moorcock was writing each issue as three different, brief chapters per issue that would eventually coalesce into an overarching storyline by the end of the 12th issue. I didn’t think it worked in a monthly comic format. I was excited that one of the storylines was set in Biloxi, Mississippi (maybe the only fantasy series by a grand master ever set in Mississippi?), but trying to piece the whole puzzle together through monthly installments for a year was a challenge. I wrote a letter to DC telling them of my disappointment, and my letter was published in “Multiverse.” If you want to fish through the 25 cent bins at your local comic book purveyor, you can read the entirety of the letter (I don’t recall which issue). I wasn’t angry about anything, but I wanted them to know that this semi-experimental format for a comic book just wasn’t working.
A couple of weeks after I sent my letter, I got an email from Michael Moorcock.
“MM,” as he signed his email, told me to keep reading and if I was ultimately disappointed, he would send me back my money. His $24 wager was an impressive gesture by a renowned artist who had no reason to make such an offer, so I kept reading. I was ultimately disappointed, but I never asked for my money back.
Over the subsequent years, I had a few email exchanges with MM. Usually, they were bulk email announcements to his fan faithful about upcoming projects. They often sent me to the bookstore to buy whatever he had done recently. But anytime I replied, MM always responded. By 2002, I had never met Moorcock nor Lemmy, but I was a huge fan of both. By 2002, I was also an Associate Professor of Oncology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore.
One morning, I was excited to read in the local paper that Motörhead was playing at the Recher Theater in Baltimore. I immediately donned my leather biker jacket and bought tickets. The day before I headed to the Recher for the show, I sent Moorcock an email saying that I was going to see an old friend of his. He emailed back and said to tell Lemmy that he said “hi.” Right. Like I was going backstage or something.
I arrived at the Recher early because I didn’t realize that Motörhead had three opening bands.: Morbid Angel, Speedealer, and Today is the Day. They were “death metal” bands, and I have no idea why they were opening because they’re style couldn’t be any different from that of Motörhead. They all sucked. I finally gave up and left the Recher and went next door to a pool hall to have a beer and cleanse that noise from my brain. I sat down on a stool with my brew and looked over at the pool table next to me. There was a guy playing by himself. It was Lemmy.
The crowd around the table began to gather. Lemmy was shooting pool by himself, and every now and then one or two people would break out of the crowd and approach Lemmy to ask if they could take a photo with him. He said yes every time. Every time. He would pose and take the photo, then go back to shooting pool.
After maybe the second beer, I found the liquid courage to approach him. I started the conversation a little differently than the others. I told him that Michael Moorcock told me to tell him “hi.” I asked him about Hawkwind, and he recollected that he didn’t think Moorcock really contribute much musically. That maybe he played keyboards and read some text. But tell him “hi” back, he said. He posed with me for a photo that I lost somewhere along the years, and then he went back to shooting pool.
About an hour later, Lemmy bid farewell to his new drinking buddies in the pool hall next to the Recher and went backstage. An hour or so later, he came on with Motöterhead and blew that goddamn room up. It was one of the greatest rock and roll shows I’ve ever seen.
Lemmy is gone now, and the great metal Ragnarök us upon us. Randy Rhodes, Kevin DuBrow, Ronnie James Dio, Lemmy…the list goes on. From 1975, for thirty or more years, the metal gods ruled this earth in leather and chrome. They and we are now in our twilight. But damn if we didn’t make a big noise that’s going to echo through the centuries. RIP you crazy, awesome people.