The sequel to the 1984 cult classic mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap will begin filming early next year. The original actors, who portrayed the perpetually delusional British rock band, will reprise their roles: Michael McKean as the hair-flipping lead singer David St Hubbins, Christopher Guest as the guitarist Nigel “one louder” Tufnel, and Harry Shearer as the bassist Derek Smalls (known for his famous line “Hello, Cleveland!”). However, there will be no drummers as they have all met their demise through various means such as exploding on their drum seats or dying in freak gardening accidents.
The director of Spinal Tap II, Rob Reiner, is also known for his role as interviewer Marty DiBergi in the first film. Reiner has revealed that the storyline revolves around the passing of Ian Faith, the beleaguered manager of Spinal Tap, portrayed by Tony Hendra who sadly passed away in 2021. The fictional widow of Faith will inherit a contract stipulating that Spinal Tap must perform one more concert. The movie will also feature guest appearances from Paul McCartney, Elton John, and Garth Brooks.
It might seem that Tap-fan-joy would be pure and unadulterated: the group is reuniting, the guys are back in their hometown. So why do certain people feel heightened levels of anxiety?
Is it possible that certain highly-regarded works are too flawless to be revisited? After almost four decades, there seems to be hesitation among some people that a sequel would not be able to match the reputation of Spinal Tap and could potentially damage its legacy.
You don’t need to come from a music journalism background like mine to appreciate the lethal wit and stiletto-accuracy of Spinal Tap. While there have been others (not least featuring the Rutles and Bad News), Spinal Tap is the undisputed rock-spoof daddy. Mainly inspired by Martin Scorsese’s 1978 rockumentary The Band: The Last Waltz, the film was given a structure, then wholly improvised. Perhaps that’s why, even today, it feels so fresh.
This text discusses a group of rock musicians, including Tufnel, who is known for his mullet hairstyle and fondness for loud music. He is perplexed when their album cover is criticized for being sexist. St Hubbins is another member of the band who jokingly claims he would feel worse if he weren’t heavily sedated. Smalls, the third member, sees himself as a balance between the “fire and ice” personalities of his bandmates, describing himself as “lukewarm water.” The group’s style is a mix of leather, Spandex, and double-denim, which is considered a source of shame in the world of rock music.
Other dynamic personalities featured in the film are: Tap’s significant other, “Yoko”; St Hubbins’ girlfriend, Jeanine; music executive Bobbi Flekman; and the subservient record company promoter, Artie Fufkin. The tracks showcased in the film are: Lick My Love Pump; Sex Farm; and Big Bottom. Some examples of the lyrics include: “I love to please her with my pink torpedo”; and “Taking out my pitchfork, prodding your hay”.
In addition, there is a feeling of desperation and chaos. The miniature, amateurish Stonehenge stage set, incorrectly measured in inches. The frantic search for the stage backstage. The ill-conceived rock musical side project about Jack the Ripper (“He’s a mischievous one… naughty Jack!”). The realization that they are second on the lineup to a puppet show. The painful decline (“Their appeal is becoming more exclusive”). The harsh loss of importance and fame.
Look beyond the humor, overused phrases, arrogance, and absurdity, and what lies at the core of Spinal Tap is a profound sense of sadness and emptiness.
According to Tap-lore, the film initially didn’t gain popularity but later became a sleeper hit, causing confusion for some viewers who didn’t realize it was a parody. There have been rumors about certain rockers, such as Steven Tyler and Gene Simmons, who didn’t find the film funny. Even artists like Sting and U2 have claimed to be moved by its authenticity. Spinal Tap has since become a staple on tour buses and is considered a sacred artifact of rock music, often referred to as the “Citizen Kane” of rockumentaries.
At this moment, certain (particularly younger) readers might be dismissively considering, “Some of this isn’t very humorous.” However, for the devoted followers, Spinal Tap revolutionized the music scene: bringing self-awareness to the metal/rock community and reaching far beyond. It is no coincidence that Spinal Tap has surpassed being just a comedy film and has become a term, a comparison, and a cautionary tale for musicians.
Spinal Tap, featured on the Internet Movie Database, stands out as the sole movie rated on a scale of 1 to 11. This film has the power to turn typically calm individuals into babbling quotable machines. Despite its intentionally questionable scenes and intentionally cheesy lyrics (“You’re too young, and I’m too well hung”), it has managed to withstand cancellation. However, there are concerns about the possibility of a sequel. Some fear it may turn into a rock-focused version of Spice World, complete with hair-metal guitar solos.
Some people may have the belief of not wanting to change a classic, or simply put, not wanting to ruin something good. This is because in the past, audiences have been disappointed by overhyped remakes like Blues Brothers 2000. Instead of paying homage to the original 1980 musical comedy starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, the film cheapened it with two subpar performances.
There are many reasons why the mockumentary genre, popularized by Spinal Tap, is no longer fresh. Recent rockumentaries, such as Bros: After the Screaming Stops, have already surpassed parody. Spinal Tap also created a sequel (The Return of Spinal Tap) and even became a real-life band, touring and releasing albums (like 1992’s Break Like the Wind) and performing at major venues like Wembley Arena and Glastonbury festival. It’s clear that this brand has been heavily cultivated and continues to thrive. It’s safe to say that the tap has been constantly flowing.
The concept of fame and the music business are constantly evolving. Is it amusing or commonplace for older bands to continue touring as part of the “heritage” scene in 2023? Is it even worth satirizing larger-than-life rock bands when current superstars like Adele, Chris Martin, and Ed Sheeran are more like everyday people, just with more extravagant lifestyles? Whether you admire or dislike them, these individuals tend to downplay their fame rather than flaunt it.
There has been talk about potential appearances by celebrities in the sequel to Spinal Tap. Is it a good idea to have well-known individuals trying too hard to show off their sense of humor? While it may be exciting to have big names like McCartney, John, and Brooks on board, are they really the right fit for this type of project? Shouldn’t rockstars be the ones doing the heavy lifting in a Spinal Tap sequel? (We’re looking at you, Robert Plant. It’s your time to shine, Bruce Dickinson).
Continuing to decline in the hierarchy of the music industry, one would assume that Anvil would be a shoe-in for cameo appearances. Their 2009 documentary, Anvil! The Story of Anvil, which lacks any ironic elements, has been praised as the real-life version of Spinal Tap.
However, if there is any concern among fans, it likely stems from a place of affection. There is a fear that Spinal Tap may lose its valuable cult following and enigmatic status as a “best kept secret”.
The movie “Spinal Tap” offers insight into the music industry, exposing its egos, foolishness, and paranoia. However, it also speaks to a larger truth about humanity and the human condition. We can all relate to feeling insignificant or making mistakes, just like the characters in the film. Have we not all experienced moments where we were merely lukewarm or overshadowed by something greater?
The secret ingredient that makes Spinal Tap so magical is its universal message of failure, which resonates with the deeply crushed and fearful human spirit. It’s possible that any criticism towards a potential sequel to Spinal Tap reflects a broader skepticism towards sequels, remakes, and money-making ventures. It’s worth mentioning that revived cult films are currently experiencing a surge in popularity. In fact, it was recently announced that Withnail and I (another timeless “loser-manifesto”) will be adapted into a stage production.
Given all of this, would it be harmful to have faith in the process? The original team is working on Spinal Tap II, with the same individuals who have created exceptional content in other projects (including Better Call Saul, Misery, Best in Show, and The Simpsons). Reiner has already stated that the expectations are high and, like the first film, the script will be improvised.
There is a lot of material to satirize in the music industry of the 21st century, including low payments from Spotify, unimpressive content on TikTok, and hologram concerts reminiscent of Abba Voyage. Additionally, the current trend in documentaries is to focus on celebrities and their inner turmoil, as seen in the Netflix documentary about former Take That member Robbie Williams, where he lounges on a bed in his underwear and reflects on his experiences.
Now, there’s a thought: St Hubbins in frayed Y-fronts on a divan, plaintively recalling the unimaginable trauma of the tiny-Stonehenge. (Count me in!). If the music-doc game is ripe for another skewering, perhaps we know just the team to do it.