Lemmy: 49% Motherf**ker, 51% Son of a Bitch
Damage Case/Megaforce

There are only a small number of musicians requiring only one name for identification. Weed out those who have had their artistic credibility diluted by fashion or delusion of grandeur and the list becomes much shorter. Now narrow it down to those who have had a hand in more than one seminal band and are responsible for a whole sub-genre of rock & roll. All that remains is one name: Lemmy.

For more than three decades, Lemmy Kilmister has been the prime mover of Motörhead, the metal progenitors who, though largely responsible for the thrash metal that would take hold in the late ’80s, have transcended time and trend, be it pop, punk or otherwise. Yet even prior to striking out with his own band, Lemmy was a member of thunderous prog innovators Hawkwind, playing bass with them from 1971 until they sacked him in 1975. It’s a good thing he got the axe, though, otherwise we never would have gotten to hear “Killed by Death,” “Orgasmatron,” and Motörhead’s penultimate hit, “Ace of Spades.”

Needless to say, Lemmy, now 65, has had quite a life. Even before he started playing music, he was lucky enough to witness the Beatles in their formative years and even was a roadie for Jimi Hendrix for a spell while still living in his native England. (He now resides in LA.) Through it all, he’s done enough drinking and drugging to make Charlie Sheen look like a droopy-eyed, armless child, though never to the detriment of his musical career.

As such, he is the perfect subject matter for a documentary film. Indeed, filmmakers Greg Olliver and Wes Orshoski could have probably just hit “record” on their camera, left and come back two months later and they probably would have had something usable. As it is, the directors put forth more effort than that, and Lemmy is a thoroughly enjoyable portrait of one of rock’s iconic figures.

Abetted by a plethora of testimonials ranging from heavy metal leading lights like Nikki Sixx, Scott Ian, Ozzy and Alice Cooper to alterna-whatevers like Dave Navarro, Dave Grohl and Henry Rollins, Olliver and Orshoski show the universal respect and admiration there is for Lemmy. In fact, even his ex-bandmates in Hawkwind hardly have an unkind word for him.

But the film’s greatest moments are more personal. Lemmy’s currently living in a small apartment close to the Sunset Strip that is packed to the gills. It’s hard to understand how he couldn’t afford something even slightly more stately (though maybe he can). He explains that he likes being close to the Rainbow Room, where he spends many a day drinking Jack and Coke and playing video trivia, and the apartment is rent-controlled at only $900 a month. The apartment seems somehow symbolic of his life: an unpretentious, slightly disheveled maze of military paraphernalia, souvenirs and trinkets, as well as real measures of his success like the gold records adorning his walls.

The doc also delves into Lemmy’s pre-Hawkwind days, interviewing former members of the Rockin’ Vickers, his band from the mid-60s that shared some bills with the Who and the Kinks, but more importantly, the film captures Motörhead’s past and present in all its glory. Particularly riveting is a performance of “Ace of Spades” taken from a recent American tour and the closing live footage shot in Russia. Along with scenes of the Motörhead faithful, these clips show that Lemmy’s longevity is directly tied to the electrical charge of the music. As this film reveals, there’s no reason to believe that Lemmy will ever give up rock & roll, because just as countless proclaim throughout the movie, Lemmy is rock & roll.
Stephen Slaybaugh