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Tom Snyder in Tomorrowland

snyder200×250.jpgWhen I think about Tom Snyder, the talk show host who passed away earlier this week, the first thing that comes to mind is his laugh, an old-school guffaw that bordered on self-parody long before Dan Aykroyd made it the centerpiece of a Saturday Night Live routine. Then I think about the eyebrows, twin black caterpillars that gave away his mood just as convincingly as Sam Donaldson’s as he made conversation with guests ranging from Ayn Rand to Charles Manson (and no, I’m not drawing any connection here). But most of all, I remember the music and interviews on Snyder’s signature program, The Tomorrow Show, which ran in my formative years between 1973 and 1982. At a time when even SNL had distinct boundaries on what could be played and discussed during the show, Snyder took risks with performers considered too edgy or unpredictable for most of the “alternative” shows of the day.

tomorrow.jpgSuperficially, the slightly haughty Snyder could come off a bit like the Mr. Jones of Bob Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man” (“something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is”). But Snyder didn’t patronize the performers, wasn’t afraid to call them on their own contradictions, and got some unlikely subjects to stand and deliver. Many of the highlights (although conspicuously, not the Clash and U2) are included in Shout Factory’s recent DVD release The Tomorrow Show: Punk and New Wave, which captures appearances by the Jam, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, and the Ramones, among others. In the rest of this post, I’ll share a few memorable Tomorrow Show moments. (Also discussed below: the hidden connection between Martha Stewart and the Plasmatics.)

• Joe Strummer, Superfreak

Despite a bit of coaxing, Tom Snyder wasn’t able to get the members of the Clash to say much about their take on current events, and the soft-spoken Strummer couldn’t even get his colleagues to be nice to teddy bears. But the muscular funk of “This is Radio Clash” spoke volumes in the early months of the Reagan Administration, and sounds just as fresh now.

• John Lydon, Company Man

Capturing the former Sex Pistols frontman in a thoroughly rotten mood, Snyder played straight man while the inimitably grouchy Lydon showed why he was one of the great comedians of the late twentieth century, and Keith Levene sat nearby attempting to have a clue. Public Image Ltd., Lydon told Snyder, wasn’t a band but a “company,” available for videos, film soundtracks, and occasional performances. What, no weddings or bar mitzvahs?

• Wendy O. Williams, Martha Stewart’s Evil Twin

Snyder interviewed both Martha Stewart and the late Wendy O. Williams of the Plasmatics, and I think he had big crushes on both of them. While those two weren’t exactly from the same country club, both were attractive and outspoken, skirted the boundaries of the law, and saved their greatest passion for craft projects. I personally disliked the Plasmatics’ music, but Williams held her own as an interview subject, and her craft projects on Snyder’s show—which included demolition of a TV and a Dodge—were as perfectly executed as anything Martha has attempted. And that’s a good thing.

• Iggy Pop, Arty Pugilist

When a haggard, bloody-lipped, gap-toothed Iggy Pop came to the interview chair looking like he had just gone fifteen rounds in the ring with Leon Spinks, Snyder had the good sense to hold back and let him get his bearings for more than four minutes. Then Iggy started riffing on the distinctions between Dionysian and Apollonian art, and tossing off a prodigious list of musical inspirations (Sun Ra, Cab Calloway, Fats Waller and Howlin’ Wolf).

• Bono, Actual Mortal

Years before Bono’s honorary knighthood and Nobel nomination, when “debt relief” still meant paying down credit card bills after a road trip, U2 was a group of gangly upstarts with something to prove. This Tomorrow Show clip of U2 performing its debut single, “I Will Follow,” shows why U2 was Ireland’s most promising rock band since Stiff Little Fingers. It also provides rare proof that beneath Bono’s shades are actual eyes, and beneath Edge’s ski cap is an actual head.

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One Comment
  1. John Lydon’s appearance, I think during a PIL tour around 1980, was the one show I always remember when I think of Tom Synder. Lydon kept on bumming cigarettes from Synder and chain smoking them, and I think bumming another while still smoking one. I am guessing that’s the clip on the DVD and I’d love to see it again. I remember thinking it was hilarious when it first ran.

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