Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Dick Cavett's Rock Icons

Next week, Shout! Factory is releasing a three-DVD set of rock star appearances on the old Dick Cavett Show that aired opposite Johnny Carson on ABC in the late Sixties and early Seventies.

Jefferson Airplane, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Sly & the Family Stone and David Bowie are among those featured, but Cavett devotes an entire disc to three shows he did with Janis Joplin. Aside from capturing some fine performances, the talk segments shed light on Joplin's social awareness and quick wit, both of which unfairly get overshadowed by the Southern Comfort and sadness-soaked caricature of her.

A 1970 show where Joplin, Raquel Welch, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Chet Huntley volley back and forth on the issues of the day is a revelation. They spend very little time pimping their latest projects, and when Welch tries to posit Myra Breckinridge as an "important" film, Joplin tells her she thinks it's "choppy."

None of that would happen today. Few big stars would risk potentially alienating half their audience by expressing controversial political views, let alone say something untoward to Welch.

Back then, you actually needed to know how to talk to go on a talk show. Joplin certainly did, which is one of the reasons why Cavett had her on so often.

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