Fans of early 1980s LA punk rock and early late night cable TV rejoice! Someone has uploaded multiple episodes of “New Wave Theater,” the highlight of the USA Network’s legendary late night show “Night Flight,” at the YouTube channel located the link above. Hosted by the late great Peter Ivers.
Here is one of the more memorable scenes from director David Lynch’s early masterpiece “Eraserhead” … the “lady in the radiator” song “In Heaven, Everything is Fine.” The song was composed by Peter Ivers and David Lynch and sung by Ivers. The song was later covered by Devo and Frank Black of the Pixies. Ivers recorded some eccentric, but occasionally brilliant albums in the 1970s before becoming the host of “New Wave Theater,” one of the best shows from the early days of cable TV. Lynch … well … I wonder whatever happened to him …
If this seems like a really bad attempt at avant-garde humor/entertainment, you’d be correct. Why am I posting it here? Because it’s an extremely rare debacle that involved a lot of famous people doing a favor for someone named David Jove. Jove was the producer of the infamous (and truly great) early 1980s hardcore punk cable TV show “New Wave Theater.” When that show’s host Peter Ivers was murdered in 1983, some of Ivers’ friends tried to help Jove get a new show started.
“The Top” is similar to “New Wave Theater” in tone, but with a lot more money thrown at it and a lot less balls and heart. Originally Chevy Chase was hired to host, but when he got stuck in the middle of a spontaneous slam-dancing session which he had no knowledge of, he fled the studio and the producers hired Andy Kaufman instead. This was Kaufman’s last live appearance and sadly, it’s not particularly good. Still, it’s a good example of what sometimes happens when the avant-garde tries to go mainstream.
I discussed watching this seminal punk cable TV show in a previous Dave’s Strange World entry … along with the impact of seeing the Dead Kennedys doing “Holiday in Cambodia” on the show had on me personally. If you haven’t read it, you can catch it at the link below. You will not only see the performance, but the post goes into more detail about the show and host Peter Ivers:
However, since then, someone generously uploaded an entire episode of “New Wave Theater” broadcast sometime in the first half of 1984 from the legendary late-night USA cable network show “Night Flight.” This was broadcast right after host Peter Ivers’ untimely murder. For better or worse, commercials from the day were not edited out, so you can reminisce … or drag your mouse along the bottom of the visual to fast forward. To get the proper perspective of this, imagine watching this at 1:30 am, a little sleep deprived. To say it was mind-blowing back in the day is coming up short.
Cable TV has gotten better and worse since its mass infiltration during the 1980s. On the one hand, it’s now a cliche to point out that the five best shows on cable are far more innovative, artistic, and edgy than the five best motion pictures of any year. On the other hand, things have gotten so homogenized that it’s hard to find a cable channel with any identity anymore. You know you’ve reached a tipping point when CMT (Country Music Television) is showing “Caddyshack.”
Which leads me to “Night Flight,” the USA Cable Network’s terrific late-night Friday and Saturday three-hour block of rock video, cult films, and other esoterica that you couldn’t find anywhere else on television (or video, for that matter). “Night Flight” featured a lot of music you couldn’t find on MTV back in the mid-1980s, including rap, punk, industrial music, and pretty much everything that was classified as “college rock.” It was the first place that I was exposed to Run DMC, R.E.M., Cabaret Voltaire, Depeche Mode, Roxanne Shante, and Laurie Anderson. I also had a chance to see great films such as “Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains,” “Rude Boy,” and “Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein” that were hard to find on video and couldn’t be seen anywhere else on cable.
Which now leads to “New Wave Theatre,” which was nationally available on “Night Flight.” “New Wave Theatre” was literally the only public outlet for hardcore punk music on national television at the time. I got into punk with my friends around the age of 13, but the only way you could experience it in those days was to trade tapes with friends. Unless you lived in a big city, the bands never came to your town and even if they did, you had to be 18 to get in. The albums were hard to find and if even if you could find them, they were beyond the budget of the average 13-year old. I remember seeing this very clip around 1984 or so and I felt like levitating. These days, moshing and slam dancing are about as corny and quaint as square dancing and the Charleston. However, this DK’s clip was the most exciting musical performance I’d ever seen. I remember being so wired afterwards that I couldn’t sleep. As a result, I watched “Night Flight” every week to see if they would repeat “New Wave Theatre,” only to discover later that the episode I saw was a rare repeat, since the host (Peter Ivers) was murdered around the same time. It wasn’t a complete loss by any means because I got to experience so many other cool things through “Night Flight.” But I also remember being terribly let down when it didn’t pop up until years later.
There are clips of “New Wave Theatre” scattered throughout “YouTube” if you’re feeling inclined. There’s also a terrific biography about Ivers that came out in 2008 called “In Heaven, Everything Is Fine” which I highly recommend as well.