Not Dead Yet: DVD offers interviews and live footage of notoriously “dead” genre
Punk’s assuredly dead, it expired within a year of its birth.
By the time the media started noticing what all these loud, obnoxious kids in New York and London were doing, the music had already begun morphing into New Wave, with all the increased versatility and commercialism inherent in that subsequent genre. As such, very few television shows were on the ball or adventuresome enough to catch punk before it quickly fizzled out, and who at the time was more hip and edgy on national television than…Tom Snyder?
OK, so it’s counterintuitive on paper, but Snyder’s post-Carson slot and unusual empty-studio roundtable allowed him the flexibility to cover emerging trends faster than most of the lumbering media giants around him. This right-place/right-time good fortune makes Shout! Factory’s two-DVD set a surprisingly relevant document of the swift punk-to-New Wave transition, in spite of the paradoxically austere format and deadpan host. Incorporating eight uncut Tomorrow Show episodes spanning 1977 to 1981, the set captures punk in its threatening, disrespectful, naive infancy, and its assimilated, corner-dulled, market-driven adolescence.
Split between long-form interviews and performances with short bits of couch time, the talkier bits stand out, with Snyder’s wry, square style the perfect foil for early punk luminaries. Most engaging is the October 1977 panel, which (during the very month Never Mind the Bollocks… was released) shows that the three prevalent views on punk were already established. Promoter Bill Graham plays the faded hippie skeptic, bemoaning the kids’ swastika sensationalism and lack of chops, while rock critic Robert Hilburn shows that punk’s noise and postures were already being over-intellectualized. Meanwhile, producer Kim Fowley—looking like he’s been shot with Homer Simpson’s makeup gun—dispenses the “punk will rule the Earth” Kool-Aid while still making cogent predictions about the music’s inevitable demise.
Elsewhere, Snyder affects a Dad posture, gamely trying to understand the motivations of his disheveled guests while often wondering if they wouldn’t be more successful if they just toned it all down a bit. Some of the artists, like Iggy Pop and Patti Smith, play along, giving shy, endearingly awkward interviews that fly in the face of their confrontational stage personas. No surprise that John Lydon isn’t so obliging, flustering the host by bumming cigarettes and condescendingly explaining how Public Image Ltd. is a “company, not a band” in the set’s funniest, scariest segment.
Given that TV-show live mixes have always been horrible, it’s hardly worth mentioning that the performances included here are less than spectacular, sterile-sounding and shot with hokey “extreme” camera tricks. The most famous moment included here—The Plasmatics’ ritual car sacrifice—is also the worst, the boring chug of their songs mere backdrop to their juvenile, supposedly anti-materialist PR stunt.
Elvis Costello’s already started to go MOR, Iggy Pop has to keep his clothes on, The Ramones are (lovably) The Ramones—all proof that, if punk rock must mix with television, it’s much better discussed than played, and for an extremely narrow window of time, Tom Snyder was punk’s improbable sounding board.