An Incomplete History of Motorhead Frontman Lemmy Kilmister

Including Ace of Spades, Metallica, and Lemmy: 49% Motherfucker, 51% Son of a Bitch.

Christmas Eve 1945, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England Ian Fraser “Lemmy” Kilmister is born. His earliest memory of childhood involved the crib he was sanctioned within. “I don’t know what my first word was,” Kilmister recalled recently in a phone call. “But I know it was loud! I [remember] standing up on my cot, shouting, and shaking the bars of my crib. I don’t remember what I was shouting or who I was shouting at, but that was my earliest memory.”

Ian is raised sans father figure, brought up solely by his mother and aunt. He acquires his famous nickname in grade school, purportedly via his habit of chipping change from his chums by saying “Lemmy a quid till Friday!” in order to feed his burgeoning addiction to arcade games.

May 1975, somewhere near the Canadian border After being busted by Canadian authorities for possession of what they believe is cocaine (it’s actually methamphetamine, legal at the time), Kilmister is kicked out of Hawkwind, the progressive and lysergic-minded space-rock band in which he’d forged his bass-playing skills. Unrepentant for the consequences of his vices and feeling betrayed by his bandmates, he nevertheless learns a valuable lesson. “Don’t rely on anyone,” he says of the formative and ultimately fortuitous experience. “Just because you think you know someone doesn’t mean you know what they’ll do in any given situation.”

Kilmister goes on to form another band, initially christened “Bastard” and eventually “Motörhead,” taking its moniker from the last song he wrote with Hawkwind. They become a well-oiled machine, fueled by fans of both punk rock and heavy metal. Their attention to speed (sonically, that is) and volume makes them structural precursors to the New Wave of British heavy metal that arises in the early ’80s, as well as the subsequent thrash-metal movement.

November 1980 Motörhead releases the album Ace of Spades, which achieves gold status four months later. The title track becomes the band’s signature song, and its perennial popularity becomes a bit of an artistic albatross for the prolific Kilmister, who wishes that audiences would notice the 16 other albums he’s penned since.

The band continues their road-warrior status over the next two decades, while Kilmister maintains his chosen diet of stimulants and whiskey. In defiance of modern science, he remains in perpetual good health. “No, I don’t protect my brain, I really punish it quite a bit,” says Kilmister. “It’s a good thing there’s a skull, right? Otherwise it’d be all over your shoulder, wouldn’t it?”

August 1994 Kilmister’s lofty position in the pop-culture canon is summed up neatly in a joke from Airheads, an otherwise forgettable film starring Steve Buscemi, Adam Sandler, and Brendan Fraser. “Who would win in a fight, Lemmy or God?” Answer: “It’s a trick question—Lemmy is God.” Kilmister has a cameo in the movie, and impressively restrains himself from beating Fraser senseless.

September 2000, Seattle Motörhead plays Memorial Stadium during Bumbershoot. Local punks Murder City Devils open the show in ghoulish makeup and deliver an unforgettable set.

November 2006, Ireland While waiting in a pub before shooting an interview with Sinead O’Connor, budding filmmakers Wes Orshoski and Greg Olliver hatch a plan to make a documentary about Kilmister. They start talks with his management in 2007 and begin the arduous process of raising funds. “We’d sit down with people that were wooed by the idea that Slash and Metallica were in the film,” says Orshoski. “But at the end of the day, they wouldn’t want to put the money down . . . it was [our] friends and family that gave us the money to make it.”

Their other notable challenge was finding balance and perspective. “It was pretty much impossible to find anyone with anything bad to say about Lemmy,” says Olliver. “Everybody loves him.”

March 2010 Lemmy: 49% Motherfucker, 51% Son of a Bitch premieres at Austin’s South by Southwest festival to eager audiences who’d been hearing about the production for years. Despite that warm reception and glowing reviews, a national distribution deal isn’t finalized for another nine months.

January 2011 Lemmy premieres in Los Angeles. Former Guns N’ Roses bassist and current Seattle Weekly columnist Duff McKagan attends and notes in his column that week that “It kicked fucking ass AND made me think of what a bad, bad man Lemmy is in real life.” Kilmister is less effusive, but obviously pleased with the end result: “I didn’t have to seek out the exit before the lights had come on,” he laughs.

February 2011 Motörhead plays a sold-out show at Showbox SoDo this Friday, February 4. Lemmy: 49% Motherfucker, 51% Son of a Bitch plays at the Northwest Film Forum February 4–10. (See review and show info.)