Wes Orshoski first met Lemmy Kilmister backstage at a concert at the Richfield Coliseum in the late '80s. Well, the native Clevelander didn't actually meet the Motörhead frontman. "They were on a bill with five other bands," recalls the co-director of the new Kilmister biopic Lemmy: 49% Motherfucker, 51% Son of a Bitch. "And Lemmy walked by, and he wouldn't stop to talk to me because he had a girl on each arm."
And that pretty much sums up the life and times of Kilmister, the 65-year-old British heavy-metal icon, speed freak, and rock & roll Zelig. (Among other things, he saw the Beatles perform at the Cavern Club, was a roadie for the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and played bass for pretentious prog rockers Hawkwind before forming Motörhead in 1975.)
It's that history that immediately attracted Orshoski and his directing partner Greg Olliver to Kilmister's life. "There are so many sides to him," says Orshoski, who now lives in New York City. He has this weird distinction of someone who gets respect in both the metal and punk worlds."
Surprisingly, their irascible subject was open to the idea. Orshoski and Olliver shot some scenes and then screened it for Kilmister. They told him upfront that if he was unhappy with what he saw, he could keep the film and that would be that. But he liked it. Actually, says Orshoski, "I think he liked us. Maybe it's because we're mellow and we can drink."
So they packed up their cameras and followed Kilmister and Motörhead for three years. They shot them onstage, backstage, at the bar, and in Kilmister's apartment, which is filled with World War II propaganda, including plenty of Nazi memorabilia. "He's a real World War II nerd," says Orshoski. "It's part of who he is. He knows technical specs of tanks. He can tell you all the ins and outs of daggers and knives."
Because of Kilmister's cranky reputation — and because of the speed he constantly takes — Orshoski was a bit worried about how his movie's subject would react once the cameras were rolling. Despite a little bitching, he was mostly friendly and open, says Orshoski. Lemmy premiered at last year's South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin with Kilmister in tow. "It was a sea of black," laughs Orshoski. "The smell of leather and denim." The movie was a hit. (Fans like Metallica, Ozzy Osbourne, Slash, and the Clash's Mick Jones all appear in the film, giving praise to Kilmister.) People laughed, cheered, stood up, and applauded. Since then, Orshoski and Olliver have been taking their movie on the road. Lemmy screens at the Beachland Ballroom Sunday night, with the cover band Motörhead U.S.A. also on hand.
"There are all these different layers of Lemmy," says Orshoski. "He transcends Motörhead. He's bigger than what people think. He's this iconic, hypnotic figure."