California Highway Patrolmen John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd force Brian Wilson to get out of bed and on his board after issuing him a citation for failing to surf in one of the more iconic music/comedy crossovers of the 1970s. From the Lorne Michaels produced Beach Boys TV special, It’s OK.
Mike Love… he sure do look flamboyant here, don’t he?
John Belushi left Saturday Night Live in 1979 but agreed to appear on the show on Halloween of 1981 if one of his favorite bands, Fear, was hired as the musical guest. SNL, which was in a ratings slump, didn’t hesitate to agree to Belushi’s terms. Fear got the gig.
In order to create some excitement during Fear’s upcoming performance, Belushi contacted Ian Mackaye, who was fronting Washington D.C.‘s Minor Threat at the time.
“This is John Belushi. I’m a big fan of Fear’s. I made a deal with Saturday Night Live that I would make a cameo appearance on the show if they’d let Fear play. I got your number from Penelope Spheeris, who did Decline of Western Civilization and she said that you guys, Washington DC punk rock kids, know how to dance. I want to get you guys to come up to the show.”
Mackaye agreed to pull together some of his friends to go to New York. Little did he know that he would be in the center of one of television’s great rock and roll moments.
In an interview with Nardwuar, Mackaye describes what happened:
It was worked out that we could all arrive at the Rockefeller Center where Saturday Night Live was being filmed. The password to get in was “Ian MacKaye.” We went up the day before. The Misfits played with The Necros at the Ukrainian hall, I think, so all of the Detroit people were there, like Tesco Vee and Cory Rusk from the Necros and all the Touch and Go people and a bunch of DC people – 15 to 20 of us came up from DC. Henry (Rollins) was gone. He was living in LA at this point. So we went to the show. During the dress rehearsal, a camera got knocked over. We were dancing and they were very angry with us and said that they were going to not let us do it then Belushi really put his foot down and insisted on it. So, during the actual set itself, they let us come out again.
During the show – before they go to commercial, they always go to this jack-o-lantern. This carved pumpkin. If you watched it during the song, you’ll see one of our guys, this guy named Bill MacKenzie, coming out holding the pumpkin above his head because he’s just getting ready to smash it. And that’s when they cut it off. They kicked us out and locked us out for two hours. We were locked in a room because they were so angry with us about the behavior. I didn’t think it was that big of deal.
They said they were going to sue us and have us arrested for damages. There was so much hype about that. The New York Post reported half a million dollars worth of damages. It was nothing. It was a plastic clip that got broken. It was a very interesting experience and I realized how completely unnatural it is for a band to be on a television show – particularly a punk band – that kind of has a momentum to suddenly be expected to immediately jump into a song in that type of setting. It was very weird. Largely unpleasant. Made me realize that’s not something I’m interested in doing.”
Belushi was also among the moshers.
Fear’s SNL debut cost them future gigs with the show, clubs wouldn’t book them, and reputedly an offer from Belushi for the band to do the soundtrack of his next movie Neighbors was rescinded by the studio producing the film after Belushi’s death. All for the love of rock and roll.
It’s OK: The Beach Boys’ 15th Anniversary TV Special aired in 1976 on NBC. It was a weird affair created when Brian Wilson was at the lowest ebb of his struggle with substance abuse and depression. Produced by Lorne Michaels and written by John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, the show features a barely willing Wilson lured back into the studio and, in a bit that is both funny and sad, onto the beach and a surfboard. As most of us know, Brian was not a surfer and in this clip he’s barely a pedestrian. I have a feeling this may have been therapeutic for Brian.
Happy Birthday John Belushi, who would have been 62 today. Born in 1949, Belushi’s big break came in 1971 when he joined The Second City comedy troupe in Chicago. Cast alongside Chevy Chase and Christopher Guest in National Lampoon’s Lemmings (which Richard Metzger wrote a great article on last year), Belushi’s natural comic talents shone. He moved to New York, with his girlfriend Judy Jacklin, and became a regular on the National Lampoon Radio Hour, working with such future Saturday Night Live performers Gilda Radner and Bill Murray. The rest we know.
It’ll be SNL and The Blues Brothers that Belushi will be remembered for best, and watching clips of his TV or film work now, only re-enforces what is so sad about his early demise.
Since posting about Rick Meyerowitz’s up coming book on the National Lampoon, Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Writers and Artists Who Made the National Lampoon Insanely Great the other day, I’ve had the Lampoon on the brain a bit. Last night I was adding things to the Netflix queue, when I noticed, to my surprise and delight, that there was a video document of the 1973 Off Broadway production of National Lampoon’s Lemmings, starring a very young John Belushi (23 or 24 at the time), Christopher Guest (25), Chevy Chase (30 and with long hair) as well as Rhonda Coullet (who does a wicked Joni Mitchell) and Alice Playten (who nearly steals the show with her outrageous Joan Baez parody). The show was written by Tony Hendra (the manager in This Is Spinal Tap, who also co-directed Lemmings), Doug Kenney (National Lampoon co-founder and co-writer of Animal House. He also played “Stork”) and P.J. O’Rourke.
The first surprise is that this even exists in the first place. I’ve known the record since I was a kid, but who knew there was a video of this? Well, there is and it’s fascinating, if not exactly all that funny. It’s interesting because it’s got these three great funnymen seen before they would achieve fame a few years later with SNL and also it’s a wild period piece. If this sounds even remotely like something you’d be interested in, by all means get over to Netflix and watch it, but if you don’t expect it to be the best thing you’ve ever seen and don’t expect belly laughs (there are a few) then you’ll be able to appreciate this more on its own, slightly rumpled terms. Comedy doesn’t tend to age well, but that’s not why you want to watch this. One strong disclaimer, though, for younger viewers, most of the references are going to be totally incomprehensible unless they’ve seen the Woodstock documentary.
Although the cheesy titles don’t tell you this, Lemmings was videotaped for HBO as The National Lampoon Television Show. We didn’t know that when we were watching it and wondered what possible outlet there would have been for something with so much swearing in it in 1973? Turns out HBO started the year before, so we had our answer, but still, how odd that they kept something like this out of the public eye for so long.
The “plot” of Lemmings, as such, is that the audience is supposed to be present for a Thanos-celebrating rock festival: “Woodshuck: Three Days of Peace, Music & Death.” A Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young spoof (“Freud, Pavlov, Adler, and Jung”) sees the group singing a parody of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” (and their own “LongTime Gone”) but the lyrics have been changed to “We are lemmings”—instead of stardust—and Belushi, as the MC makes constant references and updates about members of the audience killing themselves and snuffing it (“The brown strychnine has been cut with acid.”). Near the end, as the heavy metal group “Megadeath” are playing, Alice Playton (as a groupie) asks “Did you know that pure rock sound can kill? Isn’t that far out? So the thing to do is go over to the amp and put your head there.”
More on National Lampoon’s Lemmings after the jump…
“I could seduce the President of the United States…but I have no political ambition.” For you LA connoisseurs of obscure ‘70s gems, get thee tonight to the Egyptian Theatre! For the first time in 38-plus years, Nelson Lyon’s The Telephone Book will be playing its first big screen engagement.
The film presumably involves a woman (Sarah Kennedy) who falls in love with the world’s greatest obscene telephone operator. Here’s what the excellent resource VideoUpdates has to say about it:
The opening quickly establishes a style and mood somewhere between Soviet Montage and a 16mm student film. While its (literally) X-rated nudity and frank discussion of sexuality are hardly shocking in the 21st century, the offbeat humor and profound strangeness seem amplified by the decades. Beyond that, there seems to be a very intelligent undercurrent to the madcap randomness.
Regarding writer-director Lyon, not much comes up on him beyond a brief, early writing stint on SNL, but he was also one of the people doing coke with John Belushi on his last night on earth. He’ll be in attendance tonight (Lyon, not Belushi), so maybe not bring that up during the Q & A? A trailer and clip from The Telephone Book follow below.