Lemmy: 49% Motherf**cker, 51% Son Of A Bitch
Greg Olliver, Wes Orshoski, USA, 2010, HD, 117 minutes
Showing at the NWFF, 7:00 and 9:00 PM, Wednesday, February 9 - Thursday, February 10, 2011
There is a scene in Lemmy in which the “baddest motherfucker in the world” (as described by Dave Grohl in one of the documentary’s many short, hyperbolic devotions) finds out that the singer from The Darkness has banned him from the venue they’re playing at. Lemmy happens to be there, and asks Grohl to have the ninth-generation glam lad come and meet somebody in the bar. There’s been a little spat in the press, you see, with Lemmy coming upon a Darkness album and finding it, shall we say, lacking sack. There are a couple of photos of Lemmy sitting sideways next to the kid who arrives at the bar, sporting such a sweetly ironic and witless Stryper t-shirt (he mocks all idols! Even tacky ones! What a rock star!), not knowing that Mr. Kilmister was going to be spending the next half hour with him. Because he is a gentleman, Lemmy simple says that after the experience of meeting their frontman, he hasn’t changed his opinion about The Darkness. I can imagine the unbearable awkwardness the goofy-smiling lad must have felt, soaking in the fire and whiskey smell of someone who could eat him on a whim.
I purposefully bring up this very minor, silly anecdote about Ian Fraser “Lemmy” Kilmister -- born on 24 December 1945 in Burslem, Stoke on Trent, Staffordshire, England, and veteran of the bands the Rockin Vickers, Hawkwind, Motörhead, and now rockabilly-roots The Head Cat -- as the opening to this review. As the smirk on the sackless lad reminds me of the tone of others reviewers I’ve read about the doc, full of either empty hype for something deemed “authentic,” or simpering before the tumescence of Lemmy’s unfailing spirit. Point is, shut the hell up if you have nothing of substance to add to the praise and no real criticisms to make. Don’t be such a waste of space.
Trust me, I’m no expert on Lemmy myself. Like Henry Rollins (yes, he’s here again -- he gives good talking head, so can you blame filmmakers Olliver or Orshoski?), Motörhead was the one band I listened to with my punk friends before Metallica came along. (My older brothers had Hawkwind albums, and the footage of Lemmy in that band is worth seeing this movie alone; they really raged it, as they space (rocked) it.) So while my roots are deep in loving the band and the man, I am definitely one of those non-metal punks who question whether you should be seeing this movie if you don’t have a swooning, gushing crush on the daddy-man. I happen to, unashamedly -- Lemmy always reminded me of the older biker guys who sold me acid at the record store and turned me on to the best import LPs by dangerous looking noisy rock bands (of all types). (Speaking of acid and elder-hipsters who helped you score, one of my favorite quotes in the movie is when Lemmy was acquiring LSD for Jimi Hendrix in one of his duties as his roadie, and reveals the secret to tripping for days on end -- “The thing about acid is they say it doesn’t work two days in a row; but if you double the dose it does.”)
Lemmy saw the Beatles before they got signed, he noticed the young ladies who flocked to them, and for a kid raised in a house on crooners and show tunes (or as Rollins excitedly quotes him, “I remember being alive before rock and roll!”), the noise and the speed and the stink-finger was all he needed to start living in North Wales. Mightily soaking up Eddie Cochran riffs and the rebellious muse of his favorite singer Little Richard (who he proudly loves to point out is “gay and black and from the American South”), he was born again. Soon his thumping Rockin Vickers were shaking some action through the region, as the Beatles, Stones and others were doing it in the more urban, Southern part of the UK. Lemmy left when he realized they wanted to go on like this forever, like a “cabaret act” he says. He reaped the ill wind of abandoning those mates when his amphetamine-fueled crunchiness got him canned from Hawkwind while on tour and after a drug bust in Canada; his fellow players were mostly into mellower drugs and found his acerbic menace less than collaboration-friendly.
Lemmy tells that story keenly, drawing on the tragedy of being left behind after being mugged and knocked about and actually making the gig and then being fired at 4 AM the next morning. See, this is when the story usually ends with a musician giving it up for home, seeking a quieter life. But Lemmy was no good for shore. He may now live in a $900 a month rent-controlled bunker of pop culture collections off Sunset in Hollywood, and spends his time when off the road in front of a small gambling machine at the Rainbow in “heavy metal meditation with a Jack and coke and something else,” but as Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue continues it, “Los Angeles is so fucked up. (But) I think Hollywood has to fit him.”
And when it’s not, Lemmy is rocking out with members of The Damned (Dave Vanian and Captain Sensible are interviewed here, and look great, and are humbly in awe just to be speaking of their Lemmy -- who actually agreed to play bass with them on a cover of ABBA’s “SOS”), with Dave Grohl (who obviously adores him), and Slim Jim Phantom from the Stray Cats now in The Head Cat. Grohl sums it up best: “When you see and hear him, there’s such a human connection. This is what rock and roll should be, otherwise you should be playing a video game. It makes you feel like a human being.”
Motörhead was “speed music made by three people on speed,” as guitarist Fast Eddie Clark says. Truth is, they were a little scary even for the punks. (Yes they were you boys -- don’t try and deny it. I’m first wave hardcore and thought this band would gut us -- which they laughingly “do” to a French interviewer in a wonderful clip of a TV segment.) I cringe a little when Scott from Anthrax or Kirk from Metallica try to make fun of the man’s “daisy dukes” or that being a roadie for Hendrix “gives him points.” They have fuck all to say about Lemmy, and I’m their age so I know it. As his old associates claim, few people wanted to play with Lemmy initially, and he just kept on his musician friends till they let him do what he wanted to. It’s very easy he could have scared everyone off early on; his brutal, ugly, truthful, sexy, violent music had to happen -- had to carry the line from Jerry Lee Lewis to the Pistols and then back.
My favorite quote is from Steve Vai: “Nobody told him to do nothing he wasn’t completely natural or comfortable with doing.” Joan Jett astutely adds, “Everyone assimilates, to go along to get along to get what they want to get. I see Lemmy as doing things his way to get where he wants to go, and I think that’s attractive, because people don’t do that anymore.”
There are tender scenes stacked with the terrifying -- one minute Lemmy is breaking our hearts telling us his son is one thing he’s most proud of; a few minutes later, Lemmy talks about “switching off girls” who wanted to do a father-son scene. In his bleary eyes, it seems sweet to him. The young and the old world, making love side by side. It may skeeve you, but it has more to do with human life and love than cabaret acts in Stryper t-shirts. You know he only wears those German uniforms and collects those swastika-slathered knives and drives Nazi tanks because he’s a man of character who knows how to play. He’s not hanging out a fascist flag to get into a fight like some police academy reject: “I’m as far from a Nazi as you can get,” he says, without irony or an attempt to defend his love of dark aesthetics. From this delightful film, you can tell Lemmy has never spent one moment mocking anyone else for their passions. When you come up the hard way -- the real hard way -- you become a brother to us all.