For most people, having one liver removed is a torturous affair that leaves them with months of painful recovery. Yesterday afternoon, Lemmy Kilmister became the first man to ever have both livers removed at the same time. The marathon 6-hour surgery was followed by a half hour of recovery, dinner at a local bar and a 2-hour set of classic Motorhead tunes in at The Rock Center, a metal club in downtown Pocatello, Idaho.
Doctors advised Lemmy to take at least three months off from performing, but his commitment to playing heavy metal was too great to hold him back. “I didn’t want to let the fans in Idaho down. After all, what do they really have to live for beyond the occasional concert? They live in Idaho for god sakes,” said Lemmy this morning during his 3-hour weightlifting session.
Lemmy is no stranger to overcoming medical emergencies and soldiering on. Everyone is, of course, familiar with the time that in 1983 in Antwerp, Belgium he was mauled on stage by 15 pit bulls and continued to play his bass in spite of missing 9 fingers. Who could forget the time the Chinese government accidentally detonated a nuclear bomb at a test facility 1,000 meters away from a Motorhead concert in Shanghai in 1988? Everyone within a radius of 12 miles was killed except Lemmy, who went on to play the entire Orgasmatron album from beginning to end to an arena filled with annihilated corpses. However, because of Lemmy’s advanced age, going on stage after a surgery of this type may be his greatest feat.
Doctors are baffled as to how a man who has done so much damage to his body continues to exist. There were rumors as recently as 2003 that he was killed and replaced by a Lemmy-like robot, but several doctors have done independent tests to prove that he is a human. Their was also rampant speculation that Lemmy has regularly been shooting the DNA of famed Russian monk Rasputin directly into his arm in the hopes of becoming indestructible forever, but this also has not been confirmed. Some researchers have reasoned that it is possible that consuming the amount of Jack Daniels that he has ingested over his lifetime has actually made his body impervious to harm of any kind. Regardless of what his secret is, it is very possible that Lemmy cannot be destroyed by traditional means and will live on well into the next millennium.
In a move that has left many industry insiders scratching their heads, the remaining members of the band Judas Priest have left the band and joined a Judas Priest cover band called Nightcrawler. The band, whose members have agreed to step aside and instead handle Judas Priest’s touring responsibilities, have been a staple of the greater Villa Rica, Georgia metal scene for the past fifteen years. Rob Halford and the boys plan on taking over Nightcrawlers’ regular Sunday night gig at Joe Don’s House of Beer as well as occasionally traveling to Macon and Atlanta for gigs.
This began as another satire article, but I’m afraid it will not make it. Instead, I believe the philosophical dimensions of this story are far more interesting. Who is Judas Priest? A collection of specific musicians who play a certain number of songs they have written in the past. Maybe. Think of Priest like your body. If your body doesn’t have all of its limbs it is still your body. If Al Atkins or Rob Halford or KK Downing leave the band, they are still technically Judas Priest, as we have seen. While many fans would argue that the band changed greatly when Ripper Owens was the singer, you can’t really argue they weren’t Judas Priest. After all, they put out two albums under the name Judas Priest. You can go look on my mantle; they are filed under “J”.
Under what circumstances is Judas Priest not Judas Priest or, even more interestingly, under what circumstances would you no longer be you? Lets say all the members of Judas Priest left and another group of musicians came in and played the same songs, would that still be Priest? The band Yes has transitioned through new scores of new members at every instrument and they still are known as Yes (although their was some legal wrangling to determine whether that was true). Similarly, if all of your limbs were removed, then all of your organs except for the brain, you’d still be you, right? In fact, no one would have a kidney removed and say “I’m no longer me anymore”. You might not even need stop at the brain. Take away the parts that control motor function and coordination and you are still you. Really, what you are is that small section of the brain that contains memories and the idea of who you are. You may argue that there is a soul, but until you show me one with a tag on it saying “Exhibit A”, I cannot enter it as evidence.
Back to our Judas Priest problem. If Judas Priest left, but became a Judas Priest cover band, I’d have a difficult time figuring out who the real Priest is, but I’d probably eventually settle on the idea that the band playing that the members of Judas Priest joined was the real Priest. After all, the audience might identify with the name Priest, but most people derive the identity of the band from their memories of what the band was and meant. The meaning is not solely attached to the name, but the collection of memories that follow the band and some of the identifying, tangible characteristics. However, if all the members left and started a mariachi band, that would not be Judas Priest. They need to be playing the same songs, doing the same stage show, etc. in order to still qualify as the real Priest. Some form of the identity must be the same. Here’s where it gets tricky. If Judas Priest’s members didn’t leave the band and kept the name, but chose to all of a sudden play mariachi songs and change their stage show, they would still be Priest, just not if they left and did the same thing. Just like if you changed careers or got remarried or became a professional baseball player, you’d still be considered you. So, the name Judas Priest does have value in terms of an identity marker for fans, but it is not the only characteristic that makes up identity and, as we will see, it is not always necessary.
If your brain were pulled out and put into another body, let’s say Lemmy’s body, I believe the person who had Lemmy’s body would be you. Therefore, while people would call you Lemmy, you would still be you, just in Lemmy’s body. As noted philosopher Shelley Kagan once said when presented with a similar problem “follow the brain”. However, here’s where identity gets messy, most people would find it difficult to believe you if you were walking around in Lemmy’s body claiming to be you unless they knew about this brain transplant. They’d believe you were Lemmy, even if you knew things Lemmy couldn’t possibly know about you. So, it is safe to claim that what you perceive to be you is far different than what others perceive to be you. Your internal identity does not match the identity the world has for you. Let’s say that for years, all the members of the band were gone and replaced with lookalikes. Unless you had some knowledge of this, you’d assume you were watching Judas Priest when you saw them in concert. In our example, however, the audience was made aware of the shift, so the identity of the band would stay with Halford and the guys. Had they not been and had the cover band from Villa Rica been convincing lookalikes, people would have been none the wiser.
The point is, we think we know what a band is, based on our memories and recollections, but really we only know our created image of the band. The difference between the internal perceptions of the band and the external ideas are miles apart. Our image of the band has some similarities to the views of others and a few similarities to how the band views itself, but for the most part there is no common relationship except for a few markers here and there.
This is also the great problem of personal identity. How are we meant to function in a world where we see ourselves as one thing, but the world sees us as something else? Sure, there are some meeting points, but overall we have no clue how they see us. We are left to play a perpetual guessing game where we will never find the answer.
Who is Judas Priest? I’m not really sure. I know I have my version, you have yours and they have theirs. The places where we meet are certainly Judas Priest, but the places where we don’t are also Judas Priest. We know enough to know and agree that the band that left Judas Priest in our story is Judas Priest, but we lack enough evidence to understand what Judas Priest is in its totality. We filter Judas Priest through our own minds and have an image completely exclusive to us. Judas Priest is our Judas Priest, a Judas Priest of the mind. We are forever stuck trying to reconcile that image with the image of those around us and failing miserably at the task. Such is the lot of humans when searching for truth. Stuck looking at one tiny, infinitesimal section of the map while trying desperately to figure out where everything is.