The holidays & turning of the new year were surreal and stressful enough without the handful of musical and cinematic legends passing in a bizarre swath that I can only but refer to as The Great British Artisan Culling *(even though one of the five I will be mentioning were decidedly American); a slick slash of Grim Reaper wrath that is harvesting fast – – – so fast, in fact, that it really is a lot to process within the condensed timespan within which these passings have taken place.
“HAPPY THANKSGIVING!” – – – “PHILTHY PHIL PASSED” – – – “Oh.”
“MERRY HOLIDAYS / HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” – – – “LEMMY DIED” – – – “!!?”
“HAPPY NEW YEAR!” – – – “ANGUS SCRIMM PASSED” – – – “Oh.”
“HAPPY NEW YEAR!” – – – “DAVID BOWIE DIED” – – – “WTF?”
“HAPPY NEW YEAR!” – – – “ALAN RICKMAN DEPARTED” – – – “Sniff.”
It started just before Thanksgiving, when PHILTHY PHIL “THE ANIMAL” TAYLOR *(9/21/54 – 11/11/15) quite spontaneously passed away. He’d still been playing music for years *(his drumming style so rough and physical that he destroyed his legs, then subsequently drank his timing away on top of that, but he carried on some projects with a sporadic regularity), however, but it’s impossible to think of the classic original MOTORHEAD lineup *(or look at “Animal” from the Muppets, based on TAYLOR in appearance, I’d once read in an ancient JIM HENSON interview) without picturing his grubby mug sucking on a cigarette and going Neanderthal on the percussion, his style ultimately influencing a number of genres, from Punk Rock to Death Metal *(and beyond), as well as laying the foundation for what’s come to be known as “D-Beat” *(“D” as in DISCHARGE, though TAYLOR clearly laid down the framework with his unstoppable railroad-thunder double-bass, and ABADDON of VENOM being amongst the first drummers to cop the style, before DISCHARGE was even a thought – – – nothing against DISCHARGE, of corpse). PHILTHY PHIL’S passing devastated MOTORHEAD founder & vocalist LEMMY KILMISTER *(unfortunately, we’ll be getting to him momentarily), as he spoke of TAYLOR’S passing thusly:
“I’m feeling very sad at the moment, in fact devastated because one of my best friends died yesterday. I miss him already. His name was Phil Taylor, or Philthy Animal, and he was our drummer twice in our career. Now he’s died and it really pisses me off that they take somebody like him and leave George Bush alive. So muse on that. We’re still going, we’re still going strong, it’s just first Wurzel and now Philthy, it’s a shame man. I think this rock’n’roll business might be bad for the human life.”
*(How right he was to be, perhaps a subconscious precognition, in less than seven weeks time.) TAYLOR had two tenures with MOTORHEAD, the first being from 1975-1984, the second from 1987-1992, when he was fired for performance & behavioral issues *(most likely due to his notoriously insane overindulgences in booze and meth). He continued to perform with other metalpunk and heavy rock acts such as WAYSTED, THE WEB OF SPIDER *(05-08, with WHITEY KIRST of IGGY POP on guitar & MAX NOCE on bass), OVERKILL *(for one set in 2009), and a “supergroup” of sorts called CAPRICORN *(also the name of a MOTORHEAD song), featuring guitarist/vocalist PHIL CAIVANO, formerly of MONSTER MAGNET, guitarist TODD YOUTH of DANZIG, MURPHY’S LAW & SON OF SAM *(he also played guitar for SAMHAIN on the 6-date reunion tour in 1999, a great show I was privy to see), and former NASHVILLE PUSSY bassist COREY PARKS. He also sporadically played with THE DEVIANTS, appearing on three albums. In 1980, PHIL broke his neck trying to jump over a fence while drunk, achieving his goal but landing on his head in the process. There are too many stories to go into, considering this article isn’t even solely about MR. TAYLOR. Ultimately, he died of liver failure at the age of 61. A true Rock-n-Roll legend, a creator of a drumming style & sound that has only grown to become the most used of sonic percussive tropes within most genres of metal, modern hardcore, and punk. However, he was always there *(despite the occasional rumor of his death from doing something foolish).
The next to go was a shock and horror to initially come across. It was LEMMY KILMISTER *(born: IAN FRASER KILMISTER, 12/24/45 – 12/28/15) himself, on December 28th of 2015, four days after his 70th birthday *(mere hours before my own birthday, the 29th, at that). The cause was an “extremely aggressive cancer.” MOTORHEAD’S manager has since stated:
“He (Lemmy) gets home (from tour), we have a big birthday party for him at the Whisky A Go Go. His friends came down and played. Two days later I could tell he wasn’t feeling good so we took him to the hospital, they release him, then after the brain scan they found the cancer in his brain and his neck… The doctor comes with the result a couple of days later and says… it’s terminal.”
The doctor gave him between 2 and 6 months to live. Initially their manager wanted to keep the news silent until its occurrence, but LEMMY quite willfully encouraged the opposite *(he was a Capricorn, after all), and had a press release slated to be announced about his condition in early 2016, but fell far more quickly to the wickedly advanced Beast of Cancer than predicted. But LEMMY’S views on death were rather succinctly put in a 2013 interview with Classic Rock Magazine:
“Death is an inevitability, isn’t it? You become more aware of that when you get to my age. I don’t worry about it. I’m ready for it. When I go, I want to go doing what I do best. If I died tomorrow, I couldn’t complain. It’s been good.”
He also stated in White Line Fever, his 2002 autobiography: “People don’t become better when they’re dead; you just talk about them as if they are, but it’s not true! People are still assholes, they’re just dead assholes! … I didn’t have a really important life, but at least it’s been funny.” And that right there was one of the beautiful things about LEMMY, and one of the things that separated him from a great many of his contemporaries: he stayed down to earth, avoidant of the standard rock star ego to the Nth degree.
Upon learning of his passing, ALICE COOPER had this to say:
“He was innovative, true to his art and continually relevant even though he never cared about being relevant. … He was always creating and redefining hard rock and the role of bass within it. Offstage, he was a gem. I can’t think of anyone who didn’t adore Lemmy. He was such an original character in rock, and I will truly miss seeing him out on the road.”
LEMMY played down his importance to Rock-n-Roll in all its forms, as mentioned above, not only in his own words but also of those who knew him best. He played in the astonishing pre-punk/space rock band HAWKWIND from 1971-1975, writing and co-writing some of their best material, as well as doing lead vocals on their UK radio hit *(and overall classic song) “Silver Machine.” But let’s take a look back even further, prior to all that. He taught himself to play guitar at 16 by listening to and playing along with the BEATLES first album PLEASE PLEASE ME, and performed in several local bands, such as THE SUNDOWNERS. In 1965, he performed with a band called THE ROCKIN’ VICKERS, who signed a deal with CBS Records that spawned three singles and touring, the band being the first British band to perform in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. In 1967, he got a job being a roadie for the JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE, as he was sharing a flat with JHE bassist NOEL REDDING, as well as their manager NEVILLE CHESTERS. In 1968 he joined psychedelic rock band SAM GOPAL, recording with them on the album ESCALATOR and the single HORSE. By 1969 he’d briefly joined OPAL BUTTERFLY, who broke up not too soon after due to the poor reception of their singles. Then, in August of 1971 – – – HAWKWIND, to which, as previously mentioned, he was fundamental, a dire and integral part, during his tenure in the band. It was in 1975 that, while HAWKWIND were on tour and crossing into Canada, that their van got pulled aside and searched at the border. LEMMY happened to be into some different substances than most *(DIK MIK had actually cajoled LEMMY into joining HAWKWIND so he’d have an amphetamine buddy, as the rest of the band preferred hallucinogens, weed, and downers) of the rest of the band, something that was in fact already a bit of a bone of contention amongst the members. Canadian Border Patrol seized a brick of meth LEMMY had on him, and jailed him for five days. By the time the charges were dropped and he was out of jail, HAWKWIND had essentially moved on with the tour, making it quite obvious he was out of the band. Almost immediately, LEMMY joined up with two other musicians, guitarist LARRY WILLIS *(formerly of UFO, PINK FAIRIES, and STEVE TOOK’S SHAGRAT), and drummer LUCAS FOX. They called their band BASTARD, to which LEMMY’S manager said was a completely unmarketable name for a band – – – so LEMMY changed it to MOTORHEAD *(the name of the final song he’d written for HAWKWIND – – – who up until his quite recent passing he would occasionally guest on stage with over the years at various festivals), and basically created a whole new band in adding “FAST” EDDIE CLARKE & PHILTHY PHIL “THE ANIMAL” TAYLOR. A band way ahead of their time amidst the NWOBHM scene within which they were considered a part of, being appreciated by both metalheads and punks alike in a time period where members of the two genres distinctly did not get along, couldn’t see the similarities, even though a distinct metalpunk flavour hung in the air as members of both communities gathered in relative peace for bands like MOTORHEAD, PLASMATICS, VENOM, DISCHARGE, GIRLSCHOOL, GBH, etc. But it was MOTORHEAD in particular which had a diehard worldwide fan base, and the sheer visual impact of LEMMY craning his neck to the microphone, playing his bass as though it were a guitar, his vocals snarling out like the snaggletooth Boar of War that was their instantaneously recognizable mascot, emblazoned on all their album covers and merch. MOTORHEAD were always sonically reliable, much like the RAMONES, whom they were very close with.
When you bought a MOTORHEAD album you pretty much knew what to expect, with the occasional surprise here and there, again much like the RAMONES. But it was never in a bad way, never a rehash or boring – – – it was simply the ultimate purification of Rock-n-Roll, and whatever bits of sound-flesh LEMMY decided to staple onto that skeletal framework of vibratory soundwaves. Incidentally, LEMMY never considered MOTORHEAD a “Heavy Metal” band, and stated in the 2010 documentary LEMMY *(an absolute must-see for the lover of the man, the band, and music in general): “We’ve always had more in common with IGGY AND THE STOOGES than we did BLACK SABBATH – – – we were never an Heavy Metal band, we just play Rock-n-Roll.” Hell, even my Dad liked MOTORHEAD. From as far back as my memory serves me, LEMMY was always there. It was one of the few things in this world you could actually count on. Much like the RAMONES had been. LEMMY’S passing is not so different than that of DEE DEE or JOEY RAMONE, or PHILTHY PHIL, in its emotional impact, and the way I *(or WE) are deeply down affected by these losses, and in fact brings to mind existential inner thoughts on one’s own mortality, and the mortalities of those closest to them, whom they love or admire in some special way. He also had a long career doing film appearances, his most notable roles being that of the “Water-Taxi Driver” in RICHARD STANLEY’S brilliant HARDWARE from 1990; as the anti-hero in the British 1987 cannibal satire EAT THE RICH, and most recently in the silent film directed by Bjorn Tagemose, GUTTERDAMMERUNG, starring also GRACE JONES, IGGY POP, HENRY ROLLINS, TOM ARAYA and JESSE HUGHES. This huge paragraph, mind you, mentions only a slight degree of the achievements he managed in his lifetime. He will be missed, and with his passing the Living Legend will become a God, much like all others mentioned here.
On January 9th, 2016, notable horror icon ANGUS SCRIMM *(8/19/26 – 1/9/16), known best for his ongoing role in the PHANTASM films as the franchises ultimate nemesis, “THE TALL MAN.” His career mostly in horror, working in just about every DON COSCARELLI film, from PHANTASM to JOHN DIES AT THE END, he’s another individual who is irreplaceable, and who was always a part of my life in some way *(primarily through my love of PHANTASM and COSCARELLI films in general). But he was another who was always there. However, at 89 and with continual work and a heady cult following, one could say he had a good run. Still, it’s a sad passing.
However, his death was somewhat overshadowed by, well, the shocking news on the following day *(not entirely dissimilar to GROUCHO MARX’S death being overshadowed by that of ELVIS), January 10th, 2016, when it had been announced to the planet that The Man Who Sold The World had left it, drifting off much like the Space Oddity he always was. DAVID BOWIE *(born: DAVID ROBERT JONES, 1/8/47 – 1/10/16) had died, a loss spanning just as much time and as many generations as LEMMY’S here on this planet, *(BOWIE had just turned 69, LEMMY had just turned 70). Again the Beast of Cancer had stricken, in The Thin White Duke it being of the liver variety. BOWIE passed in his apartment *(also like LEMMY), two days after his 69th birthday and the release of BLACKSTAR, his last will & testament to this plane, as he wrote and recorded the album throughout his progressing illness. BOWIE always had the innate ability to grasp onto a concept and actually become that concept, whether it be of sound or sight. He resurrected the mess that was post-STOOGES IGGY POP in the mid 70’s, wooing him off to Berlin not just to fix the man’s career – – – but to fix the man *(and boy did IGGY end up with one hell of a coke habit when he returned). However, they made two fantastic albums together during that time period. He also worked with QUEEN *(though I’ve never been fond of that particular song, honestly). He never shied away from experimentation musically *(or otherwise). He was a lad insane working through the coils of this mortality, through the TIN MACHINE. He’d collaborated and toured with TRENT REZNOR. And he still kept going, seeing where music & culture were at, and like a hell of a chess player, staying one step ahead of where others would dare to tread, he would go. The work of DAVID BOWIE, and his many characters *(Ziggy Stardust – – – admittedly by BOWIE to have been created based around the theatrical displays of ALICE COOPER and the interminable overindulgences of IGGY POP; Aladdin Sane; The Thin White Duke; The Diamond Dog; and so on) was an amazing thing. I’m not going to go too far into it, as with the amount of press and multi-generational melancholy over the incident attacking our senses from every side, it would be redundant and really a waste of time. My Mother was a big BOWIE fan, so again, from my earliest of memories, he was always there. In what visuosonic guise he’d present himself was always a guess, and regardless of whether it was good or bad *(his mid-80’s pop period, just awful), it was unique and unto his own. His producer for his final album, TONY VISCONTI, had this to say about his death:
“He always did what he wanted to do. And he wanted to do it his way and he wanted to do it the best way. His death was no different from his life — a work of art. He made Blackstar for us, his parting gift. I knew for a year this was the way it would be. I wasn’t, however, prepared for it. He was an extraordinary man, full of love and life. He will always be with us. For now, it is appropriate to cry.”
That, essentially, sums it up. BOWIE influenced punk, goth, glam, and even pop and electronic genres – – – many of whom try to imitate, but will never capture the skeletal remains of the artistic dragon they are chasing.
And finally, to round it all out, on January 14th, 2016, we lost master thespian ALAN RICKMAN *(born: ALAN SIDNEY PATRICK RICKMAN 2/21/46 – 1/14/16) to – – – you guessed it – – – the Beast of Cancer. Pancreatic. Star of stage, screen, and voice acting, his dulcet tones could lure in the most beautiful of women with its passion and soothing confidence, or alternately make her wonder just when exactly she would be garroted as the passion and soothing confidence could, in the blink of an eye and switch of a whisper, turn those dulcet tones cold and threatening as verbal daggers of ice, with the same smooth delivery. Well known as a gentleman as well as *(what I consider) one of the last true actors, coming from a different school thereof than the listless, cut-and-formed, plastinated non-actors that have infected the art of actual acting & filmmaking like a plague. RICKMAN performed in all manner of genre, being perhaps best known for his work in the original DIE HARD from 1988 *(though he’d been acting in theater and BBC television long before that – – – most of the world first saw him as “Hans Gruber” in DIE HARD), and as “Severus Snape” in the HARRY POTTER films. However, there is a lengthy catalogue of serious, truly great and brilliant work in between those franchises. His final contribution to the world is his voice-acting work as “Absolem the Caterpillar” in the upcoming release ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS, the sequel to TIM BURTON’S 2010 ALICE IN WONDERLAND. *(And my Mother loved the guy, seeing everything he was in, so before even DIE HARD I knew that voice, those eyes – – – a lot of PBS was watched in my house as a youngun – – – from those days on he was always there.)
For music, for screen, for writing, for art, it feels as though we are coming to the end of an era, an inevitable end that leaves one wondering where, when – – – who – – – the next greats will be – – – or if they even ever will be at all. Are we to be those? Make no mistake, we will lose more, quietly, unexpectedly. Probably due to the Beast of Cancer *(3 out of 5 on this list alone). Prepare as you will, one is never really quite ready to accept the loss. One can’t fill another person’s empty shoes, but they can take them to the thrift store for someone else to try. The greats we grew up with, listening to, reading, watching, are moving on to that next world, leaving pockmarks of their soul here, as their works recorded, filmed, written or otherwise etched into the world in some way, will continue to live on, to thrive as immortal legend until – – – perhaps this is how Gods are borne.
They may be gone, but they will always still be here.
Vincent Daemon, writer, editor, musician, photgrapher, film/music buff and historian, and rabblerouser, can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/vincent.daemon.1 as well as his spontaneously updated blog of writing news and nonsense THE WRITINGS OF A DEPRAVED MIND http://vincentdaemon.blogspot.com/Some of his music can be painfully experienced at http://www.reverbnation.com/vincentdaemonsageofdesire3 His email is firstname.lastname@example.org