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Inside Spinal TapEditor's note: Rock journalist Peter Occhiogrosso has been following Spinal Tap since the band's earliest days. In 1985, after This is Spinal Tap appeared in U.S. theaters, he assembled a collection of clippings, color photographs and unpublished interviews in a book, Inside Spinal Tap, published by the now-defunct Arbor House. It sold 3100 copies in the United States (a 1992 update published in England sold 6000 copies). It has since gone out of print but is still available you can find copies via Amazon. The fan site also includes the ABCs of Tap, the book's table of contents and a list of articles reprinted in book. We spoke with Occhiogrosso by telephone from his home in Woodstock, New York.

How did you first get interested in Tap?
I began in the late Sixties by writing some articles for the East Village Other about Tap's music. Unfortunately, the articles had been written on paper that was saturated with LSD, so copies are hard to find. The issues self-destructed or people ingested them, and I've heard from a number of people who remember having very bad trips when they ingested my articles about Tap. They remember waking up with a lot of ringing in their ears, and they tended to blame Tap. And another funny thing was that only certain parts of the pages were blotter. So there might be a photo of Nigel, but only his left eye had 200 mics of liquid sunshine. Unless you ate his left eye, you were just eating newsprint. A lot of people ended up getting food poisoning.

When did you first meet the band?
It was 1975. Their album, The Sun Never Sweats, had gotten my attention. It was one of their early concept albums, and it focused on the rising tide of British chauvinism. This was right before they left for Japan, where they recorded the fabulous barnburner Jap Habit. That was the album that came with a lot of packaging, although the souvenir sushi didn't work very well. There was some sort of vacuum packaging deal that was supposed to keep the sushi fresh.
I met the band in Britain. I had talked a local rock magazine that no longer exists to send me over to do an article on them, although I also had to agree to write something about British disco to justify the travel expense. While I was there, I also covered the Captain and Tennille tour, they were hot right then, and had a chance to interview Maurice Albert, who wrote the song, Feelings. I found him rather morose, and he was drunk most of the time. He's still alive, so I don't know if you can print that.
The band was hanging out at the Grub and Hangdog in east Squatney, and walking in and seeing David and Nigel and Derek there was a memorable moment. I realized that these guys had a real shadow sign, more of a five o'clock shadow sign. I had suspected as much years earlier. It was something about the shirts they were wearing in 1967 and 1968. They had a little more luster than other psychedelic outfits. Tap has a flair for polka dots. When you saw them in black light, they really looked fabulous. In the daylight, no, but in black light, yes.

How did the book come about?
I had been collecting articles and photos and memorabilia since really 1967, when their first album came out. Frankly, it wasn't that easy to find articles back then. They had an early peaking experience, and after that you had to go to more and more obscure magazines that people may not remember like Hit Stream, Zoo, Screem, Metalsounds.
Tap has been a lifelong obsession, even a mystical experience. I've seen a similar experience described by Christian and Islamic mystics as they came in contact with images of divinity. They would be swept into a kind of ecstasy, where they lost sense of time and hours. Hours later they emerged transformed. I'd stare at one of their album covers long enough and, having previously cleansed myself through fasting and meditation, reach that same experience.
For a while I was a disciple of the guru Maharaj-Ji, the baby guru. He was a 13-year-old perfect master and, a lot of people don't know this, a big Spinal Tap fan. That was one of things that led to a lot of disillusionment among his disciples. That and the fact that he married his blond secretary. Maharaj-Ji used to have these huge prayer sessions (he was the first Eastern guru to ever rent out Astrodome) until he was discovered after one listening to Spinal Tap records, smoking American cigarettes and masturbating. It was the combination of those three that caused problems.

Did the band help you with the book?
They tried to cooperate, but they were squabbling constantly. It was hard to get them to agree to anything. At one point I was pressed into service as a roadie, which was okay because I had great access and was able to secretly tape a number of exchanges that you see in the book. They didn't expect the book to ever be published, so they got down and dirty. I'd wait until they were out of it, most likely because they were blasted on vodka. That's how I got releases, as a matter of fact. They were all blasted and I asked them to sign away the rights to the material I had. Marty [DiBergi] suggested that. He said, 'Don't waste your money on Stoli. Once you get them into a bottle of Wolk Schmidts, you can get just about anything from them. And he should know.
The book sales were disappointing. It was disillusioning to see that junk bands like Nirvana band that don't even know how to dress properly rise to the top of the charts and then the lead singer kills himself. That is one thing you can say about Tap, no one in the band has ever committed suicide. They all died in other ways. In fact, they're hoping that somebody will give them enough money so that their lives can get messed up enough that they could even contemplate killing themselves.
I admire Tap in that way. They've stayed a working man's band. I mean, they're not working regularly, but they work at working every waking hour. They're working trying to get work, and it doesn't always work out, but there are you are.

What sort of items do you still have in your Tap collection?
I have unpublished photos and the likes. One of my favorite Tap items came as a promotional gift when they reunited for Break Like the Wind. It was supposed to be a promotional calendar, but there was a misunderstanding with the merchandiser and he sent out a promotional colander. It's miniature, about 6 inches across, for cooking very small amounts of spaghetti. I'm thinking of having that mounted in Lucite so that it won't tarnish. But it's stainless steel, so maybe it won't. It's for that one special guest, the guest of honor, and his or her spaghetti is drained in the Spinal Tap colander.
Christmas with the DevilI also have the picture disks for Break Like the Wind, and Christmas with the Devil. The interesting thing about the latter one is that it has visual masking. It's something. You look at it normally and it looks like a picture of Tap. But if you play it backward it looks like Satan. It's some advanced holographic technology. I don't think anyone else has ever made use of it.
There has been some discussion about whether Christmas with the Devil contains audio backwards masking. David told me there was backward masking on one of their other records. The message was something like, 'Hey, you're playing the record backwards — turn it around.' But he couldn't remember which album it was and he ruined a few and his turntable spinning them backwards by hand trying to find it for me.

How long did it take you to assemble the book?
Three or four days. I was using a manual typewriter, so that slowed me down. I couldn't get the rights from the magazines to reproduce their pages, so I had to reset them all in a uniform typeface. I regret that I don't have the articles for the East Village Other. I was living on Third Street between Second and Third right across from Men's Shelter when those were written. I'd play (Listen to the) Flower People and complete strangers, winos, would come up and bang on the door and say, 'Turn that damn thing down.' I mean, I had thought, 'They're smashed. What do they care?' The sunshine patriots, they were all like, 'Oh sure, I've got Flower People, I'm really hip. But then the second album, We Are All Flower People, no one liked that. I was crazy for that album, but other people moved on to bands like Blue Cheer, which I thought was trash. It was a lonely feeling.

Why does Tap keep chugging along while other bands retire and move on?
If I had to put it into two words, I'd say it was financial desperation. The sad truth is that Tap has never able to amass the kind of fortunes most mundane and successful rock bands accumulate. They've always had high operating costs, with productions like Stonehenge. Dwarves don't come cheap. I think Jeanine wrote up that contract. She had this thing about the dwarves, or for the dwarves, and they sometimes made more than the band.
David and Derek were quite upset about the deal that dwarves got; I think they even got a share the royalties from the music publishing. If you look at some of the sheet music, you'll see Tufnel-St. Hubbins-Loki or Hogarth. The dwarves had these mythical names.

When did you last see Tap?
I was with them in New Orleans during the 1992 tour. It was quite an event, although they did have problems. They kept getting bumped during the sound check at this music convention they were playing. Finally their sound check comes around at 4 a.m., and they're playing the breakfast show the next day. They ended up staying up all night.

What has been the effect of the high turnover rate among the band members, particularly with the drummers?
People are funny about playing for Tap, even if they're not going to be drumming. They put all sort of riders in their contracts, like Tap has to supply asbestos stage gear, or they want to play on another part of the stage. One keyboardist even wanted to play offstage, just to be safe.

What's your favorite part of This is Spinal Tap?
This is embarrassing, but I've watched it so many times that I've actually joined 12-step program. It's not a condition connected to the music or the band, but it occurs when you're constantly fastforwarding and rewinding the movie, looking for bits. Maybe you can include a word of caution to fans who are reading this. We've started a small support group here in New York and we tap on each other for support. I lost my job, my marriage fell apart, and I went bankrupt just playing the video. It creeps up on you, and you think you can stop at any time. You find yourself leaving work early, saying that you're just going to check out the Atlanta party scenes, and then all of a sudden you need to see Nigel's guitar collection or Jeanine doing the band horoscope. It's frightening. I feel a lot like the wine maker who finds out he's an alcoholic. I can't even keep a VCR in the house anymore. Even you asking me that question has caused my eyes to get itchy.

Did Tap like the book?
They were thrilled, although their whole attitude changed when they found out they had signed away the royalties. It was small-mindedness on their part that they haven't ever mentioned it in public. Since then, they've given me the Marty DiBergi treatment.

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