Christopher Guest would like you to know that there was no particular band that inspired Spinal Tap — not that this discouraged audience members from positing theories at last night’s 30th anniversary New York Film Festival screening of This Is Spinal Tap, even after Guest insisted that none of them would hold. It had to be inspired by Uriah Heep, one man insisted (based on that band’s high drummer turnover rate). Another said it had to be drawn from Michael McKean’s time in the pop band The Left Bank.
“This was not about a specific band,” Guest explained patiently, more than once. “But it’s that weird thing that after the fact, dozens of bands would come up and say, ‘That’s me.’ ‘It’s not you.’ And people would say, ‘You’re doing Jeff Beck,’ and Jeff Beck said, ‘You’re doing me.’ No, no, I’m just me, doing this other thing. But it is interesting, how after the fact, it becomes some other animal.”
That said, there was a particular incident that may have sparked something in Guest, who co-wrote the script (what writing there was — more on that later), co-wrote the songs, and co-stars as Spinal Tap’s lead guitarist, Nigel Tufnel. “In the ‘70s, I was in LA, in the lobby, waiting for a friend at a hotel,” Guest recalled. “And a British band came in, and the manager went up to the desk, and he was checking in. And he turned, and one of the musicians was standing there, and he said, ‘Where’s your bass, where’d you put your bass?’ ‘I don’t know.’ ‘What do you mean?’ ‘I think I left it at the airport.’ ‘You left your bass at the airport?’ ‘My what?’ ‘Your bass. Where’s your bass?’ ‘I don’t know, do I?’ This went on for 20 minutes. ‘So you’re saying you left your bass at the airport?’ ‘Well I don’t know, do I?’ And I guess somewhere in my head, this lodged into some kind of bizarre one-act play, where this circular thing just kept going around. But there’s no specific thing — it’s really much more interesting to create, from the ground up, these people.”