Saturday, May 13, 2017

Songs From Movies About Musicians: Anvil, Metal on Metal

Purchase Anvil, Metal on Metal from the documentary, Anvil: The Story of Anvil.

OK, I’m going to start this the wrong way, like some apologist whose nothing but guilty of the thing he’s apologizing for…what do they call that, when someone effusively apologizes for something in order to make it seem as if they aren’t guilty of the exact thing they are expressing shame about… hypocrisy?

And what exactly will I be protesting? That I don’t like Metal. I really don’t. I did. But that was a long time ago. I’d rather you not know that. But, now that I’ve written it, let’s leave it where it is.

I’m a little embarrassed at the fact that I used to think the likes of Poison, Cinderella, Dokken, et al were the shit. Big S Shit. I wanted desperately to be able to grown my hair long. I wore a torn and frayed denim jacket, festooned with as many patches as I could fit on it: Def Leppard, Van Halen, Judas Priest, et al. The main back patch was of Iron Maiden’s Eddie, dressed a British infantryman from their greatest song, “The Trooper.”  I wore wrester’s high-top shoes (I don’t know where that came from, but it was the metal thing to do). I wore a mullet since my hair is naturally curly and the only part that would grow reasonably straight was the back. I looked like a tool. 

I was abruptly pulled out of my teenage haze of hairspray and spandex and Ibanez guitars when someone introduced me to R.E.M. It was a simple change over, like a trigger pull. I went from listening to bad music, because that’s what everyone else was listening, to being a music snob. Someone who listened to good music.  Someone who was openly critical of other’s musical tastes.  I would hazard that a lot of you were/are the same…you know who you are. It’s OK; music appreciation is part intellectual, part tribal, and all an affair of the heart. My development of said musical appreciation  is a long history, of which I gone into at varying degrees in my writing for this blog, so I won’t digress too deeply into my own tutelage and history.  Except to say: sometimes your past isn’t at as far a remove as you’d like to think.

Exhibit A: My Spotify library has many of Iron Maidens albums
Exhibit B: I have an ipod playlist called “Hair Metal Faves”
Exhibit C: my obsession with the documentary Anvil: The Story of Anvil

Directed by their former roadie, this film is a documentary about Anvil, a little known metal band, and, is simply put: brilliant. It is both heartbreaking and hilarious, but in the end, as uplifting a human story as I’ve ever seen. The “tragedy” of the band fuels the emotional drive of the story, and in a sense proves that the tragedy need not be one that moves us to despair to raise the spirit to a place one finds a sense of thankfulness or self-perspective.  To get a sense of the film, you should know: Anvil are a Canadian metal outfit that put out an album in 1982 that is considered by most metal luminaries as singularly influential. Metallica and Anthrax, Slash, Lemmy, Slayer all fill the film with stunning testimony to the energy and excitement that Anvil brought to the stage and how they seemed poised to reach the very pinnacle of metal triumph.

And then…nothing. Anvil disappeared from the main stream and seemingly into the lore of bands that “might of.” But, they never really went away. The film details the story of how mainstays Steve “Lips” Kudlow (lead vox) and drummer Robb Reiner toiled through decades of obscurity and all the inglorious humiliations of being a band that had tasted success but never quite made it. Nor ever quit. There’s a lot to this film that makes it great. It is a meditation of youthful ambition, on failure and will. It is about friendship and family, but mostly it’s about grit. About never giving in and never giving up. The movie is at times heartbreaking, but in the end, it’s an important film—the message is powerful:  stick to what you know you want and what you’re capable of, despite what happens along the way and all the people who will tell you that you can’t.

I started off talking about how I was embarrassed to admit I used to be into metal. I’m not saying that Anvil was an amazing band—at least not by my standards. I don’t really see the “influence” that the people in film talk about. But, their story, their singular story, is inspiring, fable-like, joyously uplifting. You don’t have to like metal to hope the members of Anvil have achieved success, finally, and the kind of happiness that would bring. You don’t have to like metal to cheer them at the end of the film, maybe even bang your head, if just a little. Because, despite their “tragic” career arc, what you come away from this film is that Kudlow and Reiner are happy, are capable of being joyful, despite the near surreal oddness and frustration of their band’s story. And that is where the sheer brilliance of this movie, and their story, come to the fore: rarely will you ever see a lesson of determination illustrated and perfectly as than in the story of Anvil.

If you haven’t seen Anvil yet, go get it now. The film will stay with you and you just might get their signature tune, “Metal on Metal”, stuck in your head. Which will be a good thing, especially if you need to get off your ass and do something.

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