Wednesday, December 30, 2015
Why Lemmy Matters
So, there goes Lemmy.
For one moment, let's put aside the "I thought Lemmy was invincible" jokes. Anyone who was watching for the past year knew that this was coming. He was shortening his sets and cancelling shows, which wasn't the sort of thing Lemmy did. He'd stopped giving interviews, and was often seen walking slowly with a cane. He'd been sick - very sick - for a long time. And, now we know that he was dying.
It's been heartwarming to see how the news had trended on social media for the past 48 hours. A lot of people really loved Lemmy. I've been holding back that childish tendency that so many of us have when a lost icon suddenly becomes celebrated: I find myself suspecting that many of the mourners didn't really love Lemmy enough, or love him the right way, or love him for the right reasons.
There's often a grain of truth in that kind of thinking, but it's still a pathetic impulse to indulge. (In fact, this is the third re-write of this post, specifically because I kept finding myself somehow suggesting that my love for Ian Fraser Kilmister was superior to that of other people).
So, instead of projecting how other people might or might not have felt about Lemmy, allow me to tell you why he mattered to me.
I am a failure.
I am a failed musician. I am a failed professional. I look and feel like hell most days. My time management skills are terrible. I am chronically late for everything. And somewhere along the course of my adult life, I've also become rather bad at managing my money. I live in a cluttered one bedroom condo, while all of my friends have neatly-manicured front lawns. And although I try to be a good husband and father, I sometimes wonder if I'm any good at those efforts, either.
So much of my adult life has been defined by compromise, surrender and defeat. I try not to think about it too much, but when I do, I tend to see failure all around me.
When those moments arrive, I can tell you with complete honesty that I have often thought of Lemmy Kilmister.
By so many measures, Lemmy could be considered a failure.
The man was a life-long addict, so dependent on substances that it famously impaired medical professionals from being able to treat him.
As a young man, he was fired from a band that was on the rise.
His next endeavor became legendary, but was chronically insolvent. He hired bad people and signed bad deals throughout his career.
Despite being a prolific songwriter, most people only knew him for one tune, which was recorded 35 years ago. Even fewer people ever bought a record from him after 1992, even though he never stopped writing or recording.
He was a borderline hoarder whose raggedy-looking apartment did not say "rock star" on any level.
He was an absent father, who never got to experience the joy of having a loving family of his own.
It's not an inspiring portrait. And yet.....no one considered Lemmy to be a failure.
And that's because Lemmy understood what he was good at, and he understood what made him happy. He dedicated his life to that....even if he never made as much money as he should have. Even if it sometimes seemed like no one cared. Even when he got fired. Even when he seemed like a kind of lonely guy. Even when he got sicker and sicker and sicker.
He uncompromisingly did what made him happy. It gave him integrity, and it made people like me interested in what he had to say.
With a new year on the horizon, his example reminds me that I have to have to find that happiness for myself.....even if no one else gives a damn. It reminds me that I'm actually great at certain things, even if no one cares about them. And as I try to figure out what the hell I'm going to do about my career, it reminds me to continue saying no until I find the right opportunity.
It reminds me that just because I'm a failure, it doesn't mean that I can't be successful.
Thank you, Lemmy.