More than a joke

A friend noted that today’s New York Times obit section included a surprising item—and he was not referring simply to the remembrance of a drummer who once spontaneously combusted.

“Ric Parnell, a real drummer best known for playing in a fake band, the one chronicled in Rob Reiner’s fabled 1984 mockumentary, ‘This Is Spinal Tap,’ died on May 1 in Missoula, Mont., where he had lived for some two decades,” wrote Neil Genzlinger in the Times. “He was 70.”

As fans of the movie will remember, one of the best gags involved the band’s drummers disappearing in ridiculous fashion. Parnell lasts much of the movie before exploding on-stage. In real life, Parnell, who became a well-known figure around Missoula, still playing drums, acting, serving as a celebrity judge, and hosting a quirky radio show on The Trail titled, of course, “Spontaneous Combustion,” died of a blood clot in his lung.

But what’s the surprising item in his Times obit?

In retelling chunks of Parnell’s eventful life, Genzlinger quotes liberally from The Missoula Independent, a paper that after 20-plus years of dutiful reporting on local characters exactly like Parnell was shuttered by Lee Enterprises and cruelly erased from the web. Specifically, Genzlinger pulls from an interview I conducted with Parnell, loosely tied to his then-newish radio show but largely memorable because Parnell told some great stories.

For example, as quoted in the Times:

That “Return of Spinal Tap” tour eventually took the group to the Royal Albert Hall in London, a pinch-me moment for the British-born Mr. Parnell as he waited to go on alongside Mr. Shearer.

“I remember during ‘The Return of Spinal Tap’ standing backstage with Harry and hearing the Albert Hall crowd just chanting, ‘Tap!’ ‘Tap!’ ‘Tap!’ ‘Tap!,’” Mr. Parnell told The Missoula Independent in 2006. “I turned to Harry and I said, ‘Come on, now. We’re a joke! Don’t they know that?’ It was just amazing how quite massive it all became.”

The New York Times, May 8, 2022

There are more good memories in the old Indy article, including the time Parnell recorded drums on the hit single, “Mickey.”

“I recorded ‘Mickey’ with Toni, a number-one hit, and made all of $125,” he told me. “One twenty-five on an international hit? No matter. It was the same time the movie came out and I thought my career was the tits.”

I would like nothing more than to link to the full Indy article, but alas I can’t. I tried to find it among the crumbled links of the Wayback Machine, but it’s not there. I have access to thousands of publications at Newspapers.com, where Lee buried the Indy’s online archives, but the once-free weekly is behind an extra paywall as a “Publisher Extra Newspaper” that costs about $150.

Luckily, there’s this good ol’ newsprint from a box in my garage. I saved this one, among hundreds of other clips over the years, because it’s not every day that one gets to interview a rock legend like Mick Shrimpton and a true Missoula personality like Parnell.

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