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This is Spinal Tap' turns 30

February 18, 2014
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This is Spinal Tap This is Spinal Tap

This is Spinal Tap' turns 30    

There are two kinds of people in this world - those who will immediately react to the phrase 'These go to 11!' and those who will stare at you like you're from the Isle of Lucy.   

In March of 1984, a little movie appeared called 'This is Spinal Tap,' which managed to delight audiences and critics, upset a few sensitive rock stars and set a new standard for improv-style filmmaking. It wasn't the first 'mockumentary,' but for many, it's still the best.   

'This is Spinal Tap' is the outrageous chronicle of an attempted comeback by a decaying heavy metal band that refuses to believe their glory days are behind them.  

spinal tap

The film marked the directorial debut of Rob Reiner ('director' Marty DiBergi) and starred Christopher Guest (lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel), Michael McKean (David St. Hubbins lead vocals, rhythm guitar) and Harry Shearer (bassist Derek Smalls). As we discovered later, much of the dialogue was not scripted but inspired improvisation based on a detailed outline.

Thanks in part to film critic Roger Ebert ('one of the funniest movies ever made,' he wrote) and promotion via MTV and 'Rolling Stone,' the film's popularity exploded (much like one of the band's unfortunate drummers) and 'This is Spinal Tap' has become an enduring classic.  

Fran Drescher portrayed Bobbi Flekman, a gregarious, chain-smoking artist relations rep for Spinal Tap's label, Polymer Records. Drescher says she has fond memories of the making of This is Spinal Tap,' even though she was exhausted for much of it.  

'When I got the call from my agent about Spinal Tap,' I was shooting Doctor Detroit' with Dan Aykroyd for Universal,' Drescher told me. 'We were doing night shoots at the time. I would come home when it was morning, try to pull myself together and then head out to meet Rob Reiner.'

Drescher recalls a stark contrast between her day and night jobs. 'Spinal Tap was a low-budget film. Most of us ended up bringing our own clothes. We didn't even have dressing rooms. It was more of a boot-camp' atmosphere.'  

'This is Spinal Tap' probably wouldn't have been as funny with a huge budget. Part of the movie's charm lies in watching the band struggle with a lack of opulence.  

Be it an 18-inch Stonehenge monument, a non-functional stage-pod for Derek Smalls or one large zucchini wrapped in aluminum foil, the film's now-iconic images and situations popped a pin in many of rock's pretentions while concurrently deflating the egos and offending the sensibilities of its more thin-skinned players.  

Brad Whitford of Aerosmith told 'Spin Magazine' that lead singer Steven Tyler failed to see the humor in 'This is Spinal Tap' after seeing it for the first time. Then again, Aerosmith's most recent album at the time featured an image of Stonehenge on its cover.  

Eddie Van Halen told 'Guitar World' magazine, 'The first time I saw it, it wasn't funny at all. Everything in that movie happened to me.' Eddie later warmed to the film, at least enough to order custom amp heads with dials going 'up to 11.'  

spinal tap

In an interview last year, Guitarist Richard Williams of Kansas told me about his first screening of the film. 'I didn't know whether to laugh or not. I didn't realize that this dry documentary was making a mockery of the whole thing. The Hello Cleveland!' scene - where they get lost on their way to the stage that actually happened to us in Cleveland!' Williams says Kansas never tours today without a copy of 'This is Spinal Tap' on the bus.  

In a 2012 interview, Mike Reno of Loverboy told me that his band continues to have 'Spinal Tap moments.' 'Just the other night, we got lost on our way to the stage. We couldn't find it! We were right on time, but getting lost put us a little behind schedule. We walked in a circle and kind of looked around, started laughing and said, 'a Spinal Tap moment!'        

Guitar legend Jeff Beck reportedly loved 'This is Spinal Tap' from the beginning, even though he saw more than a little of himself in lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel. 'I laughed myself into the ground over Spinal Tap,'' Beck is quoted as saying in Annette Carson's book 'Crazy Fingers.' 'They did steal a bit of my character, didn't they?' A committed fan, Beck added lead guitar to the title track of Spinal Tap's 1992 reunion album 'Break Like The Wind.'  

Fran Drescher cherishes her association with 'This is Spinal Tap' and the fact that she has been embraced by many of her favorite bands and musicians. 'Bruce Springsteen knew me from that movie,' she said. 'It's like a parallel universe for me and it's all because of Bobbi Fleckman.'

spinal tap

Drescher recalls being in a restaurant when Gwyneth Paltrow approached her table. 'She said, Fran, my husband (Chris Martin of Coldplay) is in love with you.' I said, That is so sweet.' She said, You don't understand. He is REALLY in love with you and is it OK if I bring him over to say hello?' He came over and was very sweet. I told him I was thinking of going to see Coldplay in Vegas and he said, Oh my God, will you please come backstage? The band will not believe it.' Spinal Tap has given me a kind of cache in the music business that I really relish.'   

'During the filming, we all knew that something magical was happening,' Drescher told me. 'Everybody involved were really good comic actors and, more importantly, improvisers. I was very happy to be working in the company of these people.'  

'The Big Morning Show with Mike Dow' can be heard on Big 104 FM The Biggest Hits of the '60s, '70s & '80s - airing on 104.7 (Bangor/Belfast), 104.3 (Augusta/Waterville) and 107.7 (Bar Harbor)

Last modified on Tuesday, 18 February 2014 20:35

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