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This is Christopher Guest

Berklee College of Music awarded its first honorary doctorate to Duke Ellington in 1971. Many other musical legends have followed since then.

Tonight, the actor, filmmaker, and musician behind the cult rock spoof 'This is Spinal Tap' joins Berklee's list of luminaries. WBUR's Andrea Shea has the story.

MUSIC from 'This is Spinal Tap'

ANDREA SHEA: 'This is Spinal Tap' is something of a 'Holy Grail' for musicians...which could make Christopher Guest...who co-wrote the film, lyrics and songs...a rock god. In it he also plays Nigel Tufnel, the flakey, oft-quoted lead guitarist.

FILM CLIP: Nigle's famous 'this one goes to eleven' amp scene

ANDREA SHEA: Berklee President Roger Brown says the goofy 'rockumentary' captures real life as a working band on the road. And that's why he says Guest's satirical treatments of heavy metal in 'Tap'...folk music in 'A Mighty Wind'...and small-town musical theatre in 'Waiting for Guffman'...earned him his place at Berklee.

ROGER BROWN: I think his contributions have been more to entertain, annoy, poke fun at the world of musicians and to help those people who try to make a profession out of this, have a sense of humor about it, see the dark (laughs) and grotesque side, but also to see it in a playful, loving way.

ANDREA SHEA: 'Weekly Dig' Critic Dave Wildman is a fan of the cult film, too...but still...he says while Guest's music is clever and solid...Berklee's choice has him scratching his head.

DAVE WILDMAN: They've either got a really good sense of humor of they've really lowered the bar. (laughs)

ANDREA SHEA: Wildman evokes previous doctorate recipients...including Paul Simon, Chaka Khan and Billy Joel.

DAVE WILDMAN: Maybe the next step is Snoop Dog. (laughs)

ANDREA SHEA: Actually, Berklee President Roger Brown says the next step could be a video game soundtrack composer...and adds there's always push back, no matter who or what kind of music professional the school chooses to honor. This year's recipient says...

CHRISTOPHER GUEST: I initially thought it was a mistake, a typo, which I still think it is.

ANDREA SHEA: Christopher Guest finds it ironic...although his musical life started at the High School of Music and Art in New York City where he studied Clarinet. At fourteen he picked up the guitar and mandolin. Soon he was performing live...with all kinds of bands. And he hasn't stopped.

CHRISTOPHER GUEST: I play almost every day. I play things that I write, I play just things as exercises. It could be anything that strikes me at the moment.

ANDREA SHEA: This week Guest sat in on guitar clinics and rehearsals at Berklee. He'll receive his doctorate tonight at a ceremony and concert featuring music from his films.

MUSIC from rehearsal

ANDREA SHEA: That's not the way 'Skeletons of Quinto' sounds in a 'A Mighty Wind' because faculty and students are covering...and re-arranging Guest's music in Jazz, R&B and even Bossa Nova styles. And Guest himself will join about fifty of them up on stage.

SOUND from rehearsal...'One, two, three...'

ANDREA SHEA: At this rehearsal Guest plays along.

SOUND from rehearsal. Guest interacting with faculty and students: 'From a trawler...Sounds more like a munchkin. It's a helium thing (laughs) which is not a bad idea. For me it's much more entertaining than me doing it...OK I'll do it too.

ANDREA SHEA: That's from 'A Mighty Wind'...but 'Spinal Tap' appears to be the hands-down favorite among students and faculty. Owen McGreehan is a contemporary writing and production major. He'll be singing the film's absurd song 'Big Bottom' in the concert.

OWEN MCGREEHAN: I'm not quite sure how I'm going to keep a straight face. I'm kind of fearing that moment in time when I'm on stage trying to be serious and singing about Big Bottoms.

MUSIC: 'Big Bottom' from 'Spinal Tap'

ANDREA SHEA: We can't play the rest of the raunchy song here...but we can tell you Christopher Guest will not be wearing Nigel's tight spandex on stage tonight. But what will he do with his doctorate?

CHRISTOPHER GUEST: Well, someone already sent me a stethoscope, so I guess I'll be seeing patients. You know I'm not trained as a medical doctor but I can act like a doctor cause I'm an actor. My great grandfather was a doctor, my grandfather was a doctor, all my uncles were doctors.

ANDREA SHEA: And now Christopher Guest is an honorary doctor...of music.

For WBUR I'm Andrea Shea.

This program aired on November 30, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

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