Motorhead Diehards Toast Lemmy on the Sunset Strip
Fans and loved ones gathered at Motörhead frontman Lemmy’s favorite bar to help send the fallen rock ’n’ roll icon off to the great beyond.
While Dave Grohl, Slash, Mikkey Dee, and other rock royalty paid tribute to rock’s Ace of Spades Saturday, fans flocked to the Sunset Strip to pay their respects to Lemmy the only way he’d want them to: with cheers, wicked laughter, and an endless supply of Jack and Cokes.
Heavy metal’s legendary longhaired wild man, born Ian Fraser Kilmister in England, died Dec. 28 at the age of 70 in Los Angeles, the city he’d called home for the last quarter of a century. He’d been diagnosed with an aggressive form of terminal cancer just days prior to his death, giving he and his loved ones little time to prepare.
The Motörhead frontman’s memorial service was held at his favorite bar, the Rainbow Bar & Grill. It’s one of the only rock ‘n’ roll haunts still standing on the now gentrified Sunset Strip that once was home to L.A.’s scrappy, scuzzy rock scene.
And Lemmy’s love for the joint, where he could be found playing video poker at the end of the bar on any given night, was so well known that the day heartbroken Angelenos heard he’d passed they flocked to the Rainbow to toast its most beloved regular.
Opening for business at 2 p.m. to kick off their 12-hour memorial celebration, the Rainbow quickly filled to capacity. Outside, mourners brought booze and flowers. They took turns signing their tributes, thank yous, and well wishes for the afterlife on a giant hanging portrait of Lemmy, silhouetted, watching down over them all.
“Thanks Lemmy, you saved my life!” “Thank you for the lifetime of rock ‘n’ fucking roll.” Some were messages from afar, hand-delivered by fans from all over the world—Germany, Puerto Rico, Argentina.
“Lemmy stood for rock music without pretention,” said Mike Williamson (pictured above), a filmmaker, musician, and longtime fan. “He had a purity so basic and elemental he seemed to be able to cut out the middle man between artist and fan. If you were listening to Motörhead, then you were in the band. I came to the Rainbow today to say goodbye to a good friend I never met.”
The party grew somber and bittersweet inside the packed dining room, where fans crouched and lined the aisles to watch Lemmy’s star-studded funeral service, streamed in live via YouTube.
“He wasn’t just a musician and a songwriter; he was a figurehead like no other,” said Lemmy’s son Paul Inder, leading his father’s remembrances in a funeral service live-streamed from Forest Lawn Cemetery. “He showed us how to be true to ourselves by always sticking to his guns.” Over 1.3 million viewers tuned into the emotional service where Lemmy was eulogized by friends including his bandmate Mikkey Dee, WWE wrestler Triple H, Rob Halford of Judas Priest, Scott Ian of Anthrax, and Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash.
Watching inside with the streamcast, fans couldn’t help but shout along.
A man clad in all black silently sobbed, throwing one hand in the air throughout the service. He wiped his face with the other.
Upstairs, Motörhead blasted from the speakers.
“This is the Madame Tussauds of rock clubs,” declared Antti, a Finn living in Boston who traveled to Los Angeles with his friend, another Finnish national, to attend Rainbow Bar’s memorial. “But this,” he gestured around the room, “is not a bad way to go out.”
Plenty of rockers sell out, get old, or both. “Lemmy acted like he was 22 and he never gave up,” Antti marveled. The first riffs of “Ace of Spades” came on, sending a jolt through the den of denim and leather-clad Lemmy worshipers. He cocked his head. “Listen to the lyrics—‘I don’t want to live forever…’”
By nightfall, demand to step foot across the threshold of the Rainbow Bar was at its peak, more fans arriving by the hour as Lemmy’s friends and family and celebrity pals privately feted the Motörhead singer. A line of eager fans snaked down the block and up a side street. The crowd—younger and rowdier than their daytime counterparts, passed the time by chanting “Lemmy!” and brown-bagging beers between the Rainbow and neighboring Roxy and Whisky A Go Go.
Thanks to Lemmy the Sunset Strip became, for an evening, one giant Motörhead party. Waiting in the cold, strangers chattered—about Lemmy, about metal, about how the Strip used to be a great hub for rock. Some were here the night Lemmy died, they’d proudly say. They remember it being much, much too quiet.
“It’s a sad and wonderful thing,” said Joseph McCasslend, a 39-year-old film editor who spent the day at the Rainbow. “It’s been such a great celebration of all of these people coming together.”
Raoul, 20, hitched a ride off the Internet from Inglewood to West Hollywood. He grew up on Motörhead—CDs, not vinyl, that is. What enticed him to venture halfway across L.A.? “Lemmy. Motörhead. The music. The people. Any Lemmy fan is a friend of mine.”
“Lemmy was a GOD,” declared Travis, 46, wearing the de factor uniform of so many Motörhead fans: Long hair, Motörhead T-shirt, leather jacket. He pulled out a photograph of the time he snapped a pic with Lemmy at the now-defunct Gazzarri’s on Sunset.
“He was on Operation Rock & Roll and my friend goes up,” he said. “Lemmy goes, ‘Man, I was trying to get laid!’ He’s there to try to pick up on a girl who’s half his age, but he took time out to talk to us—for, like, a long fucking song!” He sighed, smiling. “He was just the nicest guy.”
Michelle was heading away from the Rainbow sporting tight, gold sequin pants and a black leather bustier, She glanced around at the neighborhood she used to call home in the 1970s, then later as a mother raising two daughters in the heart of the Strip.
“I used to live down the street,” she said. “The Sunset Strip was very much a part of my heritage, and Lemmy was part of that. He was always a fixture, and we loved him.”
“The thing about Lemmy was he was always approachable,” she added. “Whether he remembered you or not, he always acted like he did. He was a gentleman.”
When Michelle went to the Rainbow she’d see him “always at his place” at the bar, she said. “Then suddenly…he wasn’t there anymore,” she said, choking back tears. “I’ve seen a lot of people who loved him tonight. There’s a community here.”
“I miss the Strip. I really do miss the Strip, even though it’s changed. Lemmy was part of that neighborhood.”
She grew quiet, glancing around as more boisterous fans eagerly joined the line to get into the Rainbow Bar. “Do you remember the famous Lester Bangs comment? We were all here for the death rattle. We were all here on the Strip for the death rattle, because things have changed,” she said. “Strip’s over. Lemmy was just another nail in the coffin. It’s changed.”