This is Spinal Tap is a satirical film that features a fictional band called the Spinal Tap. Many viewers of the movie did not recognize it as fiction, which implies that they viewed it as an accurate representation of the band. The film is, however, a fiction and only seeks to satirize the activities of many Rock ‘n Roll bands of the sixties. What becomes apparent is that the movie is more of a tragedy than a comedy primarily because it features numerous cases whereby the drummers meet their untimely deaths in weird or comic situations. The following paper will discuss this aspect of the movie and compare some of these deaths that occur in the film with those that happened in real life because there are many similarities in the timely deaths and ultimate fates of the characters in the movie and those of other real bands.

The documentary shows the unfortunate history of the band with drummers. At different times in the history of the band, several of its drummers have passed untimely through mysterious accidents. One has died through spontaneous combustion, another has choked on the vomit of an unknown person, another has died in a gardening accident, and yet another has died through an explosion. One has just disappeared and another died from an attack from a python. It becomes apparent that many drummers have played with the band and met their unfortunate end while still serving as drummers for the band.

There is an extensive list of drummers for the band who are all deceased. They include the following.

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  1. Stumpy or John Pepys who died in a mysterious gardening accident that the police have indicated that it is best left unresolved.

  2. Stumpy Joe or Eric Child who choked on vomit whose origin remains unknown. Many reported that the vomit was not his because according to one observer it is impossible to dust vomit.

  3. Peter Bond or James Bond who died through spontaneous combustion while on stage during a performance in the Isle of Lucy

  4. Mick Shrimpton who died because he exploded on the stage.

  5. Mama or Joe Besser who just disappeared because he could not tolerate this ‘shit’ and just left taking with him the band’s equipment during a tour in Japan. The speculation is that he is either playing jazz somewhere or dead.

  6. Ric or Richard Shrimpton who is presumed dead and allegedly sold his machine for dialysis so that he could buy drugs

  7. Stumpy or Sammy Bateman who died as he attempted to jump over a tank filled with sharks during a freak show. He was on a tricycle.

  8. Skippy or Scott Scuffleton whose fate is unknown

  9. Poppa or Chris Cadeau who was eaten alive by the python he kept as pet called Cleopatra.

What these cases of tragedy make evident is that the fate of drummers for the band is sealed; that they will all meet some untimely and horrific or weird demise. Perhaps the producers of the film attempted to use this recurring motif of death, particularly concerning drummers in a bid to use satire to show the audience the fates of many real-life drummers, which often end in tragic ways. Researchers have indicated that the drummer is the member of the band who receives the least attention and who is the most underrated especially by the audience. The drummer is also the least discussed individual in the jazz analytical and historical literature. In fact, when drummers do appear or feature in some of the most popular mainstream media they are usually ridiculed in one way or the other as highlighted in the film ‘This is Spinal Tap.’

The film puts significant emphasis on the comedic and tragic deaths of each one of the many successive drummers for the band. Some of the ways these drummers die are satirical and significantly uncommon as it has been shown in the above paragraphs. What becomes clear from the movie is that the drummers are largely dispensable and that they are easily replaced despite the tragic fates they face in the end. Their stories seem mythological in a way because their deaths are almost guaranteed and are all bizarre.

Besides, the fates of the drummers can also be interpreted as useful representations of the hard rock and heavy metal musician and star. For example, one of the drummers of the band rocks so hard on stage such that he ends up catching fire and combusting. The members of the group indicate that there has never been a permanent drummer for the band because all of them have suffered similar or almost same deaths because of over-the-top behaviors or activities. Their deaths can, therefore, be said to be important in categorizing the epitome of the hard rock ‘n roll scene of the 1980s and the stars who were mostly over-the-top, outright bizarre, loud, ridiculous and in your face kind of individuals. Despite their weirdness, it was characteristics and situations like these that made the 1980s rock scene a powerful one all over the world because the destinies and antics of many musicians and drummers drew significant attention and controversy.

As such, there are various ways in which one can compare and contrast the stars in the movie with the band members of real life band groups. For example, the bizarre gardening accident that involves John Pepys or Stumpy has been repeated in real life events. The accident in the film, which leads to the death of Pepys, one of the many drummers for the band who end up dead, occurs in the garden and the authorities direct that it be left unresolved because it is so bizarre to confound. In 1992, the odd and weird death became a reality when the drummer to the rock band Toto, Jeff Porcano met his untimely death through a gardening accident. The drummer had been ailing from heart disease and other issues that left it weak. His long-term abuse of drugs like cocaine left his heart too weak and he died in his Los Angeles garden after he inhaled some insecticide.

Furthermore, the long list of drummers who played for the band Tap can be matched by some real life groups that have had very many drummers. One such example is the Lynyrd Skynyrd band, which has had an endless number of band members especially drummers. The list of the members of the group is significantly long, both current and past members. It has also been speculated that the death of the drummers in the Tap band, which has also been called the ‘curse of the drummers’ is modeled after the many deaths that occurred in the real life band called the Grateful Dead. The group experienced a succession of deaths affecting its keyboard players. Pigpen or Ron McKiernan started these mysterious deaths.

Besides, the scene involving the death of one of the drummers through choking has also been seen in real life. Eric Joe, also Stumpy choked on vomit and died, although it is not clear in the movie to whom the vomit belonged. In the notes of Tufnel, it is clear that it was impossible to tell where the vomit came from because it is not possible to dust vomit as it is the case with fingerprints. However, despite the mystery of the death, the scene places the character within a large number of many great rock musicians who also died because they choked on their vomits. Some examples of such individuals include John Bonham who played for the Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and Bon Scott who was the original singer of the band AC/ DC. All of these rock artists met their early demise through choking on their vomit. Furthermore, it is not just rock ‘n roll musicians, and artists who died this way, Tommy Dorsey, a famous band leader also died this way early in the 1950s.

Furthermore, it is not just the deaths of the drummers that are informed or are similar to many of the deaths that have happened in real life. Other scenes in the movie have also been significantly influenced by things that occurred in the past. Besides, the film has also shaped significant practices in the industry. For example, as the band continues its tour, their performances continue to become dodgy, and at some point, they even end up performing at an Air Force base, where their music equipment pick up the chatter in the air traffic control building. Among the real-life bands that influenced Spinal Tap is Uriah Heep, and it did a performance at an Air Force Base. However, it has never been clarified if they also experienced similar radio interference. It is thought that the producers of the film picked up this idea when the keyboard player for Uriah Heep came to play keys for the movie album. Besides, the film has since become a valuable handbook for many rockers with many of them identifying with the activities, events, and way of life depicted in the movie.

Overall, the film plays a critical function of embodying the scene of the 1980s rock ‘n roll, while at the same time addressing some of the issues that affected the industry including mysterious and untimely deaths. The film uses satire to show how the hard life of these musicians and the unending parties and rocking of the time led to undesired outcomes, for example, death. Some misused drugs so much such that their bodies became weak and vulnerable to common household things like pesticides. Others partied so hard and did not have enough rest such that they ‘combusted’ and died. Death by combustion could be used to depict deaths through heart attacks. As it follows, the film uses the subplot of drummers and their untimely deaths to show some of the ways these artists lived and how their life choices affected their health often leading to their premature deaths.