Part 2: From Steven's Rock Calendar: 9-17-67 Rock TV Makes History

READ PART ONE: The Doors on Ed Sullivan

After Ed Sullivan, it was time for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour with tonight's special guests, The Who.

As I wrote in my Club Dead blog:

Tom and Dick Smothers were popular young comedians who often tackled socially controversial topics. Their show had a decidely young, hip audience and was a favorite among the growing counterculture movement. As such, they often featured musical guests from the world of rock and roll, an uncommon practice on TV shows of that era.

The climax of The Who's performance was supposed to be a controlled flash powder explosion inside Keith Moon's drums at the conclusion of their song "My Generation." With a rare chance to impress a nationwide American TV audience, Moon decided to place a double load of explosive in his drum kit, not knowing that stagehands had already stocked it with a regular charge. The ensuing triple force explosion sent a cymbal into Keith's leg, and contributed to a permanent hearing loss for Pete Townsend.

The next morning on the school bus, The Who's performance was the main topic of conversation. I suppose it at least proved they weren't Communist, because then they would have given away their instruments instead of busting them up at the end of the show.

Still, that night remains a defining moment for television. and for my junior hippie generation, which was in transition from flower power to the more radical, demonstrative form of expression. 

In many ways it was expressive of the end of an era. The tension embedded in that new freedom of expression would explode a few months later outside the 1968 Democratic convention. Anti-war protesters were beaten and arrested by Chicago police as the TV cameras captured it all.  

Two days before the second anniversary of The Who's appearance, the last episode of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was broadcast on CBS. Officially, their cancellation was due to some mumbo-jumbo about missing production deadlines, but it was generally accepted that the network became weary of repeated worries over the show's political content.

Two seasons later, The Ed Sullivan Show, which had been a Sunday night fixture on TV since 1948, was cancelled, a victim of changing tastes. 27 days after Sullivan's last broadcast, Jim Morrison was found dead in his Paris apartment. Ed himself died three years after that.

My father and I eventually had that "why do you have to grow your hair long like a sissy?" confrontation. The kid won that one as well.  Dad never did come around to accepting rock music, except for The Allman Brothers, whom he actually liked. I miss him every day, and often mention him when I play The Allmans on WABX.

Dad even outlasted Keith Moon by two years, although Communism still hung around for another decade before the Soviet empire collapsed. That shitass WKLO, under new call letters, was still playing rock music when my father died, but it has since become a talk station

The Smothers Brothers continued to tour, and eventually returned to television in a couple of short-lived series. In 2010, having performed together for over 50 years, Tom and Dick Smothers anounced their retirement from show business.

So The Doors, The Who, Ed Sullivan, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, WKLO, the Communists, and my father are all long gone. I hold the memory of all these things more clearly than I'd ever imagined I would on that long-ago Sunday night.

And I somehow think that amid all the changes in technology, we were richer in those days. We were united. We had the Communists to fear and hate, and the promise of new ideas to consider.

As we all gathered in front of the one TV, we were forced to share and sample the things each other liked, and we learned things about who we all were. We've lost that as we've seperated onto our individual entertainment lily pads.

That's why it's so much fun to remember.


See video of the Who's TV appearance on Steven's CLUB DEAD Blog; CLICK HERE