Everybody loves the underdog. This is evident, given the success of Slumdog Millionare and The Wrestler. You want to root for these guys with all the heart, but none of the luck, who are probably not going to make it. But, for that slim chance that he does? What vindication it will be. Doesn’t it vindicate us all of us who feel powerless against the unfeeling machine of the music industry and the tyranny of evil men? Stepping off the pulpit, I have a recommendation for you that will probably pull a few of your personal heartstrings —as a guitarist, musician, and human being. I remember the band Anvil— that is to say, I remember hearing the name Anvil, but I couldn’t tell you what they sounded like. Even as a fledgling guitarist growing up in the midst of the 1980s metal heyday, I was pretty hyperaware of all the happenings and goings on, but never owned an Anvil record or knew anyone who did. Anvil! The Story of Anvil, is a 90-minute odyssey of a documentary that follows the Canadian band through all of the ups and down of being in a band: crappy jobs, not getting paid, bad management, etc. Sure, this is all part of the bargain, but usually when you are in your twenties and full of youthful exuberance. The fact is that the protagonists in this film, guitarists Steve “Lips” Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner are well into their fifties, and have been releasing records (thirteen, and working on number fourteen) and playing nonstop unbeknownst to the world since the 80s. Did you ever take one of those career placement exams in school, where they asked: If you could do anything you wanted with your life, and knew you couldn’t fail, what would it be? It’s like Steve and Robb took that exam two weeks ago.
Checking out the critic’s reviews, the comparisons to Spinal Tap were so numerous as to be totally redundant, and wrong, so wrong. This is how it will appear to the uninitiated. The truth is, there are Spinal Tap moments in this movie, but with one difference: these are real, and they aren’t funny. For anyone who’s ever played to a crowd of five individuals, closed their eyes and pretended it was 10,000, watching the band play to 174 people in a stadium that seats 10,000 in Transylvania will induce an epic cringe, I guarantee. Seeing an A&R guy switch a demo off after listening for a scant eight seconds, I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. There are countless wince-worthy moments that make this kind a of horror film for musicians, forcing you to watch through your fingers like some dismemberment scene in a torture porn movie.
So, why do you feel like shaking some sense into these guys, but want them to keep trying against all odds? Why did I walk out of the theater feeling so optimistic after watching this carnage? It’s the universal experience of putting everything you’ve got, your whole naked bleeding heart and soul, out into an audience, and getting nothing in return, and gosh - you come to like these guys an awful lot. No matter what, they earnestly give it their all. They are playing for their fans and themselves, following their dream while the rest of us watch wistfully on, knowing that the good outweighs bad…usually. The pure joy of having it work, when it does work, is worth all the missed trains and dirty sleeping bags in the world. Next time you feel ready to pack in all in because of a flat tire or a deaf sound man, you may draw on Anvil for strength and inspiration, from a few guys who keep soldiering on and simply will not let go of their dream to make it as rock stars - the same dream they had over thirty years ago. You don’t have to love metal to dig this movie, you just have to love the underdog. Be sure to check out the trailer here (as I write this, the movie review site Rotten Tomatoes has given Anvil a rating of 98 of 100 - the sad X-Men Origins: Wolverine currently has a 36, so I hope that makes your movie night plans easier for you.)