Sunday, October 23, 2011


For such a short-lived talk show, compared to the generation-spanning runs of Carson, Letterman, Leno, even hipsters such as Conan, that Dick Cavett has the honour of so many important rock guests and programs.  Famously John and Yoko happily hung out, and Cavett's team put together a fascinating show mere hours after Woodstock, featuring CSNY, Joni Mitchell and Jefferson Airplane.  Instead of playing it safe (Leno) or really being about the laughs (Carson and Letterman), Cavett had a journalistic streak that saw him tackle important issues and bring on important people, and rock music was a big part of that in the late 60's and early 70's.

Now, hats off to the producer who managed to make an entire DVD out of just two 1969 appearances by Jimi Hendrix on the show.  And unlike the Woodstock or Lennon shows, he was just one of the guests those nights, so all you have is an interview and one song on the first appearance, and an interview and two songs from the second.  The easy thing to do would have been using the whole show, but thankfully, we don't have to endure segments with actor Robert Young, or Robert Downey (yes, Sr. to Jr.).  They did leave in the original monologues to give us a taste of what Cavett was like, and he's an odd duck for sure in the Great Host Wars.  Dry and cerebral, he's goofy but not a laugh riot.  He invited people to be bemused with him.

So, the monologue with now-obscure references, the music, the interview, from both shows, that's about a half-hour of time total.  Added on is an hour-long documentary on the Cavett show and Hendrix at the time, with brand-new interviews with Cavett, drummer Mitch Mitchell, bassist Billy Cox, and music writer Bill Flanagan.  But much of it repeats what we have just seen on the shows, so it's kinda boring. In the end, the important stuff is the music performances and the interviews, and both are interesting.  For the first appearance, Hendrix plays with the house band, doing Hear My Train A-Comin', giving us some solos but nothing fiery.  However, just to see the guy like this is fascinating, and on second viewing you realize how effortless this is for him, his nonchalance hiding tremendous talent.  The second show has him with the Experience of that time, Cox and Mitchell, plus percussionist Juma Sultan, doing Izabella and Machine Gun.  This is better stuff, although not the best songs perhaps.  And The Experience really needed a concert setting to properly get up to steam (and volume).  The TV studio, with its adult audience, was hardly their natural habitat.  Jimi gives it a good college try though, and even a little teeth solo, but that's tossed off with a laugh.

The interviews are a bit strange, as Cavett and Hendrix never quite seem to exist in the same dimension.  There are a couple of looks that suggest confusion over questions and answers, and really we get no historical facts.  You do come to know Hendrix a bit better, as there is no artifice in his appearance, and he's not intimidated by this usually conservative medium.  Thank Cavett for that though, he had made TV safe for counter-culture musicians in the U.S.

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