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Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2011

Lemmy: 49% Motherf**ker, 51% Son of a Bitch

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In the new documentary on Lemmy, Ozzy Osbourne concedes that in the history of heavy metal, Lemmy’s Motrhead was at least as important as his Black Sabbath. And in the course of Lemmy: 49% Motherf**ker, 51% Son of a Bitch, members of Metallica, Jane’s Addiction, Guns N’ Roses, Mtley Cre and others insist that without Lemmy, born some 65 years ago in England, their music might never have been. Some even hint at the truth: Most of his acolytes possess little more than a ghost of his power and presence.

The figure of Lemmy that emerges from the documentary is a black-clad, Teutonic metal cowboy walking with a John Wayne stride; like Rooster Cogburn, he’s a grizzled cuss concealing something of a code for life under his leathery face and Old West whiskers. Lemmy is also a self-taught authority on the world wars and has amassed an armory of artifacts, especially Nazi daggers, medals and pennants. Directors Greg Olliver and Wes Orshoski photograph Lemmy in full black Panzer uniform, wheeling a German tank down a country road. “I always said if the Israeli army had the best uniforms, I’d collect them, but they don’t,” Lemmy insists.

When asked about his current influences, Lemmy replies he has none. He explains that the music that impacted him by the time he was 20 is the music that shapes him still, primarily ’50s rock ’n’ roll (especially Little Richard) and the Beatles, who he saw at the Cavern Club. Perhaps Little Richard’s frenzy is transmogrified into metal by the relentless roar from his mountain of Marshall amps. An echo of blues can be discerned through the din. Mostly, Lemmy places the riffs of Eddie Cochrane on a white-hot anvil and beats them into hardened steel.

Aside from his ability to play a Rickenbacker bass as if it had two extra strings, Lemmy is among the dwindling company of AARP rockers who carry their role without looking foolish or diminished. “I’m not qualified to do anything else,” he admits, reflecting on a career that began with mop-top post-Beatles bands and led to the pulsating space rock of Hawkwind before he was fired over drug preferences. Psychedelia was never Lemmy’s thing; he despises smack and looks down his nose at coke. For him, it’s all speed.

Opens Jan. 17, Times Cinema.

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