In the summer of 2006, one of Canada’s most recent hard rock successes sang – “we all just wanna be big rock stars, live in hilltop houses, drivin’ fifteen cars.” Nearly 22 years to the day before “Rockstar” hit the airwaves, another Canadian band played a stadium show in Japan on the same bill as Scorpions, Whitesnake and Bon Jovi. All of the bands enjoyed tremendous success and became big rock stars, except for one – Anvil. By all rights, the Canadian rockers should have enjoyed the same success as the bands that they shared the stage with in 1984, but for some unknown reason, they didn’t. Their story is explained in the incredible 2008 rockumentary – Anvil! The Story of Anvil.
Anvil was founded by childhood friends, Steve “Lips” Kudlow (vocals, guitar) and Robb Reiner (drums). There have been numerous lineup changes throughout the years, but Lips and Reiner have stayed together for over 30 years in the pursuit of rock stardom. The high school friends – who act and look like brothers – are now in their 50’s. In 2008, when the film was released, Lips was working as a delivery driver in Canada for a company called Children’s Choice Catering and Reiner was working in construction in order to make ends meet. With a dozen albums under their belt, Anvil’s founding members were living a lifestyle that is anything but that of a rock star.
The Story of Anvil is one of hope and inspiration to those who are not where they thought that they would be at this point in their lives.
“For all of this horrible shit that I have to go through, I’ve got Anvil that gives me my happiness. It works out really good, because even though Anvil doesn’t get me paid, it gives me the joy and pleasure that you need to get through life” stated Lips while being interviewed on the way to his delivery job.
Lips’ infectious passion is what has kept the band going for all of these years despite the puzzling lack of commercial success. None of Anvil’s rock star brethren could come up with a reasonable explanation for why the band hasn’t struck the same chord with metal fans as it has with the most successful bands in the genre.
“They never got the respect that they deserve. As big of an influence as they had on everybody, everybody just sort of ripped them off and then left them for dead.” – Slash
Some of the heaviest hitters in metal were interviewed in the film (Slash, Lars Ulrich, Lemmy Kilmister, Scott Ian). All of them revere Anvil, and believe that they should be much bigger than they have become. If Anvil had achieved the same success as the others – “The Big Four” (Metallica, Anthrax, Megadeth and Slayer) would likely be known as “The Big Five” today.
While the “The Big Four” play to massive crowds of thousands upon thousands of people, Anvil has been relegated to playing to hundreds in small clubs, but they play every show like there are 100,000 people in the audience because they love to play music.
Perhaps the most telling scene in the film about the character of the band takes place in a small club in Toronto where the band is playing at Lips’ 50th birthday party. Milestone birthdays have a way of making people look back on their lives with regret, but not Lips.
An undeterred optimist, Lips enthusiastically stated…
“This has gotta be the best birthday that I’ve ever had! I love to entertain, it’s in my soul. There’s nothing like being in the face of the fans. There’s a moment, actual beautiful human moments when you’re in the same room as the people that love you.”
The film takes you on a journey behind the scenes with Anvil as they travel across Europe on a tour booked by a passionate fan of the band. The turmoil that ensues makes you wonder how the band can keep chasing the dream.
Most musicians in Anvil’s position would have given up a long time ago, bitter and defeated by the injustice of not achieving the level of success that they deserve, but Lips and Reiner are not most musicians. Despite their roller coaster ride of a career, the duo remains positive that they can still make their rock star dreams come true if they just get the right break.
There is an innocence about the duo, Lips in particular, that makes you root for them to succeed. You get the feeling that they could be the guys having a beer and shooting the shit with you in the club if they weren’t the ones on stage.
Anvil still has rock star aspirations, but if they could just make enough money to pay the bills playing music, it seems that they would both have all that they want out of life.
In an ironic twist of fate – Anvil! The Story of Anvil – may ultimately end up being just the break that the band needed to take its rightful place in metal history. The band has just completed their 15th studio album entitled Hope In Hell, which will be released in late May of 2013 (the first with new bassist, Sal Italiano).
Check back next week to read an interview with Sal Italiano as we talk about what it’s like being the newest member of Anvil and the band’s upcoming album.