Television has not been kind to rock & roll. Stifled by network censors, botched by tin-eared soundmen, left to sweat and die with an interviewer's clueless questions, rock performers have mostly been given the Rodney Dangerfield treatment. Sometimes, it's with good reason: Sit through interviews with David Crosby and the Jefferson Airplane on The Dick Cavett Show and you pity the diminutive host as he patiently listens to their stoned hippie prattle. But often it's a simple matter of the presenters having no basic comprehension of the music, how it should be presented and how to discuss it with its makers. In the age of the sound bite, we don't worry about content as long as the form is correct.
However, there once was a quaint era before everyone started shouting each other down or making meaningless little quips. Late-night TV once was seen as a time and place where things could run a little long, stories could drag out, and personality quirks could be observed and magnified with no need to stick to talking points. It was a time to sit back on the couch, grab a smoke with the host and explain just what it is you do, young man.
Tom Snyder's The Tomorrow Show ran at midnight, but watching it now, it feels much later. His tone is warm and inviting. He often doesn't know much about the subject before him, but he's eager to find out alongside his audience. He chuckles when he amuses himself and seems willing to go along for the ride, even though he knows he'll always be the outsider.
This two-DVD collection is a random collection of appearances by some of the punk and new wave artists who surfaced on Tomorrow, which began in October 1973 as the follow-up to Johnny Carson's Tonight Show and continued in various formats until January 1982. Several of the guests perform (Elvis Costello, The Jam, Iggy Pop, the Ramones and the Plasmatics), others do not (Joan Jett, Patti Smith, John Lydon).
All are interviewed, though the Ramones appeared during a week when Snyder was on vacation and were subjected to Kelly Lange, who seemed to be doing her best PTA-mom imitation with harangues about their hairstyle and dress. None of the musical performances are exemplary. The Ramones were mixed with goofy reverb. Iggy Pop's bandmates stand uncomfortably close to one another while gyrating awkwardly. Costello's material was dull, and the Plasmatics tried to liven up "Master Plan" by blowing up a car when a better guitar riff would have sufficed. Only The Jam resembled themselves, and "Funeral Pyre" is cut short as the credits roll and time runs out.
The performances are one thing, but talk shows were devised for talk. The infamous attempt by post-Sex Pistols John Lydon and his soft-spoken conspirator Keith Levene to belittle Snyder's unhipness resulted in an uncomfortable performance piece pointing up the pretentiousness of art punks. Patti Smith was nervous, jumpy and unsure how to play her hand. The best conversation comes in a roundtable discussion ("What Is Punk?") in which Bill Graham, Kim Fowley looking, as Snyder points out, "ridiculous" a very young Joan Jett, a mumbling Paul Weller and Los Angeles Times critic Robert Hilburn attempt to explain how it's really just rock & roll and nothing to get too worked up over. Which, when you're hearing and seeing it on TV, is pretty spot on. However, I've still got some nasty-sounding vinyl that begs to differ with that assessment.