I’ve never had an amplifier that went up to eleven. I’ve never played in a band that had an exploding drummer, let alone a drummer who died in an unfortunate gardening accident, nor even a drummer who choked to death on someone else’s vomit. Although you could never be sure whose vomit it was, you can’t dust for vomit you know. Sorry if you’re eating right now but I’ve just waded through over an hour of out takes from This is Spinal Tap and it’s had rather a strange effect on me.
I first saw the film in a small independent movie theatre in Melbourne when I was an earnest young acting student. I think it was a dead give away that I’d rather be watching a mockumentary about a fictional British rock band than yet another Shakespeare adaptation set in a typewriter factory. I spent most of my three years in acting school yearning to be a female Nigel Tufnel or failing that a pretty good likeness of the lead singer David St. Hubbins. Not a very well-known saint, Saint Hubbins, but a vital one. He was the saint of quality footwear.
I spied the special edition DVD of This is Spinal Tap at my local and thought, “What have I got to lose, it’s Tuesday and it’s only going to cost me a dollar for the week.” I know my memory is pretty bad, especially after the years of rock and roll lifestyle I pursued as soon as I graduated from acting school, but I’d completely forgotten that Billy Crystal played Morty the Mime from the catering company Shut Up and Eat at the pre-tour party. I hadn’t realised that Fran Drescher played the record company PR rep. And Angelica Huston, as Polly Deutsch, was the one responsible for the 18 inch Stonehenge, the one that was in danger of being crushed by a dwarf on stage.
Should I be embarrassed to admit that I related more to the film now than I did when I first saw it in the eighties? Back then I was the veteran of only three bands, having had the silly idea that I’d rather be an actor. As soon as I got over that misapprehension, as Nigel would say, I spent the next ten years getting lost on tour, playing for audiences who’d rather be watching the dog races on Sky TV, going deaf in rehearsal rooms, eating pizza in recording studios, and winding up as second billing to a puppet show. Well okay, I made that last one up, but some days it felt like that. What a delight then, to watch the absurdities of the music business played out in such fine form, while safely sitting on my couch, cup of tea in one hand and banana muffin in the other. To quote David St. Hubbins himself, “It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.”