Harshing Their Mellows

Smug host rips counterculture icons in Tom Snyders Electric Kool-Aid Talk Show

For the increasing numbers of us too young to have experienced the 1960s, the DVD era has ushered in new opportunities to relive the times our parents can only remember if they weren't really there. Shout! Factory's newest DVD release, Tom Snyder's Electric Kool-Aid Talk Show, is the latest counterculture time capsule that's been dusted off and put back on the shelves. Since it's pretty much the general consensus that now is the absolute worst time to be alive in the history of this country, one can make a pretty penny off nostalgia—even if that nostalgia is brought to you by Tom Snyder, a talk-show host who often seemed to have less of a grasp on his contemporary Zeitgeist than the unemployed stoners and speed-freak insomniacs who could stay up that late on a weekday.

Snyder's attitude toward the punk and new wave rockers highlighted on his late-late-night The Tomorrow Showon NBC could be described as incredulous and confused—as displayed in Shout! Factory's previous DVD of Snyder clips. It's small wonder Dan Aykroyd made such sport of impersonating Snyder as a clueless buffoon on early Saturday Night Liveepisodes.

Here, in circa 1980 interviews with Dr. Timothy Leary, Ken Kesey and Jerry Garcia, Snyder adopts a slightly smug, soberer-than-thou attitude that at times seems frustratingly limiting. The interview becomes less about establishing any insight into Kesey and Garcia and more about Snyder's attempts to prod them a bit about their internal states. In Snyder's defense, Kesey and Garcia are certainly not the easiest subjects to probe and appear to have perhaps had a "sesh" (as I believe the kids are calling it nowadays) in the van before the show. But as any head will tell you, it's bad karma to fuck with the stoned, and surely Snyder's will be catching up with him soon.

Even less fortunate is Leary. Snyder's attitude toward the perpetually smiling doctor becomes at times quite confrontational as he tries to get Leary to admit that he may have been responsible for a lot of young people losing their way in life after hearing him advocate the unabashed use of intense psychedelic drugs. Leary fires back that it was always less about the drugs than about understanding and using the power of the mind, but his arguments come off about as convincing as when President Bush insists the administration never suggested Saddam Hussein had anything to do with 9/11.

Faring slightly better under Snyder's microscope is Tom Wolfe, a man who, though certainly immersed in the counterculture, has always given the impression of being more comfortable with a pressed linen suit and a martini than a fringed jacket and a doobie. This time, it's conservative darling Wolfe's turn to appear slightly pompous, as highbrow references and literary anecdotes sail over the heads of the studio audience. At least Snyder appears to understand what Wolfe is going for, and for the most part the two interviews featured progress smoothly.

Rounding out the package—whose cover resembles a psychedelic Fillmore West concert poster—is the inclusion of several fine live Tomorrow Show performances by the Grateful Dead. Non-Deadheads will be relieved that the constraints of broadcast television restrict any infernal extended jamming. This DVD is worth the asking price for '60s completists/Deadheads, but anyone with only a passing interest in the era might just want to spring for a rental. You'll still have enough left over for a dime bag!

TOM SNYDER'S ELECTRIC KOOL-AID TALK SHOW; SHOUT! FACTORY. LIST PRICE, $14.98.

 
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