Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Live From the Powder Room at Beautiful Meatloaf Mountain

Bill Murray's Nick the Lounge Singer is one of those things that you - or I, at any rate - can best appreciate in retrospect. Back in the late Seventies, when I was a huge Saturday Night Live fan, Nick Rivers or Sands or Summers was mildly irritating; not quite as bad as Inspector Luger on Barney Miller, but obnoxiousness was his shtick, and there seemed to be very few jokes in the act.

But such jokes as there were have stuck in my mind for lo these thirty years, to the point that it's one of my favorite memories of that show. Murray's greatest genius was in putting lyrics to songs that had none, of which there were far more back then, at least among the hits of the day. The most famous of them was Nick's Star Wars theme, which I sing to my sons (huge Star Wars fans) to this day, although they are utterly baffled when I try to explain the context. It was Nick Winters who sang that one, on January 28, 1978 (Robert Klein was the host, Bonnie Raitt the musical guest).

NBC has zealously erased every trace of Saturday Night Live that might exist on places like YouTube: We wouldn't want anyone stumbling across those old bits and turning into fans! But you can at least hear the audio here. Embarrassingly enough, I now realize that I have been singing, "Star Wars/Nothing but Star Wars/Tales from afar wars," when what Bill actually said was "Star Wars/Nothing but Star Wars/Those near and far wars."

That might not even be the funniest of his Nick tunes, even though it's probably the best known. There was a fantastic version of the theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind (from May 13, 1978, with Richard Dreyfuss hosting and Jimmy Buffett musical guesting), playing off that famous five-note figure. It went something like this:

First encounter: you
Next encounter: me
The third encounter's love
The Close Encounters theme
The Close Encounters theme

If I can write something that good in my lifetime, I'll die happy.

I can't find any information on another Nick song I half-remember, the one where he wrote new lyrics to the theme from M*A*S*H (which of course had lyrics of its own when it was called "Suicide Is Painless," although the TV show was too chicken to use them). The final line went "They all know the words to the theme from M*A*S*H." If anyone remembers the full lyrics, please send them to the author care of this blog.

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