Break out the tuna, and make sure it’s on large bread!
It’s 11/11/11, Nigel Tufnel Day!!
For those of you heathens who are unaware of who Nigel Tufnel is, Tufnel is the lead guitarist for the legendary heavy metal band, Spinal Tap. His celebrated career has spanned decades, and his impact on music is still felt today. “This is Spinal Tap,” the 1984 documentary surrounding his band’s 1982 American Tour to promote their album “Smell the Glove,” is still one of the greatest movie documentaries of all time, and a lasting testament to rock and roll perseverance.
He has rightfully been called, “A Visionary”.
Today, the 11th of November, 2011, has been named in his honor due to his legendary philosophical observation, “These go to eleven.”
While being interviewed by famed rock documentarian Marti DiBergi in 1984, Tufnel casually explained that the volume knobs on his Marshall stacks “go to eleven”.
Well, it’s one louder, isn’t it? It’s not ten. You see, most blokes, you know, will be playing at ten. You’re on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you’re on ten on your guitar. Where can you go from there? Where?
DiBergi… caught on film… is unprepared. “I don’t know,” was his response.
Nowhere. Exactly. What we do is, if we need that extra push over the cliff, you know what we do?
DiBergi appeared to catch on at this point, chiming in “Put it up to eleven”.
Eleven. Exactly. One louder.
It was brilliant in its simplicity, and a concept that any fan of Rock and Roll - particularly fans of the Heavy Metal genre – could understand plainly. Yet, famously, DiBergi has trouble grasping the zen of it. And this is where the conversation ventured into legend.
Responding to an obvious musical truism with the logic of a mechanical engineer, DiBergi asks, “Why don’t you just make ten louder and make ten be the top number and make that a little louder?”
Tufnel pauses at the question… a pause that has been given a fair amount of scholarly analysis (personally I’ve always felt the pause was a polite one – as in “How can I put this to this guy?”, but I can see how some might say he was searching for the simplest explanation, as well) before responding with the quote that will live forever.
These go to eleven.
Simple. True. Meaningful. It’s become an inseparable part of Tufnel’s legacy. In fact, it’s become a mantra for those who would celebrate the magic of loud music, The Rock and Roll equivalent of “Giving 110%”.
But to celebrate the man solely for his most famous quote would be a crime. Born in Squatney, east London, Tufnel began playing the guitar at age six, eventually achieving near virtuoso status. He began his career in the early 1960s with band mate and childhood friend David St. Hubbins. The two would co-star together in a string of local bands (most notably “The Thamesmen”) before forming the long running “Tap”. Along with bassist Derek Smalls and a parade of ill-fated drummers, the band would release 15 studio albums (including a legendary run of 13 within the span of 17 years!)
- Spinal Tap Sings “(Listen to the) Flower People” and Other Favourites (1967)
- We Are All Flower People (1968)
- Brainhammer (1970)
- Nerve Damage (1971)
- Blood to Let (1972)
- Intravenus de Milo (1974)
- The Sun Never Sweats (1975)
- Bent for the Rent (1976)
- Tap Dancing (1976)
- Rock n Roll Creation (1977)
- Shark Sandwich (1980)
- Smell the Glove (1982)
- This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
- Break Like the Wind (1992)
- Back from the Dead (2009)
The band has been touring together as recently as 2009.
As important as his musical legacy is, Tufnel may well wind up best remembered for the 1984 DiBergi documentary that captured the infamous “These go to eleven” quote, “This is Spinal Tap”.
DiBergi arranged to tour with the band, unaware at the time that lack of studio support would derail the release of the band’s 12th album, “Smell the Glove”.
Released with an entirely monochromatic, reflective, black cover after a last-minute censorship dispute over the cover art prior to shipping, “Smell the Glove” was given little to no publicity, and the tour DiBergi set out to chronicle suffered as a result. The resulting strain (and considerable ineptitude by the band’s tour manager) resulted in a tour that drove the long-standing group to temporarily disband.
Through it all though, Tufnel - and “Tap” – persevere. They find the will to confront their differences AND their difficulties and eventually reunite in time to capitalize on the success of “Smell the Glove” with a Japanese tour. It was an incredible stroke of luck for DiBergi, who set out to make a rock documentary, and wound up getting a tribute film to the human spirit.
Shown here playing the beautiful “Lick My Love Pump” in D Minor.
Throughout the film, Tufnel is shown to be a talented musician with a gentle soul, in spite of his status as a hard rock icon. Yes, there are some infamous scenes where the “diva” aspect of his personality makes appearances… but what creative genius doesn’t have flashes of petulance? In the end, he comes across as the most committed member of the group, his brief departure from the band more of a “statement” meant for the good of “Tap” long-term as opposed to a true abandonment.
It’s my understanding that Tufnel is on good terms with all his fellow band mates to this day, as evidenced by their fairly recent tour. I read that he is still collecting guitars and still watches “Gumby”.
It’s my hope that the man will be remembered as much for his musical innovation and contributions as he will for his famous quote. I’ll leave you here with a snippet from “This is Spinal Tap”, where he discusses his primary musical contribution to the band, his solos.
I think you’ll join with me in being thankful he didn’t pursue a career in haberdashery.