10 things I learned from the Lemmy documentary

I’ve been a fan of the band Motörhead for over 25 years now.  When I was a freshman in high school, I used to watch the British comedy show The Young Ones on MTV, when they used to show it late Sunday nights, and one week, this weird metal band came on that sounded cool as hell.  I asked my friend Ray about it, and he told me their lead singer Lemmy was god, and then proceeded to make me a dub of the No Remorse double album collection, which I promptly burned into my brain with roughly 40,000 repeat listens over the next few months.  Over the years, I’ve collected their albums, and although I’m not as militant about it as Ray, they’ve been one of the bands in a constant rotation in the player.

I heard about this documentary, simply called Lemmy, also the stage name of one Ian Kilmister.  He’s been the one constant member of the band since 1975, singing, playing bass, and writing songs.  I didn’t rush to the theater to see it, but I filed away a mental note to look for it when it came through on NetFlix or whatever, and it popped up on cable recently, so I DVRed it and got a chance to watch it last night.

I had mixed feelings about the movie.  It was executed well, and wasn’t just a typical rehash of everything I already knew about the guy, which was a huge plus.  But it was also somewhat depressing, because it showed this human side of the legend, and it was a somewhat sad scene of this guy who’s instantly recognizable, but ultimately alone.  I could write more about that, but I’d rather summarize the movie by mentioning the new things I learned that were shown by Greg Olliver and Wes Orshoski’s work.  Here goes.

1) Lemmy lives in a shithole

This is the most popular takeaway from the movie.  Most people think rock stars live in giant mansions, and that is reinforced by all of the reality TV showing guys like Ozzy in giant 29-bedroom castles with indoor basketball courts and gold-plated crappers.  In reality, Lemmy’s lived in this completely shitty two-bedroom apartment in West Hollywood for over twenty years, apparently never cleaning it during that time period.

Now, I’m not expecting him to rent some huge penthouse like P. Diddy would hang out in, with chrome-plated everything and an indoor swimming pool.  But seriously, when I lived in LA, my apartment was at least seven orders of magnitude nicer than this place.  It’s like a scene from a Bukowski book, with the two-burner range from 1947 and a metal sink that’s been painted white a thousand times since World War II.  The outside courtyard is not bad looking, but it’s that generic two-story apartment building you see all over Los Angeles, the kind that looks like a motel built in the 1950s and never renovated.

All of you who have lived in New York City are probably a step ahead of me on this one, by asking, “well, how much is he paying, though?”  LA is rent-controlled, meaning his rent can only go up 6% a year.  He mentioned he’s paying about $900 a month in rent for a two-bedroom, which isn’t bad for LA.  (A quick google shows that the average 2011 rent for an apartment that size is around $1700.  I paid more than that in 2008, but my old apartment compared to Lemmy’s is about like comparing the Bellagio to one of those downtown Vegas motels where you shoot a snuff film.)  Of course, if the stories are true that he drinks a fifth of Jack Daniel’s a day, he’s probably spending a grand a month on booze.

2) Lemmy is a hoarder

The shocking part of the footage of Lemmy’s apartment is that every square inch is filled with Stuff.  There’s the usual rock start stuff, like gold records, trophies, and plaques, but there are also tons of Motörhead items, like records, posters, license plates, stickers, action figures, and pretty much any other thing carrying his personal brand.  There’s also wall-to-wall randomness, video tapes and albums that are completely unrelated to him.  And this isn’t one of those OCD collections where everything is perfectly lined up on identical racks, in dust-proof, airtight mylar bags.  There’s stuff strewn around like a crime scene, things stacked on top of other things, shit everywhere.

One complication is that Lemmy’s not being whisked to gigs in hermetically sealed limousines with a team of bodyguards and handlers; he’ll talk to pretty much anyone who comes up to him, sign anything, and is infinitely approachable.  And he has legions of loyal fans.  That means he’s got people at every show giving him paintings and figurines and demo tapes and macrame Ace of Spades murals.  And he seems to hang onto all of this stuff, which is somewhat endearing, although at some point, I would have either rented a storage unit or opened a Motörhead-themed bar with all of the stuff in glass cases.  The man is in serious need of an archivist.

3) Lemmy is into a lot of non-metal music

The movie starts with Lemmy going to Amoeba Records (I used to go there!) in search of the mono version of the Beatles box set.  (And he’s correct: fuck the stereo mix; get the real deal.)  He talks about seeing the Beatles back when he was a teen in Liverpool, and also discusses his love of Little Richard during a couple of different conversations.  (Billy Bob Thornton and Dave Grohl, in two different bits, talk about meeting LR, and Lemmy enjoys those stories immensely.)

He also plays in a band called The Head Cat, which is a rockabilly supergroup with Slim Jim Phantom of the Stray Cats.  It is seriously surreal to see Lemmy, the guy usually belting out songs like “Killed by Death” and “Deaf Forever” knocking out the Carl Perkins song “Matchbox” while a bunch of old people dance at some random casino in upstate Wisconsin.  (Go here to listen to some of this.)

Henry Rollins (seriously, there are so many god damn appearances by people in this movie!) sums up the whole thing by mentioning that Lemmy was around before there was rock and roll; he grew up listening to Rosemary Clooney records, and then one day, these four kids from Liverpool and this hip-swaying dude from Memphis blew the doors wide open.  And it’s true that the best music ever is the first music you hear, the stuff you lock into when you’re a teenager, and for him, that isn’t the Sex Pistols or Elvis Costello or Velvet Underground; it’s Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran and Johnny Cash.  I really dug the hell out of Lemmy being so into the classics like that; it shows that he loves music, and he’s not just into this to be another SKU number in a database.

4) Lemmy has diabetes

The movie shows Lemmy drinking, smoking, and eating fried foods.  It starts with a scene of him meticulously slicing potatoes into fries (he probably calls them chips) and deep frying them in a pan.  It doesn’t show him doing drugs, but implies that he does.  And then in a later scene, he’s taking some pills in a recording studio, and when the producer asks if they’re drugs or vitamins, he says they are medications for diabetes and blood pressure.

This shows the odd paradox that he’s like Keith Richards and Ozzy in the sense that he’s spent the last 50 years shoveling down all things bad for your body, with almost no tangible effect on his longevity or ability to churn out a new album every year and play in 200-some odd cities.  But it shows the twist to this, the human side, of a guy who’s well past the halfway mark and will someday soon be staring down the grim reaper.

This also conjures up strange images of Lemmy at a doctor’s office, paging through a years-old People magazine, waiting for an internist, who then asks him all of the typical questions about diet and exercise.  My health is not at Charles Atlas levels,  and I can’t go to a foot doctor about a hangnail without getting a prescription for Lipitor and a scathing 40-minute lecture about how I’m supposed to exercise 9 hours a day and eat less than 9 grams of fat a month.  I can’t imagine the dressing-down he must get every time he comes in to get his scripts refilled.

5) Lemmy practically lives at the Rainbow

One of the other reasons Lemmy’s got the shithole apartment is that it’s stumbling distance from the Rainbow Bar on the Sunset Strip.  And apparently, he’s always there, sitting at the bar playing one of those video trivia machines.  The Rainbow is a big rock hangout, and has been forever.  And you always hear about how back in the day, it was stylish for these non-music Hollywood types to make their token “I’m a bad boy” appearance there.  But you know how some dive bars always have that one creepy old guy that sits at the bar and stares at the wall for dozens of hours at a time, eating peanuts and nursing beer after beer?  Well, at the Rainbow, that guy is Lemmy.

6) Lemmy has a kid

He’s probably got more than one kid, but the movie features Paul Inder, who is his adult son.  He mentions that Paul’s mom Patricia was some kind of groupie who had dated John Lennon before she knew Lemmy, which is a pretty odd connection.

What’s strange is how close Lemmy appears to his son.  When he’s asked what his most valued thing in the apartment is, he says it’s Paul.  Although Lemmy apparently had never seen the kid for the first six years of his life, the two seem like the best of friends now.

7) Lemmy is obsessed with gambling

There’s a scene showing Lemmy parked at a slot machine, and someone talking about how he’d sit in front of the one-armed bandit all day, compulsively pulling the lever, over and over.  In fact, it’s rumored that he got the name Lemmy because he was always asking people “Lemme have a fiver” to pay off his gambling debts.

It’s a bit of a recurring theme; he’s either hunched over a gambling machine or a trivia game or a video game system at several points in the film.  It makes me think he’s got one of those OCD personalities where he gets locked into stuff like this and can’t put it down.  I sure hope he doesn’t get an iPhone with Angry Birds installed, or we may never see another new Motörhead album again.

8) Lemmy’s stepdad was a football player

I don’t think this was mentioned in the movie, but I was cruising wikipedia as I was watching and saw this.  His dad was an RAF chaplain and split when he was three months old, and he was largely raised by his mom and grandparents.  But when he was ten, his mom remarried to George Willis, who played soccer (football) for a decade or so in the 40s and 50s.

9) Lemmy roadied for Jimi Hendrix

He actually used to live with bassist Noel Redding, and roadied for the Experience back when they were London-based, in 1967-1968.  He tells a story about how he used to score drugs for Jimi, and he would take acid daily.

The story of him being a roadie also shows how much he loved music back as a teen.  When he couldn’t be the one making or playing the music, he was just has happy lugging gear for the people who did.

(Also not mentioned: Lemmy was also a roadie for The Nice, which was Keith Emerson’s band that was the forerunner to ELP.)

10) Lemmy is obsessed with Axe body spray

Maybe obsessed is a strong word, but there are multiple times that show him dousing himself with the stuff.  And it’s not just any cologne spray — the film is careful to display that it is specifically Axe body spray, the spray of the douches.  I’d expect the guys in Maroon 5 or Nickelback or something to be frequent users, but not Lemmy. He seems like the kind of guy who maybe uses some Old Spice (one of the original scents, not the new trendy crap), or just goes around reeking to high hell.  I’d expect him to smell like stale Marlboros, burned motor oil, and old leather, not Intense Phoenix or some shit.

Overall, this was an interesting movie.  I mean, the day-to-day stuff was a good look at the man’s life; the endless line of celebrities fawning over him got a little old, but emphasized the point of his importance in the metal world.  But like I said, it ultimately saddened me to some degree.  It made me hope he’s happy with what he does, because he’s not reaping huge financial or material rewards, and although he’s got a certain amount of respect and admiration, it’s not like he’s going to cross over and become known for anything other than being what he is.

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