Sunday, January 22, 2006

Tom Snyder Talks Punk

From the New York Times:

"The Tomorrow Show With Tom Snyder: Punk & New Wave," a DVD set from Shout! Factory, compiles eight episodes that ran on NBC between 1977 and 1981. It surely represents the strangest assemblage of talent ever to appear on a television program produced by Roger Ailes (and yes, that's including all the work he's done as chairman of the Fox News Channel). But it also certifies Mr. Snyder's reputation as the Socrates of the late-night airwaves, capable of disarming some carefully constructed personas with a few innocent questions.

The first of these shows, a roundtable discussion whose participants include an 18-year-old Paul Weller and a baby-faced Joan Jett, does not bode well - Mr. Snyder is noticeably dismissive of the emerging new-wave scene and condescending to his young guests. Yet for reasons known only to Old Tom himself, he continues to invite the punks back to "Tomorrow," to provide them with a venue to perform music he clearly doesn't grasp, and to interview such emerging artists as Elvis Costello and Patti Smith no differently than if they were James A. Michener or Frank Capra. In his questioning, Mr. Snyder can come across as out-of-touch ("Is that a part of this punk thing, people hitting each other?"), overly intellectual ("How do you make certain that you don't become a member of what you now call the establishment?"), or superficial (to Iggy Pop: "Why are you bleeding?"), but he is never fawning or self-conscious, and his curiosity is sincere. And through his peculiar interrogation style, he actually achieves a kind of rapport with his guests, finding more common ground with the Plasmatics' Wendy O. Williams than should reasonably exist between a Jesuit-educated broadcaster and the woman who gave the world "Maggots: The Record."

Some of the instances when Mr. Snyder doesn't connect with his subjects are even more fascinating. On his June 25, 1980, broadcast, Mr. Snyder spends half his program attempting to converse with the former Sex Pistols lead singer Johnny Rotten, who was then fronting the band Public Image Limited under his given name, John Lydon. Four years earlier, Mr. Lydon had helped to bring down the British television presenter Bill Grundy with an especially raucous interview, and he seems to be spoiling for a rematch with Snyder: "Come on, prompt," the characteristically crabby singer goads his American host. "Do your business. Humor us."

But Mr. Snyder is either too professional to be flustered, or too naïve to know he's being insulted, because he keeps jabbing back at Mr. Lydon with simple, honest questions-"Is it a band? Is it a public relations firm?" "Let me try this: What do you like?" - before landing this unexpected uppercut on the ex-Pistol's chin: "It's unfortunate that we are all out of step except for you."
Boy, Tom Snyder doesn't tolerate the Overt, does he? Let's all Netflix this one.

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