I was fairly excited last Thursday to be able to attend the Los Angeles screening of the new Motorhead/Lemmy rockumentary, Lemmy: 49% Motherfucker, 51% Son of a Bitch. I only say "fairly" excited because it has been my experience that often when I see all that there is to see about an important or influential person in my life, I wish not to have known all there was to know. Lemmy's movie did the opposite. It kicked fucking ass AND made me think of what a bad, bad man Lemmy is in real life.
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When I was a youngster and Motorhead's Ace of Spades came out, all of us in the Seattle punk-rock scene instantly recognized the weight of the band and Lemmy Kilmister, its bassist, singer, and songwriter. They embodied all that was good and great about rock and roll: snarling vocals and to-the-point lyrics. Drummer Phil "Filthy Animal" Taylor pounded the FUCK out of the drums; and "Fast" Eddie Clarke complemented it all with his no-nonsense and very LOUD guitar playing. Motorhead seemed always more punk than metal, because of the fact that they were always in on the joke, whereas other metal bands seemed to take it all much too seriously back then.When I moved down to L.A. in 1984, it was the influence of guys like Lemmy, Phil Lynott, and The Clash's Paul Simonon that steered me to choose bass, back when I was still a somewhat able drummer and guitar player. I was going to Hollywood to sort of "invent" myself, and I chose bass playing as the coolest of the rock-instrument triumvirate because, hell, it was the baddest choice back then (to me at least).
And it wasn't just my choice of playing bass that Lemmy and Motorhead influenced. Dare I say that without Motorhead, there would have been no Metallica, GN'R, Nirvana, Alice in Chains, NIN, or everything between and after. Yeah, they mean that much.
There is a moment in the documentary where Dave Grohl states very eloquently what Motorhead means to him and the rest of us in the audience. To paraphrase, Grohl talks about the "human-ness" of Lemmy. Boils and all, Lemmy lets us know that you don't have to be perfect and beautiful and polished to a shine to succeed in this life. Go see the movie to get the full poignancy of Dave's quote.
Motorhead makes me both exceedingly happy and somehow ashamed. The happy part is obvious in that Motorhead helps us all to exorcise some demons through the art form of balls-out rock and roll. But also, watching the movie and seeing Lemmy progress throughout the film, it dawns on me that this guy has always just stuck to his guns and never bit in to a trend or a new technology recording-wise. Most of us just sort of naturally change with the times; our style of dress, our take on life and love, the bars we go to and all. Lemmy has changed nothing, bringing to the fore the fact that he just had it right from the beginning.
I am 46, and my oldest brother Jon is 20 years older. Jon was born during WWII, and served himself during the "police action" BEFORE VIETNAM WAS CALLED A WAR! He and I are a full generation apart. I revel in stories he tells me about the '50s or '60s or whatever. My point to this and how it applies to this column is that Lemmy is the exact age of my brother Jon. 66.
Lemmy has lived so much longer than the rest of us, and lived HARD. He has earned every right to preach down to the rest of us, but he never has. He has also earned the right and enough money to retire gracefully if he wished, but he doesn't wish it. "What else would I do?" he says in the movie.
If you are a young musician going to see this film, watch and learn and pay attention. Lemmy is the real deal, as if my opinion makes any difference to guys like this. And for musicians like me, who have been around for a while: Sit back and enjoy and take inspiration from a guy who is out there still kicking ass harder than any of us could, even when we were young enough to think we could take on a whole nation of bad-asses.
Lemmy is showing at Seattle's Northwest Film Forum Feb. 4 through 10.