Roxanne Tellier It Was What It Was – But More


Yeah, yeah, it’s been a week since the Saturday Night Live (SNL) special, and Bob’s given his views on the pros and cons. But I’m still thinking about what the show meant to me, in its heyday, and occasionally, since.


snl Pauls

Last Sunday several people asked me if I’d be watching the special. I don’t generally watch TV live anymore – stuff to do, and I can’t abide commercials – so my stance had been, “nah, pass.” And as I heard the opening monologue/musical tribute, I sat smugly in my office and felt superior.

But then … I started to hear snips of skits I remembered. The TV in my office, which used to play a few local channels, recently decided it would only show a never-ending video loop of an aquarium, so down the hall I toddled, just to have a peek at the show. And there I stayed, laughing and shouting out punch lines for the next few hours – with breaks for when I just couldn’t handle some of the ‘live’ musical acts.


(I’m looking at you, McCartney. It would not kill you to drop the effin’ key when you can no longer hit the notes.)

Carlin SNLI grew up on this stuff. I was young – it was 1975. I was still with my first husband when we watched the debut of Saturday Night Live, then called NBC’s Saturday Night. George Carlin was the host, and the musical guests were Billy Preston and Janis Ian.

(Janis Ian had once inadvertently caused one of the scariest, most racist moments in my family. At dinner, thinking about the song “Society’s Child,” I innocently mused “I’d marry a black man if I fell in love with one,” and my dad utterly exploded. In Canada. At the height of the Civil Rights Movement. It was an education.)

Anyway, we thought the show was very funny. At that point, he and I did very little together, so watching the show provided a little levity, and a break from constant arguing. We watched every week, and I was enthralled with both the comedy and the musical guests. Some of the humour may now seem dated, but at the time, it was cutting edge. SNL was the proverbial fresh of breath air, and it played a dual role as both the musical and comedic soundtrack to my life

1975The world was different then. People who did drugs did so covertly, and boys with long hair were in as dangerous a position as blacks and non-straights. Being young and cool was hard. Even if you were in a band, you travelled in groups for safety. And women were vulnerable.  The razzing the women on the show received resonated. I’d see and hear casual misogyny ever day in the workplace or on the street.

SNL’s quality varied over the years, but there’d always be at least one moment that would stand out, or a line in a sketch that would become a catchphrase, effortlessly assimilated into our society and our speech.

I can’t contemplate a hot tub – or even a hot bath – without hearing Eddie Murphy channel James Brown singing “ooh! Too hot!”

Or prepare broccoli without envisioning Dana Carvey dirging “Choppin’ Broccoli” Dana had some of the best characters, including the Church Lady, with her  prim but resonant question,  “Is it … Satan!?”

“Cheeseburger, cheeseburger – Coke, no Pepsi!” “Jane, you ignorant slut.” “BassOMatic,” Pete Schweddy and his schweddy balls on Delicious Dish,  Toonces the Driving Cat,  “Buh-bye,” “living in a van down by the river!,” “Da Bulls – da Bears!”  “I got a fever – and the only cure is … more cowbell!”

And the music! To paraphrase Cabaret, “even the orchestra is beautiful.” Especially when G.E. Smith, Gilda Radner’s ex-husband, joined the show in ’85 as Musical Director.  You could count on amazing playing, whether from the house band, or the musical guests.

The music was informed by our times – Bob Dylan, who’d once shocked the world by performing on an electric rather than acoustic guitar at Newport, shocked us again by converting to Christianity. In his only SNL appearance in 1979, he sang three songs, including “Gotta Serve Somebody.”

On the second show in 1975, Paul Simon was the host, and Art Garfunkel one of the musical guests. The duo had had a rocky relationship, and finally split up as an act in 1970. So the audience was ready to see a fist fight break out, but the two performed three songs, “The Boxer,” “Scarborough Fair,” and “My Little Town,” proving yet again how well their voices artfully melded.

In 1977, with Charles Grodin as host, and Paul Simon as guest, Art Garfunkel cameoed, and the two performed a classic that can still bring tears to my eyes.  Deity willing, we’ll all get to ponder, ‘how terribly strange to be 70.’

Without a musical guest for their third episode, John Belushi broke out an imitation he’d been honing for years amongst his college friends. Reeling around the stage, while twitching and grimacing, he sang “With A Little Help from My Friends,” ala Joe Cocker.

On the third episode of the second season (1976,) Cocker himself appeared as the show’s musical guest. And guess who joined him for a rousing version of “Feelin’ Alright”?

Producer Lorne Michael’s knew what his audience wanted. In 1978, the Rolling Stones appeared on the show for the first time, while in the same show, a sketch featured President Carter attempting to negotiate a peace treaty between the Beatles. The Stones appeared on the show several times, and Mick Jagger soloed occasionally as well. But despite Lorne’s promise of a ‘hefty payday’ should The Beatles re-unite,  (in cameos, he offered them $3,000 to reunite on the show, later upping the amount to $3,500, discussing it with George Harrison, and telling McCartney years later that Harrison had the money) it never happened.

The musical Who’s Who that paraded through our living rooms was unparalleled … the greats in all styles of music were showcased, along with the up and comers who were changing the face of radio, and eventually, became the new stars of video.

In 1977, the show booked The Sex Pistols, but the group couldn’t get travel visas. So a new wave group led by Elvis Costello grabbed the last minute gig. He and The Attractions were touring to push his first album, My Aim Is True, not yet released in the US.  Costello wanted to play “Radio Radio,” but Columbia Records insisted he play “Less Than Zero.” Costello tried – for a few bars – and then did what he wanted. That move got him banned from the show until 1989. On the 25th Anniversary special, Costello got his own back by interrupting the Beastie Boys and having them play backup while he sang “Radio Radio.”  ROCK n Roll!

Speaking of Spinal Tap – they were a band tailor made for SNL.  Here they are interviewed before their 1984 appearance.

Producer Dick Ebersol invited all three comedians to join the cast. Harry Shearer and Christopher Guest accepted, But Michael McKean didn’t join until ten years later, when producer Lorne Michaels was back in charge.  Harry Shearer had actually been a cast member during the 1979–80 season. His time with SNL was short on the second go-round, due to ‘creative’ difficulties. Or as he later said, “I didn’t realize that guests were treated better than cast members.”

John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd took a passion for the blues and r&b and built a skit, then an album, and finally, a movie around it. Aykroyd introduced Belushi to the boys in Downchild. It was a match made in heaven.

“The Toronto-based Downchild Blues Band, co-founded in 1969 by two brothers, Donnie and Richard “Hock” Walsh, served as an inspiration for the two Blues Brothers characters. Aykroyd initially modeled Elwood Blues in part on Donnie Walsh, a harmonica player and guitarist, while John Belushi’s Jake Blues character was modeled in part on Hock Walsh, Downchild’s lead singer. In their first album as the Blues Brothers, Briefcase Full of Blues (1978), Aykroyd and Belushi featured three well-known Downchild songs closely associated with Hock Walsh’s vocal style: “I’ve Got Everything I Need (Almost)”, written by Donnie Walsh, “Shot Gun Blues”, co-written by Donnie and Hock Walsh, and “Flip, Flop and Fly”, co-written and originally popularized by Big Joe Turner. All three songs were contained in Downchild’s second album, Straight Up (1973), with “Flip, Flop and Fly” becoming the band’s most successful single, in 1974.” (Wikipedia)

It was great to see Aykroyd bust it out with Jim Belushi on the special, but I held my breath throughout, hoping he’d make it to the end.

A huge surprise for me came in 1990, when Mariah Carey debuted on the show singing “Vision of Love.” I’d heard a lot about the fairytale story of her signing, and her phenomenal vocal range, but wasn’t much impressed when this kid toddled on stage looking like my own daughter’s attempt at channelling Madonna. Until she began to sing …

Say what you will about the girl’s career – that is one amazing instrument, and her feel and soul were astounding at the age of 20.

(Editor’s Note – I remember this well. Mariah in a jean jacket and not one hairstylist in sight…oh, for the days when talent was how we defined greatness. A stunning performance.)

Everyone has their fave musical moment. One of the most dramatic occurred in 1992, when Sinead O’Connor ripped up a photo of Pope John Paul II, declaring, “Fight the real enemy.” Yawn. Ashlee Simpson was famously caught out lip-synching to her song, and tried to make up for it by dancing like Popeye. Ashlee Who?

I distinctly remember the Stones being engulfed in soap bubbles on one appearance, but that might have been a pre-recorded video for the show.

(Editor’s Note – It was…)

I was awash with tears the night that Bonnie Raitt dedicated “I Can’t Make You Love Me” to the memory of Bill Graham, whose death had just been announced.

But it’s the moments when I felt my musical mind *snap* that keep me watching. It seems like forever now, the dawn of musical looping and a newish sound coming out of England for the umpteenth time. I watched a duo call the Ting Tings perform, and didn’t think much of their work. Until the next day, when I couldn’t get the sound out of my head. I watched the video over and over. Clever little buggers.

What would I like to see in future shows? Hmmm … more Bruno Mars, please, and what’s Adele been up to lately? I’d like to see Vintage Trouble hit the stage, and St. Paul and The Bones. And I would have thought they’d have had Dirty Loops on before this. But otherwise – surprise me, Lorne. I can take it.


Roxanne’s column appears here every Sunday 

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DBAWIS ButtonRoxanne Tellier has been singing since she was 10 months old … no, really. Not like she’s telling anyone else how to live their lives, because she’s not judgmental, and most 10 month olds need a little more time to figure out how to hold a microphone. She has also been a vocalist with many acts, including Tangents, Lady, Performer, Mambo Jimi, and Delta Tango. In 2013 she co-hosted Bob Segarini’s podcast, The Bobcast, and, along with Bobert, will continue to seek out and destroy the people who cancelled ‘Bunheads’.

The Bobcast

3 Responses to “Roxanne Tellier It Was What It Was – But More”

  1. I had never seen the Mariah Carey piece….amazing! There were some special moments on SNL over the last 40 years, and yes, the anniversary show certainly brought back a truckload of memories. I guess that’s why I found it so disappointing, They missed displaying much of their best work. As for the future, since I am now totally addicted to Dirty Loops they would be my number one choice. St. Paul et al would be wonderful and Bruno Mars….love him too. I do thank you for the walk down memory lane. It was a wonderful stroll!

  2. the Mariah Carey clip actually inspired the blog – I’d forgotten how good she was, how real. Which got me thinking about all the other ‘real’ moments, and how they felt at the time.
    But of course – nostalgia is always a bright and shiny memory. The special would have had to have been 8 hours long to please everyone and still there’d be some moaning.
    The special jogged my memory, I had a laugh … it was what it was. 😉

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