This is Spinal Tap

“This is Spinal Tap.” No, it’s not; it’s HEAVEN!

I am such a Christopher Guest Groupie. You will be seeing a lot of his name in my entries here. I’ve read that he’s rather standoffish in person. He wouldn’t have that option with me. If I ever met him, I would do the same thing I would do if I ever met Barack Obama, which is to say I would embarrass myself something fierce. I would blather “Ohhhhhhh, Mr. Guest/President, I LOVE you! Ohhhhhhh! I LOVE you SO much!”

This claim of self-confident abandon in the presence of fame is all bravado on my part, because I also adore Michael McKean, and my husband and I recently saw him at a Neil Finn concert and my husband wanted to go over and tell him what fans we are and I panicked and ran off to the bathroom whining, “Leave him alone! Don’t interrupt his evening!” I don’t think my husband will ever forgive me for this.

When I met my husband, I owned a VHS copy of “This is Spinal Tap” that I had recorded off the t.v. years before (great, now the FBI will be breaking down my door; I’m such a blabbermouth). Tom had a DVD copy he bought. That, and the fact that my cat Faith loved him immediately, was what clued me in to what a great catch Tom is. Something there is that loves a man who owns a DVD copy of “This is Spinal Tap.”

I’ve spoken to one or two people who said they just didn’t get this movie and that they don’t much like it. Any disagreement about the merits of “This is Spinal Tap” does not raise an issue of “different strokes for different folks” or “to each his own” or “one man’s meat is another man’s poison” or any other “live and let live” claptrap. It raises an issue of mental health. Anyone who doesn’t like “This is Spinal Tap” is insane.

Let me get my one quarrel with this perfect movie out of the way immediately so we can forge ahead and pretend it never happened. Where is Eugene Levy? What was he doing when this film was being shot that was so important he couldn’t join in? Maybe he hadn’t yet met Christopher Guest and begun their collaboration, but I feel an excuse like that is just mincing words. I’m sure there’s a valid explanation, but I am curious. So if anyone knows, please advise. An e-mail on this subject from either Eugene Levy or Christopher Guest would really brighten my day; thanks, Gentlemen.

In writing an homage to “This is Spinal Tap,” I’m sure I’m not the only person who would be tempted to just type the entire script word-for-word. There are so many absolutely perfect and hilarious moments, I really don’t know where to begin gushing. Did you notice that the mime waiter being supervised by Billy Crystal is Dana Carvey? Billy tells Dana not to talk back (which Dana is doing using his hands and without speaking, being a mime ‘n stuff) because “Mime is money.” Brilliant! Who writes this stuff? Or, who improvises it? Either way, it’s priceless.

The characters, the characters, the characters. Their names. Nigel Tufnel. David St. Hubbins. Ed Begley Jr. in a cameo as one of the deceased former drummers of the band, is John “Stumpy” Pepys, or, as Nigel fondly recalls, “The Peeper!” Patrick MacNee, a.k.a. John Steed of “The Avengers,” is Sir Denis Eton-Hogg, head of the band’s record company and founder of Hoggwood, a “summer camp for pale young boys.” And Fran Drescher is “Bobbi Flekman, the hostess with the mostess.” Sublime.

Paul Benedict, though we don’t discover his name in the movie but a trip to imdb.com reveals, is Tucker “Smitty” Brown, the clerk at the hotel who informs the band’s manager that their reservation has been screwed up and instead of getting seven rooms, they’ve been reserved one room on the seventh floor. The manager, Ian Faith, named after my girl cat Faith, complains to another employee about the mix up and, referring to Paul Benedict’s character says, “…and this twisted old fruit…,” to which Paul Benedict responds, archly and with wounded dignity, “I’m just as God made me.” A paean to understanding and, we can only hope, a righteous rebuke that Ian will one day come to acknowledge and absorb.

Rob Reiner’s character is named Marty DiBergi. There’s something about that name that cracks me up, though I’m at a loss to articulate what exactly it is.

The lines, the lines, the lines. Bobbi Flekman marvels at the cover of the band’s latest album, “Smell the Glove” and chastises the boys about it. Stores won’t sell it because it shows a naked, greased woman on all fours wearing a dog collar, with a man’s arm holding a glove thrust in her face for her to smell. Ian, the manager, comments, “You should have seen what they wanted her to smell. It wasn’t a glove, let me tell you.” When Bobbi demands, “You don’t think that’s sexist?,” Nigel responds, “What’s wrong with being sexy?”

Marti DiBergi comments to the boys that their album “Shark Sandwich” garnered a two-word review, “Shit Sandwich.” “Shit,” is, I think, a funny word in general, and it does not disappoint in this context.

David’s girlfriend takes over as manager of the group when Ian quits. Nigel hates her, so he quits too. She gets the remaining band members a gig at an amusement park. They head for the theatre. She sees the marquee, and so do we. “Oh, no,” she wails, and so do we. “If I’ve told them once, I’ve told them a thousand times. First ‘Spinal Tap,’ then ‘Puppet Show.’”

The situations, the situations, the situations. The band wants to recreate its Stonehenge set because their song about Stonehenge used to be a huge hit for them. So they give Anjelica Huston a paper napkin with the design sketched on it so she can build a set piece of the massive British treasure. Except the sketch indicates inches instead of feet, so she creates scenery that wouldn’t come up to my knees and I’m quite short.

The band gets lost in the tunnels underneath the theatre on the way to a performance. The food in the green room is wrong. Some of the olives have pimentos inside, others are empty. “Look in here,” Nigel complains, thrusting an olive in Ian’s face. “There’s no one home.” Harry Shearer gets stuck inside a pod during a performance and has to be freed with a torch. Fred Willard (a.k.a. god – okay, okay with a lower case “g”) leads them to a gig at an Air Force base for the Friday night social and the performance is ruined when broadcasts from the flight tower interrupt the songs over the P.A. system.

Things get worse before they get better, but they do get better and that’s what matters because we love these musicians and we want them to tour Japan and we want Nigel and David to be friends again and we want David’s stupid girlfriend to be fired as manager. Oh, yeah, I could have lived without the cold sore that migrates from band member to band member, but I’m more than a little squeamish, so others may have found this hilarious. I’m just saying.

The songs are absolutely brilliant. “Big Bottom.” What more can be said? We even get to see vintage black and white footage of bands the two founding members were in before Spinal Tap. One of their songs, performed on the British 1960s television hit “Pop, Look, and Listen” has lyrics which include “Quit wasting my time; You know what I want; You know what I need; Or maybe you don’t; Do I have to come right flat out and tell you everything?; Give me some money.” Tom and I often walk around the house singing this. It’s not because we’re freakish or obsessive or lacking cash; the melody happens to be quite hummable, thank you very much.

This movie can be watched again and again. It should and must be. Watching this movie repeatedly is the opposite of that oft-quoted, much-floated definition of insanity, i.e., that insanity constitutes doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. In the case of “This is Spinal Tap,” we expect and receive the same result over and over again – knee-slapping, gut-aching comedy – and that’s just fine with us and it should be fine with Tom Cruise and The National Institute of Mental Health as well. Really, watching “This is Spinal Tap” vivifies (forgive the play on words based on the upcoming name) the essence of keyboard player Viv Savage’s response when he’s asked by Marti DiBergi what his life’s philosophy is. “Have a good time all the time. That’s my philosophy, Marti.”

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