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Music DVD Review: Anvil: The Story of Anvil

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If ever there was a story that needs to be told about how the music industry eats its own, The Story of Anvil is that story. As funny as much of this film is, it is also in many ways a cautionary tale.

In its limited theatrical release, this story of the real life Spinal Tap got considerable attention, and to be flat-out honest, that is exactly what initially drew me to it.

The joke factor here was obvious. Anvil: The Story of Anvil is the story of an eighties hair-metal band — complete with every possible stereotype you could ever imagine — who had their brief moment in the sun, sharing concert bills with the likes of Bon Jovi and the Scorpions, before slipping into obscurity.

And honestly, I've never particularly cared for the brand of hair-metal that bands like Anvil play. But the thing is, watching a film like this one gives you an entirely different perspective on the inner-workings of how the music business actually works, and how quickly they discard their own like yesterday's rubbish.

I signed up to watch this expecting to get a good laugh with lots of music-biz insider jokes — which I got. What I didn't expect, though, was to instead find myself inexplicably not only reaching for my hankie, but ultimately actually rooting for these guys.

Anvil: The Story of Anvil is an undeniable hoot in many ways, but it is also one of the saddest real-life rock-docs I have ever seen. It begins with Anvil's brief moment of glory headlining some sort of eighties Monsters Of Rock type deal with bands like Whitesnake, and then abruptly shifts to the present-day reality of a band whose members work day jobs in factories, and play gigs before maybe 100 people.

The opening credits say it all. Anvil is shown at a mega-concert with bands such as The Scorpions and the like, who all went on to sell millions of records — while one did not. Guess who that was?

Rock stars like Metallica's Lars Ulrich and Guns N' Roses' Slash offer up all their due accolades and respect. But in the end it all feels tragically empty, and you find yourself asking, "So where are these guys now?"

The thing is, even though these guys — especially the main players in Anvil, Robb Reiner (now there's a Spinal Tap connection if ever there was one), and Steve "Lips" Kudlow — may be down, they are never out.

Anvil: The Story of Anvil tells both the story of the enduring friendship of these two principal players, as well as their unwavering dedication to the idea that they still have a shot at the big prize of rock stardom. You see them with their families. You see them playing shitholes in Europe, being hopelessly mismanaged, getting dissed by their rock heroes, nearly coming to fisticuffs, and yet ultimately still refusing to give up their dreams.

And in the end, for all of their misguided dedication to a rock era which has clearly passed them by some twenty years or so — you find yourself rooting for them. I know I sure as hell did.

More than anything, Anvil: The Story of Anvil is a story which reveals how  morally bankrupt the music industry actually is — and how they throw away yesterday's hitmakers as though they were trash. Watching that part of this film really sucks, actually.

I went into this DVD expecting to get a good laugh, and instead found myself choking back tears. And although this film has brought Anvil more attention then they have received in decades — they've been on Kimmel, VH1 and the like — I am equally sure that by this time next month they'll be back working their day jobs. That's just the way that this business works.

And it couldn't happen to a bunch of nicer, hard working guys. To any would-be rock stars with bright lights in their eyes, I cannot recommend watching this DVD highly enough. There is some hard reality here. Yes, you'll get some laughs, but you might also learn something.

Anvil: The Story of Anvil comes out this Tuesday, October 6.

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About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at The Rockologist, and at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.
  • Greg Barbrick

    Good review Glen. You should hear This Is Thirteen, it rocks. Hey, with hair-metal revivalists like Scott on board, who knows? Maybe Anvil will make it yet.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Thanks Greg. Yeah these guys are right up Scott’s alley. Mine too after watching this…but lets keep that between us.

    -Glen

  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    i happened to catch this last night on vh1. kinda felt sorry for the guys. very cool that AC/DC picked them to play some dates.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Yeah that’s exactly the same thing I felt Mark — sorry for them. I doubt I’d actually ever buy a record by them or anything, but what they do is done pretty well and they’re basically just good harmless fun. It sucks that they more or less got shit on by the record business.

    -Glen