By now I assume you’ve heard about the documentary on the Canadian metal band Anvil. It’s called “Anvil: The Story of Anvil,” and is showing in smaller theaters in the U.S. and Canada (I’m not sure about Europe). I was given a promo copy by a friend in the music biz, and watched it last week.
Here’s my four-word review: Awesome – I loved it.
I’d heard through the grapevine that it was a sad story, some tear-jerker moments, with some real Spinal Tap moments. But that’s not how I found it at all. It was funny and entertaining, but sad? I guess it could be experienced that way if you feel sorry for the two stars of the film, Steve “Lips” Kudlow and Robb Reiner. And I can see how you could feel sorry for them, but I didn’t. I thought they epitomized true love for music.
I mean, here are guys who started playing together in high school in 1973, got a little bit of fame in the ’80s, then faded from the scene – but are still at it and never stopped being at it. Gotta love that.
It’s a little sad to see them chasing the dream of a big-label contract (that world doesn’t really exist anymore) and playing to audiences in the single-digits. But the point is they’re doing it because they love it. And they never sold out: They’re still playing the same fast metal that was hugely influential on the metal scene the world over.
I’m not going to detail everything, but here are some bits and pieces:
> The movie opens with Slash, Lars Ulrich, Lemmy and a few others talking about how ground-breaking Anvil was, and the fact that many bands ripped off Anvil.
> While getting ready for a European tour, Lips says, “All I need is a guy at a record label to say, ‘Hey, Anvil, those guys we heard about 20 years ago, let’s go see them.’ That’s all I need!”…as if that will be the magical “moment” that will result in long-awaited stardom.
> At a European rock festival, Lips says Michael Schenker “is like the Beethoven of lead guitar players, man.” He asks Schenker if Schenker remembers him (Lips) playing guitar with a woman’s vibrator back in the day. There’s a long pause: Michael doesn’t remember or doesn’t understand, and Lips is made to look a little pathetic. But hey: After all that drinking, it’s no surprise Schenker doesn’t remember something from 20 years ago! I’m not sure I would either, even without the drinking.
> Lips and Robb love meeting the guys who have made it, like Schenker, Tommy Aldridge and Carmine Appice – they’re still fans, which I thought was cool.
> JJ French of Twisted Sister tells Lips that at one point in the ’80s Twisted Sister’s manager told the band, “You just got your ass kicked by Anvil,” presumably at a show where they were on the same bill. From what I’ve heard JJ is a good guy, as you can tell by the way he made Lips feel good – but everyone who’s surprised that Twisted Sister got their butts kicked, raise their hands!
> The European tour is somewhat brutal to watch. Not only were the audiences ultra-small, Lips says that in five weeks of touring the band never got paid – and “no record companies showed.” Then he says: “Things went drastically wrong [but] at least there was a tour for it to go wrong on. I’m grateful. I don’t regret a minute of it.”
> At one point, a particularly emotional one Lips says, “We’ve been doing this since we were 14 years old, and here we sit in our 50s. We’re going to be rock stars. It’s our dream – and I’m going to make it come true.”
The Bottom Line
I suppose it is a bit sad to see guys in their 50s, both balding with long hair, still trying to be “rock stars.” But here’s the thing: If they were only interested in stardom, they would’ve quit altogether or gone a different route, like playing whatever the flavor of the day was musically. But they still play their style of metal because they love it. And that’s great.
Here’s the quote, from Lips, that sums it up for me: “I’ll play for no one. I don’t give a sh*t. I love to play just to hear the sound and create that vibe of being Anvil.”
Lips also says he’s “not bitter at all,” that he feels “a lot of joy. Even small things are a joy.”
Because of that attitude, for me this movie was beyond entertaining: It was a “life lesson” about looking at the world with rose-colored glasses. Lips and Robb are best friends in the best ways, their families are very supportive (except Robb’s sister) if a little sad and exasperated, and hope and joy are always there. Might sound corny, but it’s nice to see – and often is not seen in bands that do “make it.”
So the first impression may be that people feel sorry for the guys – but they’re doing what they love. They love playing music, they love metal, they still do it and that’s what gives them joy in life. To me, that’s very positive.
Slash had another take on the bottom line: “How many bands have stayed together for 30 years? You’ve got the Rolling Stones, you’ve got The Who and you’ve got Anvil.”
> Yes you recognize Robb Reiner’s name: Rob (one B) Reiner (no relation) was the director of Spinal Tap, and Lips’ favorite movie is Spinal Tap. Is that irony?
> Notably absent are any substance abuse problems, which was great to see.
> The movie was directed by Sacha Gervasi, who was a fan and then a roadie for a little while, and now is a screenwriter in L.A. My thanks to him for a well-shot, well-told story.
> Anvil’s website, which isn’t too good, is anvilmetal.com.
> The movie site is at anvilthemovie.com. Below is the trailer and then an interview with Gervasi. One funny part of the interview is when he tells the story of how his cameraman wanted to know, after filming for awhile, whether Lips and Robb were actors or not.