Sunday, July 25, 2010

November 19, 2009: Fear on SNL: The Night Punk Hijacked NBC

It was Halloween night, 1981. Donald Pleasance (Sam Loomis of Halloween) was hosting Saturday Night Live. L.A. punk band Fear were the musical guests. Now, despite its rep as radical, counter-culture T.V., SNL generally shunned punk groups. Patti Smith had played the show in '77, and Elvis Costello and the Attractions performed that same year, but after Costello and the gang went off script by trashing a rendition of the NBC-approved "Less Than Zero" to play the media-bashing "Radio Radio" instead, they were (supposedly) black-balled from the program for a decade plus. And let's face it, both Smith and Costello were more on the periphery of punk than deep in its gritty heart. Fear was an odd choice to break Saturday Night Live's punk embargo. The group was hardly well-known by any standards, but ex-cast-member John Belushi was a fan and pushed to get them booked. SNL gave them a shot and were instantly sorry they did. There have been many legends swirling around SNL throughout the years-- from Costello's cheeky prank to cast members saying "fuck" on live T.V. to certain talent-devoid starlets getting caught in a lip-synch-- but none of these incidents are even in the same universe as the night Fear made good on SNL's boast that it's a truly dangerous show.


I recently came across the following You Tube video, in which John Joseph of the NYC Hardcore group The Cro-Mags, describes the night in detail. I'd love to find actual footage of the event on-line, but this will have to suffice for now. It's absolutely hilarious and an incredible account of how live T.V. can really go off the rails. Shit like this simply doesn't happen anymore.





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