The Films That Made Us: This is Spinal Tap

With the forthcoming anticipated release of the eponymously titled BUNCH OF KUNST, a documentary about the artistically gifted and coprolalically challenged Sleaford Mods, it falls upon me to write about my favourite music documentary EVER.

This is Spinal Tap. Obviously.  

Here follows a coming of age story, one that I’m willing to sell to Freemantle Media for one of their X-Factor contestants to use as their emotional back-story.

Picture the scene: an innocent, naïve, sheltered young girl, with a rural upbringing, tentatively forging her identity (non-conforming, along with the rest of ‘em) and longing for freedom. She is nineteen. She is saving her precious virginity for The One. She goes to the pub, and lo! there he is, The One, behind the microphone in the ‘70s glam-rock throwback outfit (think more T-Rex than New York Dolls), and he captivates her with his voice like sand and glue…

…To cut a long story short, she falls hard for him, he promises her the world, she believes him, he cheats on her (he is a musician), she is heart-broken and the rest of her emotardinal history is formed. But not before he had done the one good thing for which she will be forever indebted to him: he introduced her to the joys of Spinal Pap.

She will, one day, be able to look back on that time, and some laughter will come.

This was a film unlike anything she had seen before, so paradoxical: quintessentially British – but made and acted by Americans (she took some years to come to that truth); very funny - yet very sad; dumb - but philosophical; talented - yet crap; so real - yet fictitious; a fine line between stupid and, uh…

Yes, so she was naïve, but she didn’t really think it was documenting a real band… or did she?

Or was it?

Either way, it doesn’t matter. You could write a mind-bending thesis discussing whether this mockumentary counts as a documentary, because they were a real band, in the end. Weren’t they?

[NB If you think it’s cheating, check out my blog post about my other favourite music docs STOP MAKING SENSE and BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB].

Not long after Spinal Tap scissor-kicked into her life, her best friend, also nineteen, dated the brother of one of the drummers in the documentary - not sure if it was the one who died in a bizarre gardening accident, or the one who spontaneously combusted (his dad was Animal in The Muppets, but dropping no names here). I don’t think she was particularly into him (he was obviously delighted, being that much older – Jurassic Marc was his nickname), but the tenuous Spinal Tap connection was palpable enough to make it an exciting venture.

Spinal Tap influenced not just the music industry but also popular culture, nothing like it had come before, but plenty has since (Anvil, Flight of the Conchords, The Office, Borat). Barely a day goes by when you don’t hear someone asking to turn it up to number 11, or figuring out the quandary of how to fold German bread without it ending like the two-word review of the album Shark Sandwich [“Shit Sandwich”], or running around lost in a basement shouting “Hello Cleveland!”; or playing a Mozart and Bach inspired piece in D Minor on the piano called ‘Lick my Love Pump’.

Since then, this naïve girl has been on tour with many bands and has met many Janine’s – and been Janine herself – and is still trying to work out, on her fingers, what was wrong with the maths that ended up with the tiny Stonehenge.

But ultimately, in hindsight, it’s the film’s most existential lesson that stuck with that nineteen year-old: Who we think we are, is not necessarily how the world perceives us to be.

[Lydia Penke, Curzon Head Office]

This piece is part of our ongoing series The Films That Made Us. Follow us on twitterFacebook and Instagram to discover more!

Ryan Hewitt