The Dick Cavett Show: Rock Icons
First Appeared in The Music Box, September 2005, Volume 12, #9
Written by John Metzger
Several years ago, Dick Cavett repurchased the rights to his talk show, and with the recent release of the triple-DVD set The Dick Cavett Show: Rock Icons, his investment is about to pay huge dividends. Compiling material from nine episodes of the program, which aired in a trio of different time slots between 1968 and 1975 ó the most notable of which was against Johnny Carsonís The Tonight Show ó the collection provides an inessential, but no less captivating, glimpse at a handful of intriguing moments from the annals of rock ínĎ rollís glorious past.
While no one likely was going to succeed in posing much of a threat to The Tonight Showís dominance, there was an untapped niche market, which Cavett gladly filled. While Carson (and everyone else, for that matter) frequently shied away from booking controversial guests, Cavett seemingly embraced them. Although, he initially wasnít completely comfortable conversing with radicals and revolutionaries, he, at least, had the intrepid foresight to give them a voice, and by the time that he sat down with David Bowie in 1974, he unquestionably had found his rhythm.
Even so, there are several unusual incidents that are captured on The Dick Cavett Show: Rock Icons, not the least of which is Cavettís attempt at talking with a chemically altered Sly Stone. The resulting interview was bizarre and, at times, quite incoherent, and the strangeness also infected the subsequent discussion with Senator Fred Harris and his wife, during which Stone continued to interject a mixture of thoughtful and irregular comments into the proceedings. Nevertheless, it was via his dry wit that Cavett prevailed, and when taken in combination with his charming, everyman persona, he consistently was able to bridge the divide that separated the straight-laced establishment from the countercultural movement, which, in turn, allowed him to reveal the inner workings of his subjects. He succeeded in demystifying both David Bowie and George Harrison, while Paul Simon provided a rare glimpse into the songwriting process and performed an embryonic rendition of Still Crazy after All These Years.
Given, too, the amount of time that Cavett devoted to each of his guests, there also are numerous insightful moments to be found within The Dick Cavett Show: Rock Icons, particularly during the middle disc of the set, which is devoted exclusively to Janis Joplinís appearances on the program. In addition to several delightful interview segments during which she and Cavett developed a genuine rapport, Joplin also hung around not only to converse with Raquel Welch, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and Chet Huntley about media bias and the polarization of America, but also to perform (along with a young Howard Hesseman) with the improvisational comedy troupe The Committee. Taken in total, the collection provides an intimate glimpse at a side of her that wasnít seen frequently in public.
As for the actual performances, they, not surprisingly, ranged from Sly Stoneís haphazard rendition of Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again) to Joni Mitchellís stunningly perfect, a capella delivery of The Fiddle and the Drum to Stephen Stillsí haunting solo rendition of 4+20. Indeed, Jefferson Airplane was all over the map as it struggled to maintain its momentum through We Can Be Together, though it later redeemed itself by ripping into Volunteers, Somebody to Love, and an untitled, blues-inflected jam with all the intensity of a punk-rock outfit. Elsewhere, Janis Joplin unleashed the fiery funk of Half Moon and showcased her soulful side on impassioned renditions of Get It While You Can and My Baby, while a young Stevie Wonder uncorked his then-new, now-classic single Signed, Sealed, Delivered (Iím Yours). Thereís little doubt, of course, that everything on The Dick Cavett Show: Rock Icons is anecdotal, but for fans of the featured artists as well as those seeking perspective on the intersection of popular culture with socio-political dialogue, itís a rather illuminating set.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2005 The Music Box