Long before there was YouTube, there was… public access. I would love to present the cream of the access crop on this here blog, and hope that in the future I have the time to digitize the many oddities I’ve collected on tape just since the early 1990s (I was a latecomer to this gorgeous medium, starting the Funhouse in 1993). For the time being, I can point to the wonders that have already been posted on, yes, the access-usurper that is the mighty YT.
Coca Crystal did a wonderfully free-form variety/talk program on Manhattan access from 1977 to 1995 called (in the paraphrased words of Emma Goldman), “If I Can’t Dance, You Can Keep Your Revolution.” The best thing about pure access is that it’s hard to believe that it ever existed — if you watch the recently released DVDs of Midnight Blue (particularly Volume 2), you’ll see a world that seems imaginary: a television program that had ads for hookers and hustlers, traveling orgies (with buffets!), porn mags, and beaucoup massage parlors and gay swing clubs (in major NYC apartment buildings and hotels). Similarly Coca’s program is a record of a MUCH more liberated time: her range of guests, her loose attitude to interviewing and show structure, and, most importantly, her lighting of a joint on the air at the outset of the program. She even included “review” segments, where she and her cohosts would discuss the grades of pot being sold around the city. Oh man, a very, very different era….
Check out her opening here:
And there’s a cool closer where everyone just dances here.
Of course, the thing that will sustain interest in these programs are the “name” guests that appeared on them, like Debbie Harry and Chris Stein.
And a little piana player named Phil Glass
(listen to the roster he gives out with at the opening of the clip—take a flying trip back to ’80s NYC, man).
But of more interest to me are the truly radical and yes wonderfully weird folk who guested on Coca’s show. This list includes another access host and NYC citizen emeritus, a man who was a Beat, a hippie, a Fug, and a goddamned troublemaker, the blessedly strange Tuli Kupferberg:
And if you like Tuli’s form of revolution, but you need to have your mind warped even further, please do sample the immortal Tiny Tim discussing veteran’s day with the show’s cohost, a writer named Renfreu Neff. I used to review for a magazine that published writings by Ms. Neff — I was sure that the name was a pseudonym, but was assured by the editor that it was a real person. I was interested to learn (you can loin so much from YouTube) that this lady was indeed named Renfreu, and used to cohost Coca’s show, which I caught the last few years of.
And if Tiny was a bit too run of the mill for ya, let me introduce you to his finest discovery, singing/songwriting granddad Izzy Fertel, who had a singular fascination with women’s liberation.
I thank Rich Brown for leading me to Coca’s trove on YT. Rich was the host and co-producer of another legendary Manhattan access show, Beyond Vaudeville. There are only a few BV clips on YT, but let me assure you, it was the very cream of access. A good representative clip can be found here.