Here and there you can find clips of this show, particularly of their second performance. But what interests me most is the differing tales of what happened that night. 30+ years is a long time, and yet the memories seem to change. You forget something, roughly 50% comes back to you, and then that's the reality. My sister thinks one 4th of July there was a fire in the yard. In truth, a fallen bottle rocket set off a fire no larger than the rocket itself, and I put it out quickly (and with minimal dramatics) with a garden hose. But ask her about it now, and you'd think the house was in danger. There - do you grasp the concept?
Let's compare people's memories: a video interview with John Joseph of the Cro-Mags (who still looks and talks like a longshoreman), and multiple descriptions of the day's events by Ian MacKaye (One even came from NPR...one of the 20 shows they have where people just talk in front of an audience with acoustic guitar and mandolin music). Both were there that night. I'll also include information from the 1985 book Saturday Night by Doug Hill and Jeff Weingrad, and the book Mr. Mike by Dennis Perrin. For magazines, let's go even further back: a November 1981 Billboard Magazine, and a New York Magazine article from November of 1981 as well, written by Roger Director.
Why the punks were invited to "slam dance"
Mr. Mike: Not only did O’Donoghue want Fear, he wanted to project the chaos of a punk club into America’s living rooms, and to this end he and Belushi brought in some forty skinheads from Washington DC to slam dance and stage dive while the band performed.
Saturday Night: Belushi and O’Donoghue had arranged for thirty-five or so of Fear’s rowdy fans to take a bus up from Washington so they could slam dance in 8H as the band played.
John Joseph: "I bump into Ian MacKaye and he's like 'Yo! Fear is playing on Saturday Night Live tonight. You know, show up at Rockefeller Center at this time. Everybody's gonna get in!'"
Ian MacKaye: "I got a call around 10 in the morning...and a voice said 'Lorne Michaels office, please hold.' And I had no idea what that meant."
Now, the reason I wrote the example above was for this very quote. In print recollections as well, Ian drops Michaels' name. Lorne's produced, what, 88% of all SNL episodes? But he wasn't there for this episode, and I kind of think Ian forgot and just assigned Lorne's name to it. In fact, it was that incorrect first fact that lead me to wonder what else might be wrong. (This is unfortunate, I know, Shit, I was just a kid when this was on the air, but if you don't remember something, no one will fault you for saying you don't know)
The dress rehearsal
Why have the punks also slam for the dress rehearsal? You can think of reasons why and why not to, but...
Ian MacKaye: "We were talking and I said 'Listen. Don't blow it. Because, if we blow it, we won't be on the live show." So we're dancing, and we're trying to keep it cool, but someone knocked into a camera and it fell over. It was an accident. So we're led back into the Green Room and they said 'You have just caused $100,000 worth of damage.' So they locked us in the Green Room."
John Joseph: "There was a piano in there, we pulled all the strings out. We were fucking...we get out, slam dancing in the room. Went out in the hallway, broke the sinks. Fucked the whole place up."
Saturday Night: During dress rehearsal, some of the slam dancers got carried away, cursing and tumbling off the set, banging into one cameraman and nearly colliding with some of the others. The song was stopped in the middle to cool them down. When dress ended, members of the technical crew complained vehemently to Davey Wilson, and Wilson told Dick that the crew was threatening to walk off the show unless the slam dancers were dropped. Dick told him the dancers would go on, but he went up to see them in the Green Room to lay down some rules. O’Donoghue went with him, but only to watch. Dick didn't mention it, but for the air show, during Fear’s song, he took the precaution of turning off all the mikes in the studio except the singer’s.
Ian also states that "they" said the punks would NOT go on, but then Belushi said HE wouldn't make his cameo in the show. Either way, it's on.
Each time I view this episode, I get a sense of anticipation. I can only imagine some of those involved dreading this segment, but there was no going back.
"Hotel accommodations for most guests of Saturday Night were furnished by Berkshire Place." I truly hope Fear was put at this hotel and not somewhere else. They deserve it. I envision Lee walking up to that couple and asking if he can join them for dinner.
Showtime for the punks
Ian MacKaye: "Actually, there were fights breaking out between audience members and the kids."
John Joseph: "Even before the band played, people are just fucking, you know, slamming into each other."
(Donald, doing his best to introduce Fear and warn the audience)
John Joseph: "You know, Fear comes on and it was like BOOM!"
(Fear begins "Beef Baloney")
John Joseph: "John Belushi's going nuts."
There is conflicting evidence on whether Belushi DID dance or decided at the last minute not to. You'd think a camera would be trying to find him if he was in the crowd.
(Punks enjoying "New York's Alright if You Like Saxophones")
Saturday Night: (Dick) heard somebody yell “New York sucks!” and saw one of the dancers heading toward the singer’s microphone. Frantically, Dick got up and ran as fast as he could into the control room and shouted at Dave Wilson “Fade to black!”
Ian MacKaye: "You'll hear one moment, where the microphone stand falls into the crowd, you'll hear, very clearly someone shout 'NEW YORK SUCKS!' And that voice belongs to me."
John Joseph: "Ian MacKaye grabs the mic and he's like 'Fuck New York! New York sucks!' On Saturday Night Live! And Lee Ving's immediately like 'Ah, he doesn't really mean that.'"
Lee's actual quote was "He's just kidding. We want to make friends."
Lee then introduces "Let's Have a War" with "For anyone who voted...this is for Republicans and Democrats alike. 1-2-3-4 1-2-3-4!"
The giant pumpkin, part of that night's set, is being led onto the stage the very moment the screen cuts to a pre-taped segment from the season premiere. Fear's segment ends, and everyone's memories clash:
Saturday Night: When the slam dancers, supposedly berserk, saw the stage lights go out and realized they were no longer on-air, they immediately stopped dancing and peacefully walked off set.
Mr. Mike: In the studio, Fear ceased playing and the skinheads walked off the set.
Ian MacKaye: "As we were lead off the set, Eddie Murphy said "FUCK YOU!" We were then locked into a producer's room, where we were making phone calls. It seems like a thing to do."
John Joseph: "Security realized this ain't their dancing, these motherfuckers are fighting, they came out to the dance floor to, like, get us out of the studio. But we was like 'Yo.' People were, like, slamming them to the ground. The head of Ssecurity gets on the mic and is like 'Everyone has to get out of here! That's it! The show's over! We want you guys outta here! So my friend picks up a pumpkin, cause it's Halloween, and he just fucking launches the pumpkin, smacks the fuckin' guy right in the head, the guy fuckin' falls on the ground, and the next thing, that's when the shit hit the fuckin' fan."
Was Ian up in the office at that point? Why didn't this anecdote make the books? Hard to say, huh?
John Joseph: "Finally, the NYPD shows up, with billy clubs, fuckin' like, fucking...people up and we're like 'Oh shit!"
Ian MacKaye: "After being told that chargers were going to be pressed, we were then let go. I had to pay for parking, which was expensive. But no charges were pressed."
If this truly was O'Donoghue's and Belushi's idea, the charges would have involved THEM, and NBC likely wouldn't want that out in the open. Speaking of, it didn't take long for the beacon of journalism that is the New York Post to report on its findings.
New York Post's "inside" story
Saturday Night: A few days later, (Dick) was further incensed when the New York Post reported, completely inaccurately, that there had been a riot in the studio causing $200,000 worth of damage. In truth, a plastic camera-case lock worth something like $40 had been broken.
Mr. Mike: “inside” sources spoke of “a riot, mindless, out-of-control destruction of property.” “This was a life-threatening situation. They went crazy. It’s amazing that no one was killed.”
John Joseph: "The next day, the New York Post, it says 'Riot on the set of Saturday Night Live causes, like, a quarter of a million dollars worth of damage"
The book Live from New York - Ebersol: Anyway, the total damage that was done in the studio was about $2,500.
Ian MacKaye: "The $100,000 camera was just a $20 piece of plastic."
Billboard Magazine: "As far as we can tell, there has been no $200,000 worth of damages. We had to pay $40 worth of labor penalties. That was the extent of it." - SNL spokesman Peter Hamilton
Billboard Magazine: "In point of fact, nobody was hurt and nothing was smashed." - Lee Ving, who, according to Billboard, was "unaware of any controversy until the Post story was read to him."
New York Magazine: "I’m really not mad at the band. I’m mad at those kids that were slamming." - Ebersol.
(The actual headline from the Post: "Fear Riot Leave Saturday Night Glad to be Alive.")
John Joseph: [C]ause we was just kicking camera over, screens, anything that looked like it costs money...Bam! Next!"
Well, in the words of Robert Evans, there are three sides to every story: Your side, my side, and the truth. And no one is lying. Memories shared serve each differently.