The Story of Anvil
November 18, 2009
I hate this fucking drill so much I want to start smashing windows with it. I should be on stage, hammering drums and exciting fans and musicians who think I, Robb Reiner, was about the best heavy metal drummer on the planet. In 1984 Steve “Lips” Kudlow, our lead singer and my lifelong friend, and the rest of our band played at the Super Rock Festival in Japan with Bon Jovi, Whitesnake, and the Scorpions, and all those guys proceeded to sell millions of records while we fell into a stinking hole.
Anvil’s been so influential, why didn’t they make it big, too, other musicians wanted to know? I’ll tell you: we got ripped off by record companies and concert promoters and had to return to our native Toronto to survive. Lips has humbled himself, too, driving a catering delivery truck. He couldn’t have fathomed that when he was singing our hit “Metal on Metal” and prancing in his bondage harness and waving a dildo onstage before thousands in Japan.
Watching the Super Rock Festival is still exciting but it’s discouraging to see the documentary – Anvil: The Story of Anvil. There’s Lips explaining we’ve worked hard for decades, continuing to play and write music, improving all the time but not making any money. That’s all right, he says, since our music provides the joy you need in life. Lips is a helluva talker and I let him do it. In public I don’t have much to say. I express myself playing drums and feeling passion for our fans. We get emails from around the world. I know they love us.
In 2006, after playing hundreds of crummy little clubs and nonevents around Toronto, we finally get lucky. A lady offers to promote Anvil on a one-month tour of Europe. We practice extra hard, certain this will finally be our breakthrough. But in Prague we can’t find the nightclub. Try getting to one of those places in the dark. We finally rush in two hours late and play all out for a few people before the owner tells us he won’t pay since most of his customers have left. Lips grabs the guy’s lapels and demands our money but we don’t get any.
I won’t mention our promoter’s name but she’s lame. We can’t get on one of our scheduled trains because it’s full. Another time we arrive at the station to watch our train chugging away. Good thing we found our sleeping bags, Lips says. We’re primed when we do get to clubs on time but usually the places look like underground bus stations at three a.m. We still crank it on and Lips howls as I thrash my drums. We’re having fun. So are the people there. They’ll never forget us. Elsewhere, I can’t believe a prominent musician from the 1984 Super Rock Festival doesn’t remember us, not even Lips, who’s telling him about some great experience the guy had.
Screw the tour. There aren’t any record companies for us in Europe, anyway. We’re back in Ontario playing at a wedding reception for people who don’t understand our music. Some grimace and cover their ears. We don’t care. Okay, we care but we know we’ll make it some day. Our wives are still with us, and should be since they see our passion and appreciate we work full-time during the day to help support the kids. Though Lips’ brothers, a doctor and an accountant, and his affluent sister may worry about his financial future, as well as his emotional state, I think they understand. My late father would’ve, too. He survived Auschwitz before coming to Canada. I try to be philosophical, and stay calm painting scenes of isolation, like Edward Hopper. My favorites are buildings with no people. I also have one, on the wall in the bathroom, that’s the business end of a toilet.
Everything’s going to change soon. We’ve mailed a tape to a successful British producer, and he calls to say he loves what we’ve done, is confident our album will sell, and wants to help us. He just needs twenty-five thousand dollars to proceed. Jesus, we don’t have that. Lips tries telemarketing and works three shifts and humiliates himself while earning nothing. And now my wife’s complaining about being tired of working and caring for the kids. She thinks I’m deluding myself. I am not. I’ll always be committed to Lips because he’s a dynamic and confident guy who often refers to himself as Lips. That energy pays off: his sister’s going to loan us the money to pay for the album.
Now we’re in England, working with a talented producer to make an incredible album. Lips should be patient. We’re in our early fifties, and he needs to mature. He instead screams I’m a loser and grabs my lapels. Screw that. I leave, lamenting Lips lives to hurt me, and I’m tired of it. He realizes he can’t proceed without a drummer so apologizes and cries and hugs me and says I’m the closest person he has in the world.
Back in Toronto we visit an important record producer who tells us he’ll consider our work carefully. We’re delighted but should see what documentary viewers will: the man, though polite, just wants us out so he can promptly email us a rejection. We head to Los Angeles where Lips and our British producer are interviewed on radio, and Lips later hurries to various record companies, dropping off tapes. No one’s interested.
Fine. We make a thousand CDs for a buck fifty each and sell them to our fans. Then, a quarter century after the Super Rock Festival, we get a call from people promoting an important concert in Japan. This is incredible, and we’re thrilled to be back. When do we go on? Eleven thirty-five? In the morning? God, maybe no one’ll be there so early. We need a place full of people freaking out. And that’s what we get. People still remember us, even ones who weren’t born in 1984.
Anvil: The Story of Anvil ends with hope but incompleteness. They could update the documentary, but I guess they better leave it alone. Critics call it the best music documentary this year, maybe the best, period. All of a sudden we’re stars and appear on The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien and play “Metal on Metal.” Lips looks cross-eyed into a camera that jerks away but the audience loves us. This is our dream. We’re on a big tour from early this November till March first next year and have already quit those day jobs.