David Bowie and Motörhead Petitions Show How Rock Grieves in the 21st Century

This post was first published by The Huffington Post on January 15, 2016.

It might seem strange to report that metalheads and fans of Ziggy Stardust are fighting over the Periodic Table of Elements, but no one could ever accuse rock and roll of being traditional.

Music lost two trailblazers over the past two months, and their fans responded by creating dozens of humorous, outlandish and sometimes impossible Change.org petitions to honor their legacies. In the process, heavy metal and glam rock enthusiasts worldwide shined a light on how people are using the social web to grieve.

Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister, the hard-partying bassist for metal masters Motörhead, joined the concert in the sky on December 28. Only two weeks later, on January 10, pop and glam chameleon David Bowie lost his battle with cancer.

Deaths are deeply personal experiences, and grief is often private. But a quiet remembrance isn’t very rock and roll, and as hundreds of thousands of people are proving, the social web enables us to create memorials just as loud and raucous as the concerts of those they memorialize.

Soon after Kilmister’s death, 142,000 Motörhead fans launched a Change.org petition to label the as-yet-unnamed chemical element 115 ‘Lemmium.’ What better to call one of the heaviest metals on the planet?

Reporters quickly took notice of the peculiar memorial. National Public Radio featured the story, and prominent physicist Brian Cox, Ph.D. gave the petition his seal of approval on Twitter.

In Washington and New York, London and Rome, people found ways to show just how much Motörhead’s music meant to them.

Being rock and roll, of course, just naming an element after Kilmister wouldn’t suffice. More than 40,000 fans started a petition to rename the Jack and Coke — Kilmister’s favorite drink — as ‘The Lemmy.’ Their petition target? “Everyone in the world.” It was a wild, excessive stunt that Lemmy would appreciate.

Less than a week later, a Food and Beverage Magazine cover story officially debuted ‘The Lemmy’. “We are honored to represent the industry and bring the moniker The Lemmy to every bar in the world!” publisher Michael Politz said. Excess won.

Not to be outdone, Bowie fans responded with a petition to name another unnamed element ‘Stardust’. Fans argue that nearly all elements are synthesized in the hearts of stars – not unlike early suspicions about Bowie – making the ask perfectly good science.

People feel a personal connection to artists like Lemmy and Bowie, and platforms like Change.org enable us to connect with likeminded communities and create public displays of grief and remembrance. The trend has become so commonplace we take it for granted. But it wasn’t always this way.

Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain’s 1994 suicide sparked memorials and gatherings in major cities like Seattle and New York, but fans in other countries or in smaller towns missed out on the sense of community created by Cobain’s death. Fans felt Cobain’s suicide as distinctly as they did the loss of Lemmy and Bowie, but those feelings were fragmented by the limitations of geography and communication technology.

Though grunge rock to the core, a eulogy in a locally published music ‘zine can’t match the connecting power of the Internet. The global scope and sustained nature of online memorials to Lemmy and Bowie is only possible on the social web.

Bowie fans in the United Kingdom are asking the Royal Mail to issue an official Bowie stamp due to the performer’s undeniable contributions to British culture. Nearly 9,000 people are trying to build a statue of Lemmy Kilmister to commemorate his contributions to heavy metal. In dozens of petitions started in countries around the globe, fans are paying tribute to their heroes and raising awareness about the contributions of these artists to the cultural fabric of society.

The petitions, due in large part to the outsized reputations of their subjects, are powerful. British Prime Minister David Cameron called Bowie a ‘genius’, while Motörhead inspired a generation of musicians to push the limits of the genre. Both had fans in high places.

The Italian fan who petitioned God to return David Bowie to Earth is unlikely to get a response, but she found nearly 2,000 people who shared her feelings. Lemmy and Bowie touched fans everywhere. Now those fans are using places like Change.org to pay tribute to artists they consider friends.

Whether their tastes run towards Bowie-style glam, Motörhead’s shredding guitar or something completely different, people are participating in an online conversation that shows us no one has to grieve alone.

I’ll raise a Lemmy to that.

Max Burns is a U.S. Communication Manager at Change.org. Follow him on Twitter @themaxburns

Written by
Max Burns
January 15, 2016 6:04 pm