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March 25, 2010

The T.A.M.I. Show

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Steve Binder - 1964
Shout Factory Region 1 DVD

The first time I saw The T.A.M.I. Show was when the film was seven years old, in a sixteen millimeter print, in Berkeley, California. This is the kind of film which, if you're part of a certain age bracket, probably can't be seen without it invoking multiple feelings. There is the adage that one's tastes in music are fairly well established by the age of 12. Not true in my case, at least with the acts involved here. Adding to the experience watching the film are the biographies behind many of the smiles.

Not all biographies. I hope Gerry Marsden and Billy J. Kramer are happy where ever they are, but I don't really care. But there is a twinge of sadness in watching the original Beach Boys, knowing about Brian Wilson's breakdown and artistic, if not commercial, comeback. This was a time when I was a fan of Jan and Dean, enough to try sidewalk surfing on one of those first generation skate boards on the streets of Evanston, Illinois. Art followed life in the worst possible way for Jan Berry. I can't watch The Rolling Stones without thinking about how Brian Jones was booted from band he formed, and died under questionable circumstances.

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The opening montage owes a debt to A Hard Day's Night. There are shots of The Barbarians and Gerry and The Pacemakers in their respective tour buses. Leslie Gore rehearsing on stage. Diana Ross trying to apply make up in a crammed dressing room. Bits of madcap business with The Miracles running out of The Knickerbocker Hotel and crowding into a cab. There's also Jan and Dean, riding in motorcycles and, yes, skate boarding around Sunset Boulevard, shot with kooky camera angles. Much of this work should be credited to Vilis Lapenieks, whose credit would be unknown without director Steve Binder's commentary.

As for the music, mixed feelings as I shuffle towards senior citizenship. I like some of Chuck Berry's songs, but the guy himself always struck me as kind of creepy, even before I leaned about his scandalous past. Gerry and the Pacemakers were were never quite good enough to be Beatles wannabes. There's no electricity until The Miracles show up, with Marv Tarplin standing by on bass. As far as I'm concerned, "Mickey's Monkey" is still an infectious delight.

It's been over ten years since I read David Ritz's biography of Marvin Gaye. Was he battling demons behind that expressive smile even then? Every shot of Gaye seems to indicate that he's quite happy to be in Santa Monica, backed up by The Blossoms. This was before the really great Motown songs that would follow, but "Stubborn Kind of Fellow" and "Hitch Hike" indicate the themes of many of Gaye's songs, which could be said to be about idealized love, or romantic longings, fueled by persistence, and perhaps a form of masochism. It's no stretch to imagine the guy who will "hitch hike around the world" for that one perfect woman, is also the same guy who remains the devoted lover in a song recorded the following year, "Ain't That Peculiar".

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I use to have a crush on Lesley Gore. I wanted to let her know that even though I was five years younger than her, I wouldn't break her heart the way Johnny did in "It's My Party". Years later, Lesley Gore outed herself in The Village Voice, and I keep thinking maybe in her heart of hearts, Judy and Johnny would have switched roles. I still like "It's My Party" and "Maybe I Know", although the latter song has the kind of lyrics that would raise eyebrows, "Maybe I know that he's been cheating, but what can I do?". On a more personal level, Lesley Gore was not the first lesbian I would fall in love with.

The Barbarians, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, The Rolling Stones? Once upon a time I liked them in varying degrees. The high point of The Beach Boys is when the camera moves away from Mike Love to concentrate on Brian Wilson singing "Surfer Girl". The Supremes were on their way to becoming Motown's biggest act, with the camera focusing on Diana Ross's teeth and eyes, looking more scary than sexy.

On the other hand, time has been on the side of James Brown. You want classical music? You want a great theatrical performance that Laurence Olivier could only dream about? The only thing better than watching James Brown (and the Famous Flames) perform "Out of Sight" is his following that with "Prisoner of Love" and "Please, Please, Please". Nobody can drop hard on their knees like James Brown and seem like they mean it. The consolation of his flunky, the flinging down of the jacket, even the man himself thinks this is his best filmed performance. In the close ups, streams of sweat are visible after the first song.

Keep you eyes open for a glimpse of Jack Nitzsche, conducting the house band that would include Glen Campbell and a short haired Leon Russell. Dancer Terri Garr is most visible at about the thirty-six minute mark. The dancers are sometimes distracting, and the production uses the same kind of setup seen on television's Shindig and Hullabaloo. The commentary track helpfully points out that the spectacularly endowed woman dancing on stage in a bikini is Joy Ciro, who was a performer on the television show Where the Action is. Toni Basil was the assistant choreographer, while documentarian Kent MacKenzie lent a hand in the editing. One of the more interesting bits of information was that the theme song, "Here They Come (From All Over the World)" was written by Steve Barri and Phil (later P.F.) Sloan when they were still in high school. A little fact checking indicates that Sloan and Barri were already out of high school in 1964. Their song could have used a little fact checking. Is there still anyone who thinks The Rolling Stones are from Liverpool? The musicians were hardly from "all over the world" for that matter, but when you were an American teenager in 1964, the musicians were from the parts of the world that mattered.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at March 25, 2010 12:07 AM


The T.A.M.I. Show is the stuff of legends. Been wanting to see this for as long as I can remember.

Try to see the Wrecking Crew documentary if you can, for more from Brian Jones, Glen Campbell and other figures from the era.

Posted by: wisekwai at March 25, 2010 10:20 AM

Just finished Gerald Posner's book on Motown. I almost wish I hadn't read it. According to the book, massive amounts of drugs, alcohol and egos did pretty much everyone in at Motown. A large number of these performers ended up dying relatively young because of this. It's a sad story of great music being made. Diana Ross is the main villain of the piece though - a really wretched woman who everyone at Motown hated except the only one who counted - Berry Gordy, who was obsessed with her.

Posted by: Brian at March 25, 2010 08:38 PM