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.

About Roger Moore

rocklobster3.JPGRoger Moore is a writer and musical obsessive who plays percussion instruments from around the world with an equal lack of dexterity. An environmental lawyer in his unplugged moments, he has written on subjects ranging from sustainable development practices to human rights and voting rights, as well as many music reviews. A native Chicagoan, Roger lives in Oakland, California with his wife Paula, who shares his Paul Weller fixation, and two young children, Amelia and Matthew, who enjoy dancing in circles to his Serge Gainsbourg records and falling asleep to his John Coltrane records.

Roger Moore’s Musical Timeline

1966. Dropped upside down on patio after oldest sister listened to “She Loves You” on the Beatles’ Saturday cartoon show. Ears have rung with the words “yeah, yeah, yeah” ever since.

1973. Memorized all 932 verses to Don McLean’s “American Pie.”

1975. Unsuccessfully lobbied to have “Louie Louie” named the official song of his grade school class. The teacher altered the lyrics of the winner, the Carpenters’ “I Won’t Last a Day Without You,” so that they referred to Jesus.

1977. After a trip to New Orleans, frequently broke drumheads attempting to mimic the style of the Meters’ Zigaboo Modeliste.

1979. In order to see Muddy Waters perform in Chicago, borrowed the birth certificate of a 27 year-old truck driver named Rocco.

1982. Published first music review, a glowing account of the Jam’s three-encore performance for the Chicago Reader. Reading the original, unedited piece would have taken longer than the concert itself.

1982. Spat on just before seeing the Who on the first of their 23 farewell tours, after giving applause to the previous band, the Clash.

1984. Mom: “This sounds perky. What’s it called?” Roger: “ It’s ‘That’s When I Reach for My Revolver’ by Mission of Burma.”

1985. Wrote first review of an African recording, King Sunny Ade’s Synchro System. A reader induced to buy the album by this review wrote a letter to the editor, noting that “anyone wishing a copy of this record, played only once” should contact him.

1985. At a Replacements show in Boston, helped redirect a bewildered Bob Stinson to the stage, which Bob had temporarily confused with the ladies’ bathroom.

1986. Walked forty blocks through a near-hurricane wearing a garbage bag because the Feelies were playing a show at Washington, D.C.’s 9:30 Club.

1987. Foolishly asked Alex Chilton why he had just performed “Volare.” Answer: “Because I can.”

1988. Moved to Northern California and, at a large outdoor reggae festival, discovered what Bob Marley songs sound like when sung by naked hippies.

1991. Attempted to explain to Flavor-Flav of Public Enemy that the clock hanging from his neck was at least two hours fast.

1992. Under the pseudonym Dr. Smudge, produced and performed for the Underwear of the Gods anthology, recorded live at the North Oakland Rest Home for the Bewildered. Local earplug sales skyrocketed.

1993. Attended first-ever fashion show in Chicago because Liz Phair was the opening act. Declined the complimentary bottles of cologne and moisturizer.

1997. Almost missed appointment with eventual wedding band because Sleater-Kinney performed earlier at Berkeley’s 924 Gilman Street. Recovered hearing days later.

1997. After sharing a romantic evening with Paula listening to Caetano Veloso at San Francisco’s Masonic Auditorium, purchased a Portuguese phrasebook that remains unread.

1998. Learned why you do not yell “Free Bird” at Whiskeytown's Ryan Adams in a crowded theater.

1999. During an intense bout of flu, made guttural noises bearing an uncanny resemblance to the Throat Singers of Tuva.

2000. Compiled a retrospective of music in the nineties as a fellow at the Coolwater Center for Strategic Studies and Barbecue Hut.

2001. Listened as Kahil El’Zabar, in the middle of a harrowing and funny duet show with Billy Bang, lowered his voice and spoke of the need to think of the children, whom he was concerned might grow up “unhip.”

2002. During a performance of Wilco’s “Ashes of American Flags,” barely dodged ashes of Jeff Tweedy’s cigarette.

2002. Arrived at the Alta Bates maternity ward in Berkeley with a world trance anthology specially designed to soothe Paula during Amelia’s birth, filled with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Ali Akbar Khan, and assorted other Khans. The project proved to be irrelevant to the actual process of labor.

2003. Emceed a memorable memorial concert for our friend Matthew Sperry at San Francisco’s Victoria Theater featuring a lineup of his former collaborators, including improvised music all-stars Orchesperry, Pauline Oliveros, Red Hot Tchotchkes, the cast of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and Tom Waits.

2003. Failed to persuade Ted Leo to seek the Democratic nomination for President.

2005. Prevented two-year old daughter Amelia from diving off the balcony during a performance of Pierre Dorge’s New Jungle Orchestra at the Copenhagen Jazz Festival.

2006. On a family camping trip in the Sierra Nevadas, experienced the advanced stage of psychosis that comes from listening to the thirtieth rendition of Raffi’s “Bananaphone” on the same road trip.

One thought on “Tom Snyder in Tomorrowland

  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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