Vol. 2, Issue #15 August 17th - August 30th, 2007

Tiger Bear From Hell at NONzine.com

By: Wilhelm Murg

Tom Snyder as The Dick Clark of Punk

Tom Snyder died on July 29th from complications from Leukemia. He was 71. The history books will probably not remember Snyder’s short and questionable contribution to pop culture, but he was a towering figure in his day, roughly from 1973-1980. Back in the pre-cable days, when the networks thought the idea of 24/7 television was crazy talk, NBC tested the market by running “The Tomorrow Show” after “The Tonight Show,” from midnight to 1 AM. If you were up that late, Snyder was the only game in town.

Snyder had been working for the Los Angeles affiliate, KNBC, when he was plucked from the litter to host one of the strangest shows ever broadcasted. Satanists, Nazis, spankers, nudists, bondage people, Voodoo priests, strippers, contemporary witches, transsexuals, transvestites, prostitutes, tax evaders, new agers, drug addicts...you name it, Snyder talked to someone about it. Of course, at the time, punk rock was seen as just another freak show, so Snyder ended up giving a lot of airtime to the musical genre that seemed to only be allowed on television after midnight.

Snyder was never that brilliant of a broadcaster, and not that intelligent on his own. As for hipness, he was probably the biggest square on TV since Jack Webb’s “Sgt. Joe Friday” on “Dragnet.” Much like Larry King (who is actually three years older than Snyder!) he came of age before rock’n’roll, and not only his taste, but also his philosophical outlook proved it. He would go on to chide Wendy O. Williams for not singing ballads – like that would have sold! He kept reminding The Jam that if they were successful they would become part of the establishment they were rebelling against – they never became that successful. Both incidents appear on the DVD set “The Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder: Punk & New Wave.”

The set also features a panel discussion with a very young Joan Jett, producer Kim Fowley, and concert promoter Bill Graham, who knew his days were numbers by this new punk wave thing. It also has the apocalyptic interview with John Lydon of PIL (aka Johnny Rotten formerly of The Sex Pistols) where the game seemed to be how much he could taunt Snyder before he hit got punched. “Public Image Limited is not a band, it’s a company.” Lydon came along at just the right time to throw a much-needed wet towel at Snyder’s growing ego. Calmer interviews and performances by Elvis Costello, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, and The Ramones (with a dreadful substitute host who thinks they need haircuts) round out the set.

A much skimpier companion disc is also available, “The Tomorrow Show- Tom Snyder’s Electric Kool-Aid Talk Show.” It offers interviews with Ken Kesey, Timothy Leary, Tom Wolfe, and The Grateful Dead, who also perform four songs. It becomes obvious that Snyder had little understanding of the hippie culture - every time Leary says something profound Snyder laughs it off as a joke, and he obviously thinks The Dead were an easy listening band because they performed unplugged. The biggest problems with the disc is too much time is taken up by Tom Wolfe, who talks about everything EXCEPT for his experiences that lead to the writing of his classic book on Kesey and The Dead, “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.” The disc is only of interest to Dead fanatics for the four songs.

If you can find a copy, one of Snyder’s more interesting interviews was John Lennon’s last televised interview (from 1975, five years before his murder.) It was released in the 1980s on VHS, but is long out of print. The interview was rebroadcast the night after Lennon’s shocking death, and many Beatles fans noted that they were able to laugh again while watching the broadcast.

Snyder interviewed a lot of great musicians, from Frank Zappa (who just gave him a rough time,) to the legendary Harlem Stride pianist Eubie Blake, a drunken KISS (where he declared Gene Simmons to be a “bass” – with short “a,” like the fish – player,) “Weird Al” Yankovic, U2’s first American exposure, The Clash, and even classical music legends, like Arthur Fiedler and Itzhak Perlman (where the musically challenged Snyder explained that if you forget all the octaves, sharps and flats, music is really just “Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti, Do.”) He also gave a major boost to the great Dr. Demento and interviewed frustrated guitarist Charles Manson.

In each case you realize what an oaf Tom was, but in retrospect, he was probably just the right attitude that was needed for what became the first wave of tabloid television. He was the everyman thrown in the middle of an intense situation that wouldn’t shut up long enough for you to find out what the other person was thinking. He fared much better when he wasn’t expected to talk about music, such as his interviews with the actor Sterling Hayden, director Alfred Hitchcock, or pulp writer Mickey Spillane.

Snyder’s career fell apart when the network brought in an audience and tried to turn “The Tomorrow Show” into a variety show. After that he refused to do the exploitative interviews, which is was he was best at. “Let Geraldo answer questions about Manson for the next ten years,” he liked to say. After “The Tomorrow Show” was canceled to make room for David Letterman, in 1982, Snyder had a show on CBS and one on radio, but for all intense and purposes, he really disappeared into the sunset.

The greatest legacy of Tom Snyder will probably be Dan Ackroyd’s impression of him during the first five years of “Saturday Night Live,” where he was portrayed as a chain-smoking moron who liked to talk about himself. Ironically, Snyder’s short interview with the original SNL cast, broadcast a week before the show premiered, is available on the “Saturday Night Live: Season One” box set. Of course, even when interviewing the future legends of comedy, Snyder didn’t shut up long enough to let anyone find out who they were.

My favorite “Tomorrow Show” memory was when an obviously disturbed woman came in and wanted Snyder to interview her when they started rolling tape for show. Like a fool, he tried. She was eventually taken into custody and they started the show over, but the next night Snyder played the tape of he and the woman attempting an interview. No weirdo was too small to gain a place in the history of “The Tomorrow Show.”

As I noted, Snyder’s impact on culture was dubious at best, but the structure of his show allowed the underground to get their foot in the door of late night television, which was no small feat. He filled a unique spot during one of the interesting turning points of our culture, but probably didn’t understand it enough to realize what he accomplished.

Tiger Beat From Hell Main Page

©2006-2007 NONCO Media, L.L.C.