Thomas Wictor

Paying the piper

Paying the piper

Someone sent me a link to an interview with the bassist Lemmy Kilmister of the band Motörhead. He’s in terrible shape from all the drugs, drinking, and smoking.

If you don’t know anything about Motörhead, they’re a metal band as famous for their excesses as their deafening music. Also, Lemmy plays his electric bass like a guitar. Motörhead’s best song is “Ace of Spades.”

You know I’m born to lose.
And gambling’s for fools,
But that’s the way I like it baby,
I don’t wanna live forever,
And don’t forget the joker!

Tim knew Lemmy in London back in the seventies. He was already a methamphetamine addict at that time and had lost most of his teeth; the term “motorhead” is slang for a speed addict. Tim had his own brutal run-in with speed. It nearly killed him.

Lemmy is now sixty-seven. Motörhead just canceled its European tour because of his health issues. In the interview Lemmy says the following.

I just feel really down. I’ll never get a job again. I’m paying for the good times, I suppose.

What a ghastly, heartbreaking quote. Lemmy also reveals his hatred for his father, his compulsive womanizing, and his opposition to all religion, which he compares to Nazism and communism. What struck me about the article was that even in the small photo, he looks tragically wistful.

In the comments a guy says, “Better to burn out than it is to rust,” a lyric from Neil Young’s song, “My My, Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue).”

The problem is that Lemmy hasn’t burned out. He’s still alive, and now he’s a wreck. He’s paying the piper, an agonizingly drawn-out process. I find nothing admirable in self-imposed suffering. Father-hatred, drug addiction, alcoholism, and meaningless sex all indicate a life of unending pain. That makes me very sad.

My own father’s lifestyle would’ve put Lemmy’s to shame. He admitted to drinking a fifth of Scotch a day, but it was actually closer to two. He smoked as many as five packs of cigarettes a day.

Since Dad’s death on February 23, 2013, I’ve learned more about him than in the fifty-one years I knew him. Like Lemmy he lived in pain for his entire existence. The booze and workaholism didn’t do anything to assuage his torment. He died in as much suffering as he’d endured while he lived.

Yesterday Tim discovered that Dad knew about his cancer for five years. Yet he did nothing about it. He was paralyzed. As the tumor grew into a jagged, rock-hard mountain range in his abdomen, he filled his days with exhausting busywork to avoid facing the truth.

Dad’s truths were dire, as are mine. I wish my life could’ve been different. But whereas Dad chose to benumb himself and run, I face my truths. Doing so allows me to achieve what I can, within the limitations placed on me. Today I restarted my fitness program, which I had to put on hold as my parents died. Their manner of death took all the wind out of my sails. Now, it’s time for me to begin living again.

There’s nothing romantic about someone committing the longest suicide on record. Here’s Dad in 1955.

Here he is in 2012, in the second-to-last photo taken of him.

Except for his wedding day, I’m not sure if Dad had a moment of happiness in his life. Since he knew he had potentially terminal cancer for five years, that means he spent his final half a decade in misery and fear.

For whatever reason people think that self-destruction is…authentic, I guess. Well, my father’s suffering was very authentic indeed. It was the real thing. He actually destroyed himself, squandering all that talent, intellect, and physical strength.

Everyone enamored with self-destruction ought to experience what I did in my father’s last month on earth. You should have your face ground in it, the way mine was. If after that you still think self-destruction is romantic, then at least you’ll be speaking from experience. But I’m confident that if you had to do what I did for my father, you’d shut your trap forever about the glories of “burning out.”

Both of my parents found it impossible to simply accept. They had to deny pretty much everything. As we look through their medical records, we find that despite their fear of death, they never addressed their various ailments. What were they thinking? I’ll never know.

My plan is to neither burn out nor rust. It’s a false choice that I reject. As my body ages, my mind improves. I am not my body.

I’m sorry, Dad and Lemmy. There was nothing anybody could do to help you. But even lives of pain can be valuable and meaningful. My pain is as great as yours.

It was only my choices that were different.