SCALARAMA: TV PARTY MARATHON
6:00pm Tickets £6:50 on the door / £5 advance (click here)
TV Party was a public-access television cable TV show in New York City that ran from 1978 to 1982. Glenn O'Brien was the host. Chris Stein, the co-founder of the pop band Blondie, was the co-host. Guests included Mick Jones, David Byrne, Debbie Harry, James Chance and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
THE SUBLIMELY INTOLERABLE SHOW The first 10% of this show sums up what we don't get on TV anymore. Technical difficulties. TV Party was live and improvised, and this meant casual disaster. This early episode gets off to an artistically agonizing start--the sound person is late, overdosing on drugs or both. Or it was the broken down equipment. Once the sound kicks in the show gets lively. Compton Maddux, a droll singer songwriter, is backed up by Debbie Harry and Glenn; the unique futurist soprano Klaus Nomi does one of his post- modern arias; Adny Shernoff, of the Dictators, plays the Beach Boys' "Be True to Your School" backed up by pom pom girls Tish and Snooky, the Manic Panic designers. Downtown legend director Eric Mitchell announces the opening of the now famous New Cinema theater and shows a clip from his film "Kidnapped" with Arto Lindsay, Duncan Smith and Anya Phillips. Brit director David Silver and photographer Kate Simon do the "white people talk about reggae" segment. Blondie's Chris Stein and Debbie Harry and the Patti Smith Group's Richard Sohl drop in to smoke a reefer and take calls from all the crazies in cable land. Chris explains all this isn't chaos, it's art.
THE HEAVY METAL SHOW There were two TV Party Heavy Metal Shows: one taped at the Mudd Club, now lost, and this live studio sequel. At Mudd the TV Party Orchestra featured ten guitars and Charles Rocket on heavy metal accordion. This show, with a “Mock Penis Envy” backdrop by Jean-Michel Basquiat, features a guitar line up of Chris Stein, Lenny Ferrari, Patrick Geoffrois of the Contortions, plus Glenn, Basquiat, Snuky Tate and Walter Steding on guitar and vocals and Bradley Field on electronic drums. As Glenn and Walter send up rock clichés and discuss the nature of electricity, the band churns out a harrowing electronic miasma somewhere between the Velvets and static interference, deconstructing Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. Writer Cookie Mueller appears discussing heavy metals that a medical lab found in her blood. Other guests include the editor of Heavy Metal Magazine, and graffiti artists Futura and Ali. Diego Cortez appears as guest cameraman. Five years before Spinal Tap, TV Party hailed this incipient folk movement. Actually the term Heavy Metal was originated in the sixties by William S. Burroughs and the TV Party Orchestra was probably the only heavy metal band to know Burroughs personally. Highlights include an actual fight between Fab Five Freddy and Jean-Michel Basquiat over a guitar and Walter Steding destroying his “extra wide deluxe” guitar.
HALLOWEEN SHOW Halloween 1979 happened to fall on a Wednesday, which means it was TV Party night! At 11PM, when White House records show that President Carter had retired for the night, Glenn O’Brien welcomed viewers to, “the TV show that’s a costume party, but which could be a political party.” Glenn is dressed in a casual Dolly Parton lesbian look. Chris Stein is a wicked witch. Debbie Harry is an umbrella. Richard Sohl is a “top model from the Candy Jones Agency” and teaches a new dance called “The Subway.” Teri Toye is as a fairy princess. Fab Five Freddy is a nickel bag, interviewed on the dangers of things put into Trick or Treat bags. The TV Party Orchestra looks brilliant, with Lenny Ferrari as a cubist painting and Walter Steding as a computer containing a gelatin capsule. Glenn and gang talks about Halloween as All Soul’s Eve, how to tell a god from a goblin, and the effects of drugs and costumes. Lenny performs a snide magic trick. But what makes this a great episode is that it’s a real party, featuring lots of home viewers on the telephone. This is TV Party at is most dense and abstract, filled with cross-talk, double entendre and obscure information. Particularly amusing is a long stretch with Jean-Michel Basquiat talking to home viewers on the phone, talking them out of their negativity.
PREMIER EPISODE In 1978 New York City was the scene of a movement called “punk” or “new wave” --an explosion of rebel music, underground art and new cinema. Glenn O’Brien was in the middle of it, writing his column, Glenn O’Brien’s BEAT, for Andy Warhol’s Interview Magazine. One night Glenn was a guest on a cable show “If I Can’t Dance You Can Keep Your Revolution” hosted by Yippie pot advocate Coca Crystal. The next day he was approached by friends and strangers alike who had caught the show. Glenn thought “Hmm, people are watching public access cable TV.” So he started his own show, Glenn O’Brien’s TV Party. His best pal Chris Stein, Blondie’s guitarist, became co-host and Walter Steding, Warhol’s painting assistant, became leader of the TV Party Orchestra. Regulars included Jean-Michel Basquiat, Fab Five Freddie, Debborah Harry, John Lurie and Tim Wright of DNA. TV Party was “the cocktail party that could become a political party.” The rest is TV history. This was the premier show.
TIME & MAKE-UP SHOW Glenn O’Brien says “TV Party is interesting as a TV show, but it’s a pretty good painting too.” This show opens with a still frame. Just when you’re ready to go nuts, a voice reassures: “There is nothing wrong with your television set.” And mad action begins. TV Party was cable TV as pop art. It appeared sloppy and crude but it was deliberate sloppiness and crudeness. This episode plays with ideas of time and space, (“time is money” and “dead air”) alternating between aggressive boredom and quick wit. The TV Party Orchestra (Walter Steding on violin, Lenny Ferrari on the New Yorker magazine, and Tim Wright on guitar) jams while host O’Brien performs the sublime feat of rolling a joint blindfolded while smoking a joint. The now legendary fashion photographer Steven Meisel joins the gang, performing a makeover on a hillbilly gal found in the bar across the street. Percussionist extraordinaire David van Tieghem makes music with toys and kitchen utensils. Tim Wright and his girlfriend Marianne are “Fifi and Claude” performing a punk Parisian accordion/guitar duo. Ferrari’s “Italian cousin” sleight of hand artist Luigi Ciccolini performs magic. Richard Sohl of the Patti Smith Group, artists Fab Five Freddie and Ronnie Cutrone and guitarist Robert Fripp answer phone calls from home viewers. It’s all about “the makeup of time.”
+ ONE SURPRISE, PREVIOUSLY UNSEEN EPISODE
Part of SCALARAMA