First came Paul vs. John, which begat Dirk vs. Nasty, which begat Eric vs. Neil.
Monty Python member Eric Idle and comedic songwriter Neil Innes were the close friends and collaborators who created the Rutles three decades ago as a parody of the Beatles -- a very popular band, you may recall, whose bitter breakup left close friends/collaborators Paul McCartney and John Lennon at each others' throats.
In the wake of the recently released straight-to-DVD The Rutles 2: Can't Buy Me Lunch, Idle, who plays McCartney stand-in Dirk McQuickly, and Innes, who plays Lennon stand-in Ron Nasty and wrote the Rutles' dead-on parody songs, are still going at it.
"Neil is a clever and gifted singer and songwriter who's determined to be a failure, and his determination succeeds," volleyed Idle, who wrote and co-directed the 1978 NBC special All You Need Is Cash and made a virtual solo project out of the new sequel.
Innes, who tends to be more restrained in his rhetoric, returned, "I look at it all with some kind of amusement because I'm not showbiz-y, and I think probably Eric is, and if people want to be possessive and don't want to share their toys in the sandpit, I couldn't care less."
British-born humorist Martin Lewis, who has helped produce various projects involving the Beatles and Rutles, couldn't help but notice the parallels.
"The word `irony' can be certainly applied to the fact that some of the problems that manifested themselves within the Beatles' personal relationships also manifest themselves in the Rutles' personal relationships," Lewis said. "The person who found it most amusing was George Harrison, who said, `You're supposed to be sending us up. You're not supposed to be emulating us.'"
Idle and Innes go way back. "Too far," Idle said, with a laugh. "And no farther."
All You Need Is Cash put the "mock" into "mockumentary" six years before Rob Reiner's This Is Spinal Tap coined the phrase.
The story would end happily there if not for subsequent attempts to extend, and lay claim to, the Rutles legacy. Innes revisited the music side with the well-received 1996 Rutles album Archaeology, a take-off of the Beatles' Anthology CDs being released at that time.
Idle, who didn't write or perform on either Rutles album (he lip-synched as Dirk), actively opposed Archaeology.
Idle liked the Archaeology songs well enough to include them in Rutles 2, which he made in 2002 and which gathered cobwebs until Warner Bros. released it on DVD this spring.
While Innes was in New York, he had a chance to check out Spamalot, Idle's far more commercially successful plundering of his past that was nominated for 14 Tony Awards, which will be handed out Sunday night. Innes wrote the music for two of its songs, which originally appeared in Holy Grail: "Knights of the Round Table" and "Brave Sir Robin."
"Last year, about April, I said, `Eric, do you want any more songs for Spamalot?" Innes recalled. "But he said, `No, it's all done, and Mike Nichols loves it.' So I said, `Oh, hell.'"
Still, Idle was miffed that Innes missed the show's March premiere, attended by the other living Python members.
Innes noted that he was touring when the show opened but said he enjoyed it when he saw it. And he couldn't help but notice that the monks' chant that he had written for Holy Grail had been replaced.
"Someone changed the monks' chant, which I thought was a little petty, because it must have been all of 50 cents [in royalties] to use it," Innes said.
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