They’re loud, they’re misogynist, they’re wasted, they’re extremely stupid, and they have armadillos in their trousers. “This is Spinal Tap” was essentially the first and still the best episode of Behind the Music ever. The good times, the mismanagement, the drug problems, the bankruptcy, and the comeback. They make Motley Crue seem like a well-oiled machine.
Christopher Guest, Michæl McKean, and Harry Shearer pulled the coolest life stunt ever. Who wouldn’t rather be a rock star? Who doesn’t consider themselves the coolest man or woman without a rock catalog in the world? Who else gets to act and dress and speak exactly how they feel all the time? They created these cleverly likable goofy personas for themselves, wrote and played an entire musical history and defied everyone not to believe it was true. Someone could say these guys have been playing this heavy metal superstar parody way too long, but it isn’t merely them trying to milk it. It’s the fact that they get to be these stupid king of the world characters whenever they want to. What were the Beatles if not the coolest club in the world?
It’s a wonder how much the truth and legend have blurred. After all their music is as skillful, rocking and sexually silly as anything the Rolling Stones have put out since the movie debuted in 1984, their characters are as entertaining to hang around as David Lee Roth ever was, and in the process they decimated and ridiculed 25 years of hyper serious rockumentaries like “The Song Remains The Same,” that Pink Floyd movie where the guy keeps asking for Apple Pie without the crust, any number of Rolling Stones dramas, and U2’s “Rattle and Hum” four years before it even came out.
“This Is Spinal Tap” is a weird little love triangle over Lead Singer David St. Hubbins (Michæl McKean, previously pretty damn cool as 50s singing guitarist Lenny Kosnowski) between his girlfriend and hard rocking Jeff Beck look alike Lead Guitarist Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest). It’s a little like if Paul McCartney contested his divorce from John Lennon. When Nigel finds out that the Yoko-esque Jeanine is joining the tour he looks like he is about to start crying. The rest of the movie approximates a tour film about their comeback album Smell the Glove. Unfortunately it was filmed right at the cut off point from when they were absolutely the coolest to them at their most immediately passe, and yet not nearly as pathetic as Kansas, Rush, or Styx got. Need we say Ozzy Osbourne?
It’s all here. The terrible heavy metal band that hung on a little too long. The bad record reviews. The open mouth sores. The visits to Graceland. The unctuous press dinners. The empty record store openings. The all black album cover that was so cool Metallica paid homage to it. The guitar that can’t be played. The bass trio of Big Bottom. The amps that go to 11. The fabulous Little Sandwich Tirade. The canceled gigs. The cricket mallet. The Psychedelic period. The embryo that wouldn’t open. The Cleveland concert they couldn’t play because they got lost in the stadium. The coolest 20 seconds of Ed Begley Jr.’s career. Stonehenge! “We’ll you’re too young and I’m too well hung” as the coolest couplet since the opening of “I Saw Her Standing There” that inspired it. The fights. The millions of drummers. Derek’s perfect description of himself as “luke warm water”. The air traffic radio signals. Jazz Odyssey. Puppet show and Spinal Tap. The smashed guitars. Their defiant anger at having to play an air force base. The first guitar solo I could ever play. The break up. The hugely successful Japanese tour. All supposedly ad-libbed from life.
A towering achievement in cinema, music, and life art. Funnier and more prescient every time I see it. Any time they tour I will be there.