Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Tomorrow Show: Punk and New Wave

Shout! Factory

I was saddened by the news of Tom Snyder's recent death - strange considering he hasn't graced my television screen for years now, the last time being the Letterman-endorsed stint on The Late Late Show in the late 90s. Stranger considering that Charlie Rose, Terri Gross, Tavis Smiley and others have now taken his schtick wholesale, minus the balls and anarchy, and run with it nightly. Aside from his Soup 2 Nuts production company, which brought us the utterly peerless Home Movies cartoon, Snyder's absence has left a gaping void on the popular culture-scape. His most memorable late-night run, on the Tomorrow Show from 1973-1982 on NBC, was iconic and iconoclastic at the same time. Iconoclastic in that it dispensed with most of the niceties of late night chat - audience tittering away in the background, brief softball-like chats with celebs and no smoking - and iconic in the figure Snyder himself cut on the program, Shaggy, abruptly sideparted grey hair, an intense stare, totally dated college prof/hipster attire and a cigarette constantly burning between his fingers - Snyder seemed more like a no-bullshit late night dj than a nicey-nicey host - his interviews were longer and much more frank, conversation was heady and Snyder was prone to making little in-jokes to his staff and camera crew at the drop of a hat. In a word or two, fucking awesome. Can't believe this was on NBC. Please, please, scour Youtube for vintage Snyder-y goodness.

And since Tom Snyder wasn't afraid to ask the tough questions and try to crack the tough nuts, it seems obvious that Snyder and representatives of the then-nascent punk and new wave movements would meet. Or is that clash? See, though Snyder was probably the most competent American television host to give the punks a sympathetic airing, the interviews that comprise the majority of Shout! Factory's collection of the cream of Snyder's meetings with punk and new wave artists are tense and uncomfortable at best. Oh, hey wait, just like punk rock. Call it generational angst. Call it rebel meets rebel. (Am I the only one who thinks that when John Lydon and Tom Snyder are hissing back at one another, cigarettes held like knives, two sets of eyes flashing with contempt and not blinking at all, that it might just be an estranged father-son duo?) But it doesn't go down smoothly. And yet, they kept coming back. Which is pretty brilliant if you think about it, for both Snyder and the bands - both get street cred from their respective audiences AND there is always the possibility of an oldster picking up a Jam disc based on Paul Weller's impassioned performances of "Pretty Green" and "Funeral Pyre" or some spikey-haired naif deciding to maybe get home by midnight the next night to see who this grandpa has on his crazy show.

The "preview disc" I got for review had a roundtable on punk with a clearly bemused Bill Graham, some rock critic, an overacting and unbearable (as usual) yet completely entertaining Kim Fowley, who all sort of exchanged non sequitors for awhile as Snyder smoked impressively and tried to let someone else get a word in over Fowley. But the atmosphere became utterly electric when Paul Weller (pulling off the feat of chewing gum and smoking while seething in a canary yellow jacket) and Joan Jett join the discussion. Graham gives Weller credit for being an excellent songwriter, Weller seemingly wills the entire panels' heads to explode at once and the very young Jett is utterly charming and innocent, despite her Susie Quatro as a Hell's Angel image. Brilliant. The Jam return for the two incendiary performances I mentioned above, notably for prime footage of a young Weller at the height of his powers with the Jam - loud as hell, dressed to kill, somehow making white socks look cool. However, there's an audience in that episode - what the hell? Final episode is the famously disastrous show with Snyder interviewing a sullen John Lydon and (a smacked out) Keith Levene, just finding their way in the world as Pil. It's a masterstroke of mindgames, aggression and awkward pauses, I think Snyder was failed by his researchers here and Lydon undone by his distaste for Americans. Too many missed opportunities. And yet, it's awesome to see the old guard and new guard go at each other, not giving an inch, hatred simmering - making you realize, hey we're not that different after all.

Moral of the story: I want to start smoking now.

- Matthew Moyer

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