Alice Cooper and Lemmy Kilmister were peers and friends who spent many of their hard-drinking years ensconced — albeit separately and a few decades apart — on barstools at the iconic Rainbow Bar & Grill on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood.
Guns N’ Roses, Alice Cooper, and Aerosmith represent some of the best and most successful American hard rock of the past four decades: “Welcome to the Jungle,” “I’m 18,” and “Dream On” are but a few reasons why the rockers — plus a movie star who looks and lives like a rock star — who together constitute the Hollywood Vampires supergroup were the perfect choice to honor the late Motörhead singer/bassist at the Grammys. It’s about history, kinship, and connection. (That said, I’m sure Lemmy, with his unfailing humor and sense of the ironic, would have gotten a kick out of Elle King taking on “(We Are) The Road Crew” while clad in a $300 Motörhead shirt she picked up somewhere on Melrose, had that come to pass instead.)
But having G N’ R bassist Duff McKagan — wearing a Motörhead tee that’s likely been a wardrobe staple for him since the Eighties — and Aerosmith’s bluesy axman Joe Perry on hand to honor Lemmy with “Ace of Spades” was as fitting as having Metallica, as “The Lemmys,” play at Kilmister’s own fiftieth birthday party at the Whisky. It was a fitting send-off: Lemmy’s visage appeared on the backdrop behind the band, with his bass, amp, hat, and jacket alone onstage like a riderless horse.
On the Grammys red carpet, Cooper joked that “Lemmy drank himself right out,” which the hard-living Lem did, proudly and without compunction, up until his death late last year at the age of seventy. There was a time when Alice almost “drank himself out” as well — ditto McKagan and Perry. In fact, the entire Hollywood Vampires raison d’être came from a previously little-remembered upstairs drinking den at the Rainbow. Honored today by a plaque at their former lair at the bar and grill, the original drinking club of the Hollywood Vampires comprised “President” Alice Cooper, “VP” Keith Moon, Harry Nilsson, and John Lennon, among others. The aforementioned all passed before their time, of course, except for Cooper, who, at 69 and 35 years sober, isn’t looking to shuffle off anytime soon.
The Vampires’ debut album is a tribute to their “Dead Drunk Friends” and includes covers of tunes written into immortality by Jimi Hendrix, the Doors, the Who, T. Rex, and other Hollywood Vampires members and Rainbow drinking pals. From “Hollywood Vampires,” an original track of the new supergroup’s: “Standing all alone here, in a tavern full of ghosts/It’s 3 a.m., we’re back again, here’s my toast…. The first one goes to rock ‘n’ roll, the fortune and the fame/The limousines, the screaming teens, that yell our name/I came here to get wasted, but it just ain’t the same…. So let’s have another for all of my brothers, who drank until they died.”
For their effort at the Grammys, the Vampires drew some criticism from those who thought their turn onstage should have solely been a Lemmy tribute. (From the Times‘ Jon Pareles: “a segment by Hollywood Vampires…billed as a tribute to Motörhead started, crassly, with one of the Vampires’ own songs.”) Perhaps a fair observation, but in the end, Motörhead, themselves Grammy winners (ironically, the band won in 2005 for their cover of Metallica’s “Whiplash”), were honored in front of a massive TV audience as well as tastemakers and industry heavyweights at L.A’s Staples Center, by an organization (NARAS/the Grammys) that doesn’t give much credence or attention, these days, to rock or metal.
So yes, as previously planned, the Vampires debuted their own new original, the swaggery rock rager “As Bad as I Am,” before kicking into “Ace of Spades.” No fist-shaking “respect your elders” admonitions to the haters who gonna hate, nor to the tweeps who gonna tweet: no need, not when the Vampires’ own balls-out performance commanded that respect. In a year when the metal Grammy (which went, rightfully, to Ghost) wasn’t even delivered to its winners on air, at least the Vampires got a chance to prove to the masses that rock ‘n’ roll ain’t dead — while fittingly honoring another of rock’s gone-too-soon icons.
Katherine Turman is the co-author of Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Heavy Metal and produces the syndicated radio show Nights With Alice Cooper for United Stations Radio Networks.