The passing away of Lemmy Kilmister and David Bowie dealt a terrible blow to the world’s rock scene. Yet, at the same time, these two events only showed how much these two icons were loved and respected around the world. So many people gave their own testimonies to Bowie and Lemmy. Public statements, artistic dedications, events in their honour, tweets, letters, and allsorts of tributes were made by politicians, art critics, fellow musicians, fans andthe millions of participants in the global social media.
Lemmy and Bowie were different yet similar in various aspects of their musical identities. One was a chameleon king, being in constant change. The other was the archetypal rocker, black imagery and all. Yet, both were authentic stars, true to their artistic form.
David Bowie, the great singer of hits like Let’s Dance, Heroes, Life on Mars, Changes and Under Pressure, was also an accomplished songwriter, actor and producer.
In a career which spanned decades, he constantly recreated himself, moving from one identity to another, becoming a postmodern icon in the process. He transversed boundaries and helped popularise concepts which today have become part of mainstream discourse on diversity, inclusion and freedom. Fluidity, pastiche and hybridity defined his hyper real, plural identities, which, in his own words, made him a collector of personalities.
Bowie’s innovations and transformations earned him respect from many, firmly establishing him in the royalty of rock.
The world has lost a father figure who opened so many possibilities to artists, outsiders, and all those who cannot be straitjacketed in one identity.
The rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle which made them superheroes ultimately gave in
As he was preparing for death, David Bowie released Blackstar on his 69th birthday, two days before he passed away.
The spine-chilling video of Lazarushas quickly become part of the global collective imaginary.
Tony Visconti, Bowie’s producer and friend for many years, said that his death like his life was a work of art. Indeed, his artistic departure at once connected his most intimate and private existence to his public persona, through a reflective artistic production. Possibly, this will be of influence to so many people who reflect on their own challenges in life.
Lemmy Kilmister also died close to his birthday. On December 24 he celebrated his 70th one, when a host of rock starts organised a party in his honour, and he was there, frail and gaunt, having just arrived some days earlier from a tour with his band Motorhead. He died four days later. The fact that Lemmy had actually finished an intensive winter European tour with his band was a feat in itself, given his failing health.
The black-clad front man of Motorhead since its founding in 1975 was consistent in his music and symbolism, releasing albums and performing in tours all along the way. Hits like Ace of Spades, Overkill and Eat the Rich were released during the years to the delight of generations of rockers, punks and metal heads. In the process, he never sold out. Like Bowie, he too had a father figure status, especially by rebel rockers who refuse to be part of a sanitised, clinical and commodified music industry.
The worlds to which Bowie and Lemmy belonged were hedonistic, which, like freedom, are in themselves leaps in the dark due to their possible impact on one’s health. The rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle which made them superheroes ultimately gave in and like all other common mortals, they passed away.
Yet both David Bowie and Lemmy Kilmeister left immortal legacies behind them. Such authentic artists will keep on shining in a music world which is becoming increasingly subject to designer music, soulless songwriting and production of copies of copies, amid plastic editing and rent-a-hit spectacles.
How many authentic global superstars will fall to earth in the years to come?
Michael Briguglio is a sociologist.