Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. In Ancient Times, Hundreds of Years Before the Dawn of History…

 

…lived an ancient race of people, the Druids.
No one knows who they were or what they were doing
But their legacy remains, hewn into the living rock of Stonehenge…

‘Tis May, when our thoughts turn to parody. And what is the greatest parody of all time? Oh there are many that rate a 10 on the Gossamercat-o-meter. Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, The Rutles, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, A Mighty Wind. But only one rates an 11. That’s right: This Is Spinal Tap, the original mockumentary. The hard rock masterpiece featuring David St. Hubbins, Nigel Tufnel and Derek Smalls, the rocking and clueless alter egos of Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, and Harry Shearer. Not even the presence of Rob Reiner can diminish its place as the pinnacle of parody. The movie was released in 1984, back when he was amusing and not insufferable.

And give yourself an 11 too if you recognized the title as the intro to their magnum opus “Stonehenge,” “where the demons dwell, where the banshees live and they do live well.

The first time I saw it in 1984, I laughed so hard my jaw hurt and my stomach muscles were sore the next day. They captured everything absurd about Rock’n’Roll. The hair, the history, the music, the clothes, the accents, the bombast, the tenuous tenures of drummers, the “bits and pieces of every Eastern religion.” And, of course, those classic lines:

  1.  “I believe virtually everything I read, and I think that is what makes me more of a selective human than someone who doesn’t believe anything.” — David St. Hubbins
  2. “It’s written in D minor, which I always find the saddest of all keys…it makes people weep instantly.” — Nigel Tufnel
  3. “I’m really influenced by Mozart and Bach, and it’s sort of in between those, really. It’s like a Mach piece.” — Nigel Tufnel
  4. “David and Nigel are like poets, you know, like Shelley or Byron, or people like that. The two totally distinct types of visionaries, it’s like fire and ice, and I feel my role in the band is to be kind of the middle of that, kind of like lukewarm water.” — Derek Smalls
  5. “It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.” — David St Hubbins and Nigel Tufnel
  6. “Well… don’t point! It can’t be played.” — Nigel Tufnel on his guitar collection
  7. “We say ‘love your brother.’ Well, we don’t say it literally. We don’t mean it literally. But we’re not racists.” — David St. Hubbins and Nigel Tufnel on why their audience is predominantly white.
  8. “I don’t want this. I want large bread.” — Nigel Tufnel on his mystifying hors d’oeuvres
  9. “It’s like, how much more black could this be? And the answer is none. None more black.” — Nigel Tufnel on their all-black album cover
  10. “I do not, for one, think that the problem was that the band was down. I think that the problem may have been, that there was a Stonehenge monument on the stage that was in danger of being crushed by a dwarf. Alright? That tended to understate the hugeness of the object.” — David St. Hubbins
  11. “Well, it’s one louder, isn’t it?” — Nigel Tufnel on his custom amplifier (it goes to 11!)

Apparently, all of these lines were improvised, as Rob Reiner and the others early on gave up on writing a screenplay and just provided the actors with a general outline for the scenes. None of the actors knew what questions were going to be asked, according to an interview in 2019. In order to do this successfully, they had to create a detailed history of the band so that all the actors knew the same things. (Quick, what was their original name? Answer: The Originals, until they became the New Originals then the Thamesmen). They made a 20-minute short to shop to the studios in lieu of a screenplay. There were no takers at first, but eventually Norman Lear agreed to back the film.

You have to love Rock’n’Roll to love the movie. But you also have to get the joke. The actors were so spot-on in their characterizations and their songs, that many people didn’t quite get the film, thinking it was a real film about an obscure band. A really bad obscure band. And who is to say it wasn’t?

The cinematographer on the film, who had worked on documentaries of Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones, didn’t find it particularly funny because “These things really happen.” In fact, many of the funniest scenes in the film were based loosely on real-life incidents.

The “complete catastrophe” of the hors d’oeuvres provided to Nigel was based on a story about Van Halen supposedly asking for all the brown M&M’s to be removed from their dressing room. According to Rob Reiner, Black Sabbath accused them of stealing the Stonehenge idea, as they started a tour with that theme just before the movie was released. It didn’t occur to them that it takes a while to shoot and edit a film. But in a case of life imitating art — and I actually find this hard to believe — Black Sabbath also experienced an epic prop malfunction in their tour according to this article. Only their Stonehenge was too big rather than too small. And just as in the film, units were to blame, with Black Sabbath specifying 15 meters instead of 15 feet. But generally the film is beloved by rockers — Sting apparently weeps when he sees it, both from laughter and nostalgia (Vanity Fair).

The film didn’t do that well when first released. I did my part, seeing it three times. But it soon gained a cult following and in 2002, This is Spinal Tap was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress, and was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry. This is Spinal Tap was described as “one of the single most influential movies of the past thirty-five years” by critic Jeremy Arnold as it “effectively launched a new genre—the mockumentary” (quoted in Wikipedia).

And of course, Tap lives! As the actors have so successfully blurred the line not only between stupid and clever, but fact and fiction, they have frequently gone on tour in character over the years. They conducted a world tour in 2009 (but with only one date). And in another case of life imitating art, they’ve gone through a few drummers, but as far as I know, not because of bizarre gardening accidents or spontaneous combustion. I was fortunate to see them in a concert in Southern California in the early 2000s. I believe it was sponsored by Depends Adult Diapers.

So like the Druids, Spinal Tap’s legacy will live on, hewn into the living farce of my favorite parody of all time.

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  1. Flicker Coolidge

    I, too, believe virtually everything I read, and I think that is what makes me more of a selective human than someone who doesn’t believe anything.

    I quoted this in a comment, to be light-hearted, here on Ricochet a week or two ago. It never fades. Some people may not get it, though.

    AND: “Up to eleven” is now accepted and staid political jargon, not a joke or a quip.

    • #1
    • May 24, 2020, at 1:53 AM PDT
    • 14 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  2. Arahant Member

    The best part was that when they went on tour, it was doing two bands, both Spinal Tap and their band from The Mighty Wind, with one opening for the other.

    This movie was also the one that seems to have started that group making movies together. Too bad Fred Willard died. He was often the best part of the movies.

    • #2
    • May 24, 2020, at 2:35 AM PDT
    • 12 likes
  3. Patrick McClure Coolidge

     Break Like the Wind always brings a tear to my eye.

    • #3
    • May 24, 2020, at 4:29 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  4. JosePluma Thatcher

    …What would they say to us if we were here today?

    Every time someone mentions Boston, I say “It’s not a big college town.”

    My daughter, a librarian in Massachusetts, is not fond of that particular joke.

    • #4
    • May 24, 2020, at 5:49 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  5. WI Con Member
    WI Con Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    That was one of the only movies I’ve insisted that my kids watch that I find uproariously funny, they “got” (the other was Young Frankenstein). 

    I still love it. I actually have the disc (yes, the CD) in the car – Love the beat & baseline of “Tonight I’m gonna Rock It!”

    The black & white cut-aways to their 60’s TV appearances, Ed Begley as their first drummer…

    • #5
    • May 24, 2020, at 7:04 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  6. Bruce Caward Thatcher
    Bruce Caward Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Another one I use all the time: “I’m just as God made me, sir!”

    And of course “Dubly”. I don’t think I’ve said “Dolby” since 1984. (Who did Blinded Me With Science? Thomas Dubly.)

    • #6
    • May 24, 2020, at 7:07 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  7. RightAngles Member

    So hilarious!! My sister and I cracked up over this one, A Mighty Wind, and Best in Show.

    • #7
    • May 24, 2020, at 8:24 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  8. Kephalithos Member

    One of my dreams is to visit England, stand in front of Stonehenge, and utter “Stone’enge” in Tufnelian Cockney. Afterward, I’ll travel to the Isle of Lucy for their famous blues-jazz festival . . . or is it a jazz-blues festival? I can never remember.

    • #8
    • May 24, 2020, at 8:45 AM PDT
    • 8 likes
  9. Kephalithos Member

    RightAngles (View Comment): So hilarious!! My sister and I cracked up over this one, A Mighty Wind, and Best in Show.

    Waiting for Guffman is great, too.

    • #9
    • May 24, 2020, at 8:46 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  10. Franco Member
    Franco Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Great, absolutely great, write up! Certainly a great movie!

    I just sent links to this movie to three people who had never heard of it no more than last week.

    The subject came up talking about Better Call Saul, a fine series but not a parody, which happens to feature Michael McKean in a serious role as Jimmy’s older brother, who I didn’t recognize until I was told myself. So when I tell people, you know the Chuck Mc Gill character was the lead singer in Spinal Tap, they say, what’s Spinal Tap? And I say, you’re kidding me (!) and send the link.

    Here is a clip on McKean the actor on Saul ( a truly great and under-recognized series)

    • #10
    • May 24, 2020, at 9:32 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  11. Arahant Member

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    So hilarious!! My sister and I cracked up over this one, A Mighty Wind, and Best in Show.

    Have you seen Waiting for Guffman? Or For Your Consideration?

    • #11
    • May 24, 2020, at 9:33 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  12. Gossamer Cat Coolidge
    Gossamer Cat

    Franco (View Comment):

    Great, absolutely great, write up! Certainly a great movie!

    I just sent links to this movie to three people who had never heard of it no more than last week.

    The subject came up talking about Better Call Saul, afine series but not a parody, which happens to feature Michael McKean in a serious role as Jimmy’s older brother, who I didn’t recognize until I was told myself. So when I tell people, you know the Chuck Mc Gill character was the lead singer in Spinal Tap, they say, what’s Spinal Tap? And I say, you’re kidding me (!) and send the link.

    Here is a clip on McKean the actor on Saul ( a truly great and under-recognized series)

    Boy he is a chameleon isn’t he? I will check out the series.

     

    • #12
    • May 24, 2020, at 10:02 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  13. Gossamer Cat Coolidge
    Gossamer Cat

    Arahant (View Comment):

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    So hilarious!! My sister and I cracked up over this one, A Mighty Wind, and Best in Show.

    Have you seen Waiting for Guffman? Or For Your Consideration?

    I remember chuckling at Waiting for Guffman but not loving it perhaps I need to give it another look.

     

    • #13
    • May 24, 2020, at 10:04 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  14. Arahant Member

    Gossamer Cat (View Comment):
    Boy he is a chameleon isn’t he? I will check out the series.

    28 Wacky TV/Movie Neighbors | Happy, Dr. who and Happy day

    Yep.

    • #14
    • May 24, 2020, at 10:28 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  15. Bruce Caward Thatcher
    Bruce Caward Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Gossamer Cat (View Comment):

    Franco (View Comment):

    Great, absolutely great, write up! Certainly a great movie!

    I just sent links to this movie to three people who had never heard of it no more than last week.

    The subject came up talking about Better Call Saul, afine series but not a parody, which happens to feature Michael McKean in a serious role as Jimmy’s older brother, who I didn’t recognize until I was told myself. So when I tell people, you know the Chuck Mc Gill character was the lead singer in Spinal Tap, they say, what’s Spinal Tap? And I say, you’re kidding me (!) and send the link.

    Here is a clip on McKean the actor on Saul ( a truly great and under-recognized series)

    Boy he is a chameleon isn’t he? I will check out the series.

     

    This is a great, great show – one of the best. Better if you’ve seen Breaking Bad first, but not strictly necessary.

    David St. Hubbin’s role in this show is an extraordinary performance. If you have appreciated Michael McKean, you won’t believe him in this. Comedians always get pathos like no others.

    • #15
    • May 24, 2020, at 11:37 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  16. kelsurprise, drama queen Member
    kelsurprise, drama queen Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Running joke between my Artistic Director friend and me, every time one of us runs into an actor one of us knows:

    “So who was that?”

    “Actor I did a show with, ages ago.”

    “He seemed nice.”

    “Eh, this much talent. I carried him, really . . .”

    • #16
    • May 24, 2020, at 11:46 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  17. Barfly Member

    Gossamer Cat: The movie was released in 1984, back when he was amusing and not insufferable.

    [The quoted comment refers to Rob Reiner.] Reiner was funny AH in that movie, so props to him. His arm-crossing-failure was exquisite physical comedy. 

    • #17
    • May 24, 2020, at 11:48 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  18. Barfly Member

    Gossamer Cat: You have to love Rock’n’Roll to love the movie. But you also have to get the joke. The actors were so spot-on in their characterizations and their songs, that many people didn’t quite get the film, thinking it was a real film about an obscure band. A really bad obscure band. And who is to say it wasn’t?

    I recall a bunch of kids I was working with discovering Spinal Tap when they released an album – it was probably late in the 80’s. One, I remember being amused that they weren’t aware of the joke. Two, I remember it was pretty ok rock and roll. Are they any more of a joke than, say, Alice Cooper? Do not try to tell me Alice Cooper isn’t rock and roll.

    • #18
    • May 24, 2020, at 11:52 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  19. Judge Mental Member

    Barfly (View Comment):

    Gossamer Cat: You have to love Rock’n’Roll to love the movie. But you also have to get the joke. The actors were so spot-on in their characterizations and their songs, that many people didn’t quite get the film, thinking it was a real film about an obscure band. A really bad obscure band. And who is to say it wasn’t?

    I recall a bunch of kids I was working with discovering Spinal Tap when they released an album – it was probably late in the 80’s. One, I remember being amused that they weren’t aware of the joke. Two, I remember it was pretty ok rock and roll. Are they any more of a joke than, say, Alice Cooper? Do not try to tell me Alice Cooper isn’t rock and roll.

    Let’s try to remember that the Archies had a number one hit song.

    • #19
    • May 24, 2020, at 12:00 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  20. Judge Mental Member

    Barfly (View Comment):

    Gossamer Cat: The movie was released in 1984, back when he was amusing and not insufferable.

    [The quoted comment refers to Rob Reiner.] Reiner was funny AH in that movie, so props to him. His arm-crossing-failure was exquisite physical comedy.

    Funny or not, to be entirely accurate, Rob Reiner was insufferable years before that movie was made.

    • #20
    • May 24, 2020, at 12:01 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  21. Gossamer Cat Coolidge
    Gossamer Cat

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Barfly (View Comment):

    Gossamer Cat: The movie was released in 1984, back when he was amusing and not insufferable.

    [The quoted comment refers to Rob Reiner.] Reiner was funny AH in that movie, so props to him. His arm-crossing-failure was exquisite physical comedy.

    Funny or not, to be entirely accurate, Rob Reiner was insufferable years before that movie was made.

    Perhaps I just didn’t know it before he got a twitter account.

    • #21
    • May 24, 2020, at 12:39 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  22. Gossamer Cat Coolidge
    Gossamer Cat

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Barfly (View Comment):

    Gossamer Cat: You have to love Rock’n’Roll to love the movie. But you also have to get the joke. The actors were so spot-on in their characterizations and their songs, that many people didn’t quite get the film, thinking it was a real film about an obscure band. A really bad obscure band. And who is to say it wasn’t?

    I recall a bunch of kids I was working with discovering Spinal Tap when they released an album – it was probably late in the 80’s. One, I remember being amused that they weren’t aware of the joke. Two, I remember it was pretty ok rock and roll. Are they any more of a joke than, say, Alice Cooper? Do not try to tell me Alice Cooper isn’t rock and roll.

    Let’s try to remember that the Archies had a number one hit song.

    You have to be careful who you pretend to be because you are who you pretend to be!

    • #22
    • May 24, 2020, at 12:41 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  23. Vance Richards Inactive
    Vance Richards Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    They played it at my college when it first came out. I even bought the album, which really was all black with no writing on it.

    Since then I often find myself laughing at real documentaries . . . just the way people take themselves so seriously.

    Gossamer Cat: “I’m really influenced by Mozart and Bach, and it’s sort of in between those, really. It’s like a Mach piece.”

    And if I remember correctly the name of that sweet tune was “Lick My Love Pump”

    • #23
    • May 24, 2020, at 2:18 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  24. Arahant Member

    Vance Richards (View Comment):
    And if I remember correctly the name of that sweet tune was “Lick My Love Pump”

    That does sound like something by Mozart…

    • #24
    • May 24, 2020, at 2:20 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  25. Gossamer Cat Coolidge
    Gossamer Cat

    Vance Richards (View Comment):

    They played it at my college when it first came out. I even bought the album, which really was all black with no writing on it.

    Since then I often find myself laughing at real documentaries . . . just the way people take themselves so seriously.

    Gossamer Cat: “I’m really influenced by Mozart and Bach, and it’s sort of in between those, really. It’s like a Mach piece.”

    And if I remember correctly the name of that sweet tune was “Lick My Love Pump”

    I’m afraid it was. I deliberately left out that detail.

    • #25
    • May 24, 2020, at 3:01 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  26. Gossamer Cat Coolidge
    Gossamer Cat

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Vance Richards (View Comment):
    And if I remember correctly the name of that sweet tune was “Lick My Love Pump”

    That does sound like something by Mozart…

    You get a lot of mileage out of that clip.

    • #26
    • May 24, 2020, at 3:02 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  27. Arahant Member

    Gossamer Cat (View Comment):
    You get a lot of mileage out of that clip.

    It’s Mozart! Come on, Man! (In best Joe Biden voice.)

    • #27
    • May 24, 2020, at 3:15 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  28. Danny Alexander Member

    The film’s masterful blurring of the line between true rock’n’roll anecdote and screenplay device extended into some of the most incredibly subtle elements one can imagine.

    I say this with particular reference to the fact that the band’s “tour wrap-up party,” held on a rooftop in LA, was in fact situated on not just any old rooftop but on the rooftop of the International Hyatt House — otherwise known as the “Riot House” of hard-living rocker lore.

    The hotel was a notorious favorite of major British touring acts such as Led Zeppelin during their circa-1970s LA stopovers — trashings of entire floors were not unheard of. Jaw-dropping episodes of debauchery there, typically with random groupies, were almost like table stakes for bands seeking to burnish their various legends.

    So as locations go, this was an amazingly inspired choice — at least as far as those “in the know” were concerned (and I wasn’t in the know until decades later…).

    • #28
    • May 24, 2020, at 3:53 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  29. Bruce Caward Thatcher
    Bruce Caward Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Barfly (View Comment):

    Gossamer Cat: You have to love Rock’n’Roll to love the movie. But you also have to get the joke. The actors were so spot-on in their characterizations and their songs, that many people didn’t quite get the film, thinking it was a real film about an obscure band. A really bad obscure band. And who is to say it wasn’t?

    I recall a bunch of kids I was working with discovering Spinal Tap when they released an album – it was probably late in the 80’s. One, I remember being amused that they weren’t aware of the joke. Two, I remember it was pretty ok rock and roll. Are they any more of a joke than, say, Alice Cooper? Do not try to tell me Alice Cooper isn’t rock and roll.

    One tiny little spot in this movie I always loved was when they’re being interviewed about their beginnings. They laughingly dismiss their first attempt at songwriting, a song called “All the Way Home”. They throw together a quick acapella version on the spot, snapping their fingers to the rhythm, then shake their heads at their naivete. But it’s the best song they do! A completely non-ironic, catchy pop song. I hope to God this was intentional and not my imagination.

    • #29
    • May 24, 2020, at 4:26 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  30. Bruce Caward Thatcher
    Bruce Caward Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Of course “Listen To What the Flower People Say” and “Gimme Some Money” were not bad either.

    • #30
    • May 24, 2020, at 4:30 PM PDT
    • 3 likes