“Oh Susan!” said Jill. “She’s interested in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations. She always was a jolly sight too keen on being grown-up.”
“Grown-up, indeed,” said the Lady Polly. “I wish she would grow up. She wasted all her school time wanting to be the age she is now, and she’ll waste all the rest of her life trying to stay that age. Her whole idea is to race on to the silliest time of one’s life as quick as she can and then stop there as long as she can.” – From The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis
These lines from the final book in Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia seem to encapsulate one of the major problems facing the beleaguered world in which we find ourselves. As I discussed in my earlier essay, “Where Have All the Grown-Ups Gone?”, we live in an age in which maturity is spurned and derided. It is an age in which adults are not only outnumbered but are outgunned by adolescents.
In healthy cultures, boys are meant to become men and girls are meant to become women; in today’s culture we are only meant to become teenagers. Thus, in a parody of one of the songs from The Sound of Music, modern geriatric adolescents try to be sixty going on seventeen! This is comic, to be sure, but it is also tragic. It is, above all, pathetic. It should evoke feelings of pity in those of us who are grown-ups, or in those of us who are at least trying to be grown-ups, towards those who are trying their damnedest not to grow up.
The figure of James Dean behaving abominably in Rebel without a Cause is an expression, perhaps, of the confusion of a young man trying to make sense of a confused and confusing adult world. Dean died young, keeping him in a state of perpetual youth, preserved in celluloid as an icon of angst and anger, but what if he had grown old without ever growing up? What if he had continued to behave as badly as a sixty year old as he had as a sixteen year old? Imagine an old and haggard looking James Dean, his grey hair receding and his belly protruding flaccidly over the waistline of his jeans and projecting itself beyond the confines of his leather jacket?
Such an image springs to mind as I ponder the passing of Lemmy Kilmister, founder of the heavy metal band Motörhead, who died on December 28, only two days after being diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. In fact, to be fair to Lemmy, he kept his impressive physique fairly well, considering his half-century diet of Jack Daniels and amphetamines, never succumbing to middle-aged portliness and retaining a full head of hair that continued to cascade down his back in true rock n roll style. He was, however, stunted emotionally, never seeking to grow up and seeming content to remain in a state of suspended adolescence, a perfect example of what might be called the Susan Syndrome.
I am, however, not even tempted to point a finger of scorn at this pathetic figure of a man who refused to grow up. The objective reason for this, apart from the demands of charity, is that one who is worthy of pity cannot be worthy of scorn. The other reason, a more subjective one, is that I consider Lemmy to be an old friend. He and I go back a long way. It’s not that I ever knew him personally, though I knew people who knew him and have heard stories that charity precludes me from repeating. No, I did not know him personally, but he and I go back a long way because he was a small but significant part of my own riotous youth.
I saw Motörhead as a teenager in London, in 1979 and 1980, when Lemmy and the band were in their prime. I recall brazenly and drunkenly pushing my way past the bouncers so that I could get as close as possible to the stage, my ears only feet from the speakers as the band, which claimed to be the loudest in the world, let rip. A few years later, I was still enjoying the band’s music, if “music” is the correct word for the audio-onslaught that Motörhead made, but was becoming uncomfortable with Lemmy’s almost pathological hatred of organized religion as expressed in the lyrics of tracks such as “Orgasmatron”.
My final encounter with Lemmy was in the mid-nineties, when Motörhead played at the University of East Anglia, by which time I had become a committed Christian and was consciously trying to grow up. I enjoyed seeing the middle-aged Lemmy strutting his stuff, insofar as his ritualistic reenactment of olden days reincarnated a nostalgic trip into my own past, but I also felt that the whole spectacle was more than a little absurd and quite frankly silly. The experience was akin to meeting an old friend, whom one had known as a teenager, who still believed with the naiveté of a teenager and still behaved with the narcissism of a teenager. It was like looking at one’s own ridiculous former self in the mirror and realizing, with great relief, how much one had changed since the farcical daze of those far-off days.
And yet, in spite of the distance that now separates me from my former hero, or perhaps because of it, I still consider Lemmy an old friend. If anything, the affection that I feel for him has been deepened by my reading of the obituaries of him. In fact, and paradoxically, I feel closer to him now that we are separated by the abyss of death than I ever felt to him in the days that he was alive. It’s not that I have a sympathy for his roguish lifestyle, in which he claimed to have drunk a bottle of Jack Daniels every day for decades, to have fornicated with more than a thousand women, and to have used drugs with reckless abandon, and all without the slightest trace of remorse. On the contrary, the sympathy springs from my deeper understanding of the dignity of the human person who was Ian Kilmister, to give him the name that his parents gave to him.
Born on Christmas Eve in 1945, he and his mother were abandoned by his father, an Anglican clergyman, only three months later. The contempt in which Lemmy always held his father, whom he would only ever meet once, goes a long way to explaining his lifelong contempt for organized religion and for the “hypocrites” who call themselves Christians, a timely reminder of the huge harm that Christians can do to the souls of others when they cause scandal. Moving to London in the mid-sixties, he worked as a roadie for Jimi Hendrix before beginning his own career as a rock musician. The rest, as they say, is history and is so formulaic and predictable, in its hedonistic excess, that it is not really very interesting. What is of interest is the hidden Lemmy, the more fully human Lemmy, who only emerges during the brief moments of relative sobriety when he surfaces from the hedonistic haze. It is then that he enjoyed studying the history of the Anglo-Saxon Kings of England, or the military campaigns of Oliver Cromwell, or, most delightfully, indulged what he described as his “addiction” to the works of P. G. Wodehouse. It was also refreshing that he confessed, if that’s the right word, a sympathy for Margaret Thatcher and that he had little time for the sort of pseudo-Marxist political “correctness” which has long since stifled political discourse and the practice of free speech. None of this is to excuse the lifestyle that he chose and the damage that it did to himself and others. It does show, however, that inside the man who spent his life trying to escape from himself and from the real world, refusing the challenge to grow up and the suffering that such maturity necessitates, was a human person, made in the image of God, who was made for better things than those he chose.
Although the thief in the night stole James Dean away before he could fulfill the prophecy that his headless and heedless lifestyle prophesied, the Grim Reaper preserving him from the grim reality, Lemmy Kilmister lived the dream to its full nightmarish potential, draining life to its dregs and then wallowing in it. For this, he is to be pitied but not scorned. Nor is his soul to be judged, at least not by us, though we are of course called upon to condemn the lifestyle he chose as being intrinsically evil and therefore harmful. Lemmy will meet his Maker, as will we all, and he will need to answer for his refusal to grow up. He might mention in mitigation that his problem began with the fact that his own father had also failed to grow up, even though, as a Christian clergyman, his father should have known better, and that his abandonment by his father had led to his own feeling of being abandoned by God and by organized religion.
For my part, I am haunted by the last photograph of Lemmy Kilmister, taken on December 16, eight days before his seventieth birthday and twelve days before he died of the as yet undiagnosed cancer. His eyes, sunk into his skeletal skull, look at the camera with nothing of the chutzpah and hubris which had characterized his life. All such masks have slipped away in the presence of the death mask which he is now forced to wear. It reminds me of the last view I had of my own beloved mother, who was similarly ravaged by cancer and who was similarly reduced to a skeletal shadow of her former self. I was with her, praying the rosary for her immortal soul, as she breathed her last and passed beyond my reach. As I look into the eyes of the cancer-ridden dying face of Lemmy, I am reminded that I need to pray for his immortal soul also.
I do not presume to know how God will judge such a soul as Lemmy’s but I do know that the God whom Lemmy rejected never stopped loving him and that His Justice is never separated from His Mercy. And for this, as for so much else, we should be grateful, for the sake of our own sinful souls, as well as for the sake of the sinful departed soul of Lemmy Kilmister.
Books by Joseph Pearce may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.