Centaurs of Rock, Film

Examining machismo and bombast with mythic creatures Tenacious D prior to the release of their movie.

November 15, 2006

Folk-metal rockers Tenacious D played their first show way back in 1994 as a one-song opener for friends Abe Lincoln Story, an inauspicious start for a duo that has been called the greatest band in the world. "We played our one song — and I'm sure I'm exaggerating this in my mind — but I remember the audience kind of flipping out," says Hollywood funnyman Jack Black, star of King Kong and Nacho Libre. "They were cheering very hard. There were screams, laughter, and a very big, supportive ovation. Might've even been a couple of tears."

 
Tenacious D: Pick of the millennium.
Tenacious D in: The Pick of Destiny opens on Wednesday, November 22. The band plays the Bill Graham Civic in SF on Monday, November 20. 8 p.m., $39.50. Ticketmaster.com
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Black stretches out on a couch in a hotel room at the Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills, not far from his brother-in-rock, actor Kyle Gass, the other half of Tenacious D. Together, they star in Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny, an epic reimagining of their secret origin.

"What the movie forced us to do, which we had never really done before, was define who Tenacious D really is and what's funny about them," Black continues laconically, but interrupted by sudden bursts of inflection and gesticulation. "We knew we had to start before the beginning: This is what happened to the D. It sounds simple, but it wasn't at the time. It was" — his voice crackles, an excited whisper — "a revelation. 'Wait a minute, this is what we do.' We tell the story of how it actually happened, but more kickass" — in other words, entirely made up — "to make it more entertaining."

Gass sits at a desk, tearing into a few veggie wraps a publicist has delivered to him; it's almost seven at night, and the two have been giving interviews for almost nine hours now. "The story was probably the hardest part," he says of their onscreen quest to steal a magical guitar pick made from one of Satan's teeth and then use it to win their rent via a talent contest. "It was about capturing this passion. We not only want to be rock, we want to be like the greatest."

"We wanted to blow audiences' minds," Black jumps in, as each is prone to do while the other is speaking. "Not only make them laugh, but blow their minds. We wanted them to go home and feel like they'd been rocked." Mission accomplished, since The Pick of Destiny turns out to be one of the funniest movies of the year, featuring a slew of cameos including rock legends Meat Loaf and Ronnie James Dio, actors Ben Stiller and Tim Robbins, and Dave Grohl as Satan (resurrecting the part he played in the band's "Tribute" video).

"It's funny to apply absolutes to music, like, 'It's the greatest song,'" Gass points out, trying to explain why Tenacious D resonates with rock audiences. "Or, 'We are the greatest band,' which is ridiculous because it's a matter of opinion," Black adds. "There's also something funny about the macho-ness of rock. Like the bands that are the fucking hardest rocking are like, 'We'll fucking kick your ass, dude ... with our rock.'"

Gass laughs at that logic. "That makes no sense," he says. "I think the problem is most musicians take themselves so seriously. I think our humor has almost allowed us to show off a little more. Like, 'Oh, we're just funny,' but then we're rocking very hard."

Black can't come up with an explanation for why rockers heap praise on the two actors, considering how many other notable actor-musicians are mocked by those within the genre, but he does have a theory for why critics don't malign them.

"I remember early on, a couple of people saying, 'You guys are so great,'" Black says. "'Why don't you sing for real and really mean what you're singing about? Why are you always making fun of what you're singing about? Why don't you have the balls to be real like Pearl Jam?' I remember feeling like, 'Yeah, maybe I am avoiding something.' But that was just always our strength. We were court jesters. And I think that made us critic-proof."

Considering the venues Tenacious D has no problem packing with rabid audiences in love with its brand of comic-rock and the passion these two clearly hold for rock in general, it's easy to understand why neither seems willing to imagine life without the opportunity to rock their fans.

"There's something pretty pure about music, just the process of coming up with a song and reworking it," Gass says, finishing up his last veggie wrap.

"I definitely feel like I'm half and half, like, what do you call it?" Black asks. "Half-horse, half-man? I'm a centaur! I'm only half of a musician and I'm only half of an actor. You can't separate me, because then I'd die. 'Cause I wouldn't have my horse body."

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