I recently read on some blog somewhere in the bloggy blog blogosphere a reference to certain movies as “wallpaper.” These are the movies you watch so many times they become part of the background of certain times of your life. For me, the most wallpapery movie of my life is This is Spinal Tap. I have probably seen the film close to 50 times, most of the viewings concentrated in my first year of undergraduate school. My friends and I memorized dialogue, quoted lines in new contexts, and quized one another on the arcane details of the set design. Serendipitously, it was that year, 1992, when Tap decided to reunite and tour for their album Break Like the Wind. We were beside ourselves with glee.
One night that spring we showed up at the Paramount Theater in Seattle as roadies unloaded the last of the band’s gear. I don’t know what we expected, but before long a window opened three stories up and the wigged heads of Michael McKean and Christopher Guest peeked out. Guest, as Nigel, chewing gum, asked drolly, “Did you all come here to rock and roll?” and proceeded to throw us a foil-wrapped zucchinni, which ended up living in the glove compartment of my car for several months, eventually turning to mold and then soil.
This was around the time I started reading Roland Barthes and Jean Baudrillard and was becoming obsessed with questions of the contextual disrupting properties of various mediated realities and shit like that. Spinal Tap struck me as the perfect example of the blurring of lines of context and content. They were a group of guys who could actually play the music they were spoofing, actors whose mockumentary had confused audiences into thinking they were a real band. They were part performance art, part legitimate rock band. They were cited by actual rock bands as the band that expressed most truthfully the reality of the road. You could calibrate scientific equipment with their comic timing.
So when Harry Shearer, in full bondage gear, wig, and facial hair, emerged from the backstage area to greet us, I thrust out my hand and said, “Have a great show!” After shaking my hand, he turned his hand into a fist and snarled at me, “Rock and roll!” Fuck yeah.
Years later, I read an interview with Guest and McKean in a British music magazine. When talking about their Break Like the Wind Tour they mentioned what a great show Seattle had been, remarking that the fans there didn’t seem to understand that they were a fake band. Ah, but we did. We’d just chosen to play along and insert ourselves into their fiction. When they descended from the rafters on wires, playing the opening chords of “Tonight I’m Going to Rock You Tonight,” the drunk guy next to me dressed as Santa Claus appeared to have a religious experience. We weren’t going apeshit for their music but in imitation of the fans who, in some parallel reality where Spinal Tap was an actual band with an extensive discography, were going apeshit for the reunion of a band they’d stuck with even during the low point of Shark Sandwich. How very meta.
A few weeks ago I came across news in Rolling Stone that the band is getting back together, releasing a new album and presumably embarking on a new tour. I was shocked at how old those guys looked, but for middle aged rockers I’ve seen far worse. Smell the glove.