Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Tonight's Musical Guest

We're probably getting very far into that area that no one cares about but me, but in the fourth season of NBC's Saturday Night Live, one thing they did a fantastic job on was selecting the musical guests. The season opened with a series of legendary but still highly regarded acts - the Rolling Stones, Van Morrison, the Grateful Dead - alternating with the avant-garde in Frank Zappa and Devo. It's long way from the early days, when they had the likes of Libby Titus and Richard Baskin, or even when they had lightweight, easily forgotten pop acts like Leo Sayer and Eddie Money.

The Grateful Dead, of course, was pretty weak, doing their customary boring midtempo tunes ("Casey Jones," "I Need a Miracle," "Good Lovin'"). Van Morrison was great. Devo was much better on "Satisfaction" than on their own "Are We Not Men?," or whatever that's called. Deconstruction is much more effective when you have something to deconstruct.

But then they went off the rails by having their own personnel (they stopped being called the Not Ready for Prime Time Players in this season) appear as the musical guest two weeks in a row. First, with Carrie Fisher, the guest was the Blues Brothers, which felt like kind of a gyp back then, and still feels like it now. They were more of a vaudeville act than they were musicians. Then Walter Matthau said he wanted to have some Mozart on his show, so they got Garrett Morris to sing a lieder. Garrett's fine, but couldn't they have snagged Kiri Te Kanawa or somebody? Maybe they figured they'd save a few bucks, and nobody would have tuned in just to see Kiri Te Kanawa anyway.

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