Around the time the video for Metal on Metal by Anvil was making the rounds on music T.V. stations (circa 1985), I had recently befriended two brothers of Mexican descent. I can still recall the younger of the two unmercifully mocking Metal on Metal, and the band Anvil, for that matter. They kept referring to the band as, “The Anvil.” I would continually correct them that it was simply, Anvil and not The Anvil. The distinction between the two names was completely lost on them and they found me trying to correct their English and insisting that they drop the “the” even funnier than the band. It was a point of principle for me as “the” does not always precede every band name. It is not, The Led Zeppelin or The Pink Floyd. It is Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. They refused to accept the distinction and for daring to correct their English I became know as, “The Anvil.” A name that has stuck with me to this day. Fortunately it never became a popular nickname outside of the two of them, but they still, to this day, take great pleasure in referring to me as “The Anvil” when they get the chance.
Until The Story of Anvil came out I thought that I was the only Anvil (sorry, The Anvil) left in the world. I had no idea that the band had soldiered on all these years. My only memory of them was the one video that they released from an outdoor Metal festival in Japan in the early 80′s. When I discovered that there was a film about them I somehow felt vindicated after the years of mockery by my two tormentors – as the film was not called, The Story of The Anvil (which sounds like a BBC documentary that would get all involved fired). It is called, The Story of Anvil – you see, Anvil, god damn it! At the same time I also wondered, “what on earth is there to say about these guys?” I thought it had to be some very low-budget fan video…but I was intrigued none the less. I felt a kinship with Anvil after all I had suffered. I realized that I had to watch the video, that it would somehow be cathartic for me. I can now easily say that this is one of the most honest (and best) documentaries ever about a band.
What sets this apart from other band documentaries is the brutal honestly. Really, nothing was left on the cutting room floor. It is at times a hard film to watch. Seeing fifty year old men refusing to give up a rock and roll dream that died shortly after that concert in Japan some 25 years ago was almost too much at times. Early in the film we are shown scenes from the “Super Rock Festival”, held in Japan in 1984. What immediately becomes clear is only one band didn’t make it to super stardom after that festival…yup, you guessed it, Anvil. Now, to be honest, I don’t really think they should have made it as big as the other acts on that bill. Not because they were terrible, they just weren’t as marketable and the world wasn’t ready yet for their brand of metal – especially soloing with a dildo. It would take a band like Metallica to really push the doors open in years to come.
Anvil are metal innovators and lauded as such by people like Lemmy from Motorhead and Lars Ulrich from Metallica. Lemmy apparently even asked guitarist, Steve “Lips” Kudlow, to become the new guitarist for Motorhead at one point, but after watching the film, you know that Lips would never abandon his friends. The names that did make it from that concert we all know – Scorpions, Whitesnake and Bon Jovi. Anvil, to be honest, just didn’t have that extra quality to push them to the next level – not that I am saying we couldn’t all have done without the aforementioned bands contributions to music (I could really care less if I ever heard any of them again), it’s just that their approach to heavy rock was more accessible. Anvil deserved better than they got, but I can’t agree that they were robbed of superstardom. Honestly, the best thing that ever happened to Anvil was this film.
Whether they should have made it to the top or not is not what this documentary is all about. Some people will say that fate conspired against them, that if only A, B or C had gone their way that it would have been totally different, but I just don’t buy it. This film is really about two guys (best friends) who will not give up on their dream. Though you get the impression that drummer, Robb Reiner, is a lot closer than lead singer, Steve “Lips” Kudlow, to packing it all in. The beauty in this film is the relationship between the two. This movie is a modern allegory for never, ever giving up on your dreams, and for that it must be applauded. If your eyes don’t well with tears during this film it is probably because you are a cold, lifeless bastard.
Not long after seeing this movie I phoned the elder of my two Mexican friends to tell him about it, and he did condescend to watch it, but the phone call never came admitting defeat on the name. The funny thing about it is that this band has never been far from us. As it turns out, Lips lives in his neighborhood in Toronto. If he had never seen the film, he never would have known. I had to laugh that Lips and he were essentially neighbours. My story with Anvil doesn’t end here either. About 6 months ago they came to my hometown. I heard that Lips was very accommodating to fans and would hang around after shows to talk. I knew that I had to go and meet him…it was my destiny. I had a great time at the show and I have to say that I was pleasantly shocked by just how good a live band they were…and I am not making this up. There was a look of disbelief on many peoples’ faces who had seen the film and were there only out of curiosity. I would ask them, as they stood there, rigid in place, eyes glued to the stage…”is it my imagination, or are these guys really as good as I think they are?” The resounding answer was,”yes, you are not imagining things. They are really good.” When they played Metal on Metal the place erupted. That song is now the anthem for never giving up, sung by the men who never did.
I had such a good time at the show that I didn’t see Lips come out to talk to the crowd (yeah, I know, destiny, etc., but the bar was still serving). When I came to my senses I realized, “I have to find him and put the years of torment to rest.” I left through a side door of the bar as I heard he was outside. The parking lot was empty and I thought I had blown it. Dejected, I started to walk home. As I came around the corner to the front of the bar, there he was talking with a couple of fans. I immediately rushed up to him, shook his hand and said, “is it Anvil or The Anvil…I have to settle this.” I knew my friends knew the answer. I knew that they knew that I knew the answer. I just had to hear it for myself. As soon as I got home from the show I sent them a picture of me and Lips, arm in arm, united at last.