The introduction to This is the Spinal Tap Zine:
When I began building this A to Zed guide, I thought it would take a few hours of probing, hunting, gathering, and collating. As with so many expectations about the heavy metal band known the world warmed over as Spinal Tap, I was wrong. It took hours upon hours, days upon days, cold beers upon cold beers. In the end, I found myself with little more understanding of the phenomenon known as Tapmania or the Tapheads who are caught up in it — only a sickening sense that I had wasted several months of my quickly shortening life on a band whose only distinction is that they play loud and their lyrics sometimes rhyme. More significantly, perhaps, is that with each passing year, more of Tap’s fans are learning to read. Thus this guide.
What I hoped to do was document every ounce of creative energy and tension that Tap has inspired in its fans and other bands (none of whom you’ve heard of or, perhaps, even exist). My friends, after viewing the 40,000-word draft of the A to Zed guide and literally wiping the glaze from their eyes, accused me of being anal-retentive about Tap. No, I replied, I am anal-inventive.
I’m not alone in my appreciation for the English rockers that dedicated fans know simply as “them guys.” Marty DiBergi’s well-received documentary about the band’s 1982 U.S. tour inspired widespread interest in Tap, whose fortunes were sagging. As the New York Times noted during the band’s 1992 Break Like the Wind tour, “the impact of This is Spinal Tap cannot be underestimated. Fans can recite scenes verbatim. Phrases such as ‘It’s such a fine line between clever and stupid’ [sic] have become part of the rock vocabulary. Songs from the movie are considered classics.” Rolling Stone, on the other hand, once described Tap’s music as “simple and brainless.” So opinions vary.
On Tap’s now-defunct 900 phone line, David noted that “it’s important to know everything you can about the band,” and with this A to Zed guide, Tapheads of all persuasions (including the easily persuaded) can learn everything they ever wanted to know about Tap — and more. Much more. Much much more. Much much much much more. So much more that if you try to swallow it all, you’ll need an antacid, one of those little cherry ones are nice, or the plain if you don’t like fruit flavors.
The Tap basics are all here to be digested, from aluminum foil to miniature bread to Yes I Can. Every morsel that could be squeezed was squeezed, including outtakes and commentary on the 1994 Criterion release of DiBergi’s rockumentary (if you will), dozens of forgotten magazine and newspaper articles, and the official band biography, Inside Spinal Tap. Its author, Peter Occhiogrosso, has reviewed the A to Zed collection and even called a priest in an attempt to have it blessed. Because of Tap’s well-known contract with Satan to sell their souls, their mother’s souls and their sister’s puppies’ souls for fleeting fame, this proved impossible. The guide remains damned.
One of chief criticisms of DiBergi’s film was that he chose not to portray the illicit drug use or wild sex that is commonly associated with heavy metal bands, although more of this activity is apparent in outtakes. With the exception of keyboardist Viv Savage and drummer Mick Shrimpton, the entourage is never shown ingesting anything more harmful than alcohol and marijuana. And only one groupie was captured on film with her clothes off as she spent a great deal of time looking for a lost contact lens in the nude, apparently so she would be able to see where she left her knickers.
DiBergi would later explain that he left the drugs and sex on the cutting room floor because by the time he caught up with Tap in 1982, there wasn’t much of it to film. David, Nigel and Derek had been together for 15 years and had grown out of the experimenting phase that overtakes many younger bands. They also may not have been able to afford many drugs or impress many groupies, seeing that half of their tour was canceled and they tried to market a black album.
But we’re not here to pick nits. David, Nigel and Derek, whatever their faults, are good people. They have risen above the everyday head-banging bullshit to capture our hearts and wallets with overpriced, shoddy goods. It’s as if they were our big toe, which we stubbed on a brick, then when we bent over in pain, we saw a dime and banged our head on a low shelf trying to pick it up. That, really, somehow, sums up Tap: A painful journey toward a tiny reward that’s out of reach. The Village Voice once noted that “David, Nigel and Derek aren’t stupid, exactly, but they’re certainly clods, average guys who parlay minimal musical talent, dogged ambition and the luck of the zeitgeist into 17-years-and-counting of lowbrow fame and fortune.”
Despite the band’s disdain for DiBergi’s documentary, Entertainment Weekly credits it with making Spinal Tap “a household name” (although only in homes that aren’t occupied). During my research, the lone poor review of This is Spinal Tap I could find appeared in Creem, a magazine read chiefly by teenage boys who are still mastering the air guitar. John Mendelssohn wrote that the film was “a self-indulgent bore” and “a maddening exercise in squandered opportunities.” In addition, he felt it had “long, long stretches without anything even remotely amusing being said or done,” that “you get tired of Nigel, the most brainlessly insipid lead guitarist in the history of British rock” and that “the music is atrocious. You’ll spend lots of your time watching This is Spinal Tap yawning or wishing you’d brought earplugs.”
They can’t print that, can they?