Today’s latenight plugathons bear scant resemblance to the wondrously dated offerings served up in “The Dick Cavett Show: Rock Icons.” Built around musical perfs by the likes of Jefferson Airplane, George Harrison, Janis Joplin and Paul Simon, Shout Factory’s three-disc set showcases much more than that — a talkshow where guests actually conversed with one another in unhurried fashion. Film icons Gloria Swanson and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. chat with rockers, scribes and politicos in these time capsule episodes, each introduced by a twinkling Cavett.
Cavett’s show was a popular destination for the era’s rock stars, though he admits he didn’t really know their world well. Yet his affection for these performers — especially Joplin — shines through even when he occasionally struggles to communicate with his guests.
During the set’s bonus interview conducted by “Curb Your Enthusiasm’s” Bob Weide, Cavett talks about taking Joplin to see “Easy Rider,” then stopping by the Village for tie-dye (which Cavett had never seen) before hitting Sardi’s (his idea). Joplin’s last TV appearance was on his show two months before she OD’d.
“I used to have the rare distinction of having the most dead rock stars on tape, partly because some of them only did my show,” Cavett says. “Janis’ death was the hardest because she was so lively.”
Cavett could be twee, but he was always gracious and curious. These qualities came in handy with skittish guests such as Harrison and Bowie, a talkshow neophyte, or obviously intoxicated ones like Sly from the Family Stone.
The set kicks off with a remarkable episode devoted to Woodstock, wherein Jefferson Airplane dropped the F-bomb and Stephen Stills proudly showed off the mud on his pants from the Upstate New York festival. Other highlights: Joplin’s three appearances; Paul Simon’s plea for help finishing “Still Crazy After All These Years”; and Swanson’s loopy appearance on the Joplin disc.
Additional bonus features include interviews with Mick Jagger on the Rolling Stones’ 1972 tour and a handsome booklet with an essay examining Cavett’s role in the latenight universe.
The menus are set up so you can play individual songs, but do yourself a favor and watch the entire episodes. You may learn Jagger’s real feelings about Keynesian economics or why Elsa Lanchester’s father craved pigs’ heads.