July 30, 2009

Anvil! The Legend Grows...

Anvil! The Story of Anvil was one of my favorite films of the past year. Forget Slumdog Millionaire, this rock-doc is the real feel good movie of the year. For those not familiar with the documentary, it tells the story of a Toronto based metal band called Anvil. In the early 80's, they were at the forefront of the metal scene and were often cited as an influence for bands like Megadeth, Metallica and Guns N' Roses. While those bands all rose to fame and fortune, Anvil got left behind. Amazingly, the band never gave up, and this incredible documentary catches up with them today, still gigging, still churning out budget albums, still chasing the dream, and despite everything, still hopelessly, naively thinking that their big break is just around the corner.

The movie is a strange hybrid, really. In many ways, it's quite comical. Most reviews talk about it being a "real life" This is Spinal Tap, but that's really a lazy comparison because both films feature heavy metal bands desperate to taste success. That being said, it is undeniably funny, even if it is unintentionally so. The naive, almost child like "I'm gonna be a rock star" ambition of the middle-aged band members, and the erie sense that perhaps they are the only people that don't realize their window for success closed a long, long time ago make them impossible to dislike, even if you are pitying them at the same time. But what makes the film really compelling, is the heart at its middle. It's really tale of a friendship forged in a mutual admiration for hard rock music and a child-like wonder for what it means to be a "rock star." But more then that, it's two guys who at age 14 said "This is my dream, and I'm never gonna give up until I make it." And here they are today, still rocking, still loyal to each other and still believing they can make it happen. For me, watching the movie I went from sort of snickering at them and thinking "Good God, why don't they just give it up?" to rooting for them and admiring them for their spirit and their drive and their belief that giving up is simply not an option.
The most incredible part of this story is that the film about how they never got their big break, of course, has now become their big break in itself. As the movie started to garner a cult following, the band started doing screenings that were followed by a live gig, and slowly, in a grassroots fashion, the band started playing to bigger audiences, and, for the first time in decades, started to make new fans.

I produced an interview with the band several months ago, when the film was released, and they were excited about the new opportunities that the buzz of the film was creating for them, and since then, I've been following their success and rooting for these guys. And it's been quite a ride. First, I was amazed to see them as the musical guests on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Then came word last month that Anvil was booked to open for AC/DC on tour. (Interestingly, we asked them, when we interviewed them, why they were never offered a gig opening for any of the myriad of bands that have cited them as a big influence. Lipps, the lead singer, gave a very political answer about how it depends on whether the promoter of the tour owed a favor to so-and-so and whether the record label for the headlining act had a personal agenda to support such-and-such a band, blah blah blah, but you got the feeling what he was really thinking was I've been asking myself that same question for twenty years! So I was quite pleased to see that that exact situation had come to fruition.

So now, with the DVD for Anvil! The Story of Anvil slated for release in September, the band has added another funny chapter to their colorful history. WIth a renewed interest in the band, you would think their back catalog would be doing brisk business, but the bulk of their albums were essentially self-made and put out by a series of fly-by-night labels which means if you didn't buy the album at a gig around the time it came out, good luck finding any of it. A soundtrack to a film about a rock band seems like a no-brainer, but when producers tried to assemble an Anvil "Greatest HIts" record to serve as the official sound track to Anvil! The Story of Anvil they discovered the label that owns their old catalog stuff wanted an absurd amount to license the tracks. The solution? Anvil went back into the studio and have re-recorded their classic tracks, some of which dates back to the early 1980's. Surely this is a first ... has a band ever had to re-record their own material in order to put out a Greatest Hits album?

Honestly, that sounds like it's straight out of This Is Spinal Tap!

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