“In the Clearing Stands a Boxer…”

… or maybe a bodybuilding metalhead.

I just watched I Am Thor, a documentary about Canadian musician Jon Mikl Thor (ne Jon Mikl). The film traces his career from bodybuilding champ to Vegas attraction, and from there to hypertheatrical hair metal performer and B-movie actor in the 80s. While I played hard rock in the 80s, I never got that heavily into Mr. Thor’s particular subgenre (a sort of barbarian power metal also seen in contemporaries Manowar), although I was quite keen on Alice Cooper, who Thor lists as a major influence. In fact, Thor and his eponymous band never really made it out of the second division, and the movie looks at the band’s various near misses, which culminated in what Thor describes as a nervous breakdown and ten-year retirement from the industry.

In 1998, Mr. Thor decided to attempt a comeback, and the film chronicles the ups and (many) downs of the process. More than a few of the downs seem to be self-inflicted (a running theme is that Thor acts as his own manager under the name “Steve Scott,” and we see why rock bands need managers.) , but he generally maintains his optimism, even as he begins to look more and more like someone who might have been played by Dick Butkus, and even as he seems to encounter folks who value him more as kitsch than as a rocker. And one of the strengths of the film is that Thor is a really likable guy — a point made by a number of friends, fans, and bandmates. In fact, Thor’s longtime drummer Mike Favata acts as a sort of chorus for the film, and we learn to like him as well.

The movie’s climax involves a ramshackle trip to Scandinavia, where Thor and his bandmates discover they’ve made more of a difference to people than they had realized. The show goes on, even as during the credits, Thor sings along with a children’s record he made about nutrition. Yes, there’s more than a little Spinal Tap at work here, but as I said, you want to cheer for someone who has these goofy ideas and then tries to make them happen.

I think a part of Thor’s appeal in the movie is what I can only describe as his optimistic naivete, despite an entertainment career that has spanned parts of five decades. If he had become jaded, he wouldn’t be the guy we root for. (Hello, Gene Simmons.) This passage from his Wiki entry illustrates what I mean, I think:

A huge epic show billed as ‘Thor – a Rock Odyssey’ is to be Thor’s greatest live event of all time. It is set to take place May 14, 2016 in New York City at the Highline Ballroom. The spectacle, produced by Fabio Productions, will be presented much like a Broadway show featuring three parts. ‘Thor- a Rock Odyssey’ will feature Jon Mikl Thor performing his 1977 Keep the Dogs Away album live and in its entirety, followed by a ‘Battle for New York’ where Thor battles superhuman strongman ‘Titano – The 8th Wonder of The World’. In Part three, dubbed the ‘Power Set’, Thor belts out his greatest hits along with some newly penned tunes written especially for this show.

A quick internet search indicates that he actually pulled it off. Good for him.

And good for all of us, because I think we can use the occasional reminder that although things may not go as we plan, there’s something to be said for perseverance.

 

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About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
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