The history of my relationship with Rock and Roll is, at best, tortuous. When other kids my age were into Bon Jovi and Metallica I was into John Carpenter and Goblin. In fact, I rarely bought albums from outside the Varese Sarabande catalogue and wouldn’t have been caught dead listening to the radio. Not just that, but when I did happen to listen to music composed by a band, it had either been specifically written for a soundtrack or a song heard in a film.
This sort of intentional musical ignorance can lead to much embarrassment, like when people tell me that their favourite AC/DC album is “Back in Black” and I have to answer that mine is whichever one they did for “Maximum Overdrive.” Not that I’m ashamed of admitting I first heard of a band through a movie mind you, just of admitting that I once watched “Maximum Overdrive.”
Another good example is how my entire experience with punk rock in the 80’s came almost exclusively through repeated viewings of “Repo Man,” “Return of the Living Dead,” and that segment of “Nightmares” where Emilio Estevez fights an evil video game. I had heard a bit of hardcore at other kid’s places and would have probably been a punk myself had I known any, but I was at the wrong place at the wrong time and had the wrong interests for that to happen. I was a film fiend born and bred.
I’m probably overstating some of my unfamiliarity with contemporary Rock and making myself sound like more a shut-in than I was, but I’d be lying if I said I had much of an interest at the time in listening to any song that I couldn’t recite dialogue from the movie along to. So how did I ever become such a huge fan of “Motorhead” that now during the holidays I celebrate Lemmy Kilmister’s birthday on December 24th instead of Christmas?
Well, I didn’t stay a musical naïf forever after all. I did eventually catch up with the whole “music” scene during the grunge era and made up for lost time. Not to mention that I had also been somewhat aware of Motorhead’s existence when one of their songs played in Dario Argento’s “Creepers” (AKA: “Phenomena”).
In any case, it didn’t take long for me to get better acquainted with the band because it’s so much more than just music. Lemmy is one of those people that you can tell right away is a genuine Rock and Roll animal of the highest order, with little or no stage persona to speak of. I saw Motorhead live in 2004 and was amused to note that he still had his damn keys clipped to his belt as he played. You can’t get any more genuine than that. This isn’t someone who only pretends to be a rock star because it gives him access to cheap drugs and easy p***y, it’s because the man loves music and performing with such purity of heart that it’s apparent to anyone, even those as clueless as I had been.
(Besides, as the documentary explains, the drug scene can kill you and the p***y dries up… sometimes literally. -JK)
Another thing that causes me to respect Lemmy Kilmister is his longevity. Guys like Jim Morrison or Jimi Hendrix or Kurt Cobain may be worshipped as legends today, but I’d give almost anything to peek into an alternate universe where they didn’t die young. I don’t think they’d have fared so well facing the indignities of Father Time. Burning out at the top of your game when you’ve only done a handful of well received albums is easy. Going out there every day and building your legend, song by bloody song, for almost forty years, that’s hard.
The documentary “Lemmy” offers no great Earth shaking revelations about its titular subject. He’s more or less exactly as expected, a gruff biker type of few but thoughtful words. He’s viciously loyal to his friends, loves WW2 memorabilia (especially the Nazi stuff) and is still capable of knocking back a fifth of Bourbon (or two) at 11 O’clock in the morning. The last prompts a funny scene where Ozzy Osbourne stammers that the man must be made of iron because there’s no other explanation of how he can still manage to drink most people under the table when he’s at an age where everyone else starts to collect social security.
This is a fast paced, funny romp through Lemmy’s day-to-day life on the road. Even if you’re not a fan of “Motorhead,” or heavy metal for that matter, this will be enjoyable because so much of it has the rhythm and timing of comedy. There are a few talking head moments but it’s edited in such a way that you don’t notice. If you are a fan however, then this is a must see. Mostly because it’s so complete. I suppose other documentaries might be more detailed about dates and events and particular moments, but with someone like Lemmy that isn’t what you want. A real fan wants to hear how Lemmy thinks that the working class neighbourhood “Beatles” were more badass than the suburban middle class kids of “The Rolling Stones.” A real fan wants to hear both sides of the issue talk about the time he was kicked out of “Hawkwind,” the Prog-rock band Lemmy was in before “Motorhead.” A real fan wants to hear about how, when he was younger, Lemmy once worked for a gay man whose last name was worthy of a Monty Python skit. Lemmy Kilmister’s whole being isn’t about specifics, but about feel and soul because without soul you ain’t got no Rock N’ Roll. In fact, as far as “feel” goes, the only thing missing from this documentary are these closing lines:
In 1975, Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister formed the band Motorhead and went on tour.
He never returned.
I’ll give this a perfect score, with the caveat that I am too big of a fan to give it anything less. So take that as both high praise and fair warning.