Who would have thought the feel good movie of the year stars fifty-year old heavy metal has beens? Don't take my word for it. I watched Anvil! The Story of Anvil! with a veteran music industry exec who proclaimed "this is genius!" after the first five minutes. And I've watched it with a girly-girl whose initial response was "Are you kidding me?" but who managed to break down in tears three times before the credits fell. You don't have to be a heavy metal fan to appreciate this film. You don't even have to love music, although it will help. Anvil! The Story of Anvil is a touching film that will reach out to any audience member big or small, in times like this, when all we need is a little hope.
Take a journey through the eyes of Lips, who some might call naïve, some might call simple-minded, and some might just call Canadian. At heart, he's true Rock n' Roll. He started a band with his teenage friend Robb Reiner, called Anvil. In 1984 they were at the height of their career, traveling the world with their album Metal on Metal, what some call the album that started it all. They paved the way for bands like Metallica, Anthrax, and Guns N' Roses. They played Japan alongside the Scorpions, Whitesnake, and Bon Jovi. While those bands went on to sell millions of records, Anvil somehow ended up stuck in Canada.
While some bands, after failing to attract a major label may call it quits, Lips has kept Anvil together in one form or another for over thirty years. We tour Europe with him where he's stood up by a club owner, take a loan from his sister to self-produce their 13th album, and finally, once again become big in Japan. Today Anvil is touring with the launch of the film: the Anvil experience. Once again they seem to be climbing up the ranks. They're sharing a manager with Slayer, a booking agent with Coldplay, and their next big gig will be to play for over 65,000 people at Glastonbury, opening for Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, and Fleetwood Mac. As director Sacha Gervasi tells me, "It's mental." How did they finally make it, you might ask. Here are ten lessons to take from Anvil! The Story of Anvil. And while their path to success may have been an unconventional one, they're lessons that we can all take with us on our own journeys.
Find your mentors.
Gervasi discovered the band at the age of 15, when he saw them play at a London Marquee Show. "They played faster, heavier and more intensely than any band I'd ever seen," he says. He sneaked his way backstage and the band took him up on his offer to show them around London the next day. They instantly adopted him, giving him the tender nickname of "Teabag." Eventually he went out on the road with them, touring with them three times throughout the 80s. "I was a big fan of Robb Reiner's drumming," says Gervasi, "so I got to go out on tour with them and set up Robb's drums everynight. I learned how to play from Robb."
Reconnect with old friends.
Gervasi lost touch with the band after the 80s, but one night in 2005 he decided to Google them. "I thought they'd died or broken up, you know, I didn't know what had happened. They produced 13 albums and they never stopped. And they still hadn't made it," he says. So Gervasi called up Lips and wrote to the website. Lips wrote back and said "Teabag, we thought you'd died or became a lawyer." Gervasi flew them out to L.A. and said, "within 10 minutes it was as if those 20 years had melted away. And he was so, like as I remembered him. It wasn't just that they'd play music, it was that he really knew if they put in the work some miracle would happen someday. It was so infectious, his enthusiasm, and I thought, there's a film." The relationship between director and subject is not a typical one. It's apparent on screen the love the band feels for the director as we become more and more intimate with their story.
Find your own pleasure in life, even if your day job involves school cafeteria food.
In one of the opening scenes of the film, we drive around with Lips in Snowy Toronto as he delivers meals to children's schools. "Anvil gives me my happiness," he says. Although he wasn't making any money with the band, it's the joy he needs to get through life. Things can only get better he says, and by having a creative outlet, he knows this is true.
Don't let obstacles on the path to success deter you
"The film is about musicians who realize the movie is just about the struggle," says Gervasi. "99% of people don't make it. All of those people who did make it, recognize that that was them, or that could be them. It's a story for every under dog."
Have the right attitude.
Some Anvil fans might think Metallica stole the thunder out from under them. But Anvil isn't bitter. "They're so grateful to have influenced all these megabands, but they truly belive their time will come," says Gervasi. "And it's so crazy, because who in their right mind, in their 50s, thinks they're going to make it." If you have the right attitude, and don't blame others, your time will come.
Stay true to your style, fannypack and all.
When the band finally landed a meeting with a record label, EMI in Canada, they didn't put on an interview suit. No, they showed up in their long rocker hair and skinny jeans, which makes them look much younger than their 50 years, and of course kept the fanny packs on. Ultimately they weren't signed, but this led them to self-distribute their album, in true Anvil style.
Don't give up the first time around, nor the second, nor the third.
Lips and Reiner had a million opportunities to call it quits. Instead, they're going to rock until they die. Gervasi did call it quits in real life, with a band that went on to become Bush, and sell over 10 million records. But then he found his true calling in filmmaking, paying testament to his friends' perseverance.
Don't take anything for granted.
The one thing about Anvil is they have no ego. And perhaps you need some ego to get by in this business, but it's refreshing to see a band that relies on their talent alone. "You know what's great, is these guys, have so been ruled out, down for the count, over so many times, that they really appreciate what's going on," says Gervasi. "They know it's a miracle, every second they're living it. If they'd have got it in their twenties, they would have blown it. All bands that get it, they think it's going to be here forever, and then suddenly, with their third album, they're like wait, hold it, what happened. These guys have been through it. They've been killed so many times, that they're actually able to enjoy this moment and remain totally who they are. They're exactly as they were 30 years ago."
Believe in Miracles.
"People need stories of hope," says Gervasi. "This is a real story about endurance and perseverance, what it means to have friendships, what it means to be a part of a family, and the miracle that's going on for the band in the ending is if we just don't quit then maybe something good will happen. And I think that's what people need to hear. It's a very timely, timeless story. And it's a universal one, so I think people should see the movie because I think they're going to feel good when they leave the theater."
Go see this movie, now.
Truth be told, anyone in their right minds who had gone through what Anvil had gone through, poor managers, poor sound recordings, 30 years of never catching a break, would have given up by now. But they're not normal guys, and their story is worth seeing for exactly this reason.
The film opens in New York and Los Angeles April 10th, followed by a national roll-out. Click here to buy tickets for screenings or for information on the Anvil experience. VH1 will host the worldwide television premiere this summer.
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