Rockstar excess keeps touring musicians in a permanent state of arrested development
by Mish Way
April 17, 2014
During Motörhead’s show in Los Angeles last Friday night my friend Nina leaned over and showed me a text she had written to a friend, “At Motörhead. Last show with Lemmy on his legs!” I laughed. She was probably right.
Lemmy is 67 now. Officially old. He still lives in Los Angeles and goes to the Rainbow all the time to drink and stare at the wall and be Lemmy. Except now, according to the news, the legend has been fitted with a pacemaker to control his irregular heartbeats. The doctor suggested he cut out the two bottles of Jack he has been drinking every day for the last four decades and replace it with wine (less sugar to help with his Type 2 diabetes), stop smoking, and of course, no speed. Lemmy without speed, Jack, and cigarettes is like a car with no wheels—what would spin to make the big fucker go?
Motörhead cancelled a bunch of overseas tour dates so that doctors could cut Lemmy open and stick the pacemaker into him. After all, Motörhead just released their 20th studio album Aftershock and have to go on tour. That’s what musicians do to make money: we tour.
But tour keeps musicians in a state of arrested development. On the surface, it’s a relatively easy life: you drive (sleep) all day, arrive at a venue, do a sound check, sit around for hours drinking and eating the treats the venue has provided for you, then finally it’s your turn to go on. You play. You get off stage, exhausted. Maybe someone gives you drugs. Maybe not. You load gear. Maybe you party. Maybe you go back to a hotel and sleep. Then, you wake up the next day and do it all over again. There are degrees of this, too. I mean, Lemmy doesn’t tour like my band tours. Lemmy has people carry everything for him. He doesn’t have to wipe his own asshole unless he really, truly wants to. (I wipe my own asshole, but it’s not by choice.)
On the surface this life seems easy, but it’s not. It’s just a giant waiting game. It’s dead air which leaves you nothing but time to get in trouble. Most musicians are smart, smarter than your average dummy, and that’s why we were able to trick people into thinking we are important enough to pay money to listen to. You know what smart people do when they are bored? (Otherwise known as unhappy.) They do the same thing as dumb people: they get fucked up to forget.
The amount of time and money I have spent trying to kill my boredom or my unhappiness on tour is inexcusable. Sometimes I think scoring drugs on tour is something you do because you know it’s going to be a challenge (in certain cities) so you make it like a game you’re playing with yourself all day. “If I get pills by the time we get to the venue, I win.” Plus, it doesn’t really matter if you are messed up on tour because it’s all just part of it. Every night is a party and you are the guest of honor, so what does it matter if you shit your birthday suit? It’s your birthday, after all. Plus, you are missing your personal space. Your head is your personal space. You can do whatever you want in there. The touring lifestyle encourages recreational drug use and binge drinking. The culture promotes it. We want our musicians to be rock stars, even if they aren’t bank rolling like we think. Act out. Go G.G. “I’m much more entertaining when I’m drunk.” Excuses.
So, you do this. You live like a baby version of Lemmy (no one can actually live like Lemmy except of course Lemmy or Keith Richards, even Courtney Love had to quit drugs), then what? You hit 67, get fitted with a pacemaker, and have to give up all your habits? Your body needs the bad stuff to survive but the bad stuff is going to kill you anyhow?
When I watched Motörhead play on Friday, they were still totally hard. They were still Motörhead. Yeah, “Damaged Case” dragged a few BPM’s slower than it did two decades ago, but so what? Lemmy is a human being. His hands get tired. Mickey D still acted like Fabio on steroids. So many drum solos. Even he’s getting up there.
Motorhead joined by Slash at Coachella 2014
When is the party really over for touring musicians? When do you have to come out of your arrested development? When the doctor tells you your heart is going to die without some artificial help? When you piss blood on the regs? When you can’t stand without wheezing? I don’t want to get to the point of death while I’m still walking.
Lemmy amazes me. If that was his last Los Angeles show on legs, then that’s pretty impressive, but something tells me it’s not. It’s far from over for him. And even if he did end up on a stretcher, I could see him getting wheeled out and singing, horizontal. In a permanent state of arrested development nothing seems that ridiculous.