73% of the Way to Being the World's Greatest Rock Band

Tenacious D's Jack Black and Kyle Gass ponder whether it's better to be a parody rock group or the real thing

BY MARK BINELLIPosted Nov 29, 2006 11:41 AM

>> EXCLUSIVE AUDIO: Listen to outtakes from this interview: Jack Black and Kyle Gass on meeting Jerry Seinfeld, their early years learning how to play guitar, and on Tenacious D's new over-the-top live show.

A few years back, rock parodists Tenacious D recorded "Dio," a tribute (of sorts) to former Black Sabbath frontman Ronnie James Dio. In the song, Jack Black -- the actor, who formed Tenacious D in the mid-Nineties with his friend Kyle Gass -- praises Dio's "songs of wildebeests and angels" before commanding the diminutive metal god to "pass the torch."

"You're too old to rock/No more rockin' for you/We're taking you to a home/But we will sing a song about you/And we will make sure that you're very well taken care of/You'll tell us the secrets that you've learned. . . ./Dio! Time to go!/You must give your cape and scepter to me!/And a smaller one for KG."

On a recent November evening, Black, 37, and Gass, 46, strolled up the center aisle of the majestic Grauman's Chinese Theater in Los Angeles for the premiere of the long-awaited Tenacious D feature film, Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny. Both men wore capes and held scepters. They also had crowns on their heads, befitting their status as "the Greatest Band on Earth." (Not to give too much away, but in the film the D earn this title by seeking out a magical guitar pick that appears on the cover of this magazine.) By the time of the premiere, the Pick of Destiny soundtrack had already hit Number One on the iTunes album chart, and the video for the first single, "POD" -- which basically retells the plot of the movie with rock guitars -- was in heavy rotation on MTV. The film, meanwhile, seems poised to be the fall stoner comedy to beat. (Barring extremely surprising plot departures in that new version of Charlotte's Web.) According to the opening credits, The Pick of Destiny was filmed in "THC," and even Variety, in an advance review, warned that "theaters would be wise to disarm smoke detectors" for screenings.

Dio himself, symbolic bestower of cape and scepter, makes a cameo in the film bursting from a poster on young Black's door, singing, "To learn the ancient method, secret doors you must unlock. . . ./You will face your inner demons, now go, my son, and rock!" -- and was also in the audience at the premiere. At the afterparty, in the historic Roosevelt Hotel just across Hollywood Boulevard, Ben Stiller, who appears in the film as a Guitar Center clerk, greeted Andy Dick with a hug, while Dave Grohl, who also appears in the film (as an extravagantly horned demon), mingled with fans.

Dio stood in a corner with his wife and a towering man who got him drinks and appeared to be a personal assistant or bodyguard. "Jack called and said, 'We want you to play the part of Ronnie James Dio, and if you don't do it, we won't make the movie,'" Dio recalled. "Then he said, 'Well, we will make the movie. But it'll be shitty.'" Dio chuckled and continued, "Someone told me about the 'Dio' song when it came out. They said, 'It's a real slag-off, you shouldn't listen to it, you'll be angry.' But I did listen to it, and I thought, 'Oh, this is cool! They're being nice.'"

And therein lies the genius of the D. By playing raunchy, over-the-top, hilariously self-mythologizing heavy-metal songs on acoustic guitars, Black and Gass are clearly mocking the occasional -- OK, frequent -- pomposity and ridiculousdess of the genre. But Black and Gass also clearly, genuinely adore metal's pomposity and ridiculousdess. Like Spinal Tap before them, the D have recognized that the only way to effectively parody a genre so given to self-parody is by way of the Method actor's full embrace. In other words, in order to properly ridicule Yngwie Malmsteen, one must first become Yngwie Malmsteen.

Fans of the D's brilliant, short-lived HBO series -- now available on the DVD Tenacious D: The Complete Master Works -- will find more of the same in the funny (if less consistent) The Pick of Destiny, which traces the original story of the duo. There is a psychedelic mushroom sequence involving Black and the Sasquatch. There is a cameo by Meat Loaf, playing Black's fundamentalist Christian father. There are cock push-ups.