Late to Anvil!

It’s not that I’ve always loathed metal, although I have. I also think you have to be a bit of a low-life to play it, much less be a fan…right? What would the ghosts of Gustav Mahler or Chet Baker say about metal bands if they were brought back to life? They’d say, “Can we be dead again, please?” Metal, for me, is still the reigning metaphor for the coarsening of civilization. It’s for primitive, thick-fingered types who get high a lot and don’t want to know any better. Sorry.

But there is God and spirit in the playing and savoring of all music, even metal, and the love that the fans feel for it, however pathetic, is as genuine as my love for The Who, Patti Smith, Queen, Joni Mitchell, the acoustic sets of Kurt Cobain, early (’63 to ’66) Rolling Stones tracks and Bernard Herrman‘s score for North by Northwest.

And I have to say, late as I am to the table on this, that Anvil!: The Story of Anvil — which opened last Friday in select cities — is one of the saddest (as in funny-sad) and most recognizably human, emotionally touching rock-music documentaries I’ve ever seen. Seriously.

It’s about a has-been metal group that I’d barely heard of (mainly because they never really made it commercially), and an attempt by the now-50ish members — Steve “Lips” Kudlow, Robb Reiner and Glenn Five — to get their lives going again. They were admired by some but their albums were reportedly poor sounding and they never tapped into any real money. And now they’re grappling with intimations of mortality, bald spots and ticking clocks, but they have to give the career-restart thing a go anyway. How can anyone not love that?

We first encounter them living rural, dead-end lives and trying to gradually make things happen again. Sisyphusian and then some. We see them going through some fairly anxious moments, often, as well as some depressing ones, and also some that warm your heart. And some that are close to hilarious — loser humor that only guys who’ve actually gone through the doldrums coudl come up with. (Talking to the camera about a European tour in which many things went “drastically wrong,” Lipps adds that “at least there was a tour for it to go wrong on.”)

There’s also a moment that’s damn nice in a familial way. And the ending is pure Hollywood.

I mean it about the heart-warming element. Lipps and Robb are nice-enough guys, but they’re basically apes playing ape music for the ape masses (let’s face it), and you can’t help but root for them. Theirs is a passion play for the ages — a universal never-say-die parable about the water that we all long for. The size of the fight in the dog and all that. Listen to this riff about the ticking of time,, initially voiced by Lips and seconded by Reiner. The whole film, in a way, is in this one passage.

67 thoughts on “Late to Anvil!

  1. So you openly embrace the shittiest pop period of the Rolling Stones and a charlatan like Cobain and yet you have the temerity to just dismiss a whole genre? I’m no metal fan, but you need to broaden your horizons.

  2. Also I’ve been reading in a lot of places this film is sort of a companion with THE WRESTLER. Any truth to that, thematically? Probably not if the ending is pure Hollywood.

  3. The title of this film, Anvil! The Story of Anvil, is absolutely priceless. It’s like the unnecessary umlauts in Spinal Tap.

  4. while I have to agree that I think most metal is boring, repetitive and devoid of originality, I got to admit that MASTER OF PUPPETS is a work of sonic genius that continues to amaze me to this day. Metallica peaked with it and that is it for me. I’ve listened to other supposed “classics” of metaldom but just couldn’t get past how noisy it all is. I’m more of a punk/ hard rock kinda guy.

  5. Those kids and their damned Rock and Roll music blasting away!

    Burmashave…. “shittiest pop period of the Rolling Stones”?! Are you insane? Ever hear “12 X 5″? “Aftermath”? ” The blues-soaked Brian Jones years rule!

  6. I love “Anvil! The Story Of Anvil” because after seeing it I’m half convinced Anvil doesn’t really exist, but is one of the greatest Andy Kaufman / Joaquin Phoenix level hoaxes of all time.

    It’s like if Lars von Trier tried to remake “Spinal Tap”.

  7. I have Travis. Doesn’t do it for me. Zeppelin did white boy Brit blues much better. Give me ‘Beggars Banquet-’Some Girls’ Stones any day.

  8. “…is as genuine as my love for The Who, Patti Smith, Queen, Joni Mitchell, the acoustic sets of Kurt Cobain, early (’63 to ’66) Rolling Stones…”

    Queen got pretty damn metal a lot of the time, man ;)

    Even if they didn’t claim the genre, the stuff they and the other “arena rock” guys were known for – the operatic vocals, the bigger-than-big lyrics, the massive soaring guitar work – quickly became the foundations for metal’s big moment in the mid-80s.

  9. you have to be a LOWLIFE to play heavy metal???? Wells, I love your blog and I admire you, but damn, you are SUCH a snob and an elitist.

  10. Jesus Christ, Wells, is there no end to your tiresome b.s. stereotyping? I’m from the Midwest and listen to metal — by all accounts, what am I even doing on this blog (other than help pay for your precious Blu-Ray player)?

    Believe me, it’s a question I’m asking myself very seriously these days.

    Anyway, the Who and Queen are considered some of the early influences on modern metal, so don’t be so quick to distance yourself from the genre. Also, your equation of metal culture with getting high is wholly inaccurate (if I wanted to be stereotypical, I would actually say the reefer lifestyle is more a part of the music of your beloved Joni Mitchell and the counterculture scene of the 60s). But I don’t, so I won’t.

    Other than that, good write-up on the film. Looking forward to it. Didn’t really expect that you’d even give it a shot, let alone enjoy it.

  11. Just finished reading the New Yorker review as you posted this, and now I kind of want to see it.

    And good call by CitizenKaned — kind of funny to associate metal with getting high but then talk about how you like Joni Mitchell and The Who. Can we all just agree that pretty much everyone gets high?

    As long as we’re talking music, the new Yeah Yeah Yeahs album is a fucking JOKE. Can’t get it out of my head.

  12. Jeff,

    Being an opera singer you would think that I would concur with the “down with metal” sentiment. However, I think there are cases in any genre that transcend the norm. I believe that music should satisfy many aspects of our souls. Many metal bands are worthless, spewing noise, poor lyrics and horrible vocals. Sometimes though I find groups (early Metallica, Disturbed, Godsmack Pantera) that appeal to a more primitive and instinctual part of me. In the same way that I have found use for good jazz (Miles, Charlie Parker, Monk), country (Cash), rap (Tribe Called Quest, Beck) and others. I think people who only adhere to one genre (even classical music, pop, etc.) and refuse to find merit in any other fit the mold you were suggesting. Thanks for the good work.

  13. OK, I’ll give you this: death metal sucks. But metal, as once practiced by groups like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin (Led Zeppelin II is often considered the first metal album) is pretty great,

  14. “Ever hear “12 X 5″?”

    As much as I love the idea of citing an album that the studio released without their approval among their best work, I tend to agree with Burma; 1963-1966 they’re still trying to find their voice, and includes many of the worst tracks of ’60′s rock (as well as a handful of greats); 1966-1971 is the best Stones period (I’d even allow for 1972, though I personally have never responded much to ‘Exile’).

  15. Good post, Easter.

    If you’re feeling adventurous, you might want to check out Queensryche sometime (given your eclectic musical taste, you very well may already have). Their lead singer is a classically trained opera singer, and I’d equate them with a metallic version of Pink Floyd.

    Operation: Mindcrime is a great place to start; it’s a concept album that deals with an Orwellian dystopia. I find their music quite cinematic (hence the PF comparison), if that makes even an iota of sense.

  16. Metal is for thick-fingered stoners who don’t know any better? Give me a fucking break! What a bunch of ignorant boomer BULLSHIT.

    If you knew anything about the demands for dexterity, technique and musical theory placed on those who know how to play metal and play it WELL, you wouldn’t talk like that.

    That you have to be some kind of knuckle-dragging moron to appreciate metal is an ugly stereotype that belies the genre’s popularity over the last 35 years.

    Keep listening to Joni Mitchel, Wells. Her self-centered navel gazing suits you.

  17. Citizen…

    Queensryche definitely is on that list but I really only heard that one popular album um.. Empire that features “Silent Lucidity.” I will have to check out the others though, thanks.

  18. On Operation: Mindcrime, Queensryche’s reach definitely exceeded their grasp, but in a good way. Surprisingly melodic and a hint at where they would later go with Silent Lucidity.

  19. NO…. I’m not saying that pre-’67 Stones is anywhere near as brilliant as 67-72 Stones, because it’s not…. but there are some GREAT tracks in there, be it covers or originals (or songs penned by the great Nanker Phelge………yeah, I know)….

    I’ll take ’64-’66 ANY day over practically anything they did from ’81 till now, though…..

    (the Chicago stuff particularly rules)

  20. This will probably end up being the best movie of 2009. It would be a great double feature with The Wrestler.

    And I wasn’t into metal, but I am now.

  21. Anytime, Jeff…Empire is definitely much more popular (and good in its own right, no doubt about it), but O:M is where the real goods are at, IMHO.

    It routinely makes the top 10 lists of best metal albums of all time. I have no argument with that, and I normally looove to argue about that kinda shit ;) .

  22. Is one of the band members really named Robb Reiner? If this whole Anvil thing was made up, that would be the biggest clue.

  23. It’s not made up. You’ll get 30 minutes into the movie and realize that. If you find one person who actually saw the movie and thinks they’re fake I’ll give you a thousand dollars.

  24. “I’ll take ’64-’66 ANY day over practically anything they did from ’81 till now, though…..”

    I’ll go with you on that. Maybe I misread Burma’s point, but I thought he was commenting on the oddity of Jeff singling out the 63-66 period of the Stones. Anyway, that was what seemed weird to me about that part.

  25. It’s not that I’ve always loathed metal, although I have. I also think you have to be a bit of a low-life to play it, much less be a fan…right?

    Wells is smart enough to know that a comment like this will generate LOTS of comments and thus increase his thread count, whether he actually holds this belief to be entirely true is another matter.

  26. “If you find one person who actually saw the movie and thinks they’re fake I’ll give you a thousand dollars.”

    Are you really so sure about that? Because it’s much easier to believe that this band is a practical joke than to believe they’re this unknown band whose actions in the movie are ridiculously similar to the plot of Spinal Tap, and these guys aren’t aware of it, plus one of them’s *named* Robb Reiner? Plus, they have the awesome name and logo of an Anvil, a device most well known for falling on cartoon heads? For a “real” band, the movie’s doing an awful lot of goading you into believing they’re fake!

  27. I like metal and loved Anvil, but Wells assessment – which yes is painted with broad strokes – is still generally spot-on. I also love that the same thick-fingered goons who dress in black are much the same type you can find at any film festival Midnight Madness screening (fantastic fest or otherwise).

    Primitives do come in a certain tumescent and ungainly shape.

  28. What exactly are you disputing, a1? The fact that the documentary makes it clear that they are real, or the fact that they actually are real?

    Can’t help you on the former (haven’t seen the doc. yet). As for the latter, I can absolutely guarantee that they actually do exist — I have one of their 80s albums (Metal on Metal) to prove it. It’s certainly not going to convert anyone, but it’s pretty solid stuff if you’re already part of the headbanging faithful.

  29. ZayToday nailed it…reggaeton, oh my god, kill me now…living in NYC with that shit constantly playing on every other car that drives by…it’s the only genre where every single song sounds basically identical. exact same beat.

  30. “plus one of them’s *named* Robb Reiner”

    I know nothing of this band, and I believe all the people saying they are real… but, yeah, that’s a really crazy coincidence.

    As for similarities to ‘Spinal Tap’ — every metal band (and many non-metal bands) think ‘Spinal Tap’ is about them, because ‘Spinal Tap’ bases all of its scenes on simple truths that tend to happen to all bands.

  31. Dangovich: I mostly agree on death metal but when the music and playing is good I can look past the growl and see it as any instrument, like a distorted guitar. That has been the case for me with Opeth. They have broadened their horizon though, they are not a straight death metal band.

    Opeth – Porcelain Heart: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mfT1A5Caq84

    This has a seventies feel:

    Opeth – Burden: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4UQCqvkWdAs

    If you try more of their songs at youtube, there will be growls…

  32. Anvil definitely existed and was one of the first of the wave of metal bands that came out in the early 80s (Anthrax, Metallica, Raven, etc.). Now, whether the people in this doc are THE Anvil, or whether they’ve just used the old band to lend credibility to a mockumentary, that I cannot say.

  33. “What exactly are you disputing, a1? The fact that the documentary makes it clear that they are real, or the fact that they actually are real?”

    Actually, I think the opposite’s happening: that it’s a real band, but the documentary’s trying to make them look fake!

    I’m sure there isn’t some Wag the Dog “Good Ol’ Shoe” hoaxing going on with the real band, and I went into the movie just wanting to follow the band’s story. But by the fifth ridiculously obvious Spinal Tap “coincidence” in the movie I started to get this “hey, wait a minute…” feeling, and I had to look into the band online just to see if I’ve been had. And I can definitely see how people who’ve never heard of Anvil before feeling the same way once they’ve seen “Anvil!”. (Which I think is a cool part of the movie, BTW).

  34. Anvil!, The Story Of Anvil was the flat out best time I’ve had at the movies in 2 or 3 years. Consistently funny throughout, and a couple of minor lump in the throat moments too, or else you’re not human.

    I’m going to buy a couple of cd’s off their website, even though I don’t really care for the music, just to pay them back personally for such a great time.

    (and Wells, for someone who I’m guessing never sat at the cool table, you’re awfully condescending).

  35. I’m with you Jeff. I respect Metallica, Black Sabbath, and Motorhead but that’s about it. To be clear respect, not like. When it comes to heavy there’s only a handful that did it well artistically. That’d be Soundgarden, Nirvana, Alice In Chains, Rage Against The Machine and well that’s about it. That being said I’m looking forward to Anvil. Show me a movie where the characters care about what they are doing and there is a good chance it can be interesting. I hate pro wrestling but I love the Wrestler.

  36. “The acoustic sets of Kurt Cobain” is kind of absolutely hysterical (especially considering he wasn’t known as a dynamite guitar player or anything, just a good songwriter). It’s one of the more out-of-touch statements you’ve dropped, Jeff, and maybe your grab-at-hipness here is more “pathetic” than any metalheads pure love for an occasionally knuckleheaded music genre. And this entire post is kind of akin to saying “get your thick knuckles off of my lawn, metalheads!” anyhow. But seriously, isn’t great rock music supposed to be knuckleheaded anyways? “Boris the Spider” certainly ain’t Bach, but it fucking rocks.

    I agree with the respect for Master of Puppets, which is pretty jaw-dropping in it’s scope and artistry. It’s also worth checking out Slayer, Mastodon, Tool, Helmet, and most especially Faith No More, Wells, before dismissing an entire genre. Why, you’re no better than that poor lass who said she only knew about disco (the philistine!).

    My point is that it’s a bit of a shame that a movie you actually admire is getting overshadowed by your narrow-minded statements about a music that you don’t really understand (not that I do either, but that isn’t the point… I’m not the one making a blanket statement about it).

  37. you have to be a LOWLIFE to play heavy metal???? Wells, I love your blog and I admire you, but damn, you are SUCH a snob and an elitist.

  38. @RichS your whole wildly (and spectacularly) uninformed, speculative post is sort of evidence why people who haven’t seen a film should be forbidden from writing about it. God forbid you have a blog.

  39. Anvil is a real band, for anyone who doubts it. Lips and Robb Reiner are the original members. I saw them play at L’Amour in Brooklyn back in 1984 or something like that, with Metallica opening if I’m not mistaken.

    Heavy metal was the soundtrack of my youth and a lot of my adult life. I am not an ape, and in fact I have never gotten high (drunk is another matter). I have made a large chunk of my living thanks to heavy metal, by turning my love of the music into a job early on. Like anything else, a lot of it (especialy nowadays) is repetitive junk. But the best of it has a primal power and often spectacular musicianship that is always unfairly demeaned by ignorant snobs. Yes, I’m looking at you, Wells.

  40. I’m a pretty big metalhead, probably not as much as I was in high school, but I was listening to Machinehead’s “Burn My Eyes” as I came across this thread, so I’d say I’m still pretty into it. I’m certainly not a primitive thick-fingered type who gets high a lot and doesn’t want to know any better. Iif you played my iPod on shuffle mode you’re just as likely to hear Dave Brubeck, Joni Mitchell, Phillip Glass, Graham Parsons, Willie Nelson or something from Marianne Faithfull’s amazing “Before the Poison” CD as say Anthrax, Iron Maiden or Opeth. I’m fairly cultured. I go to operas, ballets and plenty of theatre. I write. I’m fairly well read, though there’s still a few thousand volumes I’d like to absorb in my lifetime. I do get high a bit, but who doesn’t? I can be a bit of an elitist snob too, but you know, I recognize that there’s some value in pretty much any work of art or piece of entertainment if you’re willing to try to understand what it does and how it works. That said I still don’t like hip-hop, but I certainly wouldn’t stereotype everyone that in any way. So I just wanted to add my voice to everyone else and say, Jeff, you’re wrong when you say that people who listen to metal are primitive, thick-fingered types who get high a lot and don’t want to know any better. Also, you may be a bit of a douche bag.

    But you’re right about the documentary. And Anvil is a real band. I have their first record “Hard’ N’ Heavy”. It’s not exactly “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan”, but it is a good, dumb record with a ton of amazingly stupid, but fun songs. It even has my favorite cover of “Paint It Black”

  41. Metal can be a lot more musicologically interesting than you seem to realize, Jeff. Just ask John Zorn.

    Guess you’re really not gonna like the soundtrack to “The Limits of Control.”

    And whatever Cobain’s other talents, as an acousti guitar player he was shit. You want acoustic guitarists, try Richard Thompson, John Martyn, John Fahey, Gary Lucas, Fred Frith, Davy Fucking Graham, etcetera, etcetera.

  42. “I do get high a bit, but who doesn’t?”

    To be honest, every heavy metal fan I’ve known has been completely straight-edge. Rarely even a drinker, let alone one to get high.

  43. “Metal, for me, is still the reigning metaphor for the coarsening of civilization. It’s for primitive, thick-fingered types who get high a lot and don’t want to know any better. Sorry.”

    That’s how I feel about people who turn on PDAs during a movie.

  44. Haha, man, I always know I’m in for a hot one when my visit to H-E comes from a linkpost on a completely unrelated blog.

    And ZayTonday, Wells has Mexican neighbors after all, I’m sure he’s got the Great American Reggaeton Bitchfest in him and am surprised we haven’t seen it yet

  45. I saw this open Hot Docs last April in Toronto — Anvil’s from the Toronto area — and, based on their emontional reaction at the screening (not to mention the movie itself), this is 100% real.

    As for Jeff’s thoughts on music… completely senseless/incoherent. You don’t think people get high at shows by The Rolling Stones or The Who? Nirvana actually ceased to exist largely because of Kurt Cobain’s incessant drug use. And what’s with qualifying your interest in Nirvana and the Stones by excluding their greatest works. It’s like saying you admire Bob Dylan for his late 70s gospel albums.

  46. One of the appeals of metal has always been how small-minded, uppity types demean it without any knowledge of the precision, joy, intellect and effort it requires (and brings to its audience).

  47. It’s not made up. You’ll get 30 minutes into the movie and realize that. If you find one person who actually saw the movie and thinks they’re fake I’ll give you a thousand dollars.

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