The Wisdom of Motörhead

Lemmy from Motörhead was a bearer of huge charisma, a god for heavy metal fans. Charisma (as well as godliness) is mysterious and difficult to explain, even more so in the case of Lemmy; probably due to his unique mixture of a straightforward and „what you see is what you get“ person and the complexities of his irony and his wit and his many characteristics in general. How would you define him in a single line? To refer to him as a force of nature somehow neglects his distinct humanness, to speak of him of an iconic figure also does not seem to excactly get it neither, as he was too much alive to resemble something rather static. To speak of his distinct humanness, singularity and sharp personality does not pay tribute to the complexities within his personality and the softness associated with the easiness and naturalness he was able to handle them. A simple man of humble origins (that would not even qualify him as a working class hero) he nevertheless carried too many facettes and too much wit to be possible to catch, in his sharp autonomousness also an elusiveness; if you tried to nail him down, he would already be somewhere else and, likely, make you look stupid. Heavily participating in the vibrancy of life, he never seemed to get suprised, perplexed or overwhelmed by the occasional complexities and abysses of the life game, much rather, he remained above, even aloof of them. In his amalgam of a counterintuitive charm and a mild sarcasm, he remained untouchable, and undefeatable. Although he impersonated the angry man, Ute, his promotor for many years, says she had never seen him getting angry with anyone; despite his signature feature being the extended middle finger, he also never became impolite with anyone (although he likely had to deal with a lot of unpleasant stuff throughout his life and career), rather, he would walk away. Despite of his heavy consumption of cigarettes, drugs, alcohol and his excessive way of life in general, there were – over a period of many decades – no grave incidents, near-death experiences or need for rehab as he obviously always remained in control over these passions, a user but not actually an abuser of drugs and booze; despite of his sex, drugs and rock n´ roll lifestyle he never produced any scandals. Never mind his unfortunate appearance and usually displaying a (mildly) sarcastic outlook on the great theme of romance (and sometimes also on women) in his songs he was a major womanizer who had become romantically involved with more than a thousand women in his life, because women loved him. A party animal and obvious great extrovert, people close to him described him as personally rather being an introvert and a lone wolf guy who does not need many friends but is self-sufficient (his bandmates nevertheless referred to him as a great friend and a father-like (or at least paternal) figure). Despite being the essential promotor of loudness, during long trips on the tour bus he would remain quiet and a reader of books, interrupting the tranquility only occasionally, for instance when they passed through a region where battles of wars from the past had happend; then he would explain the incidents in great detail. Apart from his passion for war and military history, he was an educated and interested man in general. Slash sums Lemmy up in his own words: “There’s so many guys out there that think you have to, you know, wear your leather jacket and be the tough guy, be rude and a fucking slob and break shit, to be rock’n’roll. And Lemmy dispelled all that because he was a perfect fucking gentleman. Very considerate and polite to everybody around him, and yet he was as hard-core a fucking rock’n’roller as you’re ever going to find … He’s a complete bad-ass yet always thoughtful. We need more people like this!” 

Motörhead´s signature song is Ace of Spades. Therein, it says, it opens:

If you like to gamble, I tell you I´m your man

You win some, lose some, it´s all the same to me

Ace of Spades has been interpreted as being about the „game called life“ (although Lemmy has dismissed such thoughtful interpretations, insisting that it was merely inspired by his passion for gambling). Irrespective of that, it says something about the most central aspects of life: diving into it, and taking its vicissitudes lightly – to a point where they do not even matter or become experienced as such. Way too often, if you lose some on the life game, anger, frustration, trauma and revengefulness set in, may even hollow out the personality and become a life theme for the respective individual. If you win some, instead, other vices may come out („If you want to find out what a man is to the bottom, give him power“, as it says). Maybe this is so because ego and vanity play a big, all too decisive role in ordinary human psychology. Therefore the Buddha teaches us to leave the ego behind. Motörhead seem to always have known –

I don´t share your greed,

The only card I need

Is the Ace of Spades,

The Ace of Spades

LaRochefoucauld says, the surest sign of nobility of character is the innate absence of envy (or, also, if you may, greed, that is the same egoic passion in another disguise). Lemmy does not share envy nor greed nor egoic passions and is not interested, his only passion and the only thing he is interested in is the Ace of Spades, that is to say the Joker of the life game, the magic jewel that is able to represent the essence or signficance of any other card.

You know I´m born to lose,

And gambling is for fools;

But that´s the way I like it, baby,

I don´t wanna live forever

…. And don´t forget the Joker!

Gee, I think that´s the way it should be done.

What added to the enigmatic charisma of Lemmy and his larger-than-life persona was that his psychological and intellectual indestructibility seemed to have been gladly accompanied by physiological indestructibility. Even more than Keith Richards he seemed to epithomise physical immortality regardless of a very unhealthy lifestyle. I wanted to see Motörhead in 2013; yet just on that day the cancellation of the show had to be announced, due to health issues of Lemmy Kilmister. Although he recovered and continued to play a lot, his fragility had become visible and that day initiated the final act of the comedy that came to an end more hastily than anticipated. Although he had been investigated and treated medically in various ways, it did not become obvious that he suffered from cancer that was, then, already in its very final stage. When he got informed about the vast progression of his cancer and that he would only have some weeks left to live, he reportedly reacated with the reaction of a true man: with an outburst of anger. He died two days later, reportedly while playing a computer game. Some weeks after that, in February 2016, Motörhead were expected to come to Vienna, with Saxon and Girlschool as support. I wanted to see them then. Again, it could not happen. The day he died, shortly after his 70th birthday, was a sad day all over social media. Years before, he had said in an interview: „I´m gonna play until I´m seventy. Then I will drop dead from the stage!“

„The most important thing in life? A sense of humour. Lose it, and you´re done. You might as well take a bullet in the head.“ Kierkegaard said somehow the same; that the only attitude that might triumph over the necessary vicissitudes of finiteness, is humour. And Kierkegaard was praised as „by far the most profound philospher of the 19th century“ by Wittgenstein (himself by far the most profound philosopher of the 20th century). Kierkegaard (as well as Wittgenstein) was exalted as well as depressed about life. Lemmy was beyond that. My extremely careful study about Kierkegaard I ended with the expression that Lemmy was God, and Kierkegaard was his prophet (if you think that I´m stupid or employ stupid jokes all the time, take into consideration that I´m by far the most profound philosopher of the 21st century. Thus spake Zarathustra). The only time I´m easy is when I am killed by death.