Today is 11/11/11, and apart from being the Armistice (which everyone seems to have completely forgotten about anyway), you’ve probably read elsewhere that it’s been dubbed Nigel Tufnell day — because it goes up to 11! Get it?! Anyway, being as we’re massive fans of This Is Spinal Tap and need no encouragement to watch it again, we’ll definitely be sitting down to it tonight. But today’s emphasis on the greatest mockumentary ever made also got us thinking about the times when the truth of rock ‘n’ roll has proven stranger than fiction — so here are five real life Spinal Tap moments that’d make even David St. Hubbins blanch.
U2 get stuck in a lemon, 1997
U2 had a problem for the PopMart tour — their previous tour, the Zoo TV extravaganza, had set a new standard for stadium rock stage dressing. With PopMart, they faced either trying to outdo Zoo TV or scaling the show back and getting on with just, y’know, playing the music. Of course, they chose the former option, and the result was a production that encompassed a 165-foot-wide LED screen, a 100-foot cocktail stick (complete with olive), and a giant motorized lemon, from which the band would emerge for the encore. The thing was, however, that the lemon had a nasty habit of malfunctioning. In particular, it jammed completely during a show in Oslo, stranding the band inside. “All we could do,” the Edge later reflected, “was laugh.”
Venom promise something that’s going to “kick your balls off,” 1986
Spinal Tap’s onstage banter is the stuff of legend, but it’s arguably trumped by UK black metal band Venom’s legendary work on their joint headline tour with Black Flag in 1986. Happily, a Black Flag roadie was on hand to record one of the band’s sets from the desk, cut out the actual music, and then release Venom singer Cronos’s inter-song pronouncements as a bootleg on Thurston Moore’s Ecstatic Peace label. It’s hilarious, and you can hear it in its entirety above. Our favorite bit: “You want to hear something really loud? You want to hear something that’s going to kick your balls off?!” (Credit where it’s due, too — we discovered this via WFMU’s Best of the Blog, who published a write-up on the story a few years back that’s almost as funny as the original recording.)
A snake shits on Alice Cooper, 2004
There’s never been a more hilariously malfunctioning stage prop than Spinal Tap’s miniature Stonehenge, but Alice Cooper was undermined almost as dramatically by his boa constrictor at a show in LA during 2004, when it decided to take a shit mid-show. All over Alice. It can’t have been fun, although Cooper was later able to see the funny side: “In 30 years, I’ve never had a snake defecate on stage, and this one decided that was gonna be the night. And let me tell you something: There is nothing on this planet more foul… It left, I’d say, about eight piles that if you saw it, you’d say a Doberman pinscher or a Great Dane would have left a pile like that — and all down the side of my stage clothes.” Ewwww.
James Hetfield goes hunting bears, 2001
If you didn’t know better, you’d swear that Some Kind of Monster was actually just a belated sequel to This Is Spinal Tap. In fairness, it’s impressive that Metallica were open enough to give the filmmakers the amount of access that they did, but the resultant documentary was continually cringe-inducing viewing, from the infamous Dave Mustaine interview to the part where Dr. Phil (no, not that one) basically tries to join the band. But if there’s one moment that encapsulates the degree to which Metallica are entirely removed from reality, it’s James Hetfield’s decision to skip his son’s first birthday… to go hunting bears. In Russia. (Skip forward to about 8:00 to see the relevant footage.)
Speaking of real life Spinal Taps, though, they don’t come any more tragicomic than the career of Canadian metal also-rans Anvil, which was catalogued in the 2008 documentary film Anvil! The Story of Anvil. The film follows the eminently likeable but terminally unsuccessful band on a world tour that has horrible echoes of Spinal Tap’s post-Tufnel travails around air force bases and country fairs, and even ends with a lucrative offer to tour Japan. You honestly couldn’t make it up.
New Yorkers take note: This Is Spinal Tap is screening tonight at BAMcinématek at 7pm and 11:11pm; at the earlier show, catch bassist “Derek Smalls” (Harry Shearer) and “Nigel Tufnel” (Christopher Guest) for a Q&A via Skype.