In rapid succession during the documentary “Lemmy: 49% Motherf**Ker, 51% Son of a Bitch,” a wealth of rock stars take turns paying reverent homage to the iconic Motorhead frontman.
Foo Fighter’s Dave Grohl speaks of “an integrity ... more than any other rock musician.”
Dave Navarro of Jane’s Addiction says that Lemmy “transcends trends,” while Duff McKagen of Guns N Roses and Velvet Revolver adds that “everybody tried to be that heavy. Nobody did.”
Metallica’s Lars Ulrich says, “He’s Lemmy. It should be a verb,” while bandmate James Hetfield notes that “Lemmy and Motorhead “kicked the door open for a lot of bands that wanted more.”
The testimonials go on and on through a who’s-who of musical peers and admirers such as actor-musician Billy Bob Thornton — all of which leaves the man they’re talking about feeling the love in a quiet, modest manner that’s somewhat diametric to his music.
“I was surprised so many of them seemed to like me, ‘cause you don’t think about that really, do you?,” Lemmy, 65, says from his home in Los Angeles. “It was most gratifying to see them go on tape with it.
“But you can’t believe that stuff, you know? Then you go nuts. There’s a lot of people who believed everything other people say about them, and they’re not around anymore. You can’t believe what people say about you either way. You have to keep your feet on the ground.”
Ian Fraser “Lemmy” Kilmister has kept his feet grounded in rock ‘n’ roll since roughly 1960 when, smitten by the early rock of Little Richard (“It was incredible, that voice.”), Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry, he started playing in bands around Manchester, England, before going on to work as a roadie for the Jimi Hendrix Experience. He then joined the space rock band Hawkwind in 1971 before leaving to form Motorhead -- “The original thrash band,” according to Megadeth’s David Ellefson -- in 1975, which has endured through 11 mostly trio lineups and 25 studio and live albums. It’s been a long and loud trip, and along the way Lemmy has cultivated a denim-and-leather clad look and a grizzled, menacing persona that’s become both character and caricature, right down to the toy model made by Todd McFarlane that Lemmy pokes fun at in the documentary.
“What you see is what you get with me — it’s just that not a lot of people know you,” explains Lemmy, whose nickname came from a habit of asking for loans — “lemmy a quid” — from schoolmates. “A lot of people know what other people write about you, but they don’t know you.”
One thing to know about Lemmy these days is he’s busy — which is usually the case, but this year even more than usual. The “Lemmy” documentary, which debuted at last year’s South By Southwest Film Festival, is currently in theatrical showings before an expanded DVD release on Feb. 15. Motorhead will release a new album, “The World is Öurs”on Feb. 8, and later this year Lemmy also plans to release “Walk the Walk, Talk the Talk,” a new album by Head Cat, his rockabilly band with the Stray Cats’ Slim Jim Phantom.
And thanks to “Lemmy,” devotees and non-fans alike are getting to know Lemmy better, thanks to Greg Olliver and Wes Orshoski’s frank and unapologetic look at the rocker’s life and personality, from his history to his idiosyncrasies, including a fascination with the video trivia (he even carries a machine on the road with him), the fact he has diabetes and a disarming festish for collecting Nazi World War II memorabilia, including uniforms and weaponry.
Lemmy defends the latter as genuine historical curiosity. “I don’t collect any of the ideology, believe me,” he says. “I’ve got friends of all colors and religious persuasions. I ain’t got a racist bone in my body. And let’s face it, it isn’t skinheads and (others) collecting this stuff. It’s too expensive. This is doctors and lawyers collecting it.”
What the film also makes clear is that heavy music doesn’t necessarily mean Lemmy is a hard person. The DVD comes with a bonus feature titled “The Sweet Side of Lemmy,” while a touching sequence in the film finds him sitting with his 42-year-old son, Paul Inder, who’s clearly surprised and overwhelmed when Lemmy calls him his most cherished possession.
“I didn’t see him enough for a long time,” acknowledges Lemmy, who has a second son he says he’s never met. “I didn’t meet him ‘til he was six years old, but we’ve stayed in touch very much since then.”
Also illuminating is Lemmy’s association with Hendrix, which came from sharing a London flat with Experience bassist Noel Redding and actually led Lemmy to pick up the bass himself after playing guitar to that point.
“I played with (Hendrix) once for about 20 minutes,” Lemmy recalls, “because Noel never showed up for rehearsal on time. So I’d fool around on his bass; I didn’t know anything about bass back then, just enough to sort of jam, which was fun.
“I was so good on guitar I thought I’d switch to bass to give everyone else a chance,” he adds, dryly.
And Lemmy has only good things to say about Hendrix.
“He was great as far as I’m concerned,” he notes. “I never saw him do anything bad at all — well, the drugs, but that depends on whether you think that’s bad or not. I’ve heard lately that he used to hate women, but I never saw it. He was always very romantic to women, old fashioned. When a chick would come in the room he’d shoot to his feet, pull her chair out, just good manners.”
Lemmy, who also co-wrote Ozzy Osbourne’s 1991 hit “Mama, I’m Coming Home,” says the film showed him that “I look a lot older than I thought I did,” but overall he’s happy with the project — as much as he’s willing to acknowledge, at least.
“Well, it’s not too embarrassing,” he says. “I didn’t have to leave the (expletive) theater before the lights came on, so it’s OK.”
The important thing to know, he adds, is that with this year’s wealth of music coming out and a full slate of touring ahead, there will be even more to the story that “Lemmy” tells so well.
“It’ll go on ‘til I can’t do it anymore, then I’ll stop, obviously,” he says. “I think it’s one of those die with your boots on things, I hope. It’s like I say in (‘Lemmy’) — I had a dream when I was a child, and my dream came true, so why stop it?”
“Lemmy: 49% Motherf**Ker, 51% Son of a Bitch” screens Wednesday and Thursday, Feb. 2-3, at the Magic Bag, 22920 Woodward Ave., Ferndale. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $8. Call 248-544-3030 or visit www.themagicbag.com. Motorhead, Clutch and Valient Thorr perform on Feb. 23 at the Royal Oak Music Theatre, 318 W. Fourth St. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are sold out. Call 248-399-2980 or visit www. royaloakmusictheatre.com.
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