Sunday, October 21, 2018

Over Two Decades Later, Spinal Tap Still Goes to 11


One of my all-time favorite films is This is Spinal Tap. The movie is more than twenty years old, but still stands up to the test of time. This is Spinal Tap (1984) is the hilarious rock / mockumentary about the trials and tribulations of a semi-fictional heavy metal band.

Michael McKean (as David St. Hubbins, named after the patron saint of quality footwear), Christopher Guest (as Nigel Tufnel) and Harry Shearer (as Derek Smalls) first appeared together in a 1978 ABC comedy special, The TV Show. The band is fictional, because these guys are comic actors, but by doing concerts and releasing albums, Spinal Tap has blurred the line between fact and fiction.

A friend of mine loaned a tape of the movie to his sister, and when she gave it back to him, she exclaimed, "This is the worst band I've ever seen!" She was convinced that Spinal Tap was a real band!

Some of the things in the movie have become part of our vernacular in this country, most notably "This one goes to 11", which was said when Nigel shows film producer Marty DeBerghi (played by Rob Reiner) his special amplifier. One of the things that make Spinal Tap so believable is that they wrote all their own songs and play all their own instruments.

Spinal Tap's album, which came out on Polymer (now MCA) records the same year as the film, includes hits like, "Big Bottom", "Hell Hole", and "Tonight I'm Gonna Rock Youâ".

Spinal Tap has had a succession of drummers, all of whom died tragically, kind of like the keyboard players for the Grateful Dead. One died from a gardening accident, while another choked on what appeared to be someone else's vomit. Their current drummer is Mic/Ric Shrimpton, who is an actual rock star and used to play for a band called Atomic Rooster. The keyboard player is a guy named Viv Savage.

Right after I showed the movie to my fiancee, she ran into Viv in San Francisco. She got his autograph with his famous quote from the movie, "Have a good time all the time." When she called me and told me she had met Viv, I got really excited. He gave her his phone number, and we went and saw him play in a blues band one evening down at Fisherman's Wharf. Viv lives in Oakland and records with bands from all over the Bay Area. He's a really great keyboard player and just a sweet man.

Here's some interesting trivia about Spinal Tap:

* The film includes a ton of great cameos by: Billy Crystal, Dana Carvey, the late Bruno Kirby, Fran Drescher and Howard Hesseman.

* Metallica's "Black Album" and AC/DC's "Back in Black" are two examples of (almost) all-black album covers, similar to the one Spinal Tap put out called "Smell the Glove".

* A number of Spinal Tap's songs cover identical subjects to renowned songs by other bands. For example, "Gimme Some Money" is similar to the Beatles' "Money (That's What I Want) (and its appearance in This is Spinal Tap is a parody of the Beatles' famous appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show) and "Big Bottom" is similar to Queen's "Fat Bottomed Girls."

* In an interview with Noel Gallagher said his brother Liam (both of British rock band, Oasis), "...had seen the film This is Spinal Tap, loved it and thought they were a real band."

* The British band Supergrass uses a line from "All the Way Home", the first song Nigel and David wrote together, in "Evening of the Day." The original line is "If she's not on the five-nineteen, Then I'm gonna know what sorrow means." while in the Supergrass song it's "If she's not on that three fifteen, Then I'm gonna know what sorrow means." The Rialto song "Monday Morning 5:19" might also be a reference to this same song; the line there is "It's Monday Morning 5:19, and I'm still wondering where she's been."

* Spinal Tap's "none more black" quote inspired the name of the punk band of the same name.

* In September 2002, the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary included the entry: "Up to eleven: up to maximum volume" a reference to Nigel's amplifier that had controls that went beyond the usual maximum setting of 10.

* The three "real" members of Spinal Tap are also the members of another mostly fake band, a folk trio called The Folksmen. The Folksmen originally appeared as the warmup band for some of Spinal Tap's live concerts, but eventually became the subject of their own mockumentary, A Mighty Wind, directed by Christopher Guest.

About the Writer

Ed Attanasio is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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