Text by Jordan Hruska
is a well-known author. He began his career as editor of Andy Warhol’s Interview and his column Glenn O’Brien’s BEAT made him a fixture on the New Wave scene. He wrote and produced the film Downtown 81 starring Jean-Michel Basquiat. Since the 80s he has created many noted advertising campaigns and commercials. He’s a poet, essayist and a regular columnist for GQ, Vanity Fair Italia and Paper Magazine. He edits the literary magazine Bald Ego and recently completed a novel.
Television will be revolutionized, folks, not the other way around as John Lennon had once prophesized. Trust me. Trust deadpan kisses and cocaine sunglasses. Trust the new prophet behind them, Glenn O’Brien. Now, place an upturned salad bowl antenna onto your head to receive the group-masturbation dogma, new wave rock propaganda and jump—cut editing patriotism which fuel the crusades of TV Party, “the TV show that’s a party, but could be a political party”, as defined by O’Brien, the television show’s host. Although the TV Party you succumbed to is long gone, the revolutionary spirit lives on, comrades, through DVD re-release of this public access show from the 1970s and 80s.
Conceived by O’Brien, a former writer of High Times magazine, TV Party was a weekly circus of the absurd broadcasted via public access cable to late night New York. The shows sometimes comprised a loose theme, with little production or organization, but somehow came together with O’Brien and friends cavorting around a downtown TV studio in slapdash costumes under the auspices of marijuana—most of which was rolled, packed and used on live TV. TV Party friends are now legends. New York personalities such as Deborah Harry, Jean-Michel Basquiat, David Byrne, Fab Five Freddy and Claus Nomi, among others, were frequent guests. Basquiat often delivered glib poem text-projections scrolled onto the live TV broadcast. Byrne and Freddy jammed alongside the freeform TV orchestra, a collection of musicians (including Blondie’s Chris Stein) working with everything from a Quaker oats box and magazine—stack drum kit to kazoos and harmoniums.
Brinkfilm is responsible for bringing TV Party back from the dead through re-release of some of the more seminal episodes. The first release is the “Crusades” episode from February 1981. The crusades on which O’Brien and friends embark are non-violent missions and benevolently induce the viewing public in a trance complete with directions on how to channel Reichian waves of orgone from your TV screen. After the “mass orgone transfer”, the brave crusaders march on carried by a brilliant improvised jam with frenetic keyboarding with a backbeat provided by Fab Freddy’s phone off its receiver and a jiving man-angel.
Rolled into the TV Party foolery were topical issues. The show’s subtle urgency was more than the question of how the participants were going to score their next hit, it was a celebration of television’s democratized expression in the face of large media corporation – polluted programming. O’Brien delivered jibes at media coverage of President Jimmy Carter as well as post-Iran hostage crisis terrorist fear, a fanaticism that is not unlike the pro-American fallout following recent terrorist activities. The show’s well-informed analyses give you the impression that the cast was sharper than they led on and you begin to think that O’Brien’s presidential cabinet of porn stars as introduced in the Crusades episode, wasn’t such a bad idea.
Glenn O’Brien, photo: Bobby Grossman
John Lurie, photo: Bobby Grossman
Glenn O’Brien and Fab Five Freddy, photo: Bobby Grossman
George Clinton and Debbie Harry, photo: Bobby Grossman
Jean-Michel Basquiat, photo: Bobby Grossman
David Bowie and Glenn O’Brien, photo: Edo Bertoglio
Glenn O’Brien and Mick Jones, photo: Kate Simon