I went to a screening for MAN ON THE MOON once upon a time. I’d always admired Andy Kaufman, and watching that heartfelt rendering of his genius was personally stirring. Not quite as stirring as standing up after the credits, turning around and seeing his real-life widow sitting behind me. Context is an amazing thing. I wanted to ask her how it felt to have her person penned as “true to life” as possible, and then cast as Courtney Love. That has to sting.
I went to the premiere of ANVIL: THE STORY OF ANVIL two weeks ago. It is now locked in a battle with DIG as my favorite rock documentary. Typically the story of has-been/never-was artists are a series of personal follies, which this was, but centered around somebody’s drug addiction, trashy behavior, adulterous flings with salty hags they found in a time capsule marked “1983”. But this was none of those themes, and that’s why I found it so charming.
To summarize, Anvil (whose songs I heard on a thrash mix tape between Overkill and Nuclear Assault when I was 11) was a heavy metal band from Canada whose talent was unquestioned, but went unrewarded as the industry moved in on acts such as Anthrax and Megadeth. Twenty years later, the group is still starry-eyed, dreaming of the big time, but living the life of fifty-year-old men who have children, wives, houses, and Joe jobs. Although repeated in the press ad nauseum, the film does seem like a real-life SPINAL TAP. There are the tour snafu’s, the girlfriend who takes over managing the group, the empty arenas, night clubs, and concerts, and troubles finding any major label which will distribute their record.
But what strikes the deepest chord is a scene in which frontman Steve “Lips” Kudlow is having a total nervous breakdown in front of the band’s co-founder and drummer Robb Reiner. “There are millions of CD’s sitting on a desk at some label,” I’m paraphrasing, “The man picks up one, signs them, and that band won the rock n’ roll lottery.”
That may be the most profound statement about the world of entertainment anybody has ever uttered, and that’s why the film is brilliant. It truly is a dice roll, regardless of skill, talent, or dues paid. There are only so many who can pass through the grand arches. It may be difficult for some who are used to the idea that a great product sells itself. And it makes perfect sense when you’re young, ambitious, and hungry to push yourself further into the ether than those you had once looked up to, but now resent.
I recall a friend of mine who was auditioning for a certain popular modeling reality show in Los Angeles. She had asked if I could take some pictures of her, write up something witty, and put together a press kit. I did, mostly to humor her, not expecting anything to come of it but. It was a favor for a friend. She got chosen. Not only was she picked, but during her audition she received another offer for a show being filmed for MTV. What a lucky girl!
She called to tell me the news, as ecstatic as a 19-year-old can be, and during my brief congratulatory conversation she said to me the following: “You must know how I feel, having dreamed of being a writer for so long. But my dream came true.”
There was a silence that followed, causing a hellmouth to open somewhere on Earth. I thought of my friend Damie, who had left her home in Texas when she was 16, moved to Hollywood and spent the next eight years living on her own, struggling through various agencies as a model and an actress and barely scraping by but pursuing every lead and fighting for every opportunity. That is dedication. Anvil-like dedication. I had, at the time of the call, gotten my 120th rejection letter, one of those pre-printed “thank you for your interest” cards printed on a half-sheet so they could save cost by printing a double and mail the other half to some other sad bastard. She on the phone had decided to pursue the realm of modeling five weeks prior. This was her first and only effort. Life’s not fair.
ANVIL finished, the credits rolled, people cheered, and then there was the familiar feedback from an electric guitar, the cymbals rattling, the bass tuning up, and just then Anvil performed a live set right there in the Egyptian Theater. The audience loved it. They got their standing ovation.
Good for them.