The last time I ran into Lemmy two years ago, he grabbed my hand, put it on his chest, and warned me that he was getting old and it might be the last time. Though he had started showing the first signs of health problems, that didn’t stop us from sharing more than a few Jack and Cokes after he played. The man was culled from the same stock as Keith Richards. I wasn’t worried.
The loss of Motorhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister just a few days after his 70th birthday instantly transformed my Facebook feed to a nearly uniform outpouring of grief and admiration for the dearly departed, British-born bassist. Along with the flurry of pictures of my friends brimming with glee to be photographed with a living legend, I started to absorb the obituaries as they landed, each with the expected elements: Lemmy was an indisputable icon, an unapologetic hedonist, a genre-defining artist, and the great cultural ambassador who united the historically polarized punk and metal communities under an anti-authoritarian banner planted on the heaviest of foundations.
All these are valid observations, but all I could think about were the ladies in his life, and the unexpected picture I ended up with the man over the years. Although Lemmy took the rock ‘n’ roll bad boy model and cranked it up to eleven, his attitude towards women went far beyond what many saw on the surface.
As a lifelong libertine, Lemmy’s reputation for excess extended beyond chemical vices and into the realm of female companionship in preposterous proportions. The much-cited statistic that he had bedded over a thousand women and his willingness to discuss his sexual appetites with the press overshadowed the other ways in which his relationships with female artists broke with much of the chauvinistic conventions prevalent in the music industry.
English hard rock group Girlschool is a prime example. In 1979, Motorhead brought them along as support during their first major tour after Lemmy heard their single “Take It All Away.” He praised them in the press at every opportunity, declaring guitarist Kelly Johnson to be one of his favorite players of all time and comparing her to Jeff Beck. When they eventually collaborated in the studio, it was in a decidedly egalitarian fashion, forging their names into the hybrid of Headgirl, recording one new song together (“Please Don’t Touch”) and covering each other’s song’s on the EP’s flip side. Unlike their American contemporaries in The Runaways and their exploitive, abusive svengali Kim Fowley, Girlschool found a supportive ally in Kilmister. What’s more, he called out his male peers on their shit, once observing, “All of these [female] bands, people treat them like second-class citizens, because they’re chicks. There’s all this, ‘Show us your tits, and we’ll give you a gig.’ It’s really poor. I really wanted to stick up these pompous bastard guitarists’ arses.”
The first time I met Lemmy Kilmister was fifteen years ago when I was hired as the personal driver for him, Joan Jett, and Jim Carrol during Seattle’s Bumbershoot Festival. Over the course of one very long day, I had to shuttle all of these artists between their hotels and the venues they were playing. After Motorhead played the Mainstage, I was in charge of getting Lemmy back to his hotel room (or wherever he wanted to go) with enough time in my schedule to zip over to Joan Jett’s hotel and get her to the venue for soundcheck. The backstage scene was precisely what one might envision: ladies of all sorts loitering around, Lemmy holding court, Jack Daniels in hand. He told me he would be grabbing a “date” to return to the hotel with and that he’d let me know when he was ready to leave. I waited as long as I could and finally walked up to him, told him that I wouldn’t let him make me late to fetch Jett and that if he wanted a “date,” he needed to hurry up and pick one. That immediately got his attention and he looked me directly in the eye, apologized for the delay, and hustled right out of there.
I’m not sure if it was because he wasn’t used to a small, blonde girl getting bossy with him, the realization that he might be fucking up Jett’s schedule, or a combination thereof, but I had his respect for the rest of the day, and apparently it stuck around over the years. When I interviewed him for an Alt-Weekly a few years later, he remembered our encounter, extending our interview beyond its allotted time and happily entertaining my detailed queries about his time with Girlschool and his collaborations with other female artists, including Wendy O. Williams and Janet Jackson. When I was ushered backstage at a Head Cat show (his rockabilly side project with Stray Cats’ drummer Slim Jim Phantom and guitarist Danny B. Harvey) a few years after that, he had forgotten my name, but recalled our previous conversations with an amazing amount of detail and simply started calling me “The Badass Blonde Feminist” whenever I walked back in the room.
He certainly wasn’t shy about discussing death with me or anyone else. I recently read an interview with him that reflected the warning he left me with at the top of those stairs. “Death is an inevitability, isn’t it? You become more aware of that when you get to my age. I don’t worry about it. I’m ready for it. When I go, I want to go doing what I do best. If I died tomorrow, I couldn’t complain. It’s been good.”
When I think of Lemmy now, I think of our final conversation that night, which vacillated from discussions of creationism in classrooms to the best British comedians of all time, to the merits of remaining perpetually single, and his growing excitement about heading into the studio with The Damned. I also feel incredibly grateful that I was able to see the side of him that loved and respected women outside of the bedroom as equal, intellectually and creatively stimulating comrades. Rest in power, sweet Lemmy.
Lemmy’s funeral service will be broadcast on YouTube , Jan., 9th at 3 pm PST. If you’re in Los Angeles you can pay tribute to him at the Rainbow Bar & Grill (till 5 pm when they close for a private service), the Whisky and the Roxy where the Memorial Service and Jack Daniels will be streaming.