Thursday, 4 October 2007

Dick Cavett: Rock Icons

I make no apologies for this being a bumper post raving about an American TV Show from over 30 years ago.

Some time ago I
raved about the DVD set The Dick Cavett Show Comedians. Through my subscription to Love Film I rented Dick Cavett: Rock Icons. This three-disc set comprises several full-length episodes of the DCS featuring some of the major music stars of the time.

The first disc features a musical special with Jefferson Airplane, Crosby, Stills and Nash, and Joni Mitchell. Cavett, a good decade older than the hippies in his studio, looks like a dad hanging out at his kid’s birthday party.

There’s then a fascinating episode featuring Sly and the Family Stone. After performing
Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) Sly joins Cavett and Debbie Reynolds for a chat.

Although the former Sylvester Stewart isn’t completely all there (in an interview on the disc Cavett suggests his brain had been beaten by an egg whisk) he still manages to be an entertaining guest, frequently telling Cavett how much he likes him.

The third episode is an all-David Bowie one. Interesting as it was in the period where Bowie, although having moved on from Ziggy Stardust and now performing as himself, still wished to maintain an aura of mystique. The interview is a little slow but throughout it Cavett manages to coax more and more personality out of the Thin White Duke.

Disc Two is all-Janis Joplin. I couldn’t claim to be a big Janis fan and even after watching these shows I’m still not converted to her music. However I could listen to her talking all night. In the each of the three shows featured she’s a warm and engaging interviewee who oozes enthusiasm for what she does and helps to create some lively debate.

In the first episode she’s joined by writer Michael Thomas and improvisational sketch group The Committee. The second sees her chat with Raquel Welch, Douglas Fairbanks Jr and newsman
Chet Huntley. At the time he was about to retire from his role as co-anchor on The Huntley Brinkley Report. (A news show that Alasdair Milne claims was the blueprint for Reporting Scotland).

In the third show, filmed just two months before her death, her fellow guests are film legend Gloria Swanson, a young and kooky Margot Kidder and American footballer Dave Meggyesy, who had just written an
expose on the sport.

The third disc kicks off with Stevie Wonder, though he’s the least entertaining thing on the show.
Elsa Lanchester, Bride of Frankenstein and wife of Charles Lawton provides numerous amusing anecdotes from her acting days as well as some catty but funny tales concerning Isadora Duncan.

Alain Delon doing his first chat-show in English, joins in as Cavett playfully banters with him over the language gap. We then get Tex Ritter performing the theme song from High Noon.

The second show is a George Harrison special and it’s an interview you’ll never see on a chat show of today. He jokingly mocks John and Yoko, laughs off the suggestion that there were no internal problems in The Beatles before Yoko and suggests he was relieved the band split up. He then talks of delays in publishing The Concert for Bangaldesh LP, before inviting his distributors’ head to sue him as he intends to release it through another label.

Cavett asks him if he feels responsible for The Beatles’ drug use possibly encouraging their fans to try drugs. Some of the audience boo. Harrison chastises them, saying Cavett can ask that question if he wants. He then goes on to discuss LSD and numerous other drugs prevalent in the music scene.

The final show sees a change of format. The first half is all Paul Simon, who plays some songs and chats to Cavett about songwriting. He then plays two verses of a song he was then writing, asks Cavett for lyric suggestions and explains the chord progression choices he felt he had available in order to complete it. The song was
Still Crazy After All These Years.

The show was recorded in September 1974 and Cavett had just completed his book ‘
Cavett’. So, in the second half of the show he turned the tables on himself and had a selection of authors interview him about his writing process in an attempt to illicit some of the personal side of him he was often accused of concealing from the viewers.

Anthony Burgess, Barbara Hower and Jerzy Konsinski are the authors in question. Burgess particularly is fascinating. Erudite and authoritative he proves a compelling conversationalist as he praises and quizzes Cavett while also throwing in some literary stories and myth busting.

Due to the discs containing complete episodes this isn’t just a package for fans of 70s music. There’s something to entertain anyone interested in films, music, books, sport, news and intelligent conversation.

Cavett really is a first class interviewer. Even although some of his guests seem slightly reluctant to talk Cavett never seems frustrated and with his excellent ad-libbing skills he’s never short of something to say himself. These kinds of conversations just don’t appear on television anymore. Actual debate breaks out, discussion, arguments, differing opinions, guests listening to and being entertained by other guests. There are several Dick Cavett DVDs out there. I just wish there were a lot more.

Here’s an
excellent article by Danny Miller on the Huffington Post discussing the Janis Joplin disc.

In the bonus interview on the disc where Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Bob Weide takes him through some of his memories of the show he briefly mentions the time one of his guests died on the show. Cavett
writes about it here in the New York Times.

And here’s the rest of his
blogs for the NY Times.


Graeme said...

Speaking of this (sort of) I managed to make my DVD player region free last night and so I'm now finally watching those Old Grey Whistle Test DVDs that youse guys got me when I left the 'Mart. Skynrd is playing Freebird at the moment and I hate myself a little bit for liking it.

Tom said...

Ha ha. Good you're getting to watch them though. Some 10 months after you got them ;o)

I think you'd really like the Cavett DVDs G.

Graeme said...

I live near a really good video store that has a ton of stuff for rental and they probably have the DVDs. I'll rent them and give them a go. I think that all of your recommendations thus far have been great.

Tom said...

Hope they've got them G. I'm pretty sure you won't be disappointed. Let me know if you do watch them.