“I thought it was a line of coke,” said Vicky Hamilton, the former manager of Guns N' Roses and Poison — who, it should be noted, has been sober for 15 years. “But it turns out Lemmy gave me speed, so I ended up not sleeping for three days.”
Forty years after being canned from psych-rock band Hawkwind for being a speed freak — or an “impatient man,” as he once told a reporter – Lemmy Kilmister was finally dealt a bad hand: cancer, the kind that's as aggressive as Motörhead's crunching bass, which killed him on Dec. 28, at the age of 70. But his death has resurrected that bygone, pre-AIDS spirit of the Sunset Strip, where “pussy, party and paychecks,” to quote Ratt's Stephen Pearcy, defined a scene that Lemmy both belonged to and sought to destroy. At least that was how it felt at Lemmy’s favorite hangout, the Rainbow Bar & Grill, where fans and fellow rockers gathered on Saturday to pay tribute to rock & roll’s last vampire.
“Can I have a Lemmy?” asked a girl who arrived early to watch Lemmy's funeral at Forest Lawn — which was being live-streamed on YouTube, on our phones, as a few TVs at the Rainbow were malfunctioning. A Lemmy is a Jack & Coke — there’s a Change.org petition to make it official, but at the Rainbow, the name is already in effect.
“My first blowjob was Vince Neil,” said my new friend, as we discussed the retirement of Mötley Crüe, the rebirth of Guns N' Roses, the return (albeit temporary) of the Tower Records banner, and how Lemmy was always the Strip’s “voice of reason” — a tag he acquired inadvertently, according to filmmaker Penelope Spheeris, who infamously interviewed Lemmy for the classic L.A. metal documentary, The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years.
GNR guitarist Slash spoke at Lemmy's funeral, and from what I could hear at the bar, he said Lemmy had “more integrity in one finger than a whole roomful of rock & rollers.”
Lemmy moved to L.A. in 1990, 17 years after he had his first drink at the Rainbow. He holed up in a small apartment near the Strip, where he got intoxicated, amped up and sexed up for the next 26 years, surrounded by his treasured Nazi memorabilia, becoming the most bizarrely beloved rocker since Ronnie James Dio.
Lemmy's appeal was a lack of pretense, coupled with a uniquely iron sound and style that combined U.K. punk's speed with the greasy fire of a Hells Angels biker. “Everything about Lemmy was real,” said famed rock photographer Robert John, who attended the star-studded service at Forest Lawn.
Things got a little unreal during a VIP reception that closed the Rainbow starting at 5 p.m. Of all the rock stars who showed up for it, Dave Grohl and Glenn Danzig seemed to create the biggest stir. “How does it feel to know you can kick any other rock star’s ass?” said a fan to Danzig, who grinned as Dave Grohl tried to converse with Cypress Hill's B-Real over a joint. Motörhead drummer Mikkey Dee enjoyed his dinner, while porn legend Ron Jeremy wore an all-too-appropriate “Ghouls Night Out” T-shirt. “It's like the '80s again,” said a Morrison-esque guy in a floppy leather hat.
The smoke from B-Real's joint was giving me a contact high, so I walked outside, pushing my way past funeral wreaths signed by the likes of Fast Eddie Clarke, the most beloved of Motörhead guitarists, and a cardboard cutout of Lemmy. Former Warlock singer Doro Pesch was posing for TMZ, flashing hand-horns in the Rainbow parking lot — such hallowed ground that it has its own Facebook group.
Nearby, Dan, a guy from Pennsylvania, was showing everyone his tattoo. Dan recently made front-page news in Shamokin, his hometown, for climbing a mountain and spray-painting “Lemmy Is God” across the Glen Burn coal bank. Dan's ink shows Lemmy riding a tank, crushing someone; his lit cigarette burns dangerously close to Dan's nipple, proving his loyalty as a die-hard fan.
In front of the bar, TMZ photographers lined the Strip — “bottom-feeders,” the door guy called them. Fans who had flown in from Sweden and Scotland hoping to get in, and maybe even sign the giant Lemmy mural on the Rainbow’s patio (“Give God hell!” I wrote on it), now stood in the rain and huddled around a candlelight memorial. The entry line extended from the Rainbow down the Strip, past the Bank of America and up into the hills of West Hollywood.
Someone told me Slipknot's Corey Taylor was performing at the Whisky. Billy Morrison, Billy Idol's guitarist, was performing at the Viper Room at the same time — and it was packed. It was as if Lemmy, in his death, had given the Strip a reason to rock again.
“He was so smart and cool enough to not be competitive with other bands,” said Spheeris. “Or worry if anyone else was trying to steal his show. He knew Motörhead had no equal, no competitors. That’s the secret to his legacy: the uniqueness of his music and his impeccable confidence.”
“He was an ugly man that made pretty music,” said Katon De Pena, the wild-eyed singer of thrash-metal band Hirax, who DJs at the Rainbow and is now campaigning to give Lemmy his own statue outside his favorite bar.
As I got into my car and blasted my only Motörhead CD, their '77 debut that's as punk as the Pistols, I drove past a Coachella billboard with the classic dueling-pistols logo of GNR. It stands next to the old “Riot Hyatt,” where Slash and Led Zeppelin were once praised as “golden gods,” now a tacky hotel that stands for nothing. I thought to myself — as Lemmy sang, “Motörhead, remember me now/Motörhead, all right” — that this was Lemmy's last stand, “sky high six thousand miles away” from his birthplace in the U.K., where there’s yet another petition (there are a lot of Lemmy petitions right now) to give him a posthumous knighthood.
Lemmy probably would have accepted that honor gladly, with a cheeky grin. But here, in L.A., Lemmy himself was the head of rock & roll's royal house, riding his iron horse to the Rainbow every night for a bit of gaming and whiskey, like some brutish English king hanging with his subjects. Lemmy was a rock star who didn't do it for the gold or castles; he did it for the fuck-of-it-all. “His work is done here,” said guitarist Danny B. Harvey, who played with Lemmy off and on for 16 years in rockabilly supergroup The Head Cat.
His work done, Lemmy has retired into the ground as the last bastard son of the Sunset Strip. “Where do we go now?” sang Axl Rose on “Sweet Child o' Mine” in 1988, which is precisely the question three decades later: Where do we go now, rock & roll?