Guest reviewer Fumo Verde
Dick who, Fumo?
Dick Cavett, babies, he was “the” hep cat everyone wanted to be seen talking to back in the 1970s even though Johnny Carson ruled late night television. For example, Joni Mitchell didn’t attend Woodstock because her manager was worried she might miss her appearance due to the bad traffic, and in a bonus feature we see The Rolling Stones perform at nine in the morning at Madison Square Garden because Cavett was the only interviewer Mick Jagger would let come and record the group.
Cavett was a comedian and a one-time writer for Jack Paar, Carson’s predecessor on “The Tonight Show.” He went on to host a show for ABC, which eventually became, surprisingly enough, “The Dick Cavett Show.” He won an Emmy for the show, which was canceled, but then brought back to life more than once. He also won praise from his colleagues, not because of the people he had on his show, but because of the questions he asked and the way he listened. That is a rare concept….listening. Cavett did it and did it well making his guests feel much more comfortable.
That’s sounds cool, Fumo, but “Rock Icons,” what’s up?
Ok, this is kind of like a documentary, but it’s not. It’s a collection of Cavett’s talk shows that aired during the years between 1968 and ‘74. He had all types of people on from rock stars to pro athletes to congressmen, and since the backdrop of the times were drugs, music and Vietnam, everybody from presidential possibilities to timeless actors had a voice on Cavett’s show. The rock stars didn’t just perform; they were interviewed and got to ask questions of other guests like everyone else did.
On disc one, when Sly and the Family Stone perform, the funk is out in force, and so is more noticeably the cocaine. If you look closely you can see it slide out of Sly’s nose. This segment contains one of the oddest talk show interviews ever. It has got to be seen to be believed. I can’t ever start to explain the madness that ensues during the interview.
Another moment I found to be funny is when Jefferson Airplane along with Steven Stills and David Crosby are jamming, Cavett turns to the camera and shouts for the young crowd surrounding him, who are watching the musicians intensely, “We’ll be right…ah, we…oh you know.” The show comes back with the band still jamming. Once again, Cavett looks at the camera, this time waving goodnight as the credits roll while the music keeps on coming.
Of historical significance is Jefferson Airplane’s performance of “We Can Be Together”. Obviously, the censor was an old man who had the job for a while and knew nothing about the long-haired freaks who sang rock ‘n’ roll because this DVD contains the first, and possibly the only time, the word MOTHERFUCKER was ever said on network television with the lyric “Up against the wall, motherfucker.” Hell, I would buy it just for that.
Disc Two is dedicated to Janis Joplin, who loved being on the show and liked Cavett a lot. On all three shows Janis sings her heart out. She makes one wonder where her spirit in music could have brought her if she hadn’t passed on so young. In one episode there is an appearance by the comedic group the Committee, who Janis and Cavett both get to participate with in “Committee Chorus of Emotions”– this was crazy, it almost topped the Sly Stone adventure as participants sang in different emotions.
Disc Three is an all-time classic. It starts out with Stevie Wonder, who at the time was about to turn 21 and didn’t dig being called “little Stevie Wonder” any more. Of course, Cavett asks why. Stevie plays “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours”, which was coming off his next album. The liner notes explain that it was the name of the album, but the song itself never made it to that vinyl cut. It eventually became a B-side.
Next up is George Harrison, the first Beatle to hit number one on the record charts as a solo artist, promoting his new album and soon-to-be-released film “Concert for Bangladesh.” He brings a film clip that shows a performance of “Bangla Desh” and in it you get to see Eric Clapton and Ringo Starr amongst others. Also in Cavett’s enclave is sitar genius Ravi Shankar and guitarist/vocalist Gary Wright who was from the English band Spooky Tooth. Both of these men played with Harrison during this legendary concert, the very first rock charity concert, and since Harrison wasn’t the spotlight hog as others can be, when he was done promoting his film, he let Shankar and Wright do their thing.
Paul Simon appears next playing songs such as “American Tune”, “Love Me Like A Rock” and “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”. During the interview, Simon gives a little sample of what he is working on next, and for those of you who like Paul Simon, try to guess what song it later becomes.
This DVD set has some great performances, but first and foremost, this set is a collection of “The Dick Cavett Show” episodes. After the band or artists play their two or three songs, there is still 45 minutes of show to sit through, and if you are not a history nut, such as I, then you will definitely be happy that your DVD player can access just the music scenes.
It is a very interesting look back on American culture, and what was happening at the time, but the name “Rock Icons” is a little misleading. Instead of entire episodes, they could have cut a bunch of rock star segments together and really made a “Rock Icons” classic, but they didn’t and that’s too bad.
Don’t get me wrong; the musicians are great. Each performance is moment in time itself, and even though the show itself has other great and enduring guests, it just takes so long to get through. Dick Cavett appears and sets up each segment; what happened, when it aired all that, but the show itself can get slow and choppy because they burned it right for the original tapings, chopping out the commercials. If you don’t mind looking back into talk show history, then take a seat, cause this will be a long ride.
This is Fumo, saying…safe holidaze, babies.
Fumo Verde is a member of The Masked Music Snobs