Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Book Review. TV a-Go-Go: Rock on TV from American Bandstand to American Idol

According to author Jake Austen, televised rock music is in some ways an
impossible combination . . . and one that he absolutely adores. Rock music
is essentially "wild, raw, and dangerous" but when Bo Didley first
performed it on the Ed Sullivan show in 1955, television and rock music
began a long partnership which proved, according to Austen, that "one of
the best ways to present [rock's] energy is to impose structure, make it
adhere to the laws of entertainment." His delightful book, TV a-Go-Go
explores the myriad manifestations of this partnership.

Austen, who produces his own children's television dance show called
"Chic-a-Go-Go," has a feel for what worked and what didn't and his
intelligent opines are a delight to read. His opinion of the Monkees was
not only wonderfully affirming for me - a die-hard Monkees fan, married for
18 years to a 60's garage band rock purist who has always despised the
"pre-fab four" - but it also clearly illustrates his general opinion of
televised rock: "as far as I'm concerned, any documented band . . . is far
more real than a gritty brilliant band that rehearses in a garage but never
records or plays a show . . . in my opinion every band that has ever
appeared on a record or a TV show or a movie is real."

Besides covering famed televised artists, such as the Monkees, the Beatles,
Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson, Austen's book spills a large amount of
ink on lesser known shows such as kiddie rock cartoons. Having spent my
1960's childhood in a home where a juke box - kept well stocked by older
rock 'n' rolling siblings - vied for maximum electrical wattage with a
constantly running television, I often watched, not only the prime-timed
Monkees, but also an animated, Saturday morning show called "The Beatles."
I seem to recall that the theme song was "Hard Day's Night" and because
Ringo kept insisting that "droppin' a G never hurt anybody," of course a
giant G kept falling on his head.

Until reading TV A-Go-Go, however, I didn't realize that the animated
mop-tops show was a sign of a seismic cultural shift. "The Beatles," which
was the first of many successive cartoons to market rock to kiddies, was,
according to Austen, a sign that "the old guard," - the adults who thought
"that the Rat Pack in tuxedos was running the show" - were no longer a
serious cultural influence." Rock 'n' Roll was here to stay.

Austen's self-described "absurdly broad book" has almost negated his
introductory claim that "a comprehensive overview of all rock on TV is
impossible." TV A-Go-Go has come profoundly and entertainingly close to
attaining that impossibility and is a delightfully informative read for
anyone with the slightest interest in televised rock.

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