The Tomorrow Show:
Tom Snyder’s Electric Kool-Aid Talk Show
Grateful Dead, Tom Wolfe, Ken Kesey & Timothy Leary
Before David Letterman and Conan O’Brien took over the late-night time slot after The Tonight Show, veteran news anchor Tom Snyder hosted The Tomorrow Show, an intimate talk show that ran from 1973 to 1982 catering to an unusual cross-section of pop culture figures, including some of the biggest names in rock — John Lennon, Kiss, Johnny Rotten, the Plasmatics, and U2, to name a few. Snyder, whom Dan Aykroyd did a dead-on impersonation of on Saturday Night Live, was never afraid to face the lunatic fringe. This was ever so apparent when he invited the Grateful Dead, LSD guru Dr. Timothy Leary, and writers Tom Wolfe and Ken Kesey to appear over the course of four separate broadcasts. Building on this theme, a DVD entitled The Tomorrow Show: Tom Snyder’s Electric Kool-Aid Talk Show captures these four episodes in all their kaleidoscopic glory.
We start with the May 7, 1981 appearance of the Grateful Dead and Ken Kesey. Jerry Garcia and Kesey spoke about the origins of the acid-drenched, counterculture movement of the 60s in warm and light-hearted terms. On the same show, the Dead performed smooth acoustic versions of “On the Road Again,” “Cassidy,” “Dire Wolf” and “Deep Elem Blues,” and later joined Snyder on the couch for some skittish banter. Although Snyder and his hearty laugh sometimes lent a uncouth air to the proceedings, the Dead good-naturedly rolled along with the Q&A, their tongues firmly entrenched in their cheeks.
The impeccably dressed Tom Wolfe, who wrote about Kesey and the Dead in his mind-blowing book, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, is featured in the next two episodes from August 6, 1979 and October 14, 1980. Wolfe avoided talk about his 1967 odyssey with the hippies, and preferred to focus on his newer works — a collection of his illustrations entitled In Our Time and his best-selling portrait of America’s space program, The Right Stuff.
Former Harvard University professor Dr. Timothy Leary joined Snyder in a rare television appearance on August 9, 1981. The psychologist, famous for the phrase “turn on, tune in, and drop out,” came across as cagey with regards to his drug experiences on the 60s, bearing his impish grin and choosing to salute John Lennon, promote a college tour with G. Gordon Liddy, and night-club appearances as a “stand-up philosopher,” a career move that lost its footing and fell on deaf ears in the midst of the conservative 80s.
The DVD may not find favor with the literacy-challenged, but the Dead’s presence more than makes up for any such misgivings. Still, presenting the harbingers of the 60s era in a collective light validates the period beyond the usual mumblings of it being too much of a cultural free-for-all for the elegantly wasted and subversively chic. If you decide to add The Tomorrow Show - Punk & New Wave DVD, featuring Elvis Costello, Iggy Pop, the Plasmatics, the Ramones, Patti Smith, and Joan Jett, to your collection, be prepared for a sonic assault that'll make the Electric Kool-Aid DVD look like a tea party.
~ Shawn Perry