The TAMI Show / DVD Review
by Kevin Harvey
In 1964 the very name was off putting. I can still remember reading it on a theater marquee and wondering what TAMI meant. Once explained, it sounded cheesy. Teen Age American Music Industry smelled of Archie comics and Gidget movies. Still, the Stones were in it and we already knew seeing them would be worth having to sit through the weirdly Butch-Republican Leslie Gore. So, on screen in 1964, the TAMI show was by turns baffling and life-changing. And then it vanished. An edited version surfaced for a few minutes on tape in the early 80’s and that, too, went quickly to where these things go to hide.
Which brings us to 2010 and the glorious DVD reissue of the TAMI Show, called now Teenage Awards Music International, which is odd because there weren’t any awards and it wasn’t international, unless a couple of acts from England give weight to the word. No matter. Looked at today, it is a wonderful thing. It was the first of its kind and it had nothing to measure itself against. An exuberant Chuck Berry could share parts of the same number with Gerry and The Pacemakers; extraordinary black artists could follow the shallowest white singers on the planet; unneeded dancers by the dozen filled the stage with desperate Beach Blanket Bingo frugging. Again, no matter: it was a show that literally insisted that Blacks and Whites could appeal equally to the same audience. It was, in its innocence, an amazing statement.
It opens with a young, happy Chuck Berry, a sight so rare as to be worth the price of admission. Gerry and The Pacemakers play with him and they are not the band one remembers. Marsden looks oddly like Bobby Darin; guitar high on his body, he resembles Dion for a second. He is surprisingly assured; his band has the Liverpool style and bow to the letter. Working with Berry, they cover nine tunes; a skinny, raw-voiced to the point of flat, Smokey Robinson. (In three years I would have my first front row seat to hear him sound like velvet.) But they are fun and I always liked the sad-faced Miracle who looked like Humphrey Bogart. A surprisingly tame Marvin Gaye comes next. Why does he remind me of the young J.D. Salinger? It’s ok: he does two songs the Stones will later steal. And then things get strange.
Watched today, Leslie Gore is much better than one would have thought possible. She is dressed like Anita Bryant and her hair defies rational comment and yet she is so self assured, tough even, that she points the way to better things. One watches her eyes: she knows more than she lets on. She pounds her hip as if daring anyone to suggest that she doesn’t deserve to be there. The dippy hosts, Jan and Dean, come on; she ignores them and stalks past in her scary Republican heels. Jan and Dean do their two songs; no one really cares. The Beach Boys, a genius studio band, huge at the time, go over well. They are not good. They barely play and are hard to watch without wincing. Brian is a year or so away from quitting. Billy J. Kramer, looking like a cross between Neil Sedaka and Andy Kaufman, is up next. He is shockingly fey. Who knew? The Supremes, thin under gifted wigs, are shot in unforgettable close-up. The Barbarians, by way of Provincetown, stink the joint out with the musical low point of the night and then – somehow – we are given the set that changed lives.
James Brown is so good that, watching today, one begins to wonder if he weren’t the single greatest rock and soul performer of all time. I loved it in 1964, but I didn’t really get it. I’ve watched it three times since beginning this review and each time the set, his singing and moves, deepens: it is that good, it is that raw and that BLACK – with all that the word implies – that today I am stunned to watch it. It is all of four numbers long, and yet what numbers. You literally cannot time the set. Was it long, too short? Miss it at your peril. Hours later, the STONES will close the show. They are very, very, good. Keith has yet to create the persona we watch today; Brian Jones is animated; Mick terrific but a bit silly, and the show, buried now in a crowd of hysterical dancers, winds to a close.
The TAMI show, ranked by Quentin Tarentino as one of the three great rock movies – he doesn’t name the other two – is a strange document. It reminds you that the great blues singers, the great soul singers, are gone, that the great jazz players are dead, and that from 1954 to 1964 a generation of performers would come of age, never to be duplicated. The TAMI show is a black and white, prelapsarian, dream. Buy it now before it disappears forever.
(Editor’s Note – I have a dictionary that has been with me for 30 years; a worn, battered, red cloth bound Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary. It’s a pretty good basic dictionary – I like it for the sentimental value and its comfortable size. It’s always by my side whenever I read anything. For those of you who don’t have such a dictionary, you should buy one. For those of you who don’t know what prelapsarian means, as I didn’t, my Webster’s says, characteristic of or belonging to the time or state before the fall of man.)