This Is Spinal Tab

Amherst Cinema Amherst, MA


Steve Waksman

Professor of Music and American Studies, Smith College

This is Spinal Tap— The science of sound and the electric guitar

Musician and rock- and pop-music scholar Steve Waksman discusses rock 'n' roll's iconic sound: the electric guitar.

Amherst Cinema Amherst, MA

Film Synopsis

Spinal Tap, one of England's loudest bands, is chronicled by film director Marty DiBergi on what proves to be a fateful tour.

Director Rob Reiner's largely improvised cult classic follows the key members of fictional British heavy metal band Spinal Tap—lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest), lead singer/guitarist David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean), and bassist Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer)—as they embark on their first American tour in years, with filmmaker/TV commercial director Marty DiBergi (Reiner) on hand to document the occasion and retrace the group's evolution. Responsible for such albums as Intravenous DeMilo, The Sun Never Sweats, and Bent for the Rent, the aging metal heads are now trying to make a comeback with their latest LP, Smell the Glove. But just about anything that can go wrong, does, from canceled shows to botched stage props to playing second fiddle to a puppet show. This hilarious, spot-on send-up of '80s rock culture includes cameos by the likes of Bruno Kirby, Dana Carvey, Fran Drescher, Billy Crystal, Paul Shaffer, Anjelica Huston, Fred Willard, and Patrick MacNee, and such unforgettable Tap hits as "Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You Tonight," "Hell Hole," "Big Bottom," and, of course, "Stonehenge."

About the Speaker

Steve Waksman has turned a lifelong involvement with music as a player and listener into a career as a scholar of rock and pop. Professor of music and American studies at Smith College, he joined the Smith faculty in 2001 after receiving his doctorate in American studies at the University of Minnesota. His research and teaching interests range widely across the subjects of U.S. popular music and popular culture, with particular specialty in the study of live music, music genres, music technology and musical instruments (especially the guitar).

Waksman's publications include the books Instruments of Desire: The Electric Guitar and the Shaping of Musical Experience (Harvard University Press, 1999) and This Ain't the Summer of Love: Conflict and Crossover in Heavy Metal and Punk (University of California Press, 2009), the latter of which was awarded the 2010 Woody Guthrie Award for best scholarly book on popular music by the U.S. chapter of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music. He has contributed essays to several journals and edited collections, including the Cambridge Companion to the Guitar, the Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World, Listen Again: A Momentary History of Pop and Metal Rules the Globe: Heavy Metal Music Around the World. In 2008 Waksman was the keynote speaker at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's American Music Masters event honoring the legacy of musician and inventor Les Paul. In 1998 Waksman's dissertation on the electric guitar won the Ralph Henry Gabriel prize awarded by the American Studies Association.

Currently, Waksman is researching a new book on the cultural history of live music and performance in the United States, tentatively titled "Live Music in America: A History, 1850–2000." With Reebee Garofalo, he is the co-author of the sixth edition of the popular rock history textbook Rockin' Out: Popular Music in the U.S.A., and with Andy Bennett, he is co-editor of the Sage Handbook of Popular Music.