Ahhh - the passage of time. How humbling you are. Where once TV thrived on the simple talk show where guests sat down and actually engaged in non-promo pandering palaver with a sometimes interested host, now look what the modern media has wrought. How quaint and queer you look now in light of today's boffo ballyhoo extravaganzas, where comedy bits make up for bad bookings and everyone seems in on the act. Watching Tomorrow
, the proud predecessor to Letterman and O'Brien on the equally pompous Peacock Network is a lesson in modesty unmatched in modern entertainment tenets. Back three decades ago, it didn't matter if the group had a hit or the artist was climbing up the charts - if you needed a warm body in the seat, and could ply a little publicity out of it, you scheduled the individual and prayed for the best. As this two disc set suggests, more times than not, you got your money's worth. But there are instances where due is diminished by predetermined pettiness (on both sides of the exchange) and a definite desire not to play the game.
Thus we enter the first phase of revisiting old television, something more easily referred to as the pain prospect. There are two very uncomfortable episodes here, examples of guest giving host a hard time, and one where the interviewer is so condescending that you want to slap her across the face. If that previous sentence was not clue enough, Kelly Lange invites us into her closed off world of wounded judgment and turns the usually genial and pithy Ramones into disquieted, defensive young men. She challenges their look. She mocks their fans. She finds way to embarrass all four members (she is really fixated on Joey's hair) and basically belittles them before introducing another "hard rocking" number. As guests, the band brings the house down, playing effortless versions of their three songs. But when seated across a non-caring cow who wants to prove how provocative she can be, they are reduced to incoherent icons. How terribly, terribly sad.
Similarly, the John Lydon/ Keith Levene sit down is equally excruciating to watch. Lydon hasn't quite loosened up yet - he is a notoriously opinionated and intelligent interview who will not play games and does not cotton to idiots at all - and he is instantly on the smarmy attack when Snyder mentions the Pistols. Everything the host tries is rejected and redirected in clipped British quips or long drawn out silences. Snyder keeps swinging, trying desperately to find a way in. But the bratty boys aren't budging. So he finally gives up and adds his own pinched pride to the mix. By the end of the mercilessly short segment, all three have made a mockery of making music, the concept of cooperation and the human decency.
Thankfully, these are the rarities. Most of the time, Snyder is fine - if a tad out of touch. He reprimands Iggy Pop for being "too loud" and can't quite get a handle on Wendy O. Williams' shock rock tactics (it's like he's never heard of Alice Cooper before). Pop provides a nice counterpoint, genuinely wanting to open up, while Williams is anxious to get on with her next heavy metal stunt (it is quite astounding, by the way). The best episodes here revolve around actual dialogues, communication between guest and host. Elvis Costello is wonderful - witty and warm, and quick with a nice self-deprecating dodge. Equally effusive is Paul Weller, both with and without The Jam. It is stunning to see the baby faced 18-year-old stand up for himself and his music during the 1978 music roundtable (it couldn't have been easy with record producer Kim Fowley goofing around, dressed like the world's oldest - and oddest - Blitz kid). When the band plays three years later, he once again matches wits well with Tom. He really attempts at relating and creating depth in the discussion.
It's interesting, when looking back at these shows, how absolutely clueless Snyder and his prep people appear when addressing the arriving onslaught of pissed off punk rock archetypes. You can see the acute difference in the way the talk show format framed its material then (start from zero and work your way toward understanding) versus how, today, the presentation is polished and perfected (start off as a know it all and work your way to EPK exactness). You would never see a current chat fest guru gape in disingenuous awe as a band blasts it's way through a set. No right thinking programmer would allow their host to hound and harass the artists the way Snyder does. Back before the publicists and the bookers got in bed together to make sure everything was timed and tempered for absolute maximum marketing effectiveness, television was a tightrope, and sometimes you crashed and burned. That is why Snyder's show is best considered dangerous TV now. Unlike the only other purveyor of ill-prepared Q&A in the arena (Larry King is proud of being blissfully unaware of his guest guidelines before starting a show) Snyder was always ready for a fight, a fifth of compunction layered on top the classic "colortinis' he was so fond of.
The performances are, for the most part, fabulous. The Jam jostles the joint, and The Ramones rip it up. Elvis is evocative and casual while Iggy is almost trying too hard to connect with the hip young crowd (he was only 34 at the time). What is there to be said about Wendy O. Williams. Watching her perform, or chat with Tom, she's a bio-pic waiting to be made. You can just see the wounded little girl inside the mangled mohawk and bondage outfit. As for the Plasmatics, well, they're like the Cramps with more crunch (and substantially less chords). The other guests are interesting, but ignorable. What Shout! Factory should have done is dig up some more music clips (Adam and the Ants are mentioned, as were other Punk/New Wave acts), get rid of the filler, and offer up nothing but artists and their tunes. When you consider a single DVD here contains nearly three hours of overall content, but only about 25% featuring the musicians (and that is being generous), you have to wonder why you're buying more unknown talk show entities than rock and roll rebellion. The answer makes this an ultimately unsettling package. Seeing these old shows, and the bands taking part in them, is great. The surrounding stuff is acutely uninteresting at times.
Since this is broadcast TV direct from the 70s and 80s, don't expect digital miracles. This is old fashioned video with all its defective variables in full view. Feedback, ghosting, muddiness and bleeding are among the analog artifacts you will experience as part of the otherwise decent looking 1.33:1 full screen image. The transfers appear taken directly from tape, and occasionally can look very clean. But for the most part, this is like watching old found footage from the boob tubes past. It is presentable, but not very pristine. Frankly, it's impossible to imagine how it could have been improved.
Here's the real downer - TV did not go into full-fledged legit stereo mode until 1984. This mean the DVD presentation we have here is nothing but good old conventional single channel Dolby Digital Mono (spread out over two speakers, of course). It has not been remixed. So we get a completely flat and bottomless reproduction of the bands playing live and the sound is flat and tinny. The subwoofer suffers the most as there is no bass to speak of here whatsoever. Most of the feed is rather flawless - the groups sound great. But their amplified vibe just does not translate across the ages and into a DVD home theater set up. Thankfully, the conversations are all clear as a bell.
Aside from various menu configurations - you can play all the episodes, select a single one to view, play only the musician segments or select just the songs - there is no other added content as part of this package. No historical information. No data on the other guests involved (what ever happened to Mr. McDonald and his pain stopping device, anyway). No context as to when, where and why these shows aired, save for a date. And, sadly, no information on Snyder (at least in the check discs sent by Shout! Factory to this critic). An archival presentation like this needs complimentary material to flesh out its importance in the grand scheme of music. Why this DVD set chooses to ignore these necessary elements is rather disquieting.
Though it still ranks a rating of Recommended, one can easily imagine the DVD presentation of Tomorrow that would instantly gain a substantially higher score. Drop all the non-musical guests, include as many famous punk and new wave acts as the vaults have available (the show ran from 1973 to 1982), remix the entire presentation into Dolby Digital Stereo or 5.1, and then toss in a few discographies, a little background on each show, and maybe a word from Snyder (he's still around). What we have here instead is an engaging, enjoyable and often entertaining time capsule, a throwback to an era when pop culture consisted of the old guard and the young tuffs. It took a lot to get the establishment steamed and the two usually didn't mesh well within a controlled setting - say, a talk show. Sometimes smarmy, often insightful and just plain painful at times, this DVD collection is more of a curiosity for completists. The average music fan will still have questions about all these bands once their limited time in the limelight has passed.
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