Now, let’s be clear – I wasn’t shocked that he died. I was shocked that he made it to 70. I mean, 70 is pretty good. I certainly don’t expect to make it to 70. But then again, I’m a bit neurotic and I’m not even sure that I’m going to make it to next Wednesday.
Anyways, Lemmy’s death reminded me of the part in Spalding Gray’s book Morning, Noon and Night where he talks about William S. Burroughs. Here’s the excerpt:
“When my friend Ken was visiting us in Sag Harbor, Kathy and I had the National Public Radio news on in the background, as we often do. Both Ken and I were kind of half listening to it at the same time that we were talking to each other, so the radio became a kind of ambient background chatter. One day I heard something about William Burroughs at 81 years old. We both heard some mumble-jumble about Burroughs at 81, and Ken said, ‘Oh my God, William Burroughs has finally died at 81.’ And I said, ‘Oh my God, he almost outlived my father, and what a life he had.’ Then Ken turned up the radio and we heard that William Burroughs was not dead at 81, but, rather, he was having an art opening in Los Angeles at 81. And I said, ‘Oh my God, Ken, how does he do it? He had wild sex with over three hundred Arab boys, shot his wife dead in the head, and was addicted to heroin for most of his adult life, and now he’s having an art opening at 81? My dad died at 81.'”
I had similar thoughts hearing Lemmy made it to 70. Here was a guy known for drinking a bottle of whisky a day; a guy known for sleeping with over a thousand women; a guy known for his regular use of amphetamines. And he made it to 70. Longer than my grandfather, longer than some of my friends’ parents.
It’s all about luck, I guess. Reading about Lemmy and about Burroughs, it made me think that death, much like everything else, is pretty much arbitrary and random and impossible to predict. It also made me think that people who regularly use drugs must have a lot of confidence in their fortunes. Drug addicts must be really optimistic people. I remember one night in college, talking to my friend Bobby about cocaine.
“I’ll never do cocaine,” he said. “I just know I’d be that guy who takes one sniff and his heart explodes.”
That’s exactly how I feel. It isn’t that I lack curiosity when it comes to cocaine, I just don’t think my luck is good enough. I’ll die halfway through the first line. The long lives of Lemmy and Burroughs don’t change my train of thought on this one. I don’t look at Lemmy and think, “Shit, I too can drink a bottle of whisky a day and sleep with a thousand women.” I look at him and think the Gods must’ve smiled on him, and then just the thought of that much whisky and that many women make me start to worry about liver damage and chlamydia.
So I guess I just wanted to tip my hat to those people who defy the odds and live long, wonderfully unhealthy lives. Some people are fascinated by all the rock icons in the 27 club; I think drinking and screwing your way into the 70 club is pretty cool too.