Monday, October 31, 2005

Live from New York, it's Saturday Night!

The following excerpt has been taken from an interview I did with Ian MacKaye in 2002. In the interview, MacKaye relived one of Hardcore's most celebrated television moments (along with NYHC vs. Donahue and Skinheads vs. Geraldo)...Saturday Night Live with FEAR as the musical guest, Halloween 1981.

I was contacted by Lorne Michaels, the producer of Saturday Night Live, and John Belushi and asked to put together a crew of people to come dance at the Fear appearance on the show. Belushi had been asked to make a cameo appearance on the show, and he agreed on the condition that one of his favorite bands, FEAR, would be invited to be the musical guest. He then insisted that the band should have some punk rockers on the premises to add some "authentic" flavor.

He got my number from Penelope Spheeris, who directed "Decline of the Western Civilization" as well as "Suburbia," after she told him that the D.C. scene was the "happening" scene on the east coast. Anyway, they called and we agreed to come up to the show. As it turned out our good friends from Ohio, The Necros, were playing with the Misfits in NYC the night before the SNL show (Halloween '81), so we invited them along as well as numerous New York punks (I'm fairly sure that Harley Flanagan from the Cro-Mags was there).

The actual experience was really disorienting. We were kept in a room until they were ready to have us appear, at which point we were led down through the backstage area and on to the set. The band would come out and we would all have to immediately jump into action. It was cold on the set and completely sterile, the music was quiet, and the people sitting in the crowd absolutely hated us. This was okay, beacause we hated them too, and we had chips on our shoulders.

During the dress rehearsal (the show is run through twice, once as a dress rehearsal, and then the actual "live" show), a camera was accidentally knocked over and there was some damage, but the producers decided to let us come on the actual show. This was probably in some part due to Belushi pressuring them to let it go forward. The actual show was as weird as the dress rehearsal, though I think we were no longer interested in trying to keep things cool. As I remember there were even small skirmishes breaking out between audience members and dancers, and there was some headknocking going on between the punks themselves. Keep in mind there there was quite a bit of territorial friction going on in those early years.

At some point during the show one of the D.C. punks, Billy Mackensie, jumped up on stage and grabbed a jacko'lantern pumpkin that the show had been using as it's commercial break transition shot. He hoisted it over his head and smashed it on the front of the stage in front of the band. We all started slipping and sliding on the pumpkin mush until the song was over. As it turned out the producers had cut away from the show the moment Billy appeared with the pumpkin, so no one ever saw the rest of the mess. When we left the room we were booed by the audience.

We were locked into another room and told that we were going to be facing charges in connection to the "damage" done. Eventually, they let us go and in the days following the media picked up on the story. Before long, the story had blown into us "rioting on the set" and causing $100,000 worth of damage. It was, of course, not true, but SNL got some coverage out of the deal.

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