Thursday, February 25, 2010

Health Care Summit; Anvil

Hope you guys are doing alright. Sunny, blue, beautiful skies in Austin today. It's really nice out there. Hard to believe it was snowing about 48 hours ago.
The White House is hosting a health care reform summit today in which Republican and Democrat leaders are sitting down to discuss health care reform. I don't really expect to see a bipartisan health care reform bill coming out of this thing, but it sounds like at least some amount of progress is taking place in terms of fostering civil discussion between Dems and Republicans on health care. It's kind of sad to have to say that we're making progress simply by having our leaders speak to each other in civil tones, but here we are...

What else? How many of you have seen this documentary called Anvil! The Story of Anvil? I saw it about a month or so back, actually, but I was talking to my friend Jennifer about it the other day, and now it's been on my mind a bit. Anvil is a hard rock/heavy metal band from the 1980's (maybe early 90's) that sort of started to make it big, but then sort of sputtered and faded away. The documentary is pretty fascinating and entertaining, even if you're not particularly into the style of music that Anvil plays (maybe especially if you're not into the style of music that Anvil plays). By the time this movie came out a couple of years ago, the guys from Anvil were in their fifties, working other jobs (catering and so forth), and raising families, but still pursuing their musical careers with dreams of once again working their way into the limelight and making it big.
The movie is really funny and poignant and something that all too many of us can relate to in one way or another. As an audience member, you sort of tend to shift back and forth between thinking that these guys are completely self deluded baffoons, inspired visionaries, or simply really nice guys in the pathetic pursuit of a dream that's never going to be realized. The answer probably includes all three. It's difficult to decide whether it's really impressive that these guys have managed to hang together for so long with so little success (while still maintaining the constant belief that success could be right around the corner at any moment), or whether the whole experience has just been a really tragic waste of time.
Having played music myself for many years with little or no commerical success to show for it, I felt like I could relate to the Anvil guys a little bit. The big difference, of course, is that I pretty much do music as a hobby have a career other than music that I've pretty much built my life around, but still... seeing these guys (who've played music together since they were kids) struggle with existential questions about whether their efforts have had any merit? That's something that I felt that I could relate to.
And I think the documentary does a pretty good job of answering those questions. It might sound trite, but in my experience the movie does a good of exploring this honest to god truth: if you want to make music or art of one kind or another, your first and foremost reason for doing it has to be the fact that you have a genuine love for the music itself. You've got to make music because you love to make music. If you're going to pursue this as a way of making a living, you have to do it because you can't imagine being happy any other way.
There's a line in the movie where one of the guys (I think Lips) says that the lack of fame and fortune that Anvil has experienced has been the price they've paid for living a life of doing what they love. I actually thought that was pretty profound. We tend to think about wealth in terms of money that we've accumulated and financial success and security, but some people spend that money before they ever make it- giving it up in exchange for a life of doing whatever it is that they really want to do. If they can pull that off and stay happy and healthy, more power to them. Morally, though, I think that lifestyle starts to become a little more suspect when people have to impose upon their friends and loved ones in order to keep things going (a line which Anvil come pretty close to crossing when they have to borrow money from their family in order to record an album. Hopefully Anvil eventually made enough money back to pay off that debt and repay the loved once who had helped to finance the pursuit of their artistic endeavors).
I'm guessing that Anvil probably found some renewed success after this movie came out, although it's kind of strange that the documentary itself probably helped to resolve some of the key issues that Anvil was struggling with while the documentary was being filmed (i.e., how much they should the band be willing to sacrifice in pursuit of their floundering musical dreams).
Anyway, if you haven't seen it, go check out Anvil! The Story of Anvil. Those guys are a little nutty, but at the end of the day they really do seem like some pretty good guys.

That's it for today. Peace!


The League said...

NOT being a musician, I still agree with your takeaways from the movie.

What is interesting about the movie, again, NOT being a musician, is that as the friend of many musicians over the years, you often see that the music comes first so often that what it takes to get noticed or signed just isn't on the radar for the musicians themselves. Or the arbitrary decisions bands seem to make.

What's odd is that Anvil seemed to be doing things right in the 1980's. How on earth they didn't get more traction is never really explained, and that's a little frustrating. The shrug of "I don't know" leaves a huge question mark. We can guess from the multiple bad decisions and ways in which the band appears to get bilked in the film (know what you're doing when you pay for studio time, etc...) that likely similar events befell them then, but as they seem oblivious to that 20-odd years on, it seems unlikely they had enough capacity for self-reflection to identify where the worm turned.

Its also frustrating that the documentary never really acknowledges that metal isn't on the cultural radar in 2000+ like it was in the mid-80's, when kids were into virtuosity in music, and that Anvil seems oblivious to the changes in the landscape. Even when the guy at EMI clearly blanches at their sound.

The movie is fine. It just seems like too much was lost for run-time reasons or because the producers were coddling their subjects.

J.S. said...

Well, I don't really fault Anvil for just making their music without an eye toward what it takes to get noticed or signed. Part of that is because I tend to appreciate and respect music the most when it's coming from a more personal, honest space, and part of my attitude is from being convinced that most major label execs truly wouldn't know good music if it bit them in the ass (major labels don't really seem to get interested in most music until an independent label or the bands themselves have already done the hard work of establishing that the act has the ability to start building an audience). With new recording and internet distribution technology, I really do think the era of the major labels will slowly grind to a halt. It's still going to be hard for new acts to get themselves publicized, but in the internet age, crazy things are possible with word of mouth and maybe a little critical praise.
As for coddling their subjects... I didn't see it so much. The guys in the band repeatedly talked about how difficult things had been and continued to be, but they just seemed determined to remain optimistic (maybe moreso than other bands because of their past success). I'm not sure how good the deal was that they made to record their album, but you have to remember that the guys they were dealing with were just producers who expected to get paid- they weren't holding themselves out as a record company or distribution label (which would be expected to cover recording costs). In effect, Anvil was acting as their own independent label and covering their own costs (but not locking themselves into a recording contract or signing away the rights to their own material). The wisdom of covering their own costs in that situation was pretty questionable, but the arguably groundless faith was sort of the point of the entire movie.
The strangest thing about the movie to me was probably knowing that the act of documenting this band's failing career would probably be the thing that ended up saving it.