Sunday, January 17, 2016

Lemmy and Bowie

Two of my favorite musicians died of cancer in recent weeks. Lemmy Kilmister, singer and bassist for the heavy metal band Motörhead, died on Dec. 28, and David Bowie died on January 10.

As sad as I was to hear the news, I wasn't surprised to learn of Lemmy's death. Following the band the last couple of years, I knew his health was not good, a number of shows had been cancelled or postponed, and he had been fitted with a pacemaker and could be seen walking with a cane when not on stage. The only surprise was to learn the cause of death was cancer, which he had only been diagnosed with a few days before he died. Still, I was impressed he lived to be 70 despite a hard-living lifestyle.

I was shocked when I heard about Bowie, who was 69. Apparently, he'd been sick for some time but kept it private, continuing to work on what would be his last album Blackstar, which was released on his birthday, just two days before he died.

I got into Motörhead because of pro-wrestling. The song "The Game" was the entrance theme of Triple H, and later, as I got more into heavy metal, I bought several Motörhead albums, including Ace of Spades, Bomber, Overkill, and Motorizer. I think I'd always been somewhat familiar with who Bowie was as an icon, and I knew him from his roles in movies like Labyrinth, but it wasn't until college I got Ziggy Stardust and immediately fell in love with it. It's still one of my favorite albums, and it was only a few weeks before his passing that I got Diamond Dogs and Space Oddity.

Two English musicians, two icons, two men who had been around in some fashion since the late 1960s, and two whose notorious histories with drugs are well documented. Motörhead is credited with influencing countless heavy metal bands that followed in their wake, including Metallica and other thrash metal groups. Bowie, meanwhile, produced albums for a number of other musicians such as Iggy Pop and Mott the Hoople.

I'm hard pressed to find two more diametrically opposed individuals as Lemmy and Bowie. Lemmy was very much a gruff, masculine frontman who didn't so much sing as growl. He wore mutton chops, his face was dotted by two massive warts, he drank Jack and Coke on stage, and the number of women he reportedly had sex with totaled thousands. His musical style never really changed either. He played loud, fast, heavy rock n roll through and through. Sure, there was the occasional acoustic ballad, but for the most part, he existed at the crossroads of heavy metal and punk while always insisting he played rock n roll. His music was straightforward and unpretentious, three chords and a cloud of dust.

By contrast, Bowie was a much more androgynous figure, his sexuality equally inclusive to men and women. He wore form-fitting outfits and outlandish costumes that made him look like a creature from another planet. The number of different personas and guises he wore, depending on what album, style, or time in his career, was legendary. Musically, he was very influential to the development of glam, but he experimented with many different genres and styles: rock, pop, cabaret, electronic, funk, art, and more. Yet, he never felt like was chasing a trend or trying to cash in on what was popular at the moment. He was unafraid to experiment and evolve, and his albums, which were very theatrical and often told elaborate stories, were transcendent.

What am I getting at? Two very different men, one a bedrock, the other a chameleon, were never afraid to be themselves, whether that meant staying close to their roots or growing and discovering new things about themselves and the world. Lemmy wouldn't change who he was for anyone, and Bowie wouldn't let anyone else define him.

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