Wednesday, July 30, 2003
Nostalgia Trip

As described below, we've now got access to VHS for the first time in a while. So, naturally, old unseen-for-a-while VHS content gets played.

One tape starts off with off-the-air dubs of various rock performances: The Tubes on the Midnight Special, King Crimson (Fripp/Belew/Levin/Bruford edition) on Fridays, and, best of all, The Plasmatics (warning, pop up ads out the wazoo) featuring Wendy O. Williams on the Tomorrow show with Tom Snyder. The Plasmatics did A Pig is a Pig and Butcher Baby.

A Pig is a Pig featured a great talk-over-country-vamp intro by Wendy O., dedicating the song to "the cowardly journalist who hides behind his typewriter.... [and] ... the sicky sadist who hides behind his police badge" before the song erupts in total faux-punk chaos, complete with blue-mohawked guitarist wearing a nurse's uniform (starched, white, not those near Dr. Dentons pajamas nurses wear these days), and Wendy O. smashing a television set with a sledge hammer. Butcher Baby features an electric guitar getting cut in half, plus one of the best explosions, real or simulated, I've ever seen in a television studio, complete with light bars falling from the overheads.

Some gay men worship Jackie O. I'd take Wendy O. over Jackie O., any day.

Then, cut, and it's when President Reagan got shot. I guess this was the tape that was in the box when that happened. Bernie Shaw and Daniel Shore sitting across from each other at the still young CNN. IBM Selectic typewriters immediately to the rear. No computer in sight. You could see the ceiling of the newsroom, the other desks, the back wall. Everything said "budget operation." Cut to NBC, where Roger Mudd was anchoring coverage, with Edwin Newman reporting from some cubbyhole at the White House. Cut to ABC, where Frank Reynolds was anchoring, complete with his on-air refusal to give the name of the alleged perp who pulled the trigger without a second source.

It's all there: The confusion at the White House, with then deputy press secretary Larry Speaks trying to explain that questions could be better answered by White House staff at the hospital where Reagan had been taken, but with the White House press corp pressing on seemingly without hearing a word he'd said. Al Haig at the White House stating that he "was in control", even as then VP George H. W. Bush was on his way back to the White House and was technically in operative control of the government. (Haig didn't last too many months longer in that administration.) The released info that Reagan had walked into the hospital on his on. The claims that he hadn't lost much blood. (It was only later that the fact that he had been in graver damage than had been stated at the time came out.)

It's a very interesting snapshot of another time.

A different on-tape snapshot on another tape is the first blast off and landing of Space Shuttle Columbia. Back in the day, HBO didn't run 24/7: it only ran at night. For the launch and landing of Columbia, the local (Nashville) cable operator carried NASA feed. So, it's a NASA-commentary-only view of the first Space Shuttle flight. The manner in which the perception of the risks associated with shuttle flight changed after many shuttle launches comes to mind in watching this old footage. Very sad. You would hope that after twenty-something years of shuttle flights and forty-something years of manned space flight, we'd be slightly beyond either sending up capsule or gliders on rockets.

Aside: Where is the space plane? Why isn't it commercially viable? Why is NASA being allowed to manage its development?

There's one more tape from back then we've watched. It's B&W, made with a rented camera, as source material for video accompanyment to a band I was in at the time. Stupid faux-trippy stuff like close ups of bricks or out-of-focus images of water running. Or screen doors. In the middle of that one is a rehersal of that band. Single, fixed-location, camera while we play. Besides the fact that the performance is pretty embarrassing, it's interesting to see what we looked like (younger! more hair! thinner!), things we did (smoked), what we sounded like (hicks and rubes).

Painful, but fun.