Saturday, April 3, 2010

Night Flight

In late 1983 or so, we discovered another cool music-video show on the USA Network called Night Flight. It was a four-hour show that featured music videos, state-of-the-art/computer animation, clips from old and new movies, old and sometimes very obscure cartoons and film shorts, standup comedy routines, music-video countdowns, and classic and obscure music videos and concert films.

And, very often, this was typical of just one night's show. Sometimes, there'd be a sort of "theme" night; like, say, drugs. They would intertwine standup comedy routines about cocaine and smoking grass with an old silent-comedy film about the evils of doing cocaine (in the middle of one such film, they dubbed in the song "Footloose" when the main guys were shooting the stuff into their veins and dancing like madmen).

Another staple of the show was the 1936 classic "Reefer Madness", with always a short clip of it shown somewhere during the course of the show. That, and clips of W.C. Fields, The Three Stooges and very obscure Looney Tunes shorts were pasted in there as well (that's where I first saw the infamous clip of Porky Pig slamming his thumb with a hammer and stammering "Son of a b-b-bi-bi-bi!"). Another theme was the latest in clay animation, where they showed John Fogerty's "Vanz Kant Danz", Frank Zappa's "Inca Roads", a clip from Fantasia, and other arty new-wave videos with the latest in animation and claymation.

In a way, "Night Flight" was what MTV should have been. Music, plus comedy and cartoons and wacky films and God knows what else that would fit into the pot. A lot of people remember the show as a sort of "MTV for stoners", which wouldn't be far from the truth.

The music videos were always great. One night, they had a "Tribute To Pink Floyd", showing some new videos from The Final Cut, which I had never seen anywhere else, and then capped it off with a couple of segments from Live At Pompeii, which I had never even knew about. I remember being totally blown away by that. Just the four guys, playing in an ancient, empty Roman amphitheater. Whoaaa...!

Another night, they showed clips from a Black Sabbath concert from 1978, and another night, recent clips from a Ten Years After reunion concert at the Marquee in 1983, which was bitchin'. They would also show films such as The Doors Are Open and the Rolling Stones' Sympathy For The Devil.

Another thing on the show that made me a devout fan were the music videos from the German music show Beat Club , primarily from 1967 to about 1973; some in black-and-white, some in color, and some of them in lysergic mind-melting color. Knowing a lot about music from that era, even back then, it was amazing to see videos from bands I knew about, but never saw in action. A handful I remember seeing were by Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Canned Heat, Yes, the Who, the Small Faces (before I knew who they were), very young Bee Gees, and "This Wheel's On Fire" by Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger & The Trinity. I've been a fan and collector of footage from that show ever since.

I think this was more than half the reason we got this thing called a Video Cassette Recorder in mid-1984, in order to record a bunch of stuff from Night Flight. After all, that's among some of the earliest stuff we recorded on it. We caught a cool Frank Zappa special that he had compiled especially for the show in 1987. Still have that on tape, as well as some other parts of shows we taped in the mid-'80s.

Like all great things, it continued over the years, but grew shorter and shorter and less interesting as time went on. I think they ran out of cool stuff to show, or out of ideas, and the show wasn't as interesting as it once was. The last time I remember seeing the show anywhere was New Year's Eve of 1995, on a local channel that was carrying the sad remains of it, but at least with two gems to behold: a short film called "Suspicious Circumstances", and the classic Lenny Bruce animated short "Thank You Mask Man".

1 comment:

gesegal said...

The first time I saw Night Flight was during a trip to the east coast in summer '83. It was the middle of the night and I turned on the TV and there were John McLaughlin, Al Dimeola and Paco DeLucia playing like mad on acoustic guitars for a whole set. Wow! Who knew stuff like this would ever be on TV? I was hooked for the rest of the night, and the rest of my stay. I absolutely agree- this is what MTV should have been like. Someone should still do a channel like this, there are more channels than ever now. Mostly full of similar levels of garbage, from what I understand.