Guns N’ Roses had an embarrassing moment on February 14 when their guitar technician McBob exclaimed “Hello Sydney!” to a Melbourne crowd. Slash has since apologised for the band’s “Spinal Tap intro” – but what about when moments from the cult music mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap actually entered real life? Here’s 9 times life imitated the film’s art.
1. The band getting lost backstage
Many a band can sympathise with this. Blink-182’s Mark Hoppus told NME: “We’ve got lost around venues trying in vain for ten minutes to find the stage. Several times.” Belle & Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch tells a similar story: “I have a cordless microphone and during the song ‘If You Find Yourself Caught In Love’ – we used to play it all the time – there was a instrumental passage and I would disappear off the stage with my microphone. The idea was that I would pop back somewhere in the auditorium. Like we were playing Sydney Opera House, I would run in the back steps and suddenly at the end of the instrumental they would put a spotlight on me and I would be on the third balcony, or something, and fans would be like ‘oh you’re standing right there’. But I went the wrong way and I ended up in a shopping centre.”
2. Getting stuck inside stage equipment
In 1997, U2 got stuck inside a giant lemon, which they were meant to emerge out of as a dramatic opening to their encore. It was weirdly like Spinal Tap’s pod scene. What hubris! What lols!
3. Accidentally ordering a tiny prop
Black Sabbath once accidentally ordered a Stonehenge sized 15m instead of 15ft, meaning it was too large to get into any of the venues they were playing. This story was the inverse inspiration for Spinal Tap’s completely underwhelming, 18-inch-high Stonehenge model, which they’d intended to be 18 foot high – and as you’ll see in the clip below, the band’s manager hires two dwarves in a horrible attempt to make the thing look bigger.
Jagwar Ma‘s Jono Ma recalls a similar turn of events with his band. “We had this idea for a back drop for our live show: the idea came from when we were in France recording the album. There were these French hardcore ravers that would combine all their speakers and amplifiers together to erect these giant soundsystems much like the classic dub and dancehall soundsystem parties in Jamaica. So I really wanted to have this Jamaican-style soundsystem behind me on stage and for the speakers to be hooked up to my drum machines and synths. We commissioned this guy to pull it together, sent him some reference images etc. The triumphant debut of the soundsystem was to be at our last London headline show at Scala. These guys wheel in this little piece of wood with a bunch of little Sony hi-fi speakers glued to it and a couple of little LED strips that didn’t work. I couldn’t help but think to myself that if we had a couple of midgets dressed up as Rastas dancing around the miniature soundsystem then the speaker stack might look a little bigger.”
4. Having an album cover vetoed
You never actually see the intended cover for ‘Smell The Glove’, but in the film, Spinal Tap’s label guy Bobbi Flekman describes it as “a greased, naked woman on all fours with a dog collar around her neck and a leash, and a man’s arm extended out holding on to the leash and pushing a black glove in her face to sniff it.” A horrible cover for sure.
The Strokes’ ‘Is This It’ cover wasn’t nearly on the same level, but its depiction of a gloved hand grasping a woman’s bare bum was considered a bit too naughty for America.
In North America, that picture was swapped out, in favour of circular tracks of electrons and positrons moving through a magnetic field in a bubble chamber. Yeah: lovely wholesome circular tracks of electrons and positrons moving through a magnetic field in a bubble chamber.
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5. Releasing an all-black cover (Metallica, Jay Z)
Unlike ‘Is This It’, Spinal Tap’s alternative cover of ‘Smell The Glove’ was simply black – no ornamentation, nothing – a little bit like like those by Metallica (‘Metallica’) and Jay Z (‘The Black Album’).
6. Two-word album review
The Tap’s 1980 album ‘Shark Sandwich’ was reviewed in the following two words: “Sh*t sandwich”. In 2006 NME gave Def Leppard’s covers album Yeah! 0/10 and the review was just one word long: “Nah!”
7. Rider tantrums
Compared to some rider demands, guitarist Nigel Tufnell’s complaints about tiny bread really aren’t that bad. Christina Aguilera’s hot drinks must never fall below 175ºF and her Vitamin C tablets have to be shaped like Flintstones characters. When he was filming Later with Jools Holland, Kanye West reportedly demanded someone iron his dressing room carpet, after he deemed it “too bumpy”. And Axl Rose once sent a roadie to another country to fetch his yellow jacket before he’d go back onstage.
8. The curse of the drummer
Spinal Tap’s first drummer, Stumpy, died in a “bizarre gardening accident”, as did Toto’s drummer Jeff Porcaro in real life: Porcaro fell ill after spraying and accidentally inhaling insecticide in his garden in 1992, later dying of a heart attack. Spinal Tap has a long roster of deceased drummers – it’s a macabre joke in the film, but in real life a similar level of tragedy affected the keyboard players of The Grateful Dead. All but two of that band’s six keyboardists died either on the job or soon after leaving the band.
9. Going up to 11
A self-fulfilling prophecy, this one. The film made the idea of going up to 11 a part of the English language, and Christopher Guest (Nigel Tufnel) says: “This has been ripped off big-time. Almost every amp company now sells knobs that go up to 11.”