So he finally died and an era of a kind ends. Lemmy, the quite studiedly larger-than-life, heavy metal monster has finally left this earth. He did it in suitably grand style. A cancer diagnosis two days previously and then he died on the couch playing his favourite poker-based video game. It’s as rock and roll as a quiet death at home surrounded by your family gets, and truly in keeping with the underlying sentiment of his artistic oeuvre terminally ill.
It was always going to become edgy at some point. Playing songs that are essentially about living a short life at an absurd pace and dying young, when you’re getting on a bit yourself, creates a kind of tension. You’ve boxed yourself in, as an older heavy metal demigod, either you have to tone it all down a bit, do some blue numbers, sit on a stool and play, retire to a five bed in Surrey; or stick it out to the end. Lemmy opted for the latter path and managed, against the odds, to pull it off with a last act of terminally ill showmanship.
I’ve always felt that Lemmy’s approach epitomised the pitfalls of a very strong constitution. His intake was the stuff of legend. He lived on a diet of Jack Daniels and amphetamines for a very, very long period of time. Motorheads famous live album was called ‘No Sleep Till Hammersmith’ which expresses his casual take-it-or-leave-it approach to an activity most of us have forced upon us. In the usual run of things you’d expect some health issues after a short time, but Lemmy held stubbornly on for years, behaving much as he always had.
In common with many people, I’ve always been notionally fond of Motorhead and found Lemmy an interesting and compelling figure. I’ve observed him continuing to act like a man in his twenties while in his fifties and sixties. He never had to change in the way that the rest of us do.
Most people moderate their drinking because their hangovers become more and more unpleasant. The impact of a night of interrupted sleep coupled with a thumping head and nausea outweighs the joys of drinking heavily into the small hours. Having young children seals the deal.
We stop taking speed, because the high isn’t worth the low which, unjustly, arrives after the good, exciting bit. We are forced to adapt our behaviour and develop and mature in the face of the forces of time and life passing. Not so Lemmy who, to an extent, never had to…. or wasn’t forced to until it was too late. He was diagnosed with type two diabetes in 2000 which slowed his partying down a little. Type two diabetes is a variable situation. You can manage it, to an extent, with dietary changes; which he eventually did…. by caving in and switching to vodka and orange.
In 2013 he had an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator fitted because of his irregular heart beat. The diabetes slowed his recovery and caused complications and then in 2015 he was forced to walk off stage at the beginning of a show. He died a couple of months later of multiple cancers of the brain and neck.
Maturity wasn’t imposed by physical heath considerations for a long time, until it suddenly was. In Chinese medical terms you could see Lemmys’ death as an abrupt failure of the bodies capacity to contain constitutional threat.
We all do this, locking up incoming physical dangers that would kill us or impair our internal organ function. We store toxins and pathogens in bone cavities and fatty areas, in our gums and hips and shoulders. We hold things; preventing them from causing a vicious circle of downgrade causing further failure of containment and further downgrade. We do this with pesticide residues, dioxins, PCBs, heavy metals, car fumes, and the other multifold sources of toxicity that go hand in hand with modern urban life. From time to time, when we are strong enough, we will clear some of them out on the back of a fever and some sweating.
There is a whole subsystem of Chinese medicine known as the Divergent Meridians that are based on helping maintain this holding, and prevent the release of things into the internal organs for as long as possible. It’s used in chronic health problems characterised by flare ups, where old symptoms re-appear and disappear again. Any auto immune condition, chronic back pain, rheumatoid arthritis, herpes, IBS, eczema, colitis, psoriasis, migraines, menieres disease could all be examples of a condition which would benefit from an approach based on the divergent meridians.
In the context of this way of looking at the body, the idea of detoxing is slightly absurd. The benefits of detoxing are probably more about rest and possibly improved diet. The most useful thing you can do in terms of detoxing is sleep more eat well, make yourself stronger and let your liver get on with the rest of it.
As we know with Lemmy, sleep wasn’t particularly his thing. He evidently had enormously powerful holding mechanisms for toxicity. They’d started to give out when he developed diabetes. Diabetes is a big system downgrade affecting micro blood flow. The lack of blood flow continued to downgrade him until it affected the function of his heart. With decline of the heart goes the blood flow necessary for maintaining containment of toxicity. With the collapse of this, physical masses, tumours and cancers form in the internal organs. They do so as a way of containing inflammation and toxic processes occurring in the organs.
This last ditch, desperate attempt to hold the problem at bay itself impairs organ function and leads to further downgrade and death.
Lemmy didn’t have to change for a long time. In the early years of his career he forged a unique sound that fused punk and heavy metal. He was a compelling comic book figure, almost a parody of the hard living outsider, but conveying a degree of weight and menace. In short he was a very powerful and influential figure in modern music. As time wore on this initial creation didn’t mature. Physically he was able to occupy this position for a long, long time. He continued partying on terms of “Dogged insolence in the face of mounting opposition to the contrary,” as he put it in a recent interview.
Emotionally, he didn’t have to grow, his constitution would allow him to carry on as a much younger man. If growth is, in part, a series of compromises made with your own physical life process, he didn’t have to compromise. If you roll with those compromises, if you change with change, then there is the possibility of spiritual and emotional growth that goes hand in hand with the changes of ageing. He didn’t have to, and so he didn’t.
The live fast die young principle he epitomised is, arguably, more relevant to a time of cushioned affluence; where there are social circumstances to pick up the pieces. A good NHS, sickness benefit, sheltered housing, make all the difference when it’s all over. Really pushing it, Hunter S Thompson style, is at the end of the day, a bit of a luxury.
Or, arguably, it could be said thats what we’re collectively opting for, in terms of our approach to fossil fuels and the biosphere; we are all, at a certain level, Lemmy. Whatever; there was a feeling when he died that this might all have passed its sell by date. Been there, done that, got the badly cut, black T-shirt with the transfers that peel off after two or three washes.
In more personal terms, the enormous psychic force that forged the huge personality that was Lemmy Kilmister was in emotional decline long before the physical limitations kicked in. His self confessed ‘dogged insolence’ implies this rising limitation. He had a great deal invested in this idea of himself, as did many, many others. This was who he thought he was and it became less and less elegant, less viable, which suggests that it might no longer have been the case. The diabetes diagnosis is the point where the emotional limitations have led to physical limitations. By the time he was absolutely forced to change, he had no energy or time to suddenly grow up, change, become something different and new, and then it was too late.
Where others grow old slowly he stayed young past his years and then his constitution suddenly collapsed.
I mean that said, he did this all on terms of his choosing, picking at the ‘flaws’ in his process and life path of anyone is ultimately arrogant, especially someone who whilst a product of his times and his own wounding, was in essence a free spirit who clearly did it very much his way.
There is a saying in Chinese medicine ‘No illness short life, one illness long life,’ and Lemmy was the epitomy of that. He might have lived into his nineties with the power of his constitution, but he never had to care for it, and never really knew what he had had, until he’d lost it.
But isn’t that always the way?