Movie Review: Anvil! The Story of Anvil

Tonight, I saw the documentary Anvil: The Story of Anvil at the Magnolia Theater in Dallas, TX. I joined my friends Cliff and Steve, and I really wish Jordan and Eric could have been there. If you have ever been in a band, you need to see this movie. If you’ve ever wondered what being in a band is like, you need to see this movie. Granted, Anvil has been a band since 1977, and even though they have a lifetime of band experiences under their belts, their are certain all-to-familiar similarities between Anvil, my band, your band, and any other band that has ever existed. Here are a few quotes that I really connected with (I wasn’t taking notes, so these may not be exact quotes, but you’ll get the message):

  • “Family’s important shit, man.”
  • “I’m tough to live with. I get emotional.”
  • “We’re brothers! Who else do I have?”
  • “Fuck. We drove around this town for 2 hours trying to find this place.”
  • “I’m a regular guy. I have a job. This is my vacation, and when it’s over I have to go back to doing the same old bullshit.”
  • “No one ever gets paid!”
  • “Where am I gonna get that kind of money?”
  • “I did everything I could.”
  • “I don’t regret a single minute of it.”
Anvil: The Story of Anvil - Robb & Lips on the Couch
Anvil: The Story of Anvil – Robb & Lips on the Couch

I can’t describe how close to home this movie hit for me. My band only lasted 7 years. To compare my band to Anvil is pretty much like someone never playing in a band trying to compare themselves to my band. Unless you’re in a band, you have no idea. Unless you’ve been in a band for 30 years, you can’t begin to empathize with Anvil. But after comparing this documentary to all the experiences I have ever witnessed or heard regarding other bands, I realized that all bands have common experiences which, at their root core, are grounded in 2 things: highly unreasonable optimism and utterly endless frustration. No matter how long you play, every few months you will find yourself right back at the beginning, in one or both of those two mindsets. There are likely more, but those are the attitudes that I recognized most while watching the Anvil documentary.

Anvil Performs Live at the Magnolia Theater in Dallas, TX
Anvil Performs Live at the Magnolia Theater in Dallas, TX

The Story of Anvil is an extensive study in opportunity costs. Those are the opportunities you miss out on by choosing one option over another. Lips and Robb are both married. They have families and day jobs, but they gave up on attaining “real world” careers, stability and wealth by choosing to dedicate 99% of their energy to the band. Their families are supportive, but it’s quite clear that their wives wish they could finally obtain whatever it is that they are searching for. The same sentiments are echoed by their families. And even though it seems that Lips is a great father, I’m sure his son wishes his dad wasn’t about to leave for a 40-day tour or a 6-week stint in a London recording studio. But that is just me speculating. Regardless, I don’t have to speculate about the fact that these guys have given up all sorts of modern luxuries, gadgets, and bigboy toys in order to keep rocking their vintage Marshall stacks, Gibson Flying V’s, and custom drum kits – in sports bars in the greater Toronto area!

There are tons of opportunity costs for these guys, but they are too passionate about the music to really even slow down and notice what could have been. Their music and their dreams prevail over any of that other stuff called real life. However, Lips has noticed that his face is drooping, his belly is getting bigger, his hair is falling out, and he’s getting older. “Before you notice, time has passed you by. You’ve got to do it now!” (Again, that is a major paraphrase job by me, but you get the picture.)

Lips knows that they don’t have forever, and he is hellbent on making music. The thing that seems to remain oblivious to him is that he has been chasing a dream for 30 years, and over the span of 13 albums, he has yet to notice that his winning formula for becoming a rock star has not, does not and will not work (it all has to do with that unreasonable optimism I mentioned earlier). On one hand, it’s downright honorable and respectable to go balls out for 30 years to achieve your childhood dream. And on top of that Anvil is a DIY band at heart, and that makes it even tougher. It’s moving to see dedication and action for a purpose of following a dream and making music that you love. Every time Lips mentions what it’s all about – how 30 years of metal makes for a great life full of wonderful memories – the audience applauded.

On the other hand, Lips is 50-years-old. He placed an entire tour in the hands of a woman he’s never even met and borrowed $25k from his sister to record a 13th Anvil album. I’m a DIY guy all the way, so I respect what he’s doing. But at the same time, it’s depressing to see every ounce of passion destroyed by extremely predictable obstacles and outcomes. [BTW, that was another element of this movie that reminded me of just how tough it was to be in a band for 7 years and never get any breaks.]

Anvil: Canadian Metal Band Since 1977
Anvil: Canadian Metal Band Since 1977

Anvil is the Rocky Balboa of the metal world. They have been playing music for 32 years, and they have the heart of a lion. Personally, I don’t get the feeling that Lips and Robb will ever be done playing music. I believe they are chasing a dream, but I’m not even sure they know what they’re chasing any more. I do not believe they will ever stop playing. Their 14th album could be a chart topper. They could go on a 90 show sold-out world tour, but they would never say, “Well brother, we did it. We reached our dreams. Time to stop playing.” Nope. These guys are lifers. A chart-topping album would only reinforce their dreams to keep making music. Either way, album #15 will be on the way shortly.

Despite constant setbacks and bad news, Anvil will find a way to keep it going. It’s almost analogous to that van that your band had at one point. You know, the one you swear you put $10,000 into one year – just so it would keep getting you from show to show. Yep, these guys will find a way to record more albums and play more shows. They will be rocking for years to come, and that makes me happy. And a little jealous.