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Watch the Tunes: Lemmy

On October 28, 2016

There is an absurdly vast selection of music movies and documentaries available on Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go, and on and on and on. But it’s hard to tell which ones are actually worth your 100 minutes. Watch the Tunes will help you pick what music doc is worth your Netflix and Chill time every weekend. This week’s edition covers Lemmy, which is streaming over on Netflix.

There’s a moment in the 1994 comedy Airheads where Brendan Fraser, having taken a Los Angeles rock radio station hostage along with his bandmates, invokes the name of Lemmy Kilmister as a means of sussing out a supposed record executive’s credibility. Fraser and his crew, the Lone Rangers, will agree to let the radio station’s staff go free in exchange for a record deal and Fraser’s worried that the cops sent him a fraud, so he poses the question “Who'd win in a wrestling match, Lemmy or God?” The answer, of course, is that Lemmy is God, and the clever ruse exposes the exec as the empty suit that he is. It’s a perfect bit of dialogue because, as our movie of the week reveals, while Lemmy is perhaps closer aligned with The Devil, he’s certainly a pillar in the rock and roll pantheon of celestial beings who are worth every ounce of praise you can muster. Greg Olliver and Wes Orshoski’s film Lemmy (subtitled "49% motherfucker. 51% son of a bitch") takes a dude that fair-weather fans might know as something of a hard rock caricature, and presents a supremely complicated individual who was ultimately much more than simply the sum of his parts.

Lemmy’s list of notable rock credentials starts with being a roadie for Jimi Hendrix, followed by getting hired and fired by psych-prog innovators Hawkwind, and then more or less kick starting both heavy metal and punk as the frontman of Motorhead. Instead of plotting out these admittedly lofty experiences, accomplishments, and instigations upfront, though, Olliver and Orshoski wisely present the much more earthly present day existence of Lemmy before laying the unlikely path that got him there. For real the first half of the movie has the feel of an episode of MTV’s Cribs, that expands beyond the boundaries of his house to include every mile of the Sunset Strip. Instead of living in an Osbournes style mansion, Lemmy is surprisingly content with his relatively small LA apartment not far from the Rainbow Bar & Grill where you can find him sitting at the bar all day playing video games. There are so many heavy metal dudes that are legendary assholes, but Lemmy seems to transcend humility, taking for granted that the mighty are not supposed to walk among us mere mortals.

Not only did Lemmy help define the speed and tone of the punk rock that would follow, but the guy pretty much out punked the punks at being aggressively himself to the point of outright obliviousness of the norms he was challenging. It’s downright wonderful all the ways that Lemmy flips pretty much every conceivable expectation you have of him on its ear. For all the thunderously heavy riffs he cranked out over his lifetime, Lemmy loved Little Richard and the sugar sweet harmonies of 50s girl groups. He’s got a thing for Nazi uniforms and tanks and swords, but felt equally comfortable in the shortest shorts imaginable. That we can see so many multitudes contained in one person, all them happily coexisting in perfect leather-jacket Fonzie coolness, is the real power of the film, in my opinion.

If there’s one criticism I could levy against Lemmy it’s that it should have been more “Ace Of Spades” than spacey Hawkwind suite. The last third of the film, including way too much time spent on stage at a Metallica show, simply sags in comparison to the cranked up material that got you there. That said, some of the tangents that the film explores are fascinating, like the unexpectedly moving dive into his relationship with his son. In all seriousness, this could have been just footage of Lemmy shooting the shit with his kid, and I would have been just as happy.

Very early on in the film, which was released in 2010, you hear someone comment that "If they drop a nuclear bomb, Lemmy and cockroaches are all that are going to survive." Looking back on the whole of 2016 with the number of legendary rock stars who were taken from us too soon (two months left, knock on wood), we can point to Lemmy’s death in late December last year as the canary in the coalmine of what was to come. He might have been the one that, on paper, was the most obvious to pass away, but it still came as a shock since it really felt like the only guy who might out live him would be Keith Richards. Let’s be honest: Prince and Bowie were aliens, but Lemmy was a something else, a god or devil, who graced us with his presence here on earth. Thankfully he had the chance to be a part of this film that now fits the bill nicely as an obit for how uniquely awesome he was.

Profile Picture of Chris Lay
Chris Lay

Chris Lay is a freelance writer, archivist, and record store clerk living in Madison, WI. The very first CD he bought for himself was the Dumb & Dumber soundtrack when he was twelve and things only got better from there.

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