|The Tomorrow Show With Tom Snyder|
John, Paul, Tom and Ringo
4 out of 5 stars
Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson
It’s ironic that an entire generation has grown up not knowing who Tom Snyder was. “John, Paul, Tom and Ringo,” a 2 DVD set of “Tomorrow Show” interviews from Shout Factory, ought to enhance Snyder’s reputation as a provocative, determined and entertaining interviewer. Snyder, a former newscaster, hosted “The Tomorrow Show,” on NBC from 1973-82. His hard-hitting interviewing style, off the cuff exchanges with the stage crew, and cloud-wafting chain smoking made him a celebrity in his own right. He also had the distracting habit of making every interview about Tom Snyder. If you’re interviewing Uncle Floyd, that’s one thing. If you’re fortunate to have landed three out of the four Beatles, you need to be prepared, be polite, suck on your Salem and let them do the talking. Tom does none of the above, which makes “John, Paul, Tom and Ringo” an occasional out of control clown car. Snyder’s ego aside, these interviews haven’t been seen in twenty five years, and are worth delving into because it’s the Beatles, kids.
No one knew it at the time, but Snyder’s talk with John Lennon on April 25, 1975 would be Lennon’s last television interview before the ex-Beatle’s self-imposed exile. Lennon would spend the next five years as a house dad, raising his infant son, Sean. He re-entered the studio in 1980 to record his final album, “Double Fantasy,” with his screech-a-thon wife, Yoko Ono. In the midst of his successful artistic comeback, Lennon innocently autographed an album for Mark David Chapman, a deeply disturbed fan whose inner voices were telling him John Lennon was some sort of Anti-Christ. On December 8, 1980, Chapman encountered Lennon outside his home at the Dakota and murdered him.
Seeing Tom Snyder’s interview with John Lennon is one of those rare “oh wow” moments. He’s been gone for so long and has been lionized on film, in books and on CDs that you forget he was once a person, not just an icon, and he wasn’t perfect. Luckily we get Lennon the playful, Lennon the charmer, Lennon the joker, instead of John the caustic, John the hater of all things Beatle, especially Paul McCartney.
The lengthy interview begins as he old saying goes, at the beginning. John still can’t believe “Beatlemania”: “It was like being in the eye of a hurricane. We thought, what’s going on? It was just happening to us. We were being whisked from room to room.” He’s thankful he’s not recognized as much anymore, that he can go out to dinner and a few people might come up to him wish him luck in battle against deportation but otherwise leave him alone. (An ironic statement given Chapman had no problem recognizing, stalking, and killing Lennon.) John’s far less vitriolic about the Beatles than he was in the 70s whenever he was asked why the world’s greatest group broke up: “We didn’t break up because we weren’t friends. We were bored. We stopped moving forward. It was like a marriage that didn’t work.”
Given John’s post-Beatle battles with Paul, his sincere claim he’s happy for the success of his former band mates is a sigh of relief. Nice to know he went to the great control booth in the sky without all that baggage. John’s most happy for Ringo: “It always went that Ringo was dumb, but Ringo ain’t dumb.” He laughs, adding, “We were worried, but he can make movies, he has a recording career. He’s doing better than me right now!”
There are few revelations in the interview (or in Paul or Ringo’s for that matter), although I was surprised to hear John say he liked disco. He makes up for his misjudgment of disco by mentioning his appreciation of reggae, which in 1975 was just beginning to gain a foothold in the U.S.
John’s explanations for some of his outrageous and trend-setting behavior in the 60s come across now as logical and less diabolical. Commenting on his “bed in” for peace with Yoko, John admits it was a calculated move. He knew there would be a lot of press covering their honeymoon, and used the opportunity to talk about something he believed in. Looking back at the full monty shot of himself and Yoko that jumped off of the cover of their “Two Virgins” album, John says coyly, “We were just ahead of our time,” and rightfully points out that nudity is so commonplace today few people give it an afterthought.
A large part of the interview is devoted to John’s tug of war with the Department of Immigration, which didn’t care if Lennon was exiled to Elba to keep Napoleon’s ghost company, as long as he wasn’t spreading his subversive ideas around the good ole U.S.A. Lennon has his smarmy looking lawyer, Leon Wyles, respond to any tricky legal logistics. Styling out in plastic rim glasses (which don’t disguise his beady eyes), and wearing a ghastly stripped tie that resembles a hangman’s noose, Wyles looks like one of those shifty establishment types Lennon used to tell us not to trust. Wyles talks in lawyer double-speak about a conspiracy against John, that people like John Mitchell are out to get him. Back then it seemed like a lot of paranoid hooey, but files have since become a part of the public record that prove everyone at the Pentagon from Nixon to J. Edgar Hoover (and possibly even the janitor) were violating the very rules our country was founded on in an attempt to get John deported. Snyder sneaks in one of his more probing set of questions, “Why try to be somewhere where you’re not wanted? Why endure the hassle?” Lennon response is sincere: “I’d like to live in the land of the free.”
Lennon’s interview was rebroadcast the day after his death on December 9, 1980. At that time, Snyder added two guests to the show who’d been close to the ex-Beatle in his final years. Pickerel-pussed Lisa Robinson, a reporter for The New York Times, was one of the few writers granted access to John during his days at the Dakota. She marvels at how comfortable John was at being a father, that he made breakfast while Yoko made money. Robinson’s admiration for Yoko the determined business woman didn’t win me over; in fact her description of her guaranteed I won’t be nominating Mrs. Lennon for Mother of the Year. (“Yoko does not fetch and carry for anyone… She said to John, “I carried the child for nine months. Now it’s your turn.”)
The second guest on the show was Jack Douglas, who produced “Double Fantasy.” He had a longstanding relationship with the Lennon’s and was respected for his talents because he was “the first engineer who didn’t run out of the control room when Yoko started to work.” (Don’t look now Jack, but engineers – and listeners – still run out of the room when Yoko opens her maw.)
Douglas is obviously still shook up over Lennon’s death. He’s misty eyed, his voice shakes and his expression occasionally glazes over like a shell shocked soldier just home from Verdun. He talks about how positive Lennon was about his future before his death. One of the most touching moments on the DVD is when Douglas says after Lennon’s death he left the hospital and spent the night walking the street, trying to communicate with him. You feel for the guy. Like many of us, Douglas truly loved Lennon.
The best part of the John Lennon interview? No Yoko.
You may squirm in your chair a bit during Paul McCartney’s 1979 interview, which was recorded prior to a holiday concert by Wings at the Rainbow Theater. It was conducted via satellite, which was still a tricky technical proposition in those days. Paul has yet to develop his Teflon confidence and is occasionally caught flat-footed by Snyder’s less than scintillating questions and his I’m-just-as-big-a-star-as-you attitude. Not only does Macca have to deal with the burgeoning technology and Snyder’s pit bull personality, but he has to placate Linda Eastman McCartney, his wife and fellow band member in Wings. Linda is in a destructive mood, mugging for the camera. When she’s not making faces or cracking wise, she looks horrifically bored. Score one for Yoko. The interview is a reminder that Linda was every bit the biotch as John’s spouse and exhibited the same Rasputin-like hold over Paul that Yoko had over John. (The people you feel sorriest for are George and Ringo.) Snyder doesn’t help matters by getting several facts about Linda wrong. He compliments her “guitar playing” in the video for “Spin It On.” Linda does indeed have a guitar in her hand, but she’s clearly faking it, and she tells Snyder so, noting she’s the band’s novice keyboard player. Snyder also says Linda grew up in Long Island not once, but twice. The second time he mentions it, Linda comes down on him like the downbeat on “Anytime At All” – hard and fast, noting forcefully that she was raised in Scarsdale in Westchester County. From that point on, Snyder can forget about trading bon mots with Linda. When he calls her “cherubic,” Linda snickers, replying, “Cherubic? Clearly, I’m not.”
Snyder compounds the awkward feeling in the air by mentioning an incident in which several fans of the Who were killed “last week.” Paul turns to Linda and says, “Didn’t that happen last night?” forcing Snyder to fess up that their interview wouldn’t air for a week.
Macca’s interview was shot during the final phase of Wings’ existence, when Paul was still trying to convince everyone his band of itinerant musicians were as good as the Beatles (and we all know how that battle turned out). If you need further proof that Wings was a lame aggregation, check out the video for “Spin It on,” one of the most abrasive shout fests Macca ever created. First off, it’s an ear-splitting rip off of Golden Earring’s “Radar Love,” and not a very good one at that. Secondly, it’s a track from “Back to the Egg,” Wings’ final studio album and their worst in a long line of turkeys.
Snyder tells the audience up front that Paul has forbidden him to ask about a Beatle reunion or question him about his past, which he does anyway. He gets away with it once, but seems reluctant to press any further. As a result, his other questions aren’t exactly probing and don’t break any new ground…How did the group start?...What was the pressure like of starting a new group after the Beatles?...Can you take the kids on tour?...The McCartney’s aren’t very forthcoming with their answers either. When Snyder traps himself in an inane discussion with Paul about sheep shearing, their discussion goes completely off the rails:
Snyder: Do sheep like being sheared?
McCartney: It’s better than being killed.
It’s McCartney who finally slaughters their sheepish forum: “This is an interesting conversation, isn’t it, Tom. Wool?”
Two members of Wings, guitarists Denny Laine and Lawrence Juber, are invited to join the interview. (Little did they know they’d soon be out of work. Laine had been with the McCartney’s for 10 years, Juber made it through one album.) Had Tom done his homework, he would have realized Laine was a celebrity in his own right, having been the original lead singer for the Moody Blues when they hit the charts with “Go Now” in 1964. He’s at least up on Laine’s current project, a solo album of songs written by Buddy Holly called “Holly Days.” Laine has always had a bit of a chip on his shoulder when it comes to the business behind the music and the press. He’s pleasant enough here, although his smile will remind you a bit of Sean Penn’s up-to- no-good grin. Juber is enthusiastic, photogenic and a bit star struck.
All aspiring journalists should study Snyder’s interview with the McCartney’s closely and do the exact opposite of everything Tom does. Nevertheless, Snyder’s interview with Macca and company is an informative look at the cute Beatle without his defensive shields up.
Richard Starkey’s 1981 interview marks his 40th birthday, and starts off rocky, but credit the man everyone (except his wife) calls Ringo for keeping the atmosphere light and positive. Blame Snyder’s off-putting bull-in-a-china shop style of interviewing for nearly turning the nicest Beatle against him. When Snyder doesn’t get what he wants from Ringo, he presses. Starr is clearly miffed with Snyder’s dirt-digging style, but he maintains his cool, and after a couple of sips from a nearby glass, he’s good old affable Ritchie again.
At this point it’s been nearly a year since John Lennon was shot, but Ringo still gets misty at the mention of the head Beatles’ name. The good news for Ringo at the time was the release of “Stop and Smell the Roses,” an album featuring an all-star cast, including Stephen Stills, Paul and George. Ringo was also hawking his latest film, “Caveman,” and had met his new wife, Barbara Bach, on the set. Unfortunately, “Stop and Smell the Roses” stank (as evidenced by the video for the vapid “Wrack My Brain,” written by George Harrison), and “Caveman” met with some initial success in the theaters, but was soon extinct. But Ringo and Barbara are still man and wife to this day, and that, I’m sure, is more important to Richard Starkey than anything else.
Ringo remains the most self-effacing Beatle. In discussing the failure of “Son of Dracula,” a dreadfully bad horror spoof he made with singer/composer Harry Nilsson, Ringo admits, “It wasn’t that good. They put it out in small towns so there wasn’t any competition, because they’d go and see Tom and Jerry before they’d go and see us.”
You also get to see fleeting glimpses of Ringo’s serious side. Speaking about his marriage to Barbara Bach, who joins him for part of the interview, Ringo says, “You can’t fight lightning.” Aha, the words of a man who’s truly in love. Echoing Lennon’s earlier comments, he addresses his image as “the dummy” of the group: “We did a few movies and suddenly that’s how people think you are the rest of the time.” He also talks about his sickly, troubled childhood -- “I went grey at eighteen. People would grab me and say, who do you think you are, Jeff Chandler?” (For those too young to know, Chandler was a popular Hollywood leading man in the late 50s and early 60s known as “The Silver Fox.” He met an untimely end during spinal surgery at the age of 42 from blood poisoning. Like Starr, he started to go grey at 18.)
Ringo seldom gets up on a soapbox, but he gets his hackles up over two topics -- his claim as the greatest drummer in rock (he makes a good case, but I’m still going with Jim Gordon), and promoters who’ve been getting free publicity for talking up a Beatle reunion.
Overall, Ringo remains the most affable, honest, and entertaining Beatle, and proves that nice guys can finish first. Too bad his interview is the shortest of the three.
For some reason only known to Shout Factory, an interview with actress Angie Dickinson ends the DVD. She’s pleasant and accommodating, but what the heck does she have to do with John, Paul, Ringo, or even the absent George? Okay, she appeared in Ringo’s TV special. I was in the movie “Valley of the Dolls.” (I’m in the ice skating scene that opens up the picture.) Does that mean I get face time in “The Sharon Tate Story?” That’ll cost you half a star (or Starr) for sloppy editing, fellas.
Like it or not, the Beatles were the sum of their parts, and Tom Snyder’s warts and all “Tomorrow Show” interviews point that out. Both Lennon and Starr start out wobbling in their Beatle boots before charming Tom and the audience. A bewildered McCartney and a hostile Linda underscore that the Beatles could be prickly and disinterested too. We sometimes forget they were human beings who didn’t always act the way we wanted them to. Beatle fans (like me) will rejoice at simply seeing the Fab Four (well, three) when they were younger, and, sadly, in John Lennon’s case, alive. So take a magical mystery tour with the new Fab Four -- John, Paul, Tom and Ringo.