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Music DVD Reviews: Review of The Tomorrow Show
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The Tomorrow Show: Punk & New Wave (2005)

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Tom Snyder is probably remembered as much for the imitation Dan Aykroyd used to do of him on “Saturday Night Live” as he is for his actual work on television, but Snyder and his NBC show, “Tomorrow,” were decidedly important to punk and new wave musicians in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Like his predecessor, Dick Cavett, Snyder wasn’t afraid to sit his musical guests down and have in-depth conversations with them about their music, their backgrounds, and their reasons for doing what they do. No shock, then, that – also like Cavett – episodes of Snyder’s show are being released by Shout! Factory.

“Punk & New Wave,” reportedly the first in a series of Snyder releases, is a 2-disc set, and, accordingly, there’s a “if you need one reason to buy this set, here it is” episode on each disc. For Disc 1, it’s one featuring a roundtable discussion about the punk / new wave music scene, including concert impresario Bill Graham, Jam frontman Paul Weller, Runaways singer Joan Jett, and, uh, Kim Fowley. (Trying to sum up Fowley in a few words is impossible; check his Wikipedia entry here.) The “must see” episode on Disc 2 is the Snyder show that’s scored the most press – at least amongst music fans – over the years: Tom’s confrontation with John Lydon (and, to a lesser extent, Keith Levene) of Public Image Ltd.. The episode has been widely bootlegged over the years, but you haven’t seen this as pristine since the show was originally aired. If you need a good explanation as to why Lydon never made much in the way of commercial headway in the States, watching him here, playing the part of a smug son of a bitch to perfection, will clarify things considerably. Levene tries to be at least a bit more cooperative, but Lydon is such an asshole – and I’m a fan of the man, but, really, he’s awful – that it descends quickly into a one-on-one grudge match between him and Snyder.

The interview which proves the most revelatory is not Lydon’s, however, but the one with Patti Smith. If you only know her in her guise as the grumpy, oft-pissed elder stateswoman of the New York punk scene, you will be flabbergasted to witness her conversation with Snyder. She’s smiling and grinning, enthusiastic throughout, and at one point gets on such a roll that she begins to stumble over her words. “I’m getting all tongue-tied, Tom!” she says, embarrassed. Perhaps the most interesting moment of her conversation comes when she raves about, of all people, Johnny Carson. She’s practically giddy at the fact that she’s seen his parking space outside Snyder’s studio, and Snyder admits surprise that she’d be so impressed by him, given that she’s a star herself. She explains that she’s watched Carson for twelve years and that she’s found him to be “a human parachute. From watching him, I saw a guy who, when he falls out of rhythm, he just finds a new rhythm…not to lose your confidence, but just to slide into a new rhythm. There’s a certain amount of risk; that’s how I do all my work. If you’re willing to make any kind of leap into the void, you’re going to experience something that you never would’ve experienced before…and I learned a lot of that from the old human parachute himself.”

Scattered throughout the two discs, you’ll also find appearances from Elvis Costello and the Attractions, Iggy Pop, the Plasmatics (featuring Wendy O. Williams in a Catholic schoolgirl outfit), and the Ramones. Thank heavens, however, that Shout! Factory had the foresight to include a feature on the disc where you can watch just the musicians’ segments; Tom Snyder is definitely an acquired taste, a man with an eccentric, unique way of looking at the world, who knows what he likes and doesn’t really care if anyone else enjoys it quite as much as he does. This is never more clear than on the Smith episode, where his lead guest is a guy named Don Rickles… not the comedian, who had been a guest on the previous night’s show, but an actor / announcer with the same name…and Snyder spends the better part of five minutes as he challenges Rickles to play a round of the electronic game, Simon (remember that one, children of the ‘80s?). Scintillating viewing it is not…but, somehow, it’s fascinating, if only because you just can’t believe that what you’re watching was being aired on NBC. Sure, in the wee hours of the morning, but, still…

Music fans will be spellbound by these live performances and interviews, and those who enjoy all aspects of popular culture will appreciate the other segments, too…but keep the remote handy, just in case.

~Will Harris 



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