I recently had the chance to watch a DVD that presented a collection of the Tomorrow Show
with Tom Snyder, all featuring a punk or New Wave performer.
For those who don't remember the Tomorrow Show
, it was on in the 70's and early 80's at midnight. A previously untapped audience to say the least. I believe the show only ran in the tri-state area (NY, CT, NJ) but Tom made a bit of a name for himself through it.
What I remembered about Tom Snyder before watching the DVD was the impression Dan Akroid used to do of him on the original Saturday Night Live
. It was a wicked characterture, a little bit like Nixon, but complete with non-stop smoking and the catch-phrase, "Alright! I'll buy that!"
But this glimpse into Snyder's world was a lot more interesting, focusing on a show so edgy that it would book acts like the Stooges, the Plasmatics, and the Jam. It's worth mentioning that these were bands Saturday Night Live
did not touch. All except Elvis Costello, who recalls as Snyder interviews him that it was the folks at SNL who forbade him to play the song Radio
, his scathing assessment of the state of mediocraty in American airplay. As some may recall, when Costello defiantly went into the song live, NBC pulled the plug (literally, went to black and then commercial).
The performances in this collection are incredible, vibrant, risky, and at some points even cause property damage and physical harm. Wendy O of the Plasmatics flashes white cotton panties barely under her micro mini Catholic schoolgirl skirt and then blows the front off a car that is parked in the studio (did I mention there is a live audience? Some caworing middle age folks caught unaware and other wound up fans of the band?). Iggy Pop of the Stooges bashes himself in the face with his mic during one of his spastic jiggle jumps and is interviewed afterwards with blood on his face.
I love these bands, so seeing them perform with such energy and daring was the treat I'd been hoping for. It's the interviews that are the surprise, because there is much more than I would have guessed to be admired. Snyder has done his homework, but knows how to play off these genuinely bizarre characters. He jokes with an out-of-breath, wired Iggy until Pop starts talking about art history and his study of performance as a Dionysian experience. Snyder shifts gears without missing a beat, taking the conversation into a deeper level to discuss the band's process of putting the act together. John Lydon, formerly of the Sex Pistols, does not perform and barely talks --- but what's more is the answers he does give to Snyder are so clipped, so seethingly angry that it is genuinely unsettling. This is not the clowning associated with the Sex Pistols. It is real rage coming off Lydon. And to Snyder's credit, he gets through the interview somehow, refusing to take the bait of an argument and pushing forward with an ever-changing stream of questions. This is a professional kids, don't try this at home.
But probably the biggest tributes to Snyder come from the performers who are New Yorkers themselves: Pattie Smith and the Ramones. Smith is so nervous to be talking to Snyder that she actually seems to be blushing, repeating several times with a bit of an emotional gush, "I can't believe I'm on the Tomorrow Show!" And the Ramones sit dumbstruck with-- not Tom at all -- but a substitute host
: some nondescript woman who looks like a Connecticut housewife. Joey speaks for the band most of the time in his customery drone and when the sub tries to make a joke about his dead-pan demeanor, Joey says, "Well I gotta say, we're really disappointed Tom isn't here." And the band nods solemnly in agreement.