The Dick Cavett Show: Rock Icons
January 13, 2006
The Dick Cavett Show: Rock Icons 3-DVD set features episodes between the years 1969 and 1974 that showcased popular rock music acts such as Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin and Sly and the Family Stone. Cavett was the antithesis of most of the slickly produced talk shows of the day, like Johnny Carson. He presented the cerebral alternative, coming off as a square intellectual and playing the role to the hilt. At times, his stand-up routine recalls Woody Allen’s Upper East Side New York City material (although, not as good).
One of the featured episodes was taped the day after Woodstock with Cavett’s guests including Jefferson Airplane, Joni Mitchell (who reportedly was told by her agent to refuse doing Woodstock in favour of Cavett’s show) and Stephen Stills and David Crosby. Getting into the hippie vibe of Woodstock, Cavett looks a little ridiculous with an ascot (which he discards during his monologue) and standing amidst a set that looks like the Partridge Family threw up all over it. He also comes off as a little awkward, like a deer caught in the headlights as if he doesn’t quite know what to say to these musicians with many of his jokes falling flat.
Jefferson Airplane come off as a little fatigued with the vocals being a tad off and the music lacking energy but this understandable all things considered. Joni Mitchell fares much better as she performs two songs with only an acoustic guitar and her distinctive vocals. Stills proudly shows off Woodstock mud on his pant leg and Crosby gives his impressions of what it was like to be at the festival. Looking at this footage, one is struck by how young everyone is.
On July 13, 1970, Cavett had Sly and the Family Stone on his show following actress Debbie Reynolds and tennis champ Pancho Gonzalez. After several delays (which Cavett gamely tries to cover) Sly performs his then #1 hit, “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again).” Visually, he and his band resemble Parliament/Funkadelic’s gypsy cousins with fashion that you could only have gotten away with in the ‘70s and maybe not even then. The best part comes when Cavett sits down with Sly for, I guess you’d call it an interview, but the musician looks like he was quite high on a few substances, sometimes staring at the camera with a glazed, spaced-out expression. To Cavett, Sly must’ve seemed like an alien from another planet. The musician doesn’t really answer Cavett’s questions but ends up going off on all sorts of tangents. However, as the interview progresses, Sly becomes more coherent and quite intelligent.
Another highlight of this set is the December 5, 1974 show devoted entirely to David Bowie in a rare talk show interview. First off, he performs solid renditions of “1984” and “Young Americans” and then sits down with Cavett to talk about his creative process. Bowie also briefly touches upon his fear of flying and candidly reveals that he’s not very close to his mother. The musician comes across as very intelligent (big surprise, there) and speaks about the concept of “Black Noise” and the influence of William S. Burroughs on his work.
This 3-DVD set is a fascinating archive of appearances by legendary rock acts of the day. We take appearances by rock bands on talk shows for granted today but back then this must’ve blown people’s minds who were used to the safe acts on Johnny Carson (although, Mike Douglas did have Tom Waits on his show). Most shows also feel so heavily scripted today but one doesn’t get this impression watching Cavett interact with these musicians. There is an unpredictable quality that is, at times, exciting to watch and makes this set essential viewing for any fan of classic rock.
Cavett introduces each show and offers some fascinating thoughts in an engaging manner on these episodes with the benefit of much time having passed since they originally aired.
Also included is a recent interview with Cavett who regrets that he never got to interview Greta Garbo or Bob Dylan on his show. He admits to still learning about rock music when he was doing his show (and it shows) and comes off as a fascinating guy. He also dishes some really good anecdotes, including going to see Easy Rider (1969) with Janis Joplin!