“Where’s the PR agent?” someone asked frantically. “Dead! Burnt to a crisp!” replied the excited lead singer of Spinal Tap.
If you’re confused, that’s good. I certainly was upon hearing those words. My interview with the notorious members of Spinal Tap was on its way to being a total fiasco.
It was set to take place at Georgetown’s luxurious Four Seasons Hotel. I was in the bowels of the establishment, lost and looking for a fire exit. An automated voice told us “not to use the elevator, there is a fire in the building, walk safely to the nearest exit!” The only problem, besides getting lost ourselves, was that we were one PR agent short.
Upon finding our way out, the alarm ceased and a French gentleman announced over the loudspeaker. “The fire was a false alarm, do not worry, all patrons may find their way back to their rooms.” In attempting to do so, a pair of elevator doors violently slammed shut on my tape recorder.
For those unacquainted with the actors/bandmates I’m referring to, allow me to introduce the faces of Michael McKean and Harry Shearer. The actors are currently starring in the new Christopher Guest spoof documentary A Mighty Wind about a folk band reunion.
They are best known as the singer and bassist in rock “mockumentary” This is Spinal Tap, which spawned their band. Shearer is perhaps better known still as the vocal personalities of Principal Skinner, Ned Flanders, Mr. Burns and Smithers on “The Simpsons.”
I stood before them, a shabby college journalist, unshaved, unkempt, and above all, hoarse with a sore throat. My appearance was only complimented by a Nyquil stupor. McKean began explaining the odd nature of hotel evacuations, specifically the one from which we had just returned.
Harry Shearer: How fucking weird was that?
Michael McKean: Oh, it’s the best. And how about the fact that when they’re attracting your attention the first time it’s with some normal guy’s voice, but when the correction comes around it’s done by some guy with a European accent?
Hatchet: Absolutely, European accents have a calming effect on people.
MM: (Laughter) Exactly.
HS: I can just see the European guy during the evacuation. (In a French accent) “I no want any attention now! Must leave!”
H: I hear that when Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler first saw Spinal Tap in the theater he apparently cried because he felt you were making fun of him. With this in mind, what happened when you finally did meet Tyler in person?
MM: (Laughter) Well, that’s his story. I don’t think he cried because he felt we were only making fun of him and him alone, I think he cried because he saw his life on the screen.
HS: I think he cried because he had two onions in his pants.
MM: (Laughter) Well, the first time we met Steven Tyler was at the MTV music awards, and when he saw us he actually made the sign of the cross and backed away. A lot of rock stars had this reaction. For example, when Ozzy Osbourne first saw the film he apparently became incredibly depressed, and we all see what that led to, he’s living (This is Spinal Tap). But I think on the whole, a lot of rockers saw themselves in (the film) and …
HS: Were flattered.
MM: (Laughs) Yeah, they’re flattered. Eventually though, I think we were pretty much the only band touring that didn’t have a copy of Spinal Tap on the bus.
H: How much of the stuff seen in Spinal Tap was actually related to events you all had experienced as musicians?
HS: About 90 percent of the stuff seen in Spinal Tap were things that had happened either to us or people we knew.
H: What is it about the documentary nature of This is Spinal Tap and A Mighty Wind that you find accommodates their untraditional comedic style?
MM: I think it accommodates a certain kind of comedy very well. And that’s the kind that’s close to real life.
HS: Yeah, it goes really well with observational comedy. If you had a comedy about an alien criminal with the chief detective being a, ummm …
MM: Oh baby! He’s pitching, go, go, go, run with it!
HS: I’m on a roll here, hold on … a dalmatian as the chief detective, that sounds good. Then I really don’t think this documentary style of comedy would be very good.
H: I hear Ned Flanders has some serious issues with Spinal Tap, could you flesh out his opinion for me?
HS: (Ned Flanders voice) Oh for goodness sake just turn it down, just turn that Satanic noise down!
MM: Between you and I, I don’t think Ned Flanders ever understood what Spinal Tap was all about.
H: With the differing professions you hold as a voice actor on “The Simpsons” and a character actor for film, are you under contract not to do Simpsons’ voices outside the studio?
HS: It’s not that I’m prohibited to do the voices outside the studio, it’s just that I usually prefer to keep those two worlds separate from one another. And besides, if I didn’t do that I’d have everyone under the sun asking me to do Mr. Burns for their answering machine.