Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A blast from the past

I was looking around at Dennis Perrin's blog for the first time in about a week and noticed his review of the SNL fourth season DVD set. If I recall correctly, I'd become pretty hooked on SNL's third season, 1977-1978 (I was already showing signs of being an insomniac and a night owl), and the 1978-1979 season would be one of the few constants I could count on during a turbulent period in my early adolescent life - a period marked by dad's layoff from his previous job, a move to a completely different region of the US, adjustment from suburban to (briefly) urban living and back again, and of course the usual physical and psychological changes that go hand in hand with the teenage years. I'd always had a passion for comedy and satire, and the SNL cast and writers were incredible.

To be honest, I haven't even caught SNL reruns in ages. There were a couple seasons in the 1980s and again in the early 1990s that were sort of interesting, but for the most part once the last remnants of the first cast had vanished, SNL was as bland as much of whatever else was on the tube at the time (Eddie Murphy's brilliance notwithstanding). Not surprisingly, until reading Dennis Perrin's reminiscences, I had forgotten much of what apparently attracted me so heavily to that particular SNL season. I was still just young enough for a fair amount of the drug humor to go over my head (that wouldn't last much longer), but in retrospect that the writers and cast were snorting up mountains of snow makes sense: cokeheads tend to be, shall we say, an aggressive lot when high and the humor definitely had an aggressive edge to it. After weathering two substantial moves in a matter of months - from a southern suburb, to a west-coast inner city environment (which was turning out to be pretty interesting), and then to a very barren west-coast suburban wasteland - I was walking around with a fairly substantial chip on my shoulder.

Gilda Radner's characters were consistently interesting - Candy Slice (pictured above) was certainly one of the more memorable ones: funny that as soon as I saw that picture I could recognize that one right off the bat. That was the season Peter Tosh performed an old Beatles tune, "Here Comes The Sun" (I ended up liking his version of that tune much more). I've really gotta revisit those Al Franken and Tom Davis sketches. Perrin's description jogs the memory a bit, but not quite enough. The Scotch Boutique sketches were also ones that resonated with me at the time. I'll let Perrin describe them:
Scotch Boutique displayed even more precision. A store that sells only scotch tape opens in a dying mall. At first seen as a ridiculous idea, the Boutique soon prospers, selling tape to the other store owners so they can put up their Going Out of Business signs. These pieces ran through the entire season, forming an extended narrative as opposed to recurring one-liners and character turns. Scotch Boutique was an intelligent look at people confronting failure and loss. There were no jokes, only situations, each more dire than the last. Those pieces are perhaps the most poignant work to ever air on SNL.
The apartment complex I lived in for a few months from late 1978 until late spring 1979 was situated next door to a dying shopping mall - one complete with more empty store spaces than occupied, and where guys wearing old trench coats walked around aimlessly carrying bottles wrapped in paper bags. The Scotch Boutique could have easily existed there. Of course, given the current economic realities, something tells me that the Scotch Boutique sketches are once again quite relevant.

If I run into some money again (always an iffy proposition these days), maybe I'll pick up that DVD set. I never could run with the cokeheads (just didn't like what the drug did to people), but I could certainly appreciate what a handful of highly talented cokeheads could offer in the way of humor and commentary. Perrin's capsule summary of the season is probably pretty dead-on (keep in mind, I'm relying on memory here), and I suspect that had my parents realized just what SNL was up to I would have never been allowed to watch it. Instead, that ended up being one of my influences during some early formative years.

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