Film Review: LEMMY: 49% Motherf**ker, 51% Son Of A B**ch

About 12 years ago, I was getting ready for my junior prom and was looking for some mood music. As you know, proms are formal, pretty affairs so that meant music of a grimy and mean nature was required. It was a simple choice…Motorhead. With that, a tradition was born. To this day whenever I have to attend a function that obliges me to wear a suit and tie, Motorhead is played loud as fuck while I get ready.

7 years ago, I’m living in Seattle. One day while strolling through Capitol Hill, I notice a tweaker has spread his worldly possessions out on a blanket in a sort of impromptu yard sale. Among the items up for grabs was a Motorhead t-shirt in pretty good shape. I inquired about the price; he wanted $20, I countered with $3. Sold. I still have the shirt.

On Friday, February 4th there was a screening of the documentary Lemmy at the Regent Theatre in Arlington, Massachusetts. Walking by the theatre a few days prior to the screening, I notice a familiar image gazing out from a poster on the front door – that of Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister set against a black ace of spades. The tag line on the poster was “49% motherfucker, 51% son of a bitch.” Once again, sold.

For me personally, before Seattle and before the junior prom, when I was a young lad searching for the sounds that would move me, I would come across Motorhead records and just knew I wasn’t ready for them. Then one day I was, and over the years I’ve gotten deeper into them, bit by bit. Seeing Lemmy took my appreciation of the man and the music to a whole new level.

The film opens with Lemmy in his Los Angeles apartment, which would be right at home on a rock and roll episode of Hoarders, playing his Xbox (yes, Lemmy has an Xbox) and slicing potatoes for homemade, greasy French fries. You could tell right away he is a humble man. No housekeepers for this legend. The small space is crammed full of souvenirs, fan-created art, and his Nazi and World War 2 memorabilia, but when asked what the most precious thing in the apartment is, Lemmy points to his son, Paul.

The camera trails Lemmy, decked out like some sort of Nazi-cowboy-biker hybrid, everywhere from the Rainbow Bar & Grill on the Sunset Strip to Amoeba Records in LA. At Amoeba, Lemmy checks out a few Pat Benatar albums (yes, Lemmy digs Pat Benatar) before attempting to purchase the Beatles Mono box set. Unfortunately, Amoeba can’t accept Lemmy’s proffered American Express. Turns out the Ace of Spades isn’t the only card he needs… in this case, he had to use Visa.

The film features interviews with Dave Grohl, Alice Cooper, Nikki Sixx, Slash, Henry Rollins, Joan Jett, Dave Navarro and Ozzy Osbourne, among others. What becomes most clear is that Lemmy is highly respected not only by his legion of fans, but by his fellow musicians. Scott Ian of Anthrax relates a memorable conversation with Lemmy about the merits of short Daisy Duke shorts vs. the longer type favored by skateboarders. The visuals in this sequence are not to be missed.

Among the more common stories about Lemmy are the rumors of his legendary drug intake. What Lemmy illustrates is that the only drugs Lemmy ingests with any regularity these days (besides the never-ending stream of Jack Daniels and Marlboro reds) are his diabetes and blood pressure medications. When asked about drugs and the old days, Lemmy demurred, saying he will not advertise a lifestyle that killed so many of his friends. And when asked if he had really slept with 2,000 women, Lemmy was quick to deny that inflated figure, and inform us that it was closer to 1,000. Like I said, he is a humble man.

Lemmy also allows the man himself to expound on his musical influences. Lemmy was brought up during the heyday of rock and roll, and he worships Little Richard, calling him the greatest vocalist in rock and roll. He saw the Beatles before they were THE BEATLES and prefers them to The Rolling Stones. His son’s mother named the boy after Paul McCartney… after losing her virginity to John Lennon. Asked if he liked Prince, Lemmy replies “No. I’ve seen Hendrix.”

Lemmy showcases Lemmy where perhaps he feels most comfortable: on tour with the latest incarnation of Motorhead, in support of his twenty-fifth studio album, Motorizer. Motorhead on stage are loud: upwards of 120 decibels. Some of his roadies have been a part of the Motorhead crew since the 1980s and they have a family bond that comes across the screen. They roll across the world like Patton through Europe, a platoon of crazed infantrymen that drank the Jack Daniels flavored Kool-Aid. Lemmy loves his fans and credits them with making him who he is today. He will sign autographs and willingly poses for pictures after concerts, standing on the steps of his tour bus to do so.

Look at the footage of Motorhead from the last ’70s or early ’80s or Hawkwind doing “Silver Machine” in ’72. It’s scary shit and reminds you that rock and roll is supposed to be dangerous. Life and humanity can be rough and people like music to reflect that. Lemmy makes that kind of music. Maybe Lemmy and Motorhead are not for everyone, but for a certain type they are the perfect fit.

If you went out and asked the general public what their idea of a rock star is, they would answer with many of the usual suspects (Jagger, Bono, etc). Yes, those are rock stars but they are kind of like clouds – you know you will never touch them. Lemmy isn’t like that. He is a rock star but very much a human being as well, which Lemmy makes all too clear. The man is still writing songs and making records and touring. In one scene, the camera is trained on Lemmy backstage in his dressing room after a show in 2009. Alone, he towels the sweat off of his hair and takes off his shirt. He then leans against a chair, completely worn out because he went out there at age 63 and gave it his all. To me it doesn’t get much more human than that.

I was glued to the screen from the minute the theater lights went out until the end credits rolled. I could go on and tell you more about the film, but I won’t. You need to see for yourself. Half the fun of watching Lemmy was comparing all the things I’ve heard and read over the years to what was shown in the film. At the end of the film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, one character advises, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” For Lemmy the line between fact and legend doesn’t exist. He is both. Lemmy walks the walk and has the voice to match.

Oh, and one last fact confirmed by watching Lemmy? Lars Ulrich still sucks.

Dave Wahlman