Richard Hell: An Antidandy at the Peppermint Lounge


It was the only area appearance of rock bohemia’s legendary symbol, but on June 25 the spanking-new downtown Pep was crowded with refugees from 45th Street — ­rock and roll youth out to get laid, lighter on hitters than the Ritz, but nowhere near as effete as Danceteria or as schlumpy-­collegiate as Irving Plaza or CBGB. The one familiar face I spotted was that of Terry Ork, Richard Hell’s original im­presario. At two Hell came on with his latest band, who aren’t called the Voidoids even though they feature Ivan Julian and aren’t called the Outsets even though that’s their name, delivering a brief intro in his patented kindergartener-on-the-nod drawl: “Hello ladies and gents — we were children once.” Then they launched into “Love Comes in Spurts,” the song Hell chose to kick off his debut album almost five years ago. As the set rocked on I no­ticed a few ravaged old-timers observing from the sidelines. I also ran into Giorgio Gomelski, the Rolling Stones’ original im­presario, who dubbed Hell “a symbol of elegance,” spraying me with saliva as he did so.

[related_posts post_id_1=”718856″ /]

As we collegiate schlumps often forget, it’s not impossible to symbolize bohemia and elegance simultaneously (cf. Walter Benjamin on the Flaneur). But though Hell apparently values his red top, which he wears on the cover of his follow-up album, it proved less noteworthy than the black leather and ripped T-shirts out of which he constructed the avant-punk anti­dandy back when Malcolm McLaren was strictly a haberdasher. Hell put on a strong show, but he made no waves in a casually dressed-up audience to which he related only as the professional entertainer he’s never much wanted to be. Once he defined, and I quote, a blank generation; now he disparages, and I quote again, the lowest common denominator. Over a five-year haul, symbolizing bohemia can get to be depressing work.

At the time of Blank Generation, Hell really was the quintessential avant-punk. With no more irony than was mete, he presented his nihilistic narcissism not as youthful hijinx but as a full-fledged philos­ophy/aesthetic, and though he never quite put his heart into proselytizing, he was perfectly willing to go along with im­presarios who considered his stance com­mercial dynamite — and to con others when the money ran out. Nor was he merely purveying a stance. Though it was the musicianship of Bob Quine — a much denser, choppier, and more nerve-wrack­ing player than his romantic rival, former Hell associate Tom Verlaine — that made the Voidoids the most original and accomplished band of the CBGB era, Quine was and is a sideman, worth hearing in any context but lacking the visionary oomph to create one. The band was Hell’s, and that it embraced former Foundation Ivan Julian, whose slashing leads I’ve misiden­tified more than once as Quine in a warm mood, and future Ramone Marc Bell, a converted heavy metal kid of surpassingly simple needs, says a great deal for his ambition and his outreach. That it sold bubkes, of course, may say just as much for his laziness and his hubris. But the prob­lem didn’t begin, or end, with Hell. The impresarios were just plain wrong.

[related_posts post_id_1=”692479″ /]

So Blank Generation stands off in its own corner of the boho cosmos as the ultimate CBGB cult record. It had no ap­parent antecedents, and until Destiny Street was finally released by Marty Thau, the New York Dolls’ original impresario, its only descendant was Lester Bang’s Jook Savages on the Brazos. If the new album feels just a little tired despite its undeniable attractions, it’s not because Hell’s musical concepts have been lowest­-common-denominatored. With Material’s Fred Maher replacing Bell and postpunk engineer (Y Pants) and bandleader (China Shop) Naux on second guitar, it’s fuller and jazzier than Blank Generation with­out any loss of concision or toon appeal. Although producer Alan Betrock is a noto­rious pop addict, it was Nick Lowe who added ooh-ooh backups and cleanly articu­lated thematic solos to “The Kid with the Replacable Head,” back when Jake Riv­iera was doing time as Hell’s impresario; the version Betrock oversaw is chock full and coming apart, a real New York rocker. What’s changed is Hell’s head. He’s matured, as they say, and I’m not sure it suits him.

The problem begins with the two theme cuts — the title parable, a vamp-with-talk­over in which nostalgia and ambition are rejected in favor of the good old here-and-­now, and “Time,” in which an inescapable medium-tempo melody is attached to lines like “Only time can write a song that’s really really real.” Both are grabbers, and both soon let go, as music and poetry re­spectively. Elsewhere, the bohemian sym­bol’s destiny seems bitter indeed, as a glance back at Blank Generation makes clear. “Lowest Common Denominator” is the only all-out putdown, but where “Liars Beware” reviled power brokers, Hell is go­ing after scenemakers this time, no doubt the hitters and collegiate schlumps who’ve ruined his favorite hangout and orgiast’s dream. In “Down at the Rock and Roll Club,” “sexy love” was communitarian “fun,” but now he prefers to “get all de­-civilized” at a “dropout disco” that sounds more like some after-hours hideaway than the Peppermint Lounge. In fact, all the old escapes have lost their magic. “Ignore That Door,” a throwaway rave-up that’s the most sheerly fun thing on the record, op­poses scag as unambivalently (vaguely but unmistakably) as “New Pleasure” praised it, and twice Hell complains of feeling “alone.” So where “The Plan” and “Be­trayal Takes Two” equated private sex with Faustian sin, these days the poéte maudit manqué is looking for love that doesn’t come in spurts. In “Staring in Her Eyes” he explicitly surrenders his narcis­sistic nihilism (and his “looking around”) to achieve the bliss described in the title, which sure as shooting he takes to an un­healthy extreme: “Stare like a corpse in each’s eyes/Till you never want to come alive and rise.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”420642″ /]

Admittedly, the song is affecting even at that, its lyricism intensified, as so often with Hell, by the yearning inexactitude with which he pursues its melody. And I sympathize in principle with Hell’s new head, as you probably do. I just don’t feel he has his heart in it. “Betrayal Takes Two” is a genuinely evil song, a seducer’s alibi worthy of Kierkegaard before Christ, while “Staring in Her Eyes” is sweetly creepy at best — a little easier to sell, perhaps, and a real truth for the chastened Hell, but with less to express and hence less to tell us. And no matter what Marty Thau thinks, it won’t be very easy to sell. Hell might conceivably follow in the foot­steps of David Johansen, the New York Dolls original, who now makes a decent living as a legend, but there’s a big dif­ference between the two — Hell’s aversion to the lowest common denominator. He’s just not a professional entertainer, and though his regrets over the multiplication and fractionalization of rock bohemia may be justified, his potential audience is no blank generation. Yet it was with that anthem that Hell tried to climax his show. It went over all right, of course — it’s a good song. But the audience remained rock and roll youth out to get laid, and the Pep didn’t look any more like a dropout disco when he was through. ■

CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives TV ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Would You Give These Kids $150 Million to Start a TV Network? Rupert Murdoch Did

Little Rascals: The Kids Behind America’s Fourth Network

The young man about to address the TV camera looks grim. Sitting behind a table, wearing a navy ­blue blazer with four brass buttons, an Oxford blue shirt, a brick-colored tie, he could pass for an anchorman about to re­port a national tragedy. A very tired anchorman: his tan has gone sallow under the camera lights, the circles under his eyes beg for pancake. His back tensing up, he scans his notes: “Good evening, Dayton.”

Some older Fox Broadcasting execu­tives in the Los Angeles studio are watch­ing him, murmuring out of earshot. The young man, Garth Ancier, is taping a message to an affiliate station that will be holding a promotional party that night. “I’d like to welcome the Miami Valley and all of southwestern Ohio to the Fox family,” announces Garth. He looks mis­erable. Take two.

Just about 51 weeks ago, Garth Ancier was the subject of an extraordinary bidding war between Goliath and Goliath. The losers were his employers, Grant Tinker and Brandon Turtikoff, former chairman and current president respec­tively of NBC, where Garth had risen to vice-president of the network’s comedy division. The winners were Barry Diller and Rupert Murdoch, chairman and shop owner respectively of Fox Broadcasting Company (FBC). They wanted Garth, now 29, to take charge of all program­ming on what they hope will become America’s fourth network. His contract began April Fools’ Day, 1986.

FBC made its headline-grabbing debut back in October with its contender for the weeknight 11 p.m. slot, The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers. On Sunday, April 5, FBC will launch its attack on the Big Three’s primetime programs. Its strategy is to establish beachheads one night at a time, beginning with Sundays (Saturdays are targeted for late spring). So far, 105 affiliates are standing by, schedules cleared away, waiting for the results of a year’s worth of apocalyptic rumors, 16-hour days, many millions of dollars, and Garth’s own highly touted instincts. Will Fort Wayne switch to Channel 55? Is America ready for FBC?

Is FBC ready for America?

Garth puts on his glasses, scans his notes again, removes his glasses. A slen­der six-footer, with dark brown hair and eyes, he radiates intensity as he squares off for another go-round with the camera. This time he appears to have lowered his narrow shoulders a full quarter of an inch. One older Fox executive mutters, “It’s okay to laugh and smile, Garth. This is for a party.”

His comrade, another executive, re­torts, “You wouldn’t be laughing either, if you had only a month to live.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”717934″ /]

It’s been 39 years since America last witnessed the birth of a network (ABC, April 19, 1948). The moment still doesn’t seem propitious for a fourth network. Advertising rates are soft, budget cuts merciless. Since the late ’70s, the networks’ share of viewers has declined 15 per cent — not only because of competition from VCRs and cable, but because the networks are clones of one another. The industry quip is that there’s scarcely enough programming for two and a half networks.

Although 637 stations still pledge alle­giance to the networks, the number of independents has nearly doubled in the last few years, to 275. And the indies are product-hungry. They’ve turned increas­ingly toward “first-run syndication”­ — new, independently produced shows like Entertainment Tonight and Wheel of Fortune, which compete well against the Big Three in non-primetime slots.

Enter Rupert Murdoch, former owner of this newspaper, present owner of 20th Century-Fox and sundry other empires. Last year he purchased Metromedia’s seven independent stations (including New York’s Channel 5) for $2 billion. Together with 20th Century’s Barry Diller, former studio head of Paramount and perhaps the last man in Hollywood you’d want to spill your drink on, they’ve created the Fox Broadcasting Company, an “alternative programming service,” fourth force,” or as some potential sponsors have nicknamed it, the ‘Tweenie” — between a network and a first-run syndication company.

Fox has sunk $150 million into first­-year start-up costs and doesn’t expect to turn a profit for three to five years. In contrast to the network behemoths, FBC runs lean with 62 employees — they have no plans for such costly undertakings as regular news or sports coverage (though they did bid against ABC for next sea­son’s Monday Night Football). So far, 98 independent stations and five ABC affiliates, plus Murdochs seven, carry The Late Show, and FBC claims it reaches 80 per cent of American households. But most of the Fox indie affiliates are on the weaker-signal UHF band — that never-never land beyond Channel 13. So far, the “network” is more of a buzzword than a broadcasting venture.

[related_posts post_id_1=”721462″ /]

On this Monday morning in March, 33 days before launch, the phones in the FBC Century City offices ring persistent­ly, vice-presidents drop whatever they’re doing and rush down the halls preparing explanations… defenses… excuses for the Grand Inquisitor. Mr. Diller is not pleased. Simply put, the problem is that America has not yet been made to feel that Fox Broadcasting should be the most important thing in their lives.

The FBC logo has not yet been settled on. The Show Status Report, a weekly update on publicity campaigns, is stud­ded with “TBDs” (To Be Determined). In some cities at least 45 per cent of the viewers surveyed didn’t know which sta­tion carried The Late Show. And about Miss Rivers — her ratings are sliding, her show is over budget, her program an em­barrassment. The promos for the new shows aren’t ready. The new shows aren’t ready. And who sent a work-in-progress cassette to the Washington Post for review?

In Garth Ancier’s office, the week does not begin fresh at 7 a.m. on this same Monday morning — it merely continues from the night and day before. He operates out of an innocuous but spacious room with two leather couches, Museum of Broadcasting posters, a brass dish filled with Gummi Bears, an oval desk, no books, two TVs — at least one alway on, sound off, a visual pacifier — and a wall­-sized, party-colored chart of the networks’ primetime schedule that looks like a gameboard.

[related_posts post_id_1=”722865″ /]

Most of the blocks under the FBC heading are blank. Throughout April and May, perhaps into June, FBC will roll out nine weekend shows. But with only 12 projects — two of which are just pilots — it has virtually no backup programming. By traditional, pilot-heavy network standards, that makes as much sense as doing high-wire act during an earthquake.

With just a month to go, most of its scripts are still in various stages of doo­dling, rewriting, casting, recasting, shooting and reshooting. One, Down and Out in Beverly Hills, is living up to its name. And will the Household Name Actress please get on the exercycle? Will the Hip­ Name Actor behave himself, or will his character meet an early, mid-season death? What are the chances TV Guide will hold up its program-schedule deadlines until Fox gets its act together?

Just to make sure America has no ex­cuse not to tune in, FBC will air the premieres of two half-hour programs three times each, between 7 and 10 p.m. on April 5. The sitcom Married… With Children, though, is in the grip of a censorship battle with the network, the sponsors, and the executive producers­ — as Garth put it, “The whole company is split on ‘Pummel Men’s Scrotums.’ ” And the producers of a comedy-variety show­case called The Tracey Ullman Show, scheduled for a preliminary run-through, are so unsure about it that, as Fox liaison Michael Lansbury reported, “They, uh, don’t want us network fascist types to make their presence felt.”

At least 12 projects, each its own soap opera of complaints and demands, phone in to Garth regularly. But this morning’s major migraine is the show FBC has scheduled for April 12, a $10-million se­ries now entitled 21 Jump Street, from the creator of The Rockford Files and The A-Team but also Stingray and Hunt­er, the pipe-smoking man who signs off every show by whipping a page from a typewriter and tossing it in the air: Ste­phen J. Cannell. Garth has just taken his third look at the two-hour Jump Street premiere and made copious notes. Character credibility, holes in the plot, objec­tionable language — from behind his closed door can be heard muffled sounds of high-pitched, fast-talking voices. Garth deputizes Kevin Wendle, second in command of the five-member program­ming staff, to speak to Cannell.

[related_posts post_id_1=”722528″ /]

Kevin returns that night, looking haggard: some disagreements over the pre­miere have been resolved — “shmuck” is out — others loom, and he’s brought a rough cut of another episode. 21 Jump Street, which kicks off the lineup, is cru­cial to FBC’s Sunday night counter-programming: “At seven o’clock there’s a real opportunity for getting kids and teens,” explains Kevin, 28, FBC’s vice­-president of primetime and late-night programming. “Our House is real soft—”

“—Soft, soft, like watching paint dry,” says Garth, rolling his eyes.

“—Sixty Minutes is sophisticated, ur­ban, older. The Disney Movie is a glossy view of how adults think kids look at the world. We went in for a calculated ap­proach: four young cops undercover in high schools. The idea is to root out bad kids before they become bad adults. You can’t make the cops narcs — kids would resent you. So we make them exciting, likable leads. There’s no greater social purpose here. If it was a realistic script, it wouldn’t be entertaining.”

We watch the rough cut. Among the memorable lines: Teacher—“You lied to me!” Young Cop—“No. I misled you.”

Afterwards, looking boyish and wide­-eyed, they ask my reaction. I have jet lag, I am lunchless. I cannot summon the grace to be opaque. I hate the show. They listen without flinching. “I was starting to feel really depressed by what you said,” Garth says later. He is removing his glasses, rubbing his eyes, “But then I remembered: you don’t watch a lot of television.”

Kevin Wendle describes Garth, his boss, as his best friend. They are constantly running into each other’s offices, jabbering, putting out fires all day long. While driving on the freeway, Kevin calls up Garth, and plays audition cassettes for Jump Street’s theme music over the car phone. Public­ly, they present a united corporate front — always the brass-buttoned blazer, tie, and loafers. But Garth detests Silly; his latest example of sitcom nadir is ALF. Kevin doesn’t mind a talking car or two “if the concept is well executed.” Kevin drives a snappy white Alfa Romeo, Garth a garden-variety gray 560 SL Mercedes convertible. Kevin, who is slim, has been known to eat actual meals; Garth, who is slimmer still, is a world-class weight neurotic who’ll sit down to a 300-calorie Lean Cuisine dinner at 10:30 p.m. and not eat for another 24 hours. Kevin owns a house-with-pool in a fashionable part of town. Garth? A condo in north Holly­wood, practically in the Valley. When Ke­vin asked him why, he said, “Because that’s where the audience lives.”

One morning, hours after his 5:30 a.m. workout at the Fox gym, Kevin walks familiarly into the Bel-Air Hotel, L.A.’s power breakfast room of the moment. He’s led to a see-and-be-seen table by the window, and orders granola with fruit, skim milk, decaf. Kevin has been working in radio and television for half of his entire life.

Fourteen years ago, New York’s WINS news radio was led to believe its new production assistant on the four-to-mid­night shift was 17; he was actually a 14-year-old high school sophomore from northern New Jersey: “Every night my mother would go to sleep, set her alarm, and drive to the bus stop in her pajamas to pick me up at 1:30 a.m.” After a year, he jumped to WPIX-TV and by the time he did turn 17, Kevin was producing PIX’s Midday News. He skipped the rest of his senior year and enrolled in NYU, choosing the easiest degree program he could find — journalism. When he was a 19-year-old associate producer, the show won the first Emmy awarded to an inde­pendent station for a newscast.

Kevin’s dream in those days was to produce the top-rated newscast in New York, but there were only three such jobs in the city. Then ABC in Chicago called: “I dropped out of college, read a few books about Chicago. It was pretty funny: I had braces, and I was 20 — not old enough to drink there — and I was pro­ducer of the six o’clock news.

[related_posts post_id_1=”721955” /]

“I loved television so much. I was a news junkie in the Eyewitness news fash­ion — providing information in a provocative way can be fun. I still get the New York Post here.”

Finally Channel 7, ABC’s New York affiliate, summoned. “I produced Roger and Bill — it was the era of Roseanne, Snyder, Ernie, Bob Lape. We went to number one. Two and a half years later I decided to leave news and go into pro­gramming. I was 24, and I’d just OD’d on studying the world.”

Kevin’s face is unlined, but his light brown hair is shot with gray. Likable and easy to be around, he’s at once calm and alert, gracious. His comments are all the more stunning because of his affectless delivery. “I’ll be working for a month, more, and I’ll realize I should take a day off, go to the beach, fall in love or some­thing, because you have to experience things so you can think, wouldn’t that be nice to get on television?'”

Kevin’s first programming success for ABC was 1983’s New York Hot Tracks, the black music show shot in the city’s dance clubs; his first failure was New York Style, Regis Philbin’s ill-fated after­noon show. Bored, restless, Kevin quit ABC. Real television, he decided, was be­ing made in Hollywood.

NBC’s Brandon Tartikoff offered to start him as manager in NBC’s drama development. Kevin, who’d been sports-­ignorant when he started writing about it at WPIX, who’d been Chicago-ignorant before he produced its newscast, who didn’t have a clue about black music be­fore he put it on TV, felt that perhaps he should tell Tartikoff he knew absolutely nothing about hour-long action shows. “Brandon said, ‘Just listen and learn. In a year you’ll be running the place.’ ”

Kevin also spent the year “learning the town”: memorizing hundreds of career paths, becoming fluent in the machine­-gun language of the industry, socializing aggressively, manipulating rumors — skills critical for a young job-jumper. After 14 months’ experience in network program­ming, Kevin was invited to dine with Barry Diller and Rupert Murdoch. Several days later he was phoned by Jamie Kellner, the new president of Fox Broad­casting Company: “Barry thinks you’re a name with a bullet.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”722337″ /]

Even Kevin didn’t have the back­ground to run all the programming for the new network. “I didn’t think they could get Garth — Garth was Brandon’s right-hand man.” But they did, and on the last Friday morning in March, 1986, Garth resigned at 9:30, Kevin an hour later. NBC strongly advised their former fair-haired boys to be out by noon.

“We were kids in a candy store. We packed Garth’s car with every book on TV we could find — writers books, lists of writers, greatest TV movies — we wanted to study the history of TV. We spent the weekend in Palm Springs plotting the networks, examining their cycles.

“We studied the face of television and took apart the seven nights: which ones lost audience and why? Men, teens, and kids were down 20 share points on Satur­day night — there’s nothing for them to watch. That’s why we’ve got Werewolf.” (And, for female viewers home on Satur­day nights, Karen’s Song, a dramatic sit­com about an affair between a 40-year-­old divorced, working woman and a 28- year-old aspiring caterer.)

“The networks have always pro­grammed by saying, ‘What’s on TV?’ So Garth said, ‘What’s not on TV? How can we counterprogram?’ We’re a threat to the way they do business, the going to lunch, the favors, the relationships with people, the hours spent on projects every­one agrees beforehand won’t fly. I don’t like us to be called a network. Networks are dinosaurs.”

Rather grandly, he says that at 50 he should put himself to pasture, and open a restaurant. Later in the week, he listens to project proposals from a silver-haired, former high-ranking NBC executive. The ideas, Kevin and a staff member con­clude, are “too ’70s.”

A new show called Beans Baxter may be Kevin’s favorite in the FBC lineup. With spies who hide in toaster ovens and mail boxes, it certainly approaches Silly. But Kevin — who describes the show as “Hey Wally, can I borrow your Howit­zer?” — believes it could develop a cult following.

Wearing a nondescript blazer, politely requesting a phone for the table, Kevin doesn’t look like a guy who’d know a cult hit if it introduced itself to him. Even so: Beans Baxter’s premiere includes Elinor Donohue (of Father Knows Best) as Mom and chainsaw queen Wendy O. Williams as a dominatrix-type bad girl. “Garth and I aren’t hip,” Kevin says, as he finishes his granola, “but hopefully we know peo­ple who are.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”721434″ /]

When word got out that there was now a fourth market for televi­sion programming, Hollywood, pitchpersons stampeded Garth’s door. The Pitch is the traditional first step to a primetime slot: a flatter-­tease-and-grovel session of approximately 26 minutes performed by a writer, producer, and two agents for a stone-faced network executive. The tales brought back by the first survivors of the Fox sessions were chilling: Garth did not suffer pitches gladly. And he almost cate­gorically refused to take risks with unknowns.

How different did Fox need to be to romance viewers away from the Big Three? How different could Fox afford to be, and still romance sponsors? FBC’s programming, management decided, would strive for freshness by “network” standards. Garth wanted to lure proven talent; it was not his job to polish diamonds in the rough, he said. That was the responsibility of the production studios.

FBC pays comparable network prices — $300,000 to $500,000 for a half-­hour episode. Even so, why would a top producer in television — whose prestige is roughly analogous to a top director’s in film and who can virtually have his way with any of the Big Three — consider signing with a phantom network whose shows would be watched by about 35 peo­ple in the whole country?

This is a partial roster of producers and writers working with FBC: Jim Brooks (Mary Tyler Moore, Taxi, Lou Grant, Terms of Endearment), Ed Wein­berger (M.A.S.H.), Gary David Goldberg (Family Ties), Margie Peters and Linda Marsh (Family Ties, Valerie), and Ste­phen J. Cannell. Disney Studios has a project with them. And so does New York’s radio madman, Howard Stern.

Garth never intended to reinvent net­work television, but he did reinvent how it is developed. Instead of waiting for pitches, he did the pitching. Producers for FBC would have two things that are almost unheard of: job security in the form of a guaranteed 13 episodes (no make-it-or-break-it pilot) and creative freedom.

It’s time for the generals’ address to the troops — the weekly update that FBC management telecasts to its affiliates. On this Tuesday morning, headquarter’s mission is particularly tricky: convince affiliates that the folks in Century City know exactly what they’re doing, plans are right on schedule, and so how about a little enthusiasm out there?

Five FBC executives, Garth among them, sit behind a table in a studio at KTTV, the Fox-owned station in Los Angeles. In the politest terms, an execu­tive scolds some affiliates for being chick­enshit and airing The Late Show after Johnny Carson. (The affiliates have to know, Barry Diller has instructed his generals, that the 11 o’clock franchise is “destiny.”) Next, a message from Our Whiz Kid: programming is moving along nicely, now let’s take a look at a two-minute test from Karen’s Song, “un­sweetened,” apologizes Garth, by music or laugh tracks. Then FBC’s April debut strategy explained: to avoid the heavy pounding by the networks during the March and May sweeps. Questions?

Amarillo. Seattle. Norfolk. From around the country, inquiring station managers want to know: “Programming from the network ends at 10 p.m. What do you suggest we follow it with?” Garth?

A. “We offer young, upscale, urban­-oriented programming. On Sundays, try an adult sitcom like Taxi or Barney Miller, since there are no sitcoms on CBS and NBC then.”

Another executive adds with some ur­gency, “If someone is trying to get you to program religion, please think about it carefully.”

Oklahoma City. Davenport. Chatta­nooga. “Garth, can you confirm the title of Werewolf [a new show]?”

A. “Yes I can.” Pause. Hearty smile. “We’ve spent a half-million bucks to pay for his transformation from man into wolf!”

Raleigh, North Carolina, wants to know if the stars of the shows will be making appearances for publicity interviews.

A. Er. Uh. Maximum impact, major cities, so “not in Raleigh.”

Green Bay has heard rumors that FBC may be signing up a station in Milwaukee, which borders the Green Bay sta­tion’s Area of Dominant Influence (ADI). Say it ain’t so, Fox.

A. At the moment there is no Fox station in Milwaukee. But it’s likely there will be by the end of the week.

Savannah. Salt Lake City. Little Rock. “What will FBC do if other networks put up blockbuster movies during their de­but?” Garth?

He laughs confidently, with a touch of disdain. “NBC putting on a 7-to-10 mov­ie? They’re stuck with Rags to Riches [a new show] and with only two weeks on the air, they wouldn’t pull it. Besides, they’re well aware that if they did, we’d use it as a publicity stunt.”

No more questions? See you next week then, and remember (a billboard flashes on the monitors): 33 DAYS UNTIL PRIME TIME LAUNCH!

[related_posts post_id_1=”713841″ /]

These days, FBC’s young programming staff runs on caffeine, Gummi Bears, excitement, and dread. No one has time to wait for the elevator, no one has time to speak in complete sentences. Garth, who does so much of his work over the phone, throws his legs up on his desk and talks the fastest of them all: “Cheers may go to Wednesday at 9? Oblivion!… Yeah, I hear he’s looking — you going after him?… The studio thinks it’s a great made-for. Now I really wonder about their judgment. They’re supposed to be doing something with us, you know.”

One night he agrees to be wrested from the office for an hour or so. In the vesti­bule of a crowded Westwood restaurant (Kevin’s recommendation), one of Ameri­ca’s most powerful television executives turns into just another guy who’s daunted by a maitre d’. All the tables in the lounge are taken, and Garth isn’t allowed to sit upstairs, because of course he does not want to order food. He gazes longingly at the TV over the bar, which happens to be tuned to Fox’s KTIV. “Do you think they’d give me a table if I threatened to yank that show off their set?” he says, half kidding.

Edging up to the bar, he orders a spar­kling water and inhales basketfuls of pop­corn (“very low in calories”). He is starting to unwind. In the office, he’s perceived as a mysterious work ma­chine — coolheaded, efficient, tireless. Outside the office, he’s a young 29, gawky, high-spirited, recounting war sto­ries that are “unbeleeevable!” Like the one about how he was talked into leaving NBC.

“I had my first meeting with [FBC president] Jamie Kellner on Friday night, then Sunday morning at Barry’s house. That night I went to a black-tie function­al and sat at a table with [RCA chairman Thornton] Bradshaw, Grant Tinker, and Brandon. I felt like such a turncoat. FBC’s offer came Monday morning at 7:30. Tuesday, Brandon counteroffered. Grant called me and said that a fourth network would never work — NBC tried to make me feel like I was one of three people in the entire world. I called Fox to pass. Wednesday night Barry said, ‘Don’t pass, have drinks with Rupert.’ Rupert was charismatic. He didn’t make a hard sell. He just said he’d like to meet the man who was going to spend his money.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”720727″ /]

Garth left because the challenge was gone — NBC had been number one for over a year, in part because of the come­dies he’d helped develop. He was tanta­lized by the prospect of a new venture and by going head-to-head with his mentors. But his greatest challenge would be Barry Diller, a man who clearly enjoys stoking his reputation as Hollywood’s Vlad the Impaler. “Barry tolerates no bullshit. When you’re in a big company like NBC there’s so much wasted time, so much hidden agenda. Here, it’s like a precept at Princeton. Rupert and Barry want total truth. Barry and I fight a lot. I like to win, and I win a lot. But Barry makes me work for everything I get.”

When Garth was growing up in Law­renceville, New Jersey, his parents would lock him out of the house to make him play with other kids. Garth, who still considers himself a loner, preferred TV: “If you don’t like the people, you can change the channel.” Some of his fondest memories from the Lawrenceville School and Princeton, be says, are of sitting around with friends, watching TV.

At 12 he interned at a public television station; at 14 he was running the control board of a beautiful-music radio station. To fulfill FCC requirements, it needed a public affairs program. Garth, then 16, developed the Sunday morning show that has come to be known as American Focus and is carried by 400 stations. The first person he interviewed was the state’s traffic safety coordinator. “Then we interviewed Katharine Graham, because she had just bought the Trenton Times. I was a cocky kid.”

He talked New York’s WNBC into air­ing the show; then 16 NBC affiliates car­ried it. When he was graduated, barely, from Princeton in 1979, the show had become a campus institution and had been written up in the national press. “I was traveling across the country, meeting stars, world leaders, having a great time,” says Garth, rather bemused by himself­. “When you’re on your second CIA director…”

After graduation, he thought he’d like to go into network programming. He was in Los Angeles to interview Jimmy Stew­art for the radio show, but he didn’t have a résumé with him. So he walked into Brandon Tartikoff’s office and handed him a People profile. “Brandon looked at it and said, ‘Oh, you went to Lawrence­ville, too?’ ”

[related_posts post_id_1=”714416” /]

Garth watched an awful lot of televi­sion over the next seven years. “Most network shows are poorly executed. You can see the jokes coming a mile away. NBC always went for the jokes first. I always look for the story-telling, the emo­tion, the characters first, then the jokes.” Designing Women, he thinks, is terrible: “one character, split four ways.” He admires Murder She Wrote, 60 Minutes, Kate and Allie, Who’s the Boss, Newhart “most of the time.” Moonlighting, “but they can’t afford to make a lot of Moon­lightings at three and a half million an episode.” Cagney and Lacey? “A little dark, a little depressing.” Hill Street? “Well done, but I don’t enjoy it.” At home, Garth owns a 46-inch screen and four monitors.

“The writer-producers are my heroes — ­they did the shows I watched in college. At NBC I’d worked with Jim Brooks on Taxi. I was totally in awe of this guy, I mean, you’re talking God. He’s so talent­ed I’m scared to death of him. When I heard that he wanted to do something with us [The Tracey Ullman Show] I was too shy to call him up and say thank you, so I sent him a hand-written note.”

Nevertheless, Garth says, it’s been dif­ficult to inspire people. “I’ve been telling them ‘Please be more adventurous.’ They’ve been so beaten down they’re afraid to take chances.” Like the time the Buffalo Bill people wanted to do a show on abortion, and Garth had to negotiate between writers and censors, line by line. The haggling over language, never mind ideas. Sleazeball yes, scumbag no?

It’s 8:30, long past time to phone in to the office. The staff is waiting for him — the hour-long premiere of Duet has just arrived. He gets into the Mercedes, and dials as he drives. “Kevin, you ordered pizza?” A smile crosses his face.

As he’s heading back to work, Garth insists he really is a rebel, given to flashes of spontaneity. Once, he says, he was supposed to be in Aspen for a meeting, but he’d heard the flight was nervous­-making. Abruptly, he decided to make the 20-hour drive alone. In the middle of the night his car broke down in a desert town near Las Vegas.

“Everybody was stopping at the gas station. People on their way to gamble. To get married. Get divorced. Husbands and wives yelling at each other. Ameri­cans acting just like Americans, you know?” He is beaming, as he replays the memory. “And I thought, ‘Unbelievable! This is just like a comedy series!’ ”

[related_posts post_id_1=”717929” /]

In a middle-class American living room, a boy wearing Rambo-style camouflage garrots his older sister, screaming, “DIE, COMMIE BIMBO!”

His mother is irked. “Remember the effect it had on Gramma?”

So begins the premiere of Married… With Children, the FBC sitcom that is Garth Ancier’s pride and joy, The show is about the 15-year-old marriage between Peggy, a housewife, and Al, a shoe sales­man, and their newlywed neighbors, Steve, a bank teller, and Marcy, his boss. It’s open warfare between the sexes: Peg­gy puts a cactus where Al’s alarm clock used to be; he wipes the blood off his hand with her slip. Steve and Al, com­plete opposites, discover a common ene­my — P.M.S., which they define as “Pummel Men’s Scrotums.”

“Imagine Sam Kinison married to Roseanne Barr,” says Garth.”This is offensive. It’s supposed to break through the blandness of the medium. TV is too… nice—”

“—In an age of nice for niceness’ sake, it’s an original,” finishes Kevin. “It’s a good working-man’s comedy.”

On Wednesday afternoon, the cast is doing a timed run-through in a cavernous rehearsal hall. The observers, industry guests and the ubiquitous Foxies, sit al­most in the actors’ laps. Watching a hyperventilated TV sitcom performed life­-size is unsettling: without the screen to reduce and frame them, the performances seem grotesque. But the writing is full of surprises, the characters raunchy and af­fable, and soon the room is hooting with laughter; even the actors break up. Garth’s face is the most animated it’s been in three days: glowing with pleasure, hanging on every line, he is watching TV.

Afterwards, two wild men assail him. One is talking rapid Jewish-Brooklynese, chomping gum, and chain-smoking, dressed in no-name jeans and a sweat­stained T-shirt delineating bulk that wishes it could pass for muscle. The in­stant he pauses to wheeze, the other, a short, stocky black guy dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt, finishes the sentence and barrels ahead. They’re the 22-min­ute-and-10-second champs, Ron Leavitt and Michael Moye. One or both of them have left boot prints on Laverne and Shirley, Happy Days, Sanford and Son, The Jeffersons. Now they’re executive producers of Married… With Children.

[related_posts post_id_1=”397777″ /]

Garth rushes off to another meeting, and Leavitt and Moye reconvene in an office that looks like an X-rated Romper Room. Toy guns, bows and arrows, a life­-sized dummy, and a hip-high cardboard box filled with food for thought: Ding Dongs, Suzie Qs, a gourmet selection of Entenmann’s and… Twinkies?

“If Twinkies can get someone off for murder, they can certainly get us on the air,” asserts Ron.

“Garth told us: ‘Anything you want to do, we’ll leave you alone,’ ” says Michael. “Now, we’ve heard that before from the networks, but usually there’s an aster­isk — ‘see below’ — and then we get all those footnotes. Poor Garth! Look what we gave him. At least he knew we were bizarre enough not to be trusted.”

Ron and Michael play hip, talk irrever­ent, but their dirty little secret is that they’re workaholics and perfectionists. They may work until 3 a.m., but they’ll take their staff out drinking and bowling for the rest of the night. But on this show, there’s even more at stake than usual. Michael’s rage is only slightly clos­er to the surface than Ron’s. “It’s my rebuttal to all the crap in the family shows. Kids don’t want advice. They want money.”

Ron: “If you want to see that plastic facade shit, you got the networks. We wanted to show a more… realistic 15-year-old marriage. The ugly stuff comes from our lives and we just take it to a ridiculous extreme. Our lives were boring, we have no friends, we’re beaten by our wives, and we wash dishes.

“Garth knew this was a calculated risk. We’re not coming out of the starting gate saying please love us. The show is for people who think, ‘I just wish Cosby had my kids for five minutes.’ ”

Michael: “They’re calling our show a comic version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. We just want America to sit back with a beer and say, ‘Holy shit! Now that’s writin’!’ ”

“—And then go pee,” finishes Ron. “Every sitcom has to have a ‘mes­sage,’ ” says Michael.

“—Ours doesn’t,” says Ron. “Yeah! It’s about time somebody had nothing to say,” finishes Michael.

[related_posts post_id_1=”714847″ /]

The possibility that women viewers might resent female characters portrayed as castrators while their men are long-suffering victims eludes Ron and Mi­chael. “We have a lot of women on our staff [directors, writers, crew], and we set out to do a show that was sexist on both sides. Naturally, being guys, we’re more brutal on women. We can’t find anything wrong with guys,” says Ron. “Look, Al is no dream, he’s not that smart. But make a woman stupid on television and you’ve just fucked with God.”

It’s difficult to imagine Married… With Children getting an air date on a Big Three network. “If we did get on the networks and were a hit, they’d leave us alone,” says Michael. “But if we were mediocre, they’d say, ‘Make Peggy more saintly, make Al more likable, have them say I love you four times a show.’ If the kids have problems, the parents should catch them quickly and crush them.”

Ron: “If FBC says that to us, I hope we have the nerve to say no. I hope instead they’ll say, ‘Please guys, just get the fuck off our network.’ ”

Unlike the other networks, FBC does not have an in-house censor. The day after their bold talk, Leavitt and Moye received memos from Bristol-Meyers, Clorox, Johnson & Johnson, and Kraft expressing their unwillingness to sponsor a show with the line “Pommel Men’s Scrotums.”

“Now we’ll see which way the testicles are swinging — or if they’re just going to pull ’em up,” said Michael. Would FBC bleep on debut night?

As of last week, Leavitt and Moye were refusing to rewrite the line. “Poor Garth,” said Ron. “This is really gonna wrinkle his shirt.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”713118″ /]

On Friday night, Southern Califor­nia fraternity kids swarm into a Fox studio, hired to yuck it up during the first taping of producer Jim Brooks’s new project, The Tracey Ullman Show. The autograph­ hounds leap on Danny De Vito (a Brooks Taxi alum) and Rhea Perlman, the room’s best-known stars.

In the middle of the row behind the couple, a flamboyant L.A. cockatoo keeps leaving his seat, bored by the deadly pace of the taping. He apologizes distractedly each time he crunches on four pairs of corporate-proper shoes, trips over eight conservatively clad knees. He is unaware they belong to the room’s most powerful stars: Kevin Wendle, Garth Ancier, Barry Diller, and Rupert Murdoch.

Brooks’s new show is an energetic showcase of comedy skits, animation, and variety acts, done on an intimate, anti-­glitter scale with two revolving sets. As Garth is fond of saying, there’s nothing on TV like it. So far, the show’s pace, tone, and appearance still exist largely in the minds of Brooks and his comedy writers — Garth knows he may well not see the finished product until a minute before the final deadline.

British pop star Tracey Ullman and sidekick Julie Kavner struggle through the first act. “I’m changing the channel back to Who’s the Boss,” groans a frat kid. Take two. Take three. It is difficult to laugh at a strained joke the fourth time around. One camera breaks. Then another.

Diller and Garth chat up Murdoch.

Act two. Suddenly Ullman pulls out a bravura comic performance, and the au­dience explodes. Rupert is applauding. Next, the variety act — juggler Daniel Ro­sen — dazzles everyone, even Diller but es­pecially Rupert. They’ve seen enough, they get the idea. They leave, happy net­work executives.

The show inches toward its goal: TV that’s hot and cool. Kavner wheeled in as a survivor of a terrible car accident; Ull­man as her maddeningly chirpy neighbor, who has been stabbed on a bus with a penknife 32 times. Take four. This half-­hour program has been taping for three hours.

Then Ullman, now a modem single woman, hires a band and records a mes­sage into her phone answering machine. Throwing her red curls around, parody­ing rock performers, she brings down the house. “Now, that’s more like it,” rates the fraternity kid.

[related_posts post_id_1=”714924″ /]

After a gray, chilly week, the South­ern California climate finally comes out with it: sun, blue skies, gentle breeze, the whole bit. A per­fect Saturday to go to the beach.

Garth and Kevin, frayed by the march of 7 a.m.-to-midnight hours, head for the ’burbs. The rural bedroom community of Calabasas, California, is about as close to American heartland sensibility as can be found in a morning’s drive from Los An­geles. And Saturday afternoon is the only time you can get a bunch of teens and college kids together to watch a little TV. After months of fine-tuning the counter­programming strategy, endless hours of fighting and rewriting and second-guess­ing, FBC is presenting 21 Jump Street (once called The Undercover Kid, then Jump Street Chapel) to its most influen­tial critics — the target audience.

Garth doesn’t like to test pilots before they air, and partly blames the blanding of TV on the practice. The pilots of All in the Family and Miami Vice, he points out, did terribly. “Research only tells you what people are comfortable with, not if it can be a breakout show.” But today he’s making an exception to his own rule. FBC and the Cannell people have reached an impasse on the premiere of 21 Jump Street. The series, the foundation of FBC’s entire Sunday night schedule, has Garth so worried that he’s turning to viewer focus groups for reassurance. Even if, God forbid, they don’t like the show, he hopes their criticisms will persuade Cannell to make the changes — such as rehauling the epilogue — that FBC has been urging.

The official bio for Stephen J. Cannell trumpets him as “one of the most prolific and successful writer/producers working in the television industry today… a trendsetter.” His independent production company, in the STEPHEN J. CAN­NELL building at La Brea and Hollywood, bas created a record number of pilots that have gone to series. Cannell’s 1986 gross revenues from the shows, sales of soundtracks, and licensing of merchan­dise, from Rambo dolls to A-Team lunch boxes, was about $150 million.

The day before the Calabasas focus group, Cannell remained publicly unperturbed. “The Fox guys are at their most tense moment — they’re a little white­-knuckled. They have a tendency to go to the pilot [premiere show] and fix things and I say, ‘Guys, we gotta go on! If we play with this for the next three weeks we’re in trouble! I mean, it’s just 30 sec­onds of film!’ ”

A fire crackles in the fireplace at one end of Cannell’s sixth-floor office, which is decorated in what he describes as “En­glish hunting colors” and looks over Hol­lywood. If Ron Leavitt and Michael Moye are determined not to look like writers, then Cannell is Writer from cen­tral casting — a tanned, lithe 45-year-old whose signature style is windbreaker and pipe. He eschews a desk for the informal­ity of a face-to-face chat. His publicist is also in the room.

[related_posts post_id_1=”720908″ /]

“I thought Jump Street was a real good idea — I could have sold it to CBS. With the exception of Mod Squad, there’s nothing like it on TV. You got murder in high school, you got drugs. So let ’em OD and die but don’t be a snitch? That’s the moral position?”

He maintains that if the audience saw his version of Jump Street and then the one with Fox’s changes, “they’d say, ‘What’s the difference?’ That’s the posi­tion I take. Of course, you do have to care about what you’re doing. Im not in it for the money. Writing is still what’s most important to me. I’m proud of this show — it’s about as good as I get.”

Ten white teens and young adults from Calabasas are watching the best Stephen J. Cannell has to offer. The two-hour premiere of 21 Jump Street introduces a mini-UN of rookie cops, so young-looking (so cute, so potential teen idol) that they “lack authority on the street,” as the show puts it. A long-haired, sour, ex­-hippie cop captain trains them to pose as students in different high schools. In this episode, a well-to-do white student serves as a drug runner for two black student dealers who park their (stolen and unreported) Ferraris in the school lot. Follow­ing a scuffle, the vice-principal gives the black guys two-week’s detention. Chase scene, cliff-hanger, rescue. In the epilogue, sour ex-hippie cop captain hangs out with garage band buddies, blissfully lip-synching to the Grateful Dead.

As Kevin and Garth observe behind the one-way window, the researcher probes the group for an hour.

John, 21: You’re watching a detective show and a band comes on?

Scott, 18: And that music they were playing was kinda outdated, from the ’70s.

James, 19: But it’s the only show on TV that has kids our age taking on the bad guys.

David, 20: Yeah, it came down to our level. I think it’s very educational.

But one viewer has trouble believing (a) that a high school student would have a Ferrari and (b) same student would be so calm after it was deliberately scratched. Jamie, 18, however, thinks (a) and (b) are realistic.

Certain characters they just don’t get at all. Jamie doesn’t see a lot of hippies around these days, much less hippie cops. Sophia, 21, has never seen students talk back to teachers that way, “but I went to a private high school.” And Morgan can’t figure the black rookie — “You just don’t see a lot of black lady cops.” Others com­plain she’s too dainty. How come when she got into trouble, everybody looked worried, like she couldn’t take care of herself’?

What about the writing? “If they can keep it up to this caliber, it’s pretty good.” (From the observation room, snickers.)

Violence? “Compared to Miami Vice, this is grammar school.” Message? “It won’t stop kids from dealing. But it will make them more careful about who they deal to.”

How do they feel about narcs in high school? They don’t like them, but “these guys are nice. They want to stop crime and help kids.”

How many would watch Jump Street (“Oh God, here it comes,” murmurs Garth) instead of: Our House? All 10 raise their hands. Miami Vice? Five (“Vice is getting old,” says James). Mur­der, She Wrote? Eight. Disney Movie? Gales of laughter. Sixty Minutes? Seven.

“Welcome,” says Kevin, “to middle America.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”266111″ /]

The researcher steps into the observa­tion room and translates the session for Kevin and Garth. “They’re picking holes in the the plot. Did you hear them though? The first word they said is ‘ac­tion.’ They like most of the characters — ­they’re seeing teenagers, and it’s a show on their level. When they say it’s ‘differ­ent,’ they mean you have a good idea. But this age group didn’t buy that ’60s stuff. The ’60s to them is like the ’40s to us.”

“Our specific concerns were the top of the show, the hospital scene, and the entry into the chapel [the rookies’ head­quarters],” says Garth. The viewers ques­tioned those scenes, too. “They really didn’t buy the chapel,” replies the re­searcher. “If you spend a lot of time in it, you’re in trouble.”

But, he adds, “I was surprised they were so positive. They picked it apart, but I’ve seen groups destroy shows. As for the black cop, all she has to do is put one person in his place and it’ll establish her character. Remember, though, you can’t make a living off this age group.”

Kevin says, “We’re mostly interested in just building a big audience for that hour.” The researcher nods. “They did say there’s nothing else on for them to watch. And they all said they felt com­fortable watching it with their parents. What you have to do is send up heat around the show — create a campaign that will form their attitude that it’s hip to watch Jump Street. And then, I’d say, you’ve got yourselves a hit.”

Kevin requests that a transcript be sent to the producers right away. Armed with more paperwork, Garth and Kevin will fight the good fight with Cannell. The viewers have indeed backed up their contentions: taken swipes at certain roles, laughed off entire scenes. (In fact, within weeks a drunk driver will kill off the ex-hippie captain — so much for “that ’60s stuff.”) But the viewers have also born out Cannell: they approve of under­cover cops moving among them. A quib­ble here and there, but the whole is just fine with them. And, as every good televi­sion programmer knows, all that matters is whether the audience will swallow the concept. Blinking as they step into the bright California afternoon, Garth and Kevin look deeply pleased. FBC may not yet be ready for America, but America is ready for FBC. ❖

CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES Uncategorized

A Conservative Impulse in the New Rock Underground

A Conservative Impulse in the New Rock Underground
August 18, 1975

Arabian swelter, and with the air-conditioning broken, CBGB resembled some abattoir of a kitchen in which a bucket of ice is placed in front of a fan to cool the room off. To no avail of course, and the heat had perspiration glissading down the curve of one’s back, yeah, and the cruel heat also burned away any sense of glamour. After all, CBGB’s Bowery and Bleecker location is not the garden spot of lower Manhattan, and the bar itself is an uneasy oasis. On the left, where the couples are, tables; on the right, where the stragglers, drinkers, and the love-seekers are, a long bar; between the two, a high double-backed ladder, which, when the room is really crowded, offers the best view. If your bladder sends a distress signal, write home to mother, for you must make a perilous journey down the aisle between seating area and bar, not knock over any mike stands as you slide by the tiny stage, squeeze through the piles of amplifiers, duck the elbow thrust of a pool player leaning over to make a shot… and then you end up in an illustrated bathroom which looks like a page that didn’t make “The Faith of Graffiti.”

Now consider the assembly-line presentation of bands with resonant names like Movies, Tuff Darts, Blondie, Stagger Lee, the Heartbreakers, Mike de Ville, Dancer, the Shirts, Bananas, Talking Heads, Johnny’s Dance Band, and Television; consider that some nights as many as six bands perform, and it isn’t hard to comprehend someone declining to sit through a long evening. When the air gets thick with noise and smoke, even the most committed of us long to slake our thirst in front of a Johnny Carson monologue, the quintessential experience of bourgeois cool.

[related_posts post_id_1=”356095″ /]

So those who stayed away are not to be chastised, except for a lack of adventurousness. And yet they missed perhaps the most important event in New York rock since the Velvet Underground played the Balloon Farm: CBGB’s three-week festival of the best underground (i.e., unrecorded) bands. The very unpretentiousness of the bands’ style of musical attack represented a counterthrust to the prevailing baroque theatricality of rock. In opposition to that theatricality, this was a music which suggested a resurgence of communal faith.

So this was an event of importance but not of flash. Hardly any groupies or bopperettes showed up, nor did platoons of rock writers with their sensibilities tuned into Radio Free Zeitgeist brave the near satanic humidity. When the room was packed, as it often was, it was packed with musicians and their girlfriends, couples on dates, friends and relatives of band members, and CBGB regulars, all dressed in denims and loose-fitting shirts — sartorial-style courtesy of Canal Jeans. The scenemakers and chic-obsessed were elsewhere. Where? “At Ashley’s,” sneered one band member.

Understandable. Rock simple isn’t the brightest light in the pleasure dome any longer (my guess is that dance is), and Don Kirschner’s “Rock Awards” only verifies the obvious: rock is getting as arthritic, or at least as phlegmatic, as a rich old whore. It isn’t only that the enthusiasm over the Stones tour seems strained and synthetic, or that the Beach Boys can’t seem able to release new material until Brian Wilson conquers his weight problem, or that the album of the year is a collection of basement tapes made in 1967. “The real truth as I see it,” said the Who’s Peter Townshend recently, “is that rock music as it was is not really contemporary to these times. It’s really the music of yesteryear.”

He’s right and yet wrong. What’s changed is the nature of the impulse to create rock. No longer is the impulse revolutionary — i.e., the transformation of oneself and society — but conservative: to carry on the rock tradition. To borrow from Eliot, a rocker now needs a historical sense; he performs “not merely with his own generation in his bones” but with the knowledge that all of pop culture forms a “simultaneous order.” The landscape is no longer virginal — markers and tracks have been left by, among others, Elvis, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, and the Beatles — and it exists not to be transformed but cultivated.

No, I’m not saying that everyone down at CBGB’s is a farmer. Must you take me so literally? But there is original vision there, and what the place itself is doing is quite extraordinary: putting on bands as if the stage were a cable television station. Public access rock. Of course, not every band which auditions gets to play, but the proprietor, Hilly, must have a wide latitude of taste since the variety and quality of talent ranges from the great to the God-condemned. As with cable TV, what you get is not high-gloss professionalism but talent still working at the basics; the excitement (which borders on comedy) is watching a band with a unique approach try to articulate its vision and still remember the chords.

Television was once such a band: the first time I saw them everything was wrong — the vocals were too raw, the guitar work was relentlessly bad, the drummer wouldn’t leave his cymbals alone. They were lousy all right but their lousiness had a forceful dissonance reminiscent of the Stones’ “Exile on Main Street,” and clearly Tom Verlaine was a presence to be reckoned with.

[related_posts post_id_1=”714781″ /]

He has frequently been compared to Lou Reed in the Velvet days, but he most reminds me of Keith Richard. The blood-drained bone-weary Keith on stage at Madison Square Garden is the perfect symbol of Rock ’75, not playing at his best, sometimes not even playing competently, but rocking swaying back and forth as if the night might be his last and it’s better to stand than fall. Though Jagger is dangerously close to becoming Maria Callas, Keith, with his lanky grace and obsidian-eyed menace, is the perpetual outsider. I don’t know any rock lover who doesn’t love Keith; he’s the star who’s always at the edge and yet occupies the center.

Tom Verlaine occupies the same dreamy realm, like Keith, he’s pale and aloof. He seems lost in a forest of silence and he says about performing that “if I’m thinking up there, I’m not having a good night.” Only recently has the band’s technique been up to Verlaine’s reveries and their set at the CBGB festival was the best I’ve ever seen: dramatic, tense, tender (“Hard on Love”), athletic (“Kingdom Come”), with Verlaine in solid voice and the band playing as a band and not as four individuals with instruments. Verlaine once told me that one of the best things about the Beatles was the way they could shout out harmonies and make them sound intimate, and that’s what Television had that night: loud intimacy.

When Tom graduated from high school back in Delaware he was voted “most unknown” by his senior class. As if in revenge, he chose the name Verlaine, much as Patti Smith often invokes the name Rimbaud. He came to New York, spent seven years writing fiction, formed a group called Neon Boys, then Television. The name suggests an aesthetic of accessibility and choice. It also suggests Tom’s adapted initials: T.V.

“I left Delaware because no one wanted to form a band there,” he says. “Then I came to New York and no one wanted to form a band here either.” Verlaine came to New York for the same reason every street-smart artist comes to New York — because it’s the big league — even though he realizes “New York is not a great rock and roll town.”

Still, they continue to arrive: Martina Weymouth, bassist, born in California; Chris Frantz, drummer, in Kentucky; David Byrne, singer and guitarist, Scotland. All attended the Rhode Island School of Design, and according to their bio, “now launching career in New York” — a sonorous announcement, yes?

[related_posts post_id_1=”392076″ /]

These people call themselves Talking Heads. Seeing them for the first time is transfixing: Frantz is so far back on drums that it sounds as if he’s playing in the next room; Weymouth, who could pass as Suzy Quatro’s sorority sister, stands rooted to the floor, her head doing an oscillating-fan swivel; the object of her swivel is David Byrne, who has a little-boy-lost-at-the-zoo voice and the demeanor of someone who’s spent the last half hour whirling around in a spin dryer. When his eyes start Ping-Ponging in his head, he looks like a cartoon of a chipmunk from Mars. The song titles aren’t tethered to conventionality either: “Psycho Killer” (which goes “Psycho Killer, qu’est-ce c’est? Fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa”), “The Girls Want to Be With the Girls,” “Love is Like a Building on Fire,” plus a cover version of that schlock classic by ? and the Mysterians, “96 Tears.”

Love at first sight it isn’t.

But repeated viewing (precise word) reveal Talking Heads to be one of the most intriguingly off-the-wall bands in New York. Musically, they’re minimalists: Byrne’s guitar playing is like a charcoal pencil scratching a scene on a note pad. The songs are spined by Weymouth’s bass playing which, in contrast to the glottal buzz of most rock bass work, is hard and articulate — the bass lines provide hook as well as bottom. Visually, the band is perfect for the table-TV format at CBGB; they present a clean, flat image, devoid of fine shading and color. They are consciously antimythic in stance. A line from their bio: “The image we present along with our songs is what we are really like.”

Talking to them, it becomes apparent that though they deny antecedents — “We would rather achieve a ‘new’ sound rather than be compared to bands of the past” — they are children of the communal rock ethic. They live together, melting the distinction between art and life, and went into rock because as art it is more “accessible.” They have an astute sense of aesthetic consumerism, yet they’re not entirely under the Warholian sway for as one of them told me, “We don’t want to be famous for the sake of being famous.” Of all the groups I’ve seen at CBGB, Talking Heads is the closest to a neo-Velvet band, and they represent a dis­tillation of that sensibility, what John Cale once called “controlled distortion.” When the Velvets made their reputation at the Balloon Farm they were navigating through a storm of multimedia effects: mirrors, blinking lights, strobes, projected film images. Talking Heads works without paraphernalia in a cavernous room projecting light like a television located at the end of a long dark hall. The difference between the Velvets and Talking Heads is the difference between phosphorescence and cold gray TV light. These people understand that an entire generation has grown up on the nourishment of television’s accessible banality. What they’re doing is presenting a banal facade under which run ripples of violence and squalls of frustration — the id of the vid.

David Byrne sings tonelessly but its effect is all the more ominous. This uneasy alliance between composure and breakdown — be­tween outward acceptance and inward com­ing-apart — is what makes Talking Heads such a central ’70s band. A quote from ex-Velvet John Cale: “What we try to get here (at the Balloon Farm) is a sense of total involvement.” Nineteen sixty-six. But what bands like Television and Talking Heads are doing is ameliorating the post-’60s hangover by giving us a sense of detachment. We’ve passed through the Dionysian storm and now it’s time to nurse private wounds. Says Tina Weymouth, quite simply: “Rock isn’t a noble cause.”


More than 30 bands played at the CBGB festival. There seemed to be a lot of women in these groups, and none of them were backup singers. I asked Tina (who once introduced herself as a “bassperson”) whether it was difficult to work with men in a band, and she gave me a look which said, “Don’t you have any better questions to ask?” Albeit, here are some additional notes on the musicianpersons I saw performing during the three weeks:

The Shirts. Annie Golden, lead singer of this Park Slope septet, is a self-proclaimed “street punk.” Her hard-skiing voice is the chief attraction in this technically proficient and equipment-abundant group (on stage they refer to themselves as the Average Cramped Band). They share an artistic commune in Brooklyn and the salient virtue of the band is that the sense of compan­ionship comes through in the texture of the music. The very chords seem bonds of friendship.

The Heartbreakers. Totally different problem here. This band has rockers who have made names for themselves — Jerry Nolan and Johnny Thunders formerly of the New York Dolls, Richard Hell formerly of Television — and the place was crowded with other band members curious about how they would/wouldn’t resemble the Dolls. By the third song, when it was clear they weren’t the Dolls redux, people began streaming out. Actually, they weren’t that bad, certainly better than the advance reports. They’ve managed to give their don’t-give-a-fuck crumminess a certain coherence, and they know how to draw the groupies (no small consideration for a beginning outfit). In rock, talent is only half of it. Sometimes not even that much.

Ruby and the Rednecks. Ruby threw out an oversized teddy bear, shrieked, stomped on the bear, kicked it, clawed at the audi­ence, while her claque (from Interview Magazine I was told) roared back their delight. Meanwhile, Michael Goldstein, of the Soho Weekly News, was telling Tina Weymouth, Trixie A. Balm, and myself that Ruby was going to make it big because she has what it takes. To quote Chico Marx, she can keep it.

Bananas. They’re very melodic, I said. That’s because they’re British, said a corre­spondent from Melody Maker. Actually, they’re Irish. Which doesn’t make them any less good.

Blondie. Someone ought to tell the gui­tarist that the way to sing harmony is to sing into the microphone.

The Ramones. The Ramones recently opened at a Johnny Winter concert and had to dodge flying bottles. During one of their CBGB sets, they had equipment screw-ups and Dee Dee Ramone stopped singing and gripped his head as if he were going to explode and Tommy Ramone smashed the cymbal shouting, “What the FUCK’s wrong? ” They went offstage steaming, then came back and ripped into “Judy Is a Punk.” A killer band.

[related_posts post_id_1=”567736″ /]


“Playing with a band is the greatest way of feeling alive,” says Tom Verlaine. But the pressures in New York against such an effort — few places to play, media indif­ference, the compulsively upward pace of city life — are awesome. Moreover, the tra­vails of a rock band are rooted in a deeper problem: the difficulty of collaborative art. Rock bands flourished in the ’60s when there was a genuine faith in the efficacious beauty of communal activity, when the belief was that togetherness meant strength. It was more than a matter of “belonging”: it meant that one could create art with friends. Play­ing with a band meant art with sacrifice, but without suffering; Romantic intensity with­out Romantic solitude.

What CBGB is trying to do is nothing less than to restore that spirit as a force in rock and roll. One is left speculating about success: Will any of the bands who play there ever amount to anything more than a cheap evening of rock and roll? Is public access merely an attitude to be discarded once stardom seems possible, or will it sustain itself beyond the first recording contract? I don’t know, and in the deepest sense, don’t care. These bands don’t have to be the vanguard in order to satisfy. In a cheering Velvets song, Lou Reed sings: “A little wine in the morning, and some breakfast at night/Well, I’m beginning to see the light.” And that’s what rock gives: small unconven­tional pleasures which lead to moments of perception.

Flashes like: the way Johnny Ramone slouches behind his guitar, Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye singing “Don’t Fuck With Love,” on the sidewalk in front of CBGB’s, the Shirts shouting in unison in their finale number, Tina Weymouth’s tough sliding bass on “Tentative Decisions,” the way Tom Verlaine says “just the facts” in “Prove It.” One’s affection goes out to Lou Reed, for such moments are like wine in the morning. Shared wine.


1977 Pazz & Jop: Pazz & Joppers Dig Pistols — What Else Is New?

A fellow member of the rock criticism establishment tells me that the poll which inspires my annual wrap-up might have a real shot at exposure in the newsweeklies — a chance to get some AM airplay and go pop — if it wasn’t saddled with such a ridiculous name. And I respond that the name is supposed to be ridiculous. Not that it’s actually meaningless, of course, but why go into that? I like the term Pazz & Jop because it once set Clay Felker to concocting alternate back-cover flags and is regarded by my current boss as virtually unpronounceable. It sounds dumb, and it gives me an out. Is this the most comprehensive year-end poll of rock critics conducted anywhere? You bet. Is it official? Of course not. How could it be?

Despite my feckless promises, selection procedures were shoddier than ever in 1977. Because I spent most of December puzzling over current trends in British youth culture, letters of invitation were mailed out in a last-minute flurry. Together with fellow Pazz & Jop Poobah Ken Tucker, I resorted to last year’s list, eliminating obvious dropouts (like R. Meltzer, who claims to have given up criticism for the joys of performance) and adding a few new guys. This process was complicated by my loss of the 1976 addresses; several late entries claim to have received their ballots on due date minus one. So I admit to haphazard panel selection as well as the usual bias of rock critics toward rock and roll. I swear I’ve never met 25 of the 68 critics who were tallied this year, but since I favor Riffs contributors and rely on the advice of editors and publicists, a certain in-groupishness is also inevitable. About two-thirds of the voters are from New York, including several who weren’t in 1976 — they keep immigrating. And as usual, I regret the paucity of critics of black music (in the world as well as in this poll), although it was country music that really got the shaft this year, with only four artists mentioned more than once.

[related_posts post_id_1=”692474″ /]

If it ever came down to making this all fair and official, though, I’d be in a quandry, because there’s lots of people who write about records who don’t belong in this poll. At many dailies, the rock beat is less prestigious (and steady) than the obit page for good reason, while a lot of what passes for record and concert criticism at the weekly leisure-time handouts now running amok all over America is obviously nothing more than a means to freebies. I’m sure I’ve overlooked dozens of serious people who work not only at listening to music but at thinking about it, which is even rarer. But I’m sure too that I’ve excluded hundreds of dunderheads by means of my arbitrary haphazardness. I apologize to the workers, request the dunderheads to leave me alone, remind everyone that this is still the weird old Village Voice, and insist that the Pazz & Jop Critics’ Poll actually represents what the best rock critics think.

As you’ve probably gathered already, what they think is Sex Pistols. As you probably haven’t guessed, this both surprised and disappointed me. I was rooting for Fleetwood Mac. For one thing, as you can ascertain by perusing my personal top 30 below, I think Rumours is a (slightly) better record than Never Mind the Bollocks. But I also think it’s remarkable historically. As 1978 began, it had been number one in Record World for 32 weeks and seemed quite certain to become the best-selling album of all time, passing not only Frampton Comes Alive!, the Rumours of 1976, but all-time biggies like Bridge Over Troubled Water and Tapestry. More remarkable, Rumours is honest, courageous, even formula-defying music — so much so that when Greil Marcus reviewed it here he predicted that its toughness and passion would cost it millions of customers craving the sweetness of the group’s breakthrough LP, Fleetwood Mac. Most remarkable of all, it’s still possible to listen to it. Oh, a few sorehead radio addicts like Tom Smucker may add some comment like “docked a point for being sick of it,” but the fact remains that this seems to be the most durable pop music ever put on plastic. It’s not going to change anybody’s life, but rock and roll is supposed to be about pleasure as well as all the heavy stuff, and I’m glad that in this year of the punk Fleetwood Mac was here to remind us of that.

I must admit, though, that there was another reason to root for Rumours: credibility. If a popular favorite had won, it might have convinced a few skeptics that all this punk stuff is not, to use the popular expression, hype. What rock critics are supposed to gain from their hype has never been clear to me: Since death by boredom is not something the industry really believes can happen to itself, and since record sales are better than ever, publicists would much prefer we bury the troublemakers and throw our support to manageable hard-rock professionals like the Dingoes and the eponymous Eddie Money. In fact, punk might conceivably destroy the all-too-comfortable symbiosis between rock journalism and the rock industry. Not that it’s anywhere near as cozy as conspiracy theorists imagine — even in the best of times relations are marred by habitual disrespect on both sides. But critics are a source of some small status, a perquisite of the easy life that is treasured in this traditionally disreputable biz, and have helped to support and eventually break more than a few unusual but tasty acts, Fleetwood Mac among them. If punk should prove modestly profitable, as seems quite possible, then the symbiosis will continue undisturbed. But if it should prove unprofitable and yet refuse to roll over and play dead, and if critics should continue to support it — a scenario that also seems plausible — then I wouldn’t be surprised if some big companies began to take the same neglectful attitude toward low-rent journalistic recalcitrants as a label like Motown, which has been notoriously stingy with review copies and information for as long as I’ve been writing about rock and roll.

[related_posts post_id_1=”692472″ /]

But all that is the future. What we have now is a critics’ poll in which the top three albums feature not only newcomers but rank amateurs. Last year, when the Pazz & Jop top 30 included nine debut albums as opposed to six this year, the big winners were Graham Parker and Kate & Anna McGarrigle — new names, to be sure, but in each case backed by a reliable contingent of veterans. In contrast, no member of the Sex Pistols or Television has ever played on an LP before. The anonymous backup musicians on Elvis Costello’s My Aim Is True may have, but only their producer knows for sure, and Costello’s tour band, the Attractions, has no professional credentials whatsoever. Neither do any of 1977’s other new bands: Talking Heads, the Jam, Mink DeVille. If you want to know why old rock and rollers hate punk so much, there it is — these know-nothings are pogoing right over them.

At least as far as the working press is concerned, and there is the next difference. The 1976 Pazz & Jop top 30 included 15 commercial blockbusters: Stevie Wonder, Jackson Browne, Steely Dan, Joni Mitchell, Rod Stewart, Blue Oyster Cult, David Bowie, Bob Seger (which hit in 1977), Dr. Buzzard (ditto), Boz Scaggs, Boston, Thin Lizzy, Bob Dylan, Jeff Beck, and Linda Ronstadt. This year, the critics rejected albums by Mitchell, Stewart, the Cult, Scaggs, Thin Lizzy, and Dylan while Bowie ceased to bust blocks, leaving only seven best-sellers: Fleetwood Mac, Steely Dan, Randy Newman (heavy sales among leprechauns), Jackson Browne, James Taylor, the Beatles, and Linda Ronstadt (who with the failure of Eno’s Discreet Music is now the only artist to have made the last four Pazz & Jop polls, usually in the bottom five). And barring a punk breakthrough of proportions much larger than I think likely — although every night I gaze at the image of Maureen Tucker over my bedroom door and pray that I’m wrong — the only potential 1978 biggie I spy lurking amid this year’s works of art is this year’s sleeper, Cheap Trick. More and more, rock critics see themselves as guardians of an aesthetic of insurrection, and fuck what people are going to buy.

This phenomenon bespeaks neither cliquishness nor desperation. It is positive. The Sex Pistols actually did better out of town than in New York, proportionally, and Television scored remarkably high among critics who could never have seen the band live; the New York cult artists turned out to be Talking Heads, supposedly CBGB’s easiest crossover, and Garland Jeffreys, who almost outdistanced a coasting Randy Newman as singer-songwriter of the year. And although only two more critics voted this year than last, the top albums had much stronger support. The four highest-ranking 1977 albums all earned more points and more mentions than last year’s winner, Songs in the Key of Life, which got 292 votes from 25 critics. On the other hand, the consensus on lesser albums this year was more quirkish and arbitrary than ever; where only 11 points separate 1977’s bottom 10 there was a 23-point difference in 1976.

Some oddities. Of last year’s nine debut acts, only one, the Ramones, came in higher this year; both Parker and the McGarrigles dipped, Dwight Twilley and Jonathan Richman finished out of the running, and four artists — the Wild Tchoupitoulas, Boston, Dr. Buzzard, and Warren Zevon — produced no follow-up. Ornette Coleman’s Dancing in Your Head — “cosmic as they come” (Richard Riegel), “funnier than Funkadelic” (Tom Smucker) — was the first album by a jazz artist ever to make the poll. The Eagles would have placed had not their Hotel California been released December 6, 1976. The surprise finisher was the Chicago hard rock band Cheap Trick, which released two albums in 1977; the debut got a few votes, and the follow-up, In Color, a brilliantly executed if rather content-free compendium of pre-punk Anglophile moves, finished third among out-of-town critics and enjoyed support from New Yorkers as well. Genesis’s Peter Gabriel, the Persuasions, James Taylor, the Beach Boys, and Kraftwerk (disco crossover of the year) are veteran artists who placed for the first time. So is Al Green (hooray! finally!). And so are the Beatles (welcome aboard, lads). Finally, the number 31, 32, and 33 records deserve recognition: Blank Generation, by Richard Hell and the Voidoids; Ahh…the Name Is Bootsy, Baby!, by Bootsy’s Rubber Band; and Hard Again, by Muddy Waters.

With a few exceptions — like Charley Walters, who acknowledges that maybe he doesn’t “truly like real rock ’n’ roll,” and Ira Mayer, whose deepest sympathies are with folk music — the mood among this year’s Pazz & Joppers was exultant. For once, we had trouble keeping records off our lists rather than coming up with ones it wasn’t embarrassing to include. I find myself strangely unmoved by Elvis Costello, often suspecting that he is “New Wave” for people with good taste (I prefer the term punk just because it is so hackneyed, inexact, and declasse). But last year Costello might have made my top 30 on sheer, calculable quality. Instead, I have to apologize to Elvin Bishop, Eno, Cachao, Townshend-Lane, and all the others who have given me intense pleasure in 1977 but couldn’t hold up against the competition. My biggest regret was the rule banning imports; I would have given about 24 points to The Clash, my favorite album of the year, and other Pazz & Joppers indicated similar enthusiasm. As it was I agonized forever over my top 10; I could have gone as far as number 18, Muddy Waters, without blushing, and settled on Al Green at 10 because The Belle Album is the finest record in years from the man who may turn out to be my favorite artist of this decade. Dancing in Your Head is great work, I know, but this is a year to celebrate rock and roll. Let’s hope the same is true 12 months from now.

[related_posts post_id_1=”572924″ /]

And so, me own top 30, with Pazz & Jop points appended where appropriate:

1. Television: Marquee Moon (Elektra) 13. 2. Ramones: Rocket to Russia (Sire) 13. 3. Kate & Anna McGarrigle: Dancer with Bruised Knees (Warner Bros.) 13. 4. Fleetwood Mac: Rumours (Warner Bros.) 13. 5. Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols (Warner Bros.) 12. 6. Andy Fairweather Low: Be Bop ’n Holla (A&M) 10. 7. Lynyrd Skynyrd: Street Survivors (MCA) 8. 8. The Beach Boys: Love You (Brother/Reprise) 7. 9. Ramones Leave Home (Sire) 6. 10. Al Green: The Belle Album (Hi) 5.

11. Ornette Coleman: Dancing in Your Head (Horizon). 12. The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl (Capitol). 13. Philip Glass: North Star (Virgin). 14. Iggy Pop: Lust for Life (RCA). 15. Bizarros/Rubber City Rebels: From Akron (Clone). 16. Ray Charles: True to Life (Atlantic). 17. Talking Heads: 77 (Sire). 18. Muddy Waters: Hard Again (Blue Sky). 19. Asleep at the Wheel: The Wheel (Capitol). 20. George Jones: All-Time Greatest Hits Volume 1 (Epic).

21. The Jam: In the City (Polydor). 22. Bonnie Raitt: Sweet Forgiveness (Warner Bros.). 23. Garland Jeffreys: Ghost Writer (A&M). 24. Graham Parker & the Rumour: Stick to Me (Mercury). 25. Iggy Pop: The Idiot (RCA). 26. David Bowie: Low (RCA). 27. Bette Midler: Live at Last (Atlantic). 28. The Joy (Fantasy). 29. “Wanna’ Meet the Scruffs?” (Power Play). 30. James Talley: Ain’t It Somethin’ (Capitol).

And my thanks to all those who got their ballots in on time, with a few sample ballots below:

Bobby Abrams, Dale Adamson, Billy Altman, Colman Andrews, Vince Aletti, Lester Bangs, Ken Barnes, Michael Bloom, Jon Bream, Georgia Christgau, Richard Cromelin, Steve DeMorest, Robert Duncan, Ken Emerson, Joe Fernbacher, David Fricke, Aaron Fuchs, Russell Gersten, Jim Girard, Jim Green, Pablo “Yoruba” Guzman, Peter Herbst, Robert Hilburn, Stephen Holden, Tom Hull, Rick Johnson, Peter Knobler, Jerry Leichtling, Bruce Malamut, Greil Marcus, Jon Marlowe, Dave Marsh, Janet Maslin, Ira Mayer, Joe McEwen, Perry Meisel, Bruce Meyer, Jim Miller, Teri Morris, John Morthland, Paul Nelson, Jon Pareles, Kit Rachlis, Richard Riegel, Ira A. Robbins, Wayne Robins, John Rockwell, Frank Rose, Michael Rozek, Mitchell Schneider, Bud Scoppa, Susin Shapiro, Russell Shaw, Don Shewey, Gary Smith, Robert Smith, Tom Smucker, Geoffrey Stokes, Wesley Strick, Ariel Swartley, John Swenson, Ken Tucker, Mark Von Lehmden, Charley Walters, Ed Ward, Tim White, James Wolcott.

VINCE ALETTI: Cerrone: Love in C Minor 10; Love & Kisses 10; Donna Summer: “Once Upon a Time…” 10; The Emotions: Rejoice 10; Loleatta Hollaway: Loleatta 10; Teddy Pendergrass 10; C.J. & Co.: Devil’s Gun 10; Kraftwerk: Trans-Europe Express 10; Jean Carn 10; Peter Brown: Fantasy Love Affair 10.

LESTER BANGS: Richard Hell and the Voidoids: Blank Generation 30; Peter Tosh: Equal Rights 15; Ramones: Rocket to Russia 10; Iggy and the Stooges: Metallic K.O. 10; Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols 5; Ramones Leave Home 5; The Persuasions: Chirpin’ 5; Ornette Coleman: Dancing in Your Head 5; The Saints: I’m Stranded 5; Suicide 5.

PABLO “YORUBA” GUZMAN: Ray Charles: True to Life 15; Johnny Pacheco: The Artist 15; George Duke: Reach for It 15; Caldera: Sky Islands 10; Earth, Wind & Fire: All ’n All 10; Parliament: Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome 10; Willie Colon: Angelitos Negros 10; Steely Dan: Aja 5; Willie Colon and Ruben Blades: Metiendo Mano 5; Nona Hendryx 5.

TOM HULL: Iggy Pop: Lust for Life 15; Bootsy’s Rubber Band: Ahh…The Name Is Bootsy, Baby! 14; Blondie Chaplin 12; Kevin Ayers: Yes, We Have No Mananas 12; Hirth Martinez: Big Bright Street 12; Bob Marley & the Wailers: Exodus 10; Ramones Leave Home 9; Tony Wilson: I Like Your Style 6; Kate & Anna McGarrigle: Dancer with Bruised Knees 5; Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols 5.

GREIL MARCUS: Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols 15; Lynyrd Skynyrd: Street Survivors 15; Al Green: The Belle Album 15; Elvis Costello: My Aim Is True 10; Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers: Rock ’n’ Roll with the Modern Lovers 10; The Persuasions: Chirpin’ 10; Fleetwood Mac: Rumours 10; The Jam: This Is the Modern World 5; Bryan Ferry: In Your Mind 5; Kate & Anna McGarrigle: Dancer with Bruised Knees 5.

JOE MCEWEN: Bootsy’s Rubber Band: Ahh…The Name Is Bootsy, Baby! 20; Mink DeVille 10; Earth, Wind & Fire: All ’n All 10; The Manhattans: It Feels So Good 10; Elvis Costello: My Aim Is True 10; Al Green: The Belle Album 10; The Persuasions: Chirpin’ 10; The Heptones: Party Time 10; Ray Charles: True to Life 5; Parliament: Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome 5.

TOM SMUCKER: Kraftwerk: Trans-Europe Express 17; Garland Jeffreys: Ghost Writer 12; The Beach Boys: Love You 12; Fleetwood Mac: Rumours 12; Merle Haggard: A Working Man Can’t Get Nowhere Today 9; Al Green: The Belle Album 9; Ornette Coleman: Dancing in Your Head 8; Bonnie Raitt: Sweet Forgiveness 7; Mary McCaslin: Old Friends 7; Ramones: Rocket to Russia 7.

CHARLEY WALTERS: Yes: Going for the One 14; Genesis: Wind and Wuthering 12; Steely Dan: Aja 10; Dave Edmunds: Get It 10; David Bowie: Low 10; Gentle Giant: The Missing Piece 10; Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols 10; Tom Newman: Fine Old Tom 8; Steve Hillage: Motivation Radio 8; Talking Heads: 77 8.

Top 10 Albums of 1977

1. Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols (Warner Bros.)

2. Elvis Costello: My Aim Is True (Columbia)

3. Television: Marquee Moon (Elektra)

4. Fleetwood Mac: Rumours (Warner Bros.)

5. Steely Dan: Aja (ABC)

6. Ramones: Rocket to Russia (Sire)

7. Talking Heads: 77 (Sire)

8. Randy Newman: Little Criminals (Warner Bros.)

9. Garland Jeffreys: Ghost Writer (A&M)

10. Cheap Trick: In Color (Epic)

— From the January 23, 1978, issue


Pazz & Jop essays and results can also be found on Robert Christgau’s site. His most recent book, Is It Still Good to Ya? Fifty Years of Rock Criticism, 1967–2017, was published last year.



Carmel vs. Dial 7: A Limo Service Jingle Showdown for the Ages!

For most people, the number 666 has ominous associations. It’s the mark of the beast, the sign of the Antichrist, or part of the absurd name of what looks to be one of the worst new television shows of the season.

But when you sing the words 666 to anyone who watches local TV around here, you’ll get a surprisingly cheery response. The number for the Carmel limo service is 212-666-6666, and the jingle, as well as the hilarious commercial in which it’s featured, has battered it’s way into New Yorker’s hearts and minds, so much so that I’ll occasionally hear people humming it after a long night at the bar.

But now, an impostor has come on the scene. An upstart competitor named Dial 7, with the call number of 212-777-777, is advertising a limo service of their own and horribly, thankfully, they too have a commercial with a catchy jingle. Here, we investigate both commercials and hope to define a clear winner.


Pros: Where to start with this classic? We come in with the instantaneously catchy telephone number itself. And then, in knowing jingle form, the destinations to which one could use a ride are enumerated. “Going to the airport!” “Ridin’ round town!” And then my personal favorite, the high-pitched exhortation: “Shopping or a movie!” Several of the actors in the commercial get a solo turn during this portion of this song, but when a large, tan, Italian-looking gentleman comes on the scene, everyone sings a beat-tapping, finger-snapping bridge that leads inexorably back to that famous call number.

There are a number of gaffes throughout the commercial. The Asian guy forgets the words during the part of the song that goes “Ride Carmel and be on time.” The portly, orange-shirted gentleman who is a key player at the beginning of the commercial is tragically relegated to the background. Meanwhile the leading lady is utterly forgettable, totally overshadowed by the aforementioned Italian guy, who should really just have a commercial of his own.

Dial Seven

Pros: The new commercial, a winning entry in a contest that Dial 7 held, has a lot going for it. Turning its back on the old-fashioned 666 jingle, Dial 7 embraces a Rap&B mash-up. The rapping is execrable (“Dial seven seven seven seven seven seven seven times”), but luckily, it’s soon over, overpowered by a strong-voiced limousine driver, who refers to her customer as “Big Daddy.” The video is heavily sexualized, as the limo driver’s lips are seen pouting and enunciating heavily on the “sevens.” The suggestions appear to be that the man in the limo is about to be one lucky customer. Also, the man in question appears to be named Pants Velour, and I dare anyone to root against a rapper named Pants Velour.

Cons: The rapping is detestable. The commercial suggests that there’s a good chance your limo driver will sleep with you, or will at least refer to you as “Daddy,” all of which is most likely false advertising and will otherwise be uncomfortable for anyone who does not like to be called Daddy.


Carmel. Although the Dial 7 commercial injects some much needed sexuality in the usually snore-inducing limo service game, and has a more forward-thinking jingle, the point of an advertisement like this is to be memorable. And anyone who watches it more than once won’t be able to get 666-6666 out of their head. Exactly what Carmel (and Satan) want.


WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange Gets Russian TV Show

Lights, camera, action. This Tuesday, WikiLeaks founder and hacker superstar, Julian Assange, will premiere his new show, “The World Tomorrow,” on the Russian government’s satellite channel, Russia Today. It will be broadcasted online and on air in English, Spanish and Arabic – three of the most widely spoken languages in the world – and is sure to piss off the top echelons of governments across the globe.

The promotion above, released internationally Friday, is a snippet of what’s to come the most authority-hated, pursued man in the world. And, boy, does it look interesting.

With clips from Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring and the plight of Assange after his arrest, the video ends on the founder’s epic and title-producing note, “Today, we’re on a quest for revolutionary ideas that can change the world tomorrow.” But how does hacktivism translate into a TV show and why did Assange choose Russia, a country known for its harsh anti-journalist measures?

Moving away from the hard, concrete material found in the leaked cables, Assange sought to bring his message of ultimate transparency to a larger audience. In a more foreign-based video for the show, he is heard saying that he wants “to get the maximum political impact possible” by switching to television.

And, if the aftermath of the largest diplomatic controversy in modern history is any example, the effect that this medium change could have is completely unpredictable – and that is the real entertainment.

It is a bit strange that the underground Assange is partnering with the mainstream Kremlin, the first network to buy the exclusive rights to the show, but the WikiLeaks founder swears on the organization’s website that the Russian government has not “been involved in the production process.”

The editor-in-chief (and, technically, an employee in Putin’s government) of Russia Today, Margarita Simonyan, backed this odd contradiction when she said that Assange was trying to “[rally] a global audience of open-minded people who question what they see in mainstream media.”

Aside from that not making much sense, the names of Assange’s first 12 guests have yet to be released (transparency only goes so far…) but it goes without saying that the show will send shock-waves throughout the protest circuits, both off and online. Now, the next question: will we be able to watch it on Netflix?

Landmarc Chef Marc Murphy on Being a Chopped Judge

Marc Murphy has his hands in many pots. Not only is he the chef at Landmarc and Ditch Plains, he’s also a judge on Chopped, where he critiques fellow cooks as they whip up dishes using unknown ingredients. He’s also the vice president of the Manhattan chapter of the New York State Restaurant Association, a board member of City Harvest, and on the Task Force for Share Our Strength’s Dine Out for No Kid Hungry campaign. Chefs — they do so much more than just cook these days! We called him up to learn about his many projects and how he juggles all of them.

Let’s talk about being a judge on Chopped. What do you look for when you’re critiquing food on television?

Look, there are a bunch of people coming in and it’s about enthusiasm and having fun, but at the end of the day, it’s not about character. It’s about what’s on the plate. That’s the name of the game. We always look for creativity and give high marks when we see people transform an ingredient into something new.

What are the qualities or characteristics that most Chopped winners have?

They’ve gotta get done by the time the time is up! Honestly, I’ve seen good chefs not make it. It’s a game, and they’ve got to be good at it. It takes a special person who can do it and do it well.

How does the experience of cooking on television compare to cooking in a restaurant kitchen?

The whole thing about cooking in a restaurant is that you keep producing constantly and have to make the food really good. On TV, you don’t even have to use salt and pepper since no one’s tasting it!

Do you feel more at home on television or in the restaurant kitchen?

I’m much more at home in the kitchen, but I don’t mind doing TV.

In light of the Paula Deen controversy, do you think food television is purely entertainment, or should it be educational?

I think everyone can get what they want out of food TV. It’s brought so much more awareness to food, and people have a greater understanding of ingredients. People who don’t have money or time to travel can learn about food through TV, and it’s inspiring people to get cooking.

Speaking of travel, you grew up the son of a diplomat. How did that experience influence your culinary outlook?

It influenced me in the sense that it got me interested in food.

What are some of the best world cities for food?

All the big cities — Paris, Rome, Milan. I lived there and loved them. I went to New Orleans recently and loved it. We ate everything! We just ate like pigs, from the beignets to eating at Cochon. I had a fried oyster bacon sandwich at Cochon that was so good I went out and had it the following day.

Much of your training early in your career was at very fancy places, but your cooking now, especially at Ditch Plains, is more casual. What made you go for that type of food?

Yeah, I used to do the formal, more fancy stuff, but I’m more comfortable in being that neighborhood place where people can come in two or three times a week. You dress it up, dress it down, and it’s a good value.

Knowing all that you know now, what advice would you give to yourself just starting out?

I always tell people go work in a lot of different places and get different experiences. Find out where you want to be later.

Check back in tomorrow, when Marc reveals the first dish he ever made to woo someone.


Crown Chef John DeLucie on Shameless Self-Promotion: Interview Part 2

Yesterday we spoke with Crown chef John Delucie about fine dining and customers who order $125 steaks for their dogs. Today we shift gears as he tells us about his favorite neighborhood haunts and how he feels about gracing the silver screen.

What do you think about chefs on television?

I don’t watch a whole lot of TV just because I don’t have time. But it does wonders for your business and fills your restaurants. I love being in the restaurant — the immediate gratification and watching your business grow and watching people; that whole experience is cool. TV takes patience and you have to be on. It’s a whole different skill set. I do the Today show once a month or so and it’s great. New York is so competitive that you need to do that stuff. It’s not an option. Hey, I was on Gossip Girl. It’s unbelievably great fun and you can’t believe how many people watch that show.

And where do you like to dine in the city?

I’m a creature of habit. I try to eat at all the new places, but I go to the same three places. I’m at Sant Ambroeus right now. I live in the West Village, so Minetta and Morandi. All the Italian spots. And I love dim sum. I like Dim Sum Go Go a lot, and then I have some more authentic places as well.

Besides New York, what are some of your favorite cities for eating?

I like to go to Miami because it’s warm in the winter. I like L.A. because the weather is perfect. And I have day-tripped to Providence to eat at Al Forno. I’ve been to Maine. I love going to Europe; Italy is my absolute favorite place to go. And San Francisco, I can’t forget that. It’s my second favorite.

What’s your drink of choice post-work?

You know, I’m a teetotaler. I’m at the gym early in the morning. A glass of wine is a big night for me.

Are you working on any new projects?

We are — several things. I can’t really speak of any of them now, but we get lots of phone calls. I’m always looking for the next right thing. Probably in a few weeks I can say more.

You published a memoir a few years ago. What was that process like?

Shameless self-promotion!


Michael Psilakis to Star in No Kitchen Required, a Man vs. Wild-Like Food TV Show

Michael Psilakis, chef/owner of FishTag, is going to be jumping into some new culinary terrain. Literally. Eater reports that BBC America is launching a television program called No Kitchen Required, which will be “a culinary competition” in which three chefs get dropped by helicopter into unfamiliar terrain (from Thailand to Belize to Trinidad and Tobago to the Louisana Bayou) and will have to find/hunt food and cook it like (and for) the locals. Essentially, it’s Top Chef meets The Amazing Race meets Man vs. Wild, only maybe minus the gratuitous naked Bear Grylls shot (alas).

According to the release, “Each chef is free to choose whatever indigenous ingredients he wants — the catch is that each must acquire and prepare the ingredients in the same manner as the locals. Whether it’s hunting wild boar or diving for oysters, this series is about getting your hands dirty, pushing boundaries and experiencing incredible situations the audience would never expect to encounter in a typical food show. The chefs’ meals will ultimately be judged by the community and only one will be crowned the winner each episode.” The show will premiere on BBC America in spring 2012 — stay tuned.

FOOD ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES, Verizon Help Americans Become Fatter and Lazier with TV-Based Food Ordering

​If you prefer to suck on the Taco Bell sauce packs that have been on the coffee table for months rather than to interrupt 30 seconds of TV to order in, Fork in the Road has some good news for you. and Verizon have announced a partnership that enables FiOS consumers in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia to request food delivery straight from their televisions, according to a press released posted Wednesday on MarketWatch.
The remote-control-based service, however, will not eliminate users’ well-deserved sense of shame.
The product has been billed as part of “today’s digital home lifestyle,” though marketing it toward bedsore-ridden troglodytes would probably be just as fitting.
From MarketWatch: “FiOS customers can order food by clicking on the ‘Widgets’ button on their FiOS TV remote control … by selecting ‘Food Delivery’ on their television, users will gain access to’s local restaurants through which they can order an array of cuisines by browsing available items and adding them to a cart for purchase. The local restaurant is notified, the food is delivered and charges the credit card associated with the user’s Verizon Concierge account for the order.”’s CEO, Jed Kleckner, has also boasted about the device’s ease, saying it caters to “the demands for convenience that people have come to expect in their everyday lives.”
Skynet, anyone?