Musicians speak their own language. Just like lawyers, accountants, schoolteachers, and every other profession. When I say language, I don’t just mean quarter notes and treble clefs. The language of music is rich with inside jokes, folklore, and elaborate tales of mythic proportions as well.
Think about this, a student begins learning an instrument and develops good habits of practicing. With practice, anything we endeavor to do becomes easier, and with this progress comes a sense of accomplishment and pride. Then human nature kicks in and the student becomes a slave to their good habits. They begin to play their instrument for the rewards it brings and naturally seek out albums, movies, documentaries, books, blogs, and anything else the has to do with their new found passion. This is the process musicians go through all over the world. If the musician persists to the professional level they will quickly find that every other musician they meet shares a similar experience. They often listened to the same records, read the same books, know the same stories, and have seen the same movies.
In the world of professional musicians the following five movies are must see films. These comedies contain the bulk of inside jokes shared between musicians in rehearsal, in the studio, and on the road. If you are working hard to take your musicianship to the next level count watching these films as “practice time” and impress you music teacher at the next lesson!
Chris Guest has developed a cult following for movies like “Waiting For Guffman” and “Best In Show.” But the movie that started it all is “This Is Spinal Tap,” commonly referred to just as “Spinal Tap.” No other comedy has infiltrated musician culture more than this one. This spoof “Rockumentary” about an aging British rock n roll band trying to tour America is filled with timeless one liners that are repeated by musicians daily. Quotes like “This one goes to 11” are over everyone’s head except for those whom have seen the movie. Some form of every situation in the movie happens to musicians throughout their careers. From getting lost back stage, to mix ups with stage props, to issues with security at the airport, this movie connected with the musician experience in a deep and hilarious way.
Released in 1994, Airheads went mostly unnoticed while it was playing in theaters. Years after it’s theatrical release this classic Los Angeles story about the Sunset Strip in the early 1990s and a band willing to do anything to be heard (including breaking into a radio station with squirt guns) found a cult following among musicians. It features Adam Sandler, Steve Buscemi, and Brendan Fraser. The line that is referred too most often is “Who would win in a wrestling match Lemmy or God?” Lemmy refers to Lemmy Kilmister, the singer for the band Motorhead and in this scene the singer for the imaginary band “The Lone Rangers” answers his own question by saying “trick question, Lemmy is God.” Lemmy’s music with Motorhead is part of the foundation of Heavy Metal music and as such, real fans consider Lemmy a god. Now, this whole exchange makes no sense to anyone outside of music fans who know and appreciate this genre and this time period in music history. It is definitely an insider’s movie, but filled with laughs and heart for the whole family to enjoy.
3. Walk Hard
If you want to laugh from the deepest parts of your stomach while also being treated to a music history lesson, then Walk Hard is a must see movie. This unique comedy featuring John C. Reilly cleverly blends fact and fiction. The movie “Ray” starring Jamie Fox based on the life of Ray Charles and the movie “Walk The Line” starring Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon based on the life of “Johnny Cash” were both huge hits when “Walk Hard” was created to poke fun at the music biography genre. The movie is packed with great rock n roll history and trivia, but the best moment is definitely seeing Jack Black play Paul McCartney during the time Sgt. Peppers era of the Beatles.
Of all the movies on this list, “That Thing You Do” is the most family friendly and critically acclaimed. I mean Tom Hanks wrote, directed, and starred in this film, so no matter what, that alone should spark everyone's curiousity. “That Thing You Do” taps into the experience of bands that go from obscurity to stardom in the blink of an eye. It follows a fictional band called “The Wonders” and their hit song “That Thing You Do.” The story takes place in the 60s and parallels bands of that era like the Beatles. The cast of this movie is exceptional, and to this day the film has timeless charm and heart.
Have you ever heard of Emmet Ray, the second greatest guitarist in the world? Woody Allan’s ode to the magic that was the Parisian music scene in the 1930’s is a masterpiece for all musicians, especially guitarists. It follows a fictional virtuoso guitarist played by Sean Penn. He is considered to be the second greatest guitarist in the world next to the real life guitar legend of the era, Django Reinhardt. The story sheds light on an incredible time for music, when “Gypsy Jazz” was taking over the “Hot Clubs” of Paris, and musicianship was at an all time high. As with many other Woody Allan movies you will laugh, cry, and scratch your head all at the same time.
One thing all of these movies have in common is that they were box office disasters. Each one of these “classics” lost money in their initial release, but went on to become highly profitable over years of support from avid fans spreading the word. The take away from this truth is that movies like this are meant for a very small audience, a specific interest group that will truly appreciate the humor and story telling. In this case, that specific group is musicians.
At SoundLife, we work hard to give our students a true musician’s experience, especially for those students who take their instrument and their band seriously. These movies are part of that experience. We hope the whole family can gather together with some pop corn, enjoy these classics, and pass the timeless jokes on from generation to generation.