Director Penelope Spheeris: 'Lemmy Was Off the Charts Intelligent'

'Decline of Western Civilization' mastermind recalls candid, clever brilliance of late Motörhead singer

'Decline of Western Civilization' director Penelope Spheeris recalled the clever, candid brilliance of Motörhead's Lemmy Kilmister, who died Monday Credit: Daniel Boczarski/Redferns/Getty

Penelope Spheeris, director of the 1988 heavy metal documentary Decline of Western Civilization II: The Metal Years, fondly said late Motörhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister "brought the term 'no BS' to new heights" in an interview with Billboard.

Kilmister featured prominently in Decline II, which offered an invaluable, in-depth look at heavy metal's cultural dominance in the Eighties, from the fans and wannabe bands on the Sunset Strip to the lionized rockers whose egos were often more blown out than their hair. Save, Kilmister.

"Lemmy was totally 'what you see is what you get,'" Spheeris remembered. "He laughed when we asked if he wanted make-up. You never had to wonder, 'Is he telling the truth?'"

Spheeris notably filmed her interview with Kilmister atop a hill overlooking Los Angeles, the same location she used for famed punk promoter Brendan Mullen, the "voice of reason" in Decline I, which tackled the L.A. punk scene of X, Black Flag and the Germs. Kilmister was similarly candid, clever and blunt when it came to explaining why the kids liked heavy metal ("It's fast, and it's aggressive, and it's rebellious, and their parents hate it"), or why he didn't mind younger acts ripping him off ("Maybe they'll do something we can copy later").

"I don't think it usually occurs to people that Lemmy was off the charts intelligent," Spheeris said. "Smart enough to know that it would be stupid to be jealous and that interpreting the rip-offs as a compliment was so much the higher road to travel. He was evolved and brilliant in many ways. Not only was his music unique — but in my humble opinion, there's no other band remotely similar to Motörhead.

"He was indeed a one-of-a-kind brilliant artist that invented an entirely unique music hybrid," Spheeris added. "There is no other Motörhead and there will never be another Lemmy." 

Spheeris also noted that her complete, uncut interview with Kilmister is featured in the DVD extras on the recent Decline II reissue. The entire trilogy — long out of print, but widely bootlegged — was released as a box set in June.

Kilmister died after a short battle with an extremely aggressive form of cancer. He had turned 70 on Christmas Eve. The legendary bassist's death has elicited remembrances from countless musicians including Ozzy Osbourne, Metallica and Alice Cooper.