Hungry for Stink 

Shooting the shit with Tenacious D

Wednesday, Nov 15 2006

Okay. This next act asked me to read this: “Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden and Molly Hatchet could not be here tonight. But they all had sex, and are proud to announce the birth of their two-headed baby, Tenacious D.”

—Open-mike host Paul (Paul F. Tompkins), Tenacious D, the HBO series, 1999–2000

Kyle Gass is lounging on the couch, legs spread, wearing old gym shorts or boxers and a T-shirt. Jack Black’s around the corner, finding a beverage. The 15th-floor suite at the Four Seasons has been designed to soothe aristocrats: soft and friendly pastels, glass tabletops and quote tasteful unquote artwork.

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An exhausting day of junket drive-bys for folk-metal/comedy/rock act Tenacious D is nearing its end; they’ve got just an hour before heading down the hall for a high-end glossy photo shoot.

I get my trusty Celebritone 2000T portable recording studio up and running. We do the check-cheggity-check. Everything’s good to go. All we need is content.

“All right,” I announce. “Let’s all start saying important, insightful things.”

“I wish you were here earlier,” says Jack, joining Kyle on the couch across from where I sit on the floor. “Because there was a lot of magic flowing out of our lips. We were spillin’! We were spillin’!

“We’ll see if we can attain the same level of spillage,” says Kyle.

“I’m just going to answer every question you have,” says Jack, “as honestly, as succinctly . . .”

“I don’t really . . . ask questions,” I admit.

“What?” says Kyle.

“You let a robot do it?” says Jack.

“Yes,” I say. “I let a robot do it.”

In the early ’80s, budding musician and actor Kyle Gass of Walnut Creek met fellow actor Tim Robbins of West Covina while both were theater students at UCLA. Robbins had recently started a theater company, the Actors’ Gang, and invited Gass to join. A few years later, in 1985, 24-year-old Gass was introduced to a new member of the Gang: 16-year-old Jack Black of Redondo Beach and Culver City.

Gass and Black didn’t get along well at first, but as time passed and they co-starred in some Actors’ Gang productions, they grew close. Gass taught Black to play guitar, and in 1994 they created Tenacious D — wistful torchbearers of the self-important melancholia of ’70s and ’80s mainstream FM rock.

As Tenacious D, Gass and Black portray KG and JB — casually attired rock-god caricatures of themselves, driven to share their supernatural musical gifts with legions of adoring fans or sparse, uninterested open-mike crowds. KG (or Kage, or Rage Kage) and JB (occasionally Jables) can cock-rock hard with acoustic guitars, dance naked with flab bold and mighty. They’re sweet and reasonable, oh-so-angry and oh-so-fucking-innocent.

They talk shit.

They’re true gentlemen.

They share an intimacy through a language that others can never fully comprehend. Kyle is much more than Jack’s straight man. The punch lines volley back and forth between JB’s roaring, deluded confidence and KG’s sublimely impassive mug. It’s the tension between the two personas — you never know whether to expect explosion or implosion — that makes Tenacious D so fucking pleasant to behold, even if you don’t like their wistfully demented ballads about supernatural powers and talents, friends and heroes, sex, politics, demon-whuppin’ and the majesty of a rock-star lifestyle.

Kyle can maintain a potent deadpan, apparently for as long as he likes, and is an excellent classical guitarist. His casual, elliptical exterior sooner suggests tailgater or mower of lawns than ingenious thrasher of ass-kicking licks. Jack’s countenance switches smoothly from pompous metallic hostility to daffy tenderness and back in a split second. His posturing can register as puerile, prurient or both. In a sense, Tenacious D is to pretentious rock what The Daily Show is to pretentious news: You still get your rock, you still get your news, but while you’re at it, you also get to laugh your ass off.

In their new film Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny,JB and KG pursue an ancient plectrum carved from a demon’s tooth that allows its user to play the greatest songs in the world. Part Robert Johnson crossroads legend, part Wizard of Oz, part lots of parts of the D’s old HBO show — more than anything, POD is a love story, about a love shared by two men and their art . . . and Sasquatch.

Early on in the movie, directed by longtime Tenacious D collaborator Liam Lynch (who also co-wrote the film with Jack and Kyle), KG is a longhaired Venice Beach busker who lives in a crappy apartment. His wig is a remarkable achievement. Even in close-up, you buy it. Such details are important, for when they are lacking, you end up with a Joe Pesci movie, wondering whether or not you’re supposed to believe that the character is wearing a bad wig and just not mentioning it, and what this means. It takes you out of the dream, and, for me, the movie’s over.

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