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by Bill Gibron

2 Apr 2009

Imagine you’re Paul McCartney…no, not the superstar Beatle legend who literally rewrote the pop song rulebook along with fellow musical titan John Lennon. No, this Paul McCartney was equally adept at turning words and notes into memorable hits. He struggled with his fellow bandmates, including George Harrison and Pete Best, brokering a steady career climb. Eventually, he catches the ear of wannabe manager Brian Epstein, the group gets a shot with a major label, and they appear poised to take over the world - that is, until The Dave Clark Five, The Kinks, and some upstarts called The Rolling Stones steal their thunder (and their prospects), leaving McCartney and his mates in the dust. Now, four decades later, a disgruntled cab driver with continuing dreams of fame and stardom retires to his lonely bedsit, picks up a guitar, and gets lost in the power of sound. He’s still Paul McCartney, but he’s no longer a semi-star.

That’s the story of Steve “Lips” Kudlow, a talented teen from Toronto who, in 1973, hooked up with high school buddy Robb Reiner, and formed the seminal speed thrash outfit Anvil. By the early ‘80s, they had released three albums, including the classic Metal on Metal, and were featured along with Whitesnake, Bon Jovi, and The Scorpions, at the Super Rock Festival in Japan. But just as they were poised to take over the scene with their unique blend of power and passion, just as they were about to set the stage for such future students as Metallica, Anthrax, and Guns and Roses, Anvil abruptly vanished. No, they kept making records and relentlessly touring. But as Lemmy of Motorhead prophetically points out, sometimes, you have to be in the right place at the right time - and for Kudlow and Reiner, the ship sailed before they knew they could even book passage.

Now, some three decades later, the guys are still making music. With a couple of new band members and a batch of songs, they hope to jumpstart their flagging career. Working a day job delivering meals to local Canadian schools, Kudlow remains open to the entire experience. At 50, he’s perhaps too old to rock and roll, but far too young to die - or do anything else, for that matter. Reiner is far more blunt. He wants to make it now, to be a major player in a business he feels forgot Anvil even existed. Yet as a proposed tour of Europe goes from bearable to bad to worse, and the prospects of recording their 13th album grow dim, both men are asked to face up to the facts - they’re aging and nowhere near where they hoped they would be.

If it didn’t keep reminding you of its documentary roots, if it didn’t keep showing you signs of abject reality where satire and spoof might also fit, Anvil: The Story of Anvil would seem like a nu-generation take on that classic mock-doc spoof, This is Spinal Tap. After all, the band appears to be as cluelessly charming and directionally dysfunctional as the Christopher Guest/ Michael McKean/Harry Shearer side project. Kudlow’s cockeyed optimism, juxtaposed against the constant conflict and karmic mishaps of a horrendous European tour (complete with missed trains, undersized venues, and arguments with owners over payment) grow from pathetic to legendary, and there’s more where that came from. There’s even the brotherly love/brotherly battles of two conflicting personalities - and the other main subject is named “Robb Reiner” after all. As the evidence piles up, the question becomes clear - how is this not a joke?

The answer is simple and quite profound. Director Sacha Gervasi has created one of the great masterpieces of the music business, a seminal statement of pipe dreams and true possibilities that along with the psychological struggles of Some Kind of Monster and the friendly competition of Ondi Timoner’s DiG! exposes the artistic process for what it truly is - a painful and brutal series of disappointments. While it’s nice to see the up front testimonials of musicians with larger fanbases and bigger bank accounts than Anvil, such celebration and recognition raises an interesting point - where were these so-called band fans when Kudlow and Reiner really needed them. While no one is expecting outright charity, would an opening slot on a stadium tour be too much to ask?

You see, the reason Anvil keeps going, the reason we root for them all throughout this amazing motion picture, is because they actually have “the goods”. They aren’t some naïve no talents who blindly believe in their own ability. In the various live settings we see them perform in, they are a confident and conquering musical presence. They can still play, and connect with audiences in a way that few bands can even begin to approach. Even in the studio (they finally get a chance to record thanks to some familial generosity and the return of favored producer Chris “CT” Tsangeride ), they exude confidence. So the notion that they have yet to truly make it after so long trying tempts fate. But it also argues for Gervasi’s main theme - that sometimes, talent is trumped by situational and social pitfalls.

True, Kudlow and Reiner fight. They tend to play the passive/aggressive thing to the hilt. But it’s never truly gotten in the way of their work. What we see throughout the course of Anvil is the story of millions of artistic hopefuls. In fact, this band came closer than many bedroom superstars. As the anecdotes piles up about their place as perennial also-rans, as we watch the guys give it their all for little or no reward, as we realize that they’ve continuously recorded and toured since their inception, the lack of acknowledgement should be difficult to deal with. But thanks to Gervasi, who never lets things get too dark, and Kudlow, who plays private cheerleader with the best of them, we wind up with something winning. Even the last act return to Japan offers enough palpable positivity to keep the dream alive.

And that’s all Anvil wants. In the end, this is a film about never giving up, about never giving in to the constant harangues from friends and family about “growing up and getting real jobs.” Kudlow may seem like the last man standing in a battle he was ill prepared to win, and Reiner may be around because he can’t do anything else, but that doesn’t make these aging Canadians pathetic or deluded. No, what Anvil: The Story of Anvil explains is that, without individuals like this, the world would be dominated by ego and the undeserving. Guys like Kudlow and Reiner do more than “keep it real.” They keep it realistic.

“Ninety-nine percent of all bands don’t make money”, our true believer argues to a group of Scandinavian fans. As they stare at him blankly, the visage of Kudlow in a hairnet, setting up his van for a series of deliveries comes directly to mind. On stage, Anvil is unmatched. Behind the scenes, this classic documentary explains that Steve “Lips” Kudlow and Robb Reiner are like everyone else - hopeful, hardworking, and hindered by elements outside their control. As a lifelong fan, Gervasi’s love letter is sweet and sensible. As a film, Anvil: The Story of Anvil is without a doubt one of 2009’s best.

by Robin Cook

2 Apr 2009

The Vivian Girls were the Energizer Bunnies of SXSW, playing 18 shows in four days. Yes, 18 PopMatters caught up with them after Show #16 and they talked about their beginnings, their favorite B movies, and upcoming projects.

by Rob Horning

2 Apr 2009

Tyler Cowen linked to this NYT piece about the incipient demise of voice mail. When I clicked on it, I was astounded by what appeared in my tab as a description of the article: “For some, voice mail is losing its allure.” For some? Its allure??? Who are these people who like voice mail?

The article notes, “In an age of instant information gratification, the burden of having to hit the playback button — or worse, dial in to a mailbox and enter a pass code — and sit through ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ can seem too much to bear.” But that’s a burden in an technological regime, I would think, and has nothing to do with “the age of instant information gratification,” which ordinarily I’m rather concerned about. I think we feel obliged to consume too much of experience as information and process it. But on this subject of voice mail, I’m completely in sync with the techno-optimists who regard change as inherently positive. If you yearn for voice mail these days, you are hopelessly nostalgic for something that was actually detrimental and inefficient. I’m almost to the point where I have a revolutionary fervor about eradicating voice mail, and regarded it as somewhat treasonous when someone leaves me one or checks their own, thereby encouraging the continued exchange of information by that moribund medium.

I am heartened, then, by this:

Research shows that people take longer to reply to voice messages than other types of communication. Data from uReach Technologies, which operates the voice messaging systems of Verizon Wireless and other cellphone carriers, shows that over 30 percent of voice messages linger unheard for three days or longer and that more than 20 percent of people with messages in their mailboxes “rarely even dial in” to check them, said Saul Einbinder, senior vice president for marketing and business development for uReach, in an e-mail message.

I would have though that the end of voice mail would be celebrated by everyone, and its disappearance would go altogether unlamented. The article sets up a time frame that partially explains where its coming from—in the 1980s voice mail was an innovation that must have seemed liberating; it ended the tyranny of presence. It made makeshift solutions to communications overload, like call waiting (an invention that never should have been), obsolete. But email should have ended the tyranny of the spoken word several years ago—and I can’t wait until all incidental mobile-phone communication is conducted through texts. No more frivolous speech acts!

For Charlie Park, 30, a Web developer in Williamsburg, Va., a text message is more efficient and — equally important — more respectful of the recipient’s time.
“You never send an e-mail that says, ‘Hey, e-mail me back!’ You’re always sending information,” he said.

I would hesitate to equate information delivery with “respect”—that makes humans too much like mere data-processing machines—but in my mind, this trend toward text is returning the sanctity to conversation, so that it requires all parties to be present and attentive and committed to a leisurely, reciprocal exchange of ideas. If talk doesn’t rise to that level, let it be text.

The article ends on a sentimental note (a daughter’s loving voice mail for her father), and the privileging of voice for communicating emotions. Not to go all Derridian, but the idea that presence is in the spoken word, and only distance is in l’écriture is a somewhat pernicious bias.I discover more about what I think by writing then by talking, there’s no reason why that wouldn’t be true about emotions. Somehow it almost seems easier to contrive emotions when speaking than when writing, where it takes careful, arduous artifice to produce an inauthentic emotion.

by PopMatters Staff

2 Apr 2009

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
Remember the Titans.

2. The fictional character most like you?
I can’t really think of one, it would be fun to be a little like Bruce Willis in The Last Boy Scout—a good mix of tough and funny.

3. The greatest album, ever?
8Ball & MJG: Comin’ Out Hard.

4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Star Trek, come on now.

5. Your ideal brain food?
Not sure about brain food but my favorite hangover food is crispy tacos, on the road my brain is hungover a lot… so these are important.

6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?
Most recent would have to be finishing the record. I am impatient as hell, I hate being in the studio even though I know you’ve gotta do it. Jim Eno did a great job, I’m happy with how the record turned out. Though man, all the little tweaks and details, not for me. I’d make a full album in one day if I could.

7. You want to be remembered for…?
Writing a Star Trek episode, I need to get on that.

by Alan Ranta

2 Apr 2009

From Mike Newmark’s review here at PopMatters: “Graf opens auspiciously, with some quavering notes and a funky, propulsive beat, but it quickly becomes clear that St. Werner [of Mouse on Mars] doesn’t have melody in mind; soon, he’s treating the tuneful elements as he would a blast of noise or a floating piece of digital waste.”

Oh, well… sounds good to me, anyway.  Maybe the video helps.

//Mixed media

Because Blood Is Drama: Considering Carnage in Video Games and Other Media

// Moving Pixels

"It's easy to dismiss blood and violence as salacious without considering why it is there, what its context is, and what it might communicate.

READ the article