(As published in the Times of Acadiana ... )
Recently, after years of resisting everything from the Veg-O-Matic and the Ginsu knife to the LitterMaid self-cleaning cat box and Girls Gone Wild, I called a 1-800 number and lost my infomercial virginity to The Midnight Special: The Legendary Performances (Guthy-Renker Entertainment).
The Midnight Special was the NBC rock-and-roll show that kept me and other juvenile delinquents of my generation off the streets from 1 to 2:30 A.M. every Friday night/Saturday morning. There were no VHS recorders or TiVos in those days, so if you wanted to watch your favorite pop stars performing live on TV, you had to be home.
And I’m glad I’ve taken the 1-800 bait. Faced with receiving two DVDs (average length: seventy-nine minutes) every four-to-six weeks or getting the whole shebang at once for forty dollars less, I opted for the latter and have been barreling down Memory Lane ever since the package arrived.
And, of course, if I’d ordered the Girls Gone Wild DVDs, I’d be barreling down Mammary Lane. But I didn’t. No, really.
The best thing about The Midnight Special was that most of its acts, including such notorious lip-synchers as the Bay City Rollers and ELO, performed live, and, then as now, seeing an act play “for real” was a confirmation of its mastery (Steely Dan doing “Reelin’ in the Years,” Edgar Winter doing “Frankenstein,” the Spinners doing “The Rubberband Man,” Manfred Mann’s Earth Band doing “Blinded by the Light”) or at least its competence. And sometimes simply laying eyes on the likes of the youthful Debbie Harry, Marilyn McCoo, Donna Summer, Ann and Nancy Wilson, Stevie Nicks, Maria Muldaur, Linda Ronstadt, Yvonne Elliman, or Olivia Newton-John made staying up worth it.
On the other hand, seeing a performer could also sour you on him for life. If in my indiscriminate adolescence I was ever on the fence about Barry Manilow or Journey, having to look at the former for the duration of “Could It Be Magic” or the latter’s Steve Perry for the duration of “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’” is still enough to keep me at nose length (theirs) from their catalogues.
But despite the comedy inherent in nine DVDs’ worth of badly aging fashion (inspection of Billy Preston’s 1973 afro would grind twenty-first-century airport security to a halt), poignancy is the keynote of this collection. It’s sad, after all, seeing many stars who are now light years away from their youthful primes rocking away as if the good times would never end.
And it’s sadder still to see those who’ve since died: thirteen solo artists and at least seven death-ravaged bands out of the one hundred-plus acts--and Wolfman Jack, the deservingly legendary disc-jockey immortalized in American Graffiti who MC-ed the series for its entire decade-long run.
Now more than ever, I’m gonna dig him ’til the day I die.