Steve ‘Lips’ Kudlow’s recollection of the beginnings of his musical union with fellow founder member of Anvil, Robb Reiner, was one of many moments in this movie that set the theatre a-chuckle on the night I went.
It was Toronto, 1973. Reiner, 14 at the time, routinely practised his drums in the family home. Flaying the skins as he played his favourite records through a big mother of a speaker set up in a front window (?!), he attracted the interest of a passing Lips, who approved of the rockin’ sounds blaring forth: “Sabbath, Iron Maiden and Cactus…[afterthought, tone of incredulity and unfettered admiration]… I mean, who likes Cactus, let alone listens to them?!”
Come the 80s, and the boys had their 15 minutes of fame with a world tour and the release of their album Metal On Metal, acknowledged by metal luminaries Slash, Lemmy and Lars Ulrich as a groundbreaker that influenced bands such as Metallica, Slayer and Anthrax. Anvil, though, sunk to obscurity soon after. A common enough tale. Most aspiring rocknrollers end up on rock’s scrap heap in their 30s. But Lips and Reiner had made a pact as teenagers to rock together for life, and they’ve stuck to it!
Whaddayasay about a couple of guys in their 50s who are still playing heavy metal in the band they formed as teenagers, still in the same HM garb, still talkin’ the fuckin’ talk, man, walkin’ the fuckin’ walk, dude, lugging their kit to the few gigs they get offered in local dives empty apart from a few old headbangers pumping devil horn fists, who have attached themselves to the band like barnacles to a leaky old boat…
Well, I dunno what you say, but I say rawknrawl! Why not, if they’re still getting a bang out of it?
But it’s another story altogether when they keep talking about getting a break and making it big – being “rock stars” – before time runs out! That’s when you start thinking…well, what? Hopeless dopers? Greying Peter Pans riding Flying Vs? Losers?
Initially, you can’t help but to see these guys as comedic characters in a mockumentary. But this ain’t no mockup – it’s the real thing, and little by little you begin to take them seriously. Indeed, their long-suffering partners and family never doubt them or their unending devotion to their dream of a second coming. This sort of loyalty against the flow of reason is gratifying, precious – no one else believes in them – and deeply affecting.
By the time they return from a depressingly unsuccessful tour of Europe, during which they play to near-empty venues and are ripped off by unscrupulous club owners, you are feeling their pain, and willing it to stop. But there is worse to come, culminating in a truly heart-rending scene in which Lips cracks under the enormous strain of trying to remain upbeat during a do-or-die recording session. Acclaimed heavy metal sound engineer Chris Tsangarides helps to resolve the crisis, performing admirably in the unlikely role of counsellor!
I’m not going to spoil things for those who may end up seeing this movie (and I recommend you do) by revealing the ending, except to warn that it packs an emotional wallop.
You go into Anvil expecting a real-life Spinal Tap, all ready to guffaw at the expense of a couple of deluded old metalheads. You leave humbled and damn near in tears. It doesn’t matter if, like me, you consider heavy metal a bonehead sideshow of rocknroll. What matters is the indomitable spirit of two brothers-in-arms who share an unshakable conviction in the worth of their beloved band, and their irrational and relentless pursuit against impossible odds of an elusive life-long dream. Belief like that demands respect and is inevitably poignant in its expression, whatever the context.
And in this case, the universe may, at last, have been bullied into coughing up some reward for the ideological war of attrition these guys have waged, which is nothing short of heroic. I hope so – shit, I do. We need stories like this one.
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