From 1973-82, Tom Snyder hosted variations of The Tomorrow Show, NBC’s late-night talk show that aired after The Tonight Show. It had a more relaxed approach and presented more in-depth conversations as opposed to the usual amusing anecdote and product pitch.
Snyder once described his television audience by stating at that hour of the night “you get the tokers and the smokers.” This disc is definitely geared toward the former as the title, borrowed from Tom Wolfe’s classic chronicle of the adventures of Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters, and the day-glo ‘60s poster mock-up for the DVD case artwork indicates. Unlike Shout Factory’s previous release, Punk & New Wave, which contained entire episodes of The Tomorrow Show, Electric Kool-Aid Talk Show only contains segments with the guests who fit the theme.
The disc begins with Ken Kesey and The Grateful Dead from May 7, 1981. Kesey had volunteered to take part in the U.S. government’s testing of LSD. He eventually went on to conduct his own private experiments/parties, which were referred to as “acid tests.” The Grateful Dead became the house band for the events. Kesey and Jerry Garcia appear in the opening and have a good, playful conversation. Tom proves to be quite the square when he tries to direct the conversation by claiming the ‘60s, more specifically the hippies, brought drugs and music together, as if the two had never crossed paths before.
Over the course of the DVD's first segment, the Grateful Dead performs four numbers acoustically: “On The Road Again,” “Cassidy,” “Dire Wolf,” and “Deep Elem Blues.” In between songs, Tom speaks with band members Garcia and Bob Weir first, and who are later joined by Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann. For some reason, bassist Phil Lesh didn't make the couch. They discuss the band’s history and what they were currently doing. I hadn’t seen Garcia with dark hair in quite a while and the band sounded good stripped down.
The DVD closes with an all-too-brief interview with Timothy Leary, recorded in August 9, 1981. Leary is there to promote his upcoming stand-up philosopher gigs and an upcoming college tour where he would be debating G. Gordon Liddy, which I was lucky enough to witness at UCI in the late ‘80s and was captured in the 1983 film, Return Engagement. Snyder is understandably upset by the lives hurt by drugs and blames Leary, coming at him pretty hard; however, it’s strange that he didn’t bring up this issue with Kesey and The Dead three months prior if it bothered him so much. Leary defends himself by stating many people who took LSD did not hear his entire message nor was it taken in the controlled situations he recommended.
Sandwiched in between these shows are two appearances by Tom Wolfe from August 6, 1979 and October 14, 1980. Yet, their inclusion is odd because they don’t keep with the DVD’s theme as The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test is never mentioned except during Wolfe's introductions. His segments feature two other projects: In Our Time, a collection of Wolfe’s drawings, and The Right Stuff, which later became an epic film. While the interviews are interesting to watch, they don’t belong here.
On the whole, the DVD is certainly worth the price for Deadheads and those who enjoy the work of Mr. Snyder. For the merely curious, I would suggest a rental.