Janis Joplin’s Last TV Performance & Interview: The Dick Cavett Show (1970)

The best celebrity interviewers have the ability to show us how the stars are not like us at all—not only because of the entourages, wardrobes, and bank accounts, but because of the talent for which we revere them —and also how they’re kind of just like us after all: sharing the same insecurities, fears, doubts, forgetfulness, confusion, etc. They are, that is to say, real human beings.

Like no other interviewer on network television before or since, Dick Cavett could draw all of this out of his guests: both their creativity and vulnerability. What seemed like silly chit chat was a disarming camouflage for incisive questions he let casually slip through the banter.

“Cavett’s prime-time show famously featured a who’s who of rock stars that both performed and sat for loose, freeform conversations,” writes Jambase, “which brought the ethos of the hippie generation to the homes of millions.” Amongst his many rock star guests, he developed a special bond with Janis Joplin who sat down with him on August 3, 1970 for her appearance on his show and what would turn out to be her final televised performance and interview.




Joplin belts out “My Baby” and “Half Moon,” which you can see in her full appearance above, with an introduction by Cavett. Then after both songs, she walks over the couch to hang out with the host, who greets with her warmly with, “Very nice to see you, my little songbird.” Cavett poked fun at his guests, but he didn't talk down or kiss up. Most everyone who sat down with him found his dry wit and candor refreshing.

Joplin, who admits she doesn’t like doing interviews, “seems totally at ease during this conversation,” Ultimate Classic Rock points out, “a wide-ranging but informal chat that touches on everything from her feelings regarding concert riots to whether or not she ever waterskis.” She is poised throughout and throws Cavett off-guard with her deadpan humor.


They play off each other in a charming exchange that doesn’t go nearly as deep as her final interview with the Village Voice’s Howard Smith four days before her death that October, but which captures Joplin’s thoughtful, easygoing personality beautifully. Cavett later credited Joplin for sending so many other major rock stars his way after her first appearance on his show in 1968.

“She had done other television she didn’t like very much,” he remembered in 2016 on PBS’s American Masters. "She told people, ‘it’s okay to do his show, he’s not a dreary figure.’” Neither, despite her tragic story, was Janis Joplin. “At once insecure yet full of conviction, opinionated yet concerned about offending, fierce yet tenderhearted,” writes Maria Popova at Brain Pickings; she was, as millions of Cavett’s viewers were delighted to discover, a “complex person brimming with the sort of inner contradictions that make us human.”

Related Content:

Watch Janis Joplin’s Breakthrough Performance at the Monterey Pop Festival: “One of the Great Concert Performances of all Time” (1967)

Watch Janis Joplin’s Final Interview Reborn as an Animated Cartoon

George Harrison in the Spotlight: The Dick Cavett Show (1971)

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Salvador Dalí Strolls onto The Dick Cavett Show with an Anteater, Then Talks About Dreams & Surrealism, the Golden Ratio & More (1970)

There was a time when you could flip on the TV in the evening, tune in to a major network's late-night talk show, and see Salvador Dalí walking an anteater. That time was the early 1970s, the network was ABC, and the talk show's host was Dick Cavett, who dared to converse on camera, and at length, with everyone from Ingmar Bergman and Woody Allen to Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal to David Bowie and Janis Joplin, and John Lennon with Yoko Ono. Whether they went smoothly or bumpily, Cavett's conversations played out like no others on television, then or now. Dalí's March 1970 appearance above makes for a case in point: not only does he come on with his anteater, he wastes little time tossing it into the lap of another of the evening's guests, silent-film star Lillian Gish.

Dalí praises anteaters to Cavett as the sole "angelic" animal, a quality that has something to go with their tongues. He goes on to explain his admiration for the mathematical properties of rhinoceroses, whose proportions agree with the "golden ratio" he tended to incorporate into his art.




Other subjects to arise during Dalí's twenty minutes on set include the razor blade and the eyeball in Un Chien Andalou; the vivid, irrational, and "liliputitian" images that come to life in the mind "ten minutes or fifteen minutes before you fall [asleep]"; and the artist's maintenance of his famous mustache (which he'd previously discussed, sixteen years before, on The Name's the Same). At one point Gish asks Dalí if his work has "a message to give to the people that we, perhaps, don't understand." His unhesitating reply: "No message." Cavett, of course, has a smooth follow-up: "Could you invent one?"

In his show's 1970s prime, Cavett demonstrated an unmatched ability to make entertainment out of difficult guests — not by making fun of them, exactly, but by cracking jokes that revealed a certain self-awareness about the form of the talk show itself. "Am I alone in finding you somewhat to difficult to follow in terms of what your theories are?" he asks Dalí amid all the talk of anteaters and eyeballs, dreams and mathematics. And the difficulty wasn't just conceptual: "Is it my imagination," Cavett asks later on, "or are you speaking a mixture of languages?" But Dalí's deliberately idiosyncratic English, ideas, and personality all came of a piece, and at the end of the night Cavett admits his own admiration for the artist's work, even going so far as to request an autograph on air. The viewers of America must have come away from Dalí's TV appearances with more questions than answers. But for us watching today, one is particularly salient: what on Earth must Satchel Paige have thought of all this?

Related Content:

Q: Salvador Dalí, Are You a Crackpot? A: No, I’m Just Almost Crazy (1969)

When Salvador Dali Met Sigmund Freud, and Changed Freud’s Mind About Surrealism (1938)

Alfred Hitchcock Recalls Working with Salvador Dali on Spellbound: “No, You Can’t Pour Live Ants All Over Ingrid Bergman!”

Alfred Hitchcock Talks with Dick Cavett About Sabotage, Foreign Correspondent & Laxatives (1972)

Salvador Dalí Reveals the Secrets of His Trademark Moustache (1954)

How Dick Cavett Brought Sophistication to Late Night Talk Shows: Watch 270 Classic Interviews Online

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Moral Philosophy on TV? Pretty Much Pop #32 Judges The Good Place

Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt discuss Michael Schur's NBC TV show. Is it good? (Yes, or we wouldn't be covering it?) Is it actually a sit-com? Does it effectively teach philosophy? What did having actual philosophers on the staff (after season one) contribute, and was that enough? We talk TV finales, the dramatic impact of the show's convoluted structure, the puzzle of heaven being death, and more.

Here are a few articles to get you warmed up:

If you like the show, you should also check out The Official Good Place Podcast, especially the interviews with Schur himself. There are also supplementary educational videos with professor Todd May like this one on existentialism.

A few clips: What's the deal with the "Jeremy Bearimy" time measurement? The Trolley Problem, meeting Hypatia, finale clip with Arvo Part's "Spiegel Im Spiegel."

This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

Daphne Oram Created the BBC’s First-Ever Piece of Electronic Music (1957)

To the question of who created electronic music, there can be no one answer. The form's emergence took decades, beginning with the earliest electronic instruments in the late 19th century, developing toward the first music produced solely from electronic sources in the early 1950s, and arriving at such artistic destinations as Wendy Carlos' 1968 album Switched-On Bach. Driving this evolutionary process were artists of a variety of nationalities and musical sensibilities, a group including several especially unignorable figures. Take, for instance, Daphne Oram, the composer and co-founder of BBC's storied Radiophonic Workshop who created the very first piece of electronic music ever commissioned by the network.

Oram composed that music in 1957, the year before the establishment of the Radiophonic Workshop. She did it to score a BBC production of Jean Giraudoux's play Amphitryon 38, using an electronic sine wave oscillator, a tape recorder, and a few filters — a synthesizer, in other words, of her own creation.




Experience had positioned her well to design and compose with such a device and the processes it demanded: she grew up studying the piano, organ, and composition, and as a teenager she'd taken a job as a studio engineer at the BBC, an environment that gave her access to all the latest technologies for creating and recording sound. Despite having rejected Still Point, an acoustic-electronic piece she composed for turntables, five microphones, and a "double orchestra," the BBC aired Amphitryon 38 with her score full of "sounds unlike any ever heard before."

That's how Oram's music is described in the 1950s television clip above, a visit to the "country studio in Kent" where, "unlike the traditional composer, she uses no musical instruments and no musicians." And indeed, "she needs no concert hall or opera house to put on a performance: she can do it on a tape recorder." As outlandish as Oram's setup might have looked to BBC viewers at home back then, the narrator informs them that "already, electronic music is being used in films, television, and the theater," and that some people even think her collages of unnatural sounds will be "the music of the future." Vindicating that notion is the odd familiarity every electronic musician today will feel when they watch Oram at work among the devices of her studio, surrounded as they themselves happily are by those devices' technological descendants.

via reaktorplayer

Related Content:

Meet Four Women Who Pioneered Electronic Music: Daphne Oram, Laurie Spiegel, Éliane Radigue & Pauline Oliveros

Hear a 20 Hour Playlist Featuring Recordings by Electronic Music Pioneer Pauline Oliveros (RIP)

Two Documentaries Introduce Delia Derbyshire, the Pioneer in Electronic Music

Hear Seven Hours of Women Making Electronic Music (1938- 2014)

Hear Electronic Ladyland, a Mixtape Featuring 55 Tracks from 35 Pioneering Women in Electronic Music

Hear Glenn Gould Sing the Praise of the Moog Synthesizer and Wendy Carlos’ Switched-On Bach, the “Record of the Decade” (1968)

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Jim Lehrer’s 16 Rules for Practicing Journalism with Integrity

In 1988, stalwart PBS news anchor, writer, and longtime presidential debate moderator Jim Lehrer was accused of being too soft on the candidates. He snapped back, “If somebody wants to be entertained, they ought to go to the circus.” The folksy quote sums up the Texan journalist's philosophy succinctly. The news was a serious business. But Lehrer, who passed away last Thursday, witnessed the distinction between political journalism and the circus collapse, with the spread of cable infotainment, and corporate domination of the Internet and radio.

Kottke remarks that Lehrer seemed “like one of the last of a breed of journalist who took seriously the integrity of informing the American public about important events.” He continually refused offers from the major networks, hosting PBS’s MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour with cohost Robert MacNeil until 1995, then his own in-depth news hour until his retirement in 2011. “I have an old-fashioned view that news is not a commodity,” he said. “News is information that’s required in a democratic society... That sounds corny, but I don’t care whether it sounds corny or not. It’s the truth.”




To meet such high standards required a rigorous set of journalistic… well, standards—such as Lehrer was happy to list, below, in a 1997 report from the Aspen Institute.

  1. Do nothing I cannot defend.*
  2. Do not distort, lie, slant, or hype.
  3. Do not falsify facts or make up quotes.
  4. Cover, write, and present every story with the care I would want if the story were about me.*
  5. Assume there is at least one other side or version to every story.*
  6. Assume the viewer is as smart and caring and good a person as I am.*
  7. Assume the same about all people on whom I report.*
  8. Assume everyone is innocent until proven guilty.
  9. Assume personal lives are a private matter until a legitimate turn in the story mandates otherwise.*
  10. Carefully separate opinion and analysis from straight news stories and clearly label them as such.*
  11. Do not use anonymous sources or blind quotes except on rare and monumental occasions. No one should ever be allowed to attack another anonymously.*
  12. Do not broadcast profanity or the end result of violence unless it is an integral and necessary part of the story and/or crucial to understanding the story.
  13. Acknowledge that objectivity may be impossible but fairness never is.
  14. Journalists who are reckless with facts and reputations should be disciplined by their employers.
  15. My viewers have a right to know what principles guide my work and the process I use in their practice.
  16. I am not in the entertainment business.*

In a 2006 Harvard commencement address (at the top), Lehrer reduced the list to only the nine rules marked by asterisks above by Kottke, who goes on to explain in short why these guidelines are so routinely cast aside—“this shit takes time! And time is money.” It’s easier to patch together stories in rapid-fire order when you don’t cite or check sources or do investigative reporting, and face no serious consequences for it.

Lehrer’s adherence to professional ethics may have been unique in any era, but his attention to detail and obsession with accessing multiple points of view came from an older media. He “saw himself as ‘a print/word person at heart’ and his program as a kind of newspaper for television,” writes Robert McFadden in his New York Times obituary. He was also “an oasis of civility in a news media that thrived on excited headlines, gotcha questions and noisy confrontations.”

Lehrer understood that civility is meaningless in the absence of truth, or of kindness and humility. His longtime cohost’s list of journalistic guidelines also appears in the Aspen Institute report. “The values which Jim Lehrer and I observed,” MacNeil writes, "he continues to observe.” Journalism is a serious business—“behave with civility”—but “remember that journalists are no more important to society than people in other professions. Avoid macho posturing and arrogant display.”

Read more about Lehrer’s list of guidelines at Kottke.

Related Content:

Journalism Under Siege: A Free Course from Stanford Explores the Imperiled Freedom of the Press

Journalistic Ethics: A Free Online Course from UCLA 

Hannah Arendt Explains How Propaganda Uses Lies to Erode All Truth & Morality: Insights from The Origins of Totalitarianism

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Monty Python’s Terry Jones (RIP) Was a Comedian, But Also a Medieval Historian: Get to Know His Other Side

Monty Python’s surreal, slapstick parodies of history, religion, medicine, philosophy, and law depended on a competent grasp of these subjects, and most of the troupe’s members, four of whom met at Oxford and Cambridge, went on to demonstrate their scholarly acumen outside of comedy, with books, guest lectures, professorships, and serious television shows.

Michael Palin even became president of the Royal Geographical Society for a few years. And Palin’s onetime Oxford pal and early writing partner Terry Jones—who passed away at 77 on January 21 after a long struggle with degenerative aphasia—didn’t do so badly for himself either, becoming a respected scholar of Medieval history and an authoritative popular writer on dozens of other subjects.




Indeed, as the Pythons did throughout their academic and comedic careers, Jones combined his interests as often as he could, either bringing historical knowledge to absurdist comedy or bringing humor to the study of history. Jones wrote and directed the pseudo-historical spoofs Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Life of Brian, and in 2004 he won an Emmy for his television program Terry Jones’ Medieval Lives, an entertaining, informative series that incorporates sketch comedy-style reenactments and Terry Gilliam-like animations.

In the program, Jones debunks popular ideas about several stock medieval European characters familiar to us all, while he visits historical sites and sits down to chat with experts. These characters include The Peasant, The Damsel, The Minstrel, The Monk, and The Knights. The series became a popular book in 2007, itself a culmination of decades of work. Jones first book, Chaucer’s Knight: The Portrait of a Medieval Mercenary came out in 1980. There, notes Matthew Rozsa at Salon:

[Jones] argued that the concept of Geoffrey Chaucer’s knight as the epitome of Christian chivalry ignored an uglier truth: That the Knight was a mercenary who worked for authoritarians that brutally oppressed ordinary people (an argument not dissimilar to the scene in which a peasant argues for democracy in The Holy Grail).

In 2003, Jones collaborated with several historians on Who Murdered Chaucer? A speculative study of the period in which many of the figures he later surveyed in his show and book emerged as distinctive types. As in his work with Monty Python, he didn’t only apply his contrarianism to medieval history. He also called the Renaissance “overrated” and “conservative,” and in his 2006 BBC One series Terry Jones’ Barbarians, he described the period we think of as the fall of Rome in positive terms, calling the city’s so-called “Sack” in 410 an invention of propaganda.

Jones’ work as a popular historian, political writer, and comedian “is not the full extent of [his] oeuvre,” writes Rozsa, “but it is enough to help us fathom the magnitude of the loss suffered on Tuesday night.” His legacy “was to try to make us more intelligent, more well-educated, more thoughtful. He also strove, of course, to make us have fun.” Python fans know this side of Jones well. Get to know him as a passionate interpreter of history in Terry Jones’ Medieval Lives, which you can watch on YouTube here.

For an academic study of Jones' medieval work, see the collection: The Medieval Python The Purposive and Provocative Work of Terry Jones.

Related Content:

The History & Legacy of Magna Carta Explained in Animated Videos by Monty Python’s Terry Jones

John Cleese Revisits His 20 Years as an Ivy League Professor in His New Book, Professor at Large: The Cornell Years

Monty Python’s Eric Idle Breaks Down His Most Iconic Characters

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Actor Margaret Colin (VEEP, Independence Day) Joins Pretty Much Pop #28 to Take On the Trope of the Alpha Female

What's the deal with images of powerful women in media? The trope of the tough-as-nails boss-lady who may or may not have a heart of gold has evolved a lot over the years, but it's difficult to portray such a character unobjectionably, probably due to those all-too-familiar double standards about wanting women in authority (or, say, running for office) to be assertive but not astringent.

Margaret was the female lead in major films including Independence Day and The Devil's Own, is a mainstay on Broadway, and has appeared on TV in many roles including the mother of the Gossip Girl and as an unscrupulous newscaster on the final seasons of VEEP. Her height and voice have made her a good fit for dominant-lady roles, and she leads Mark, Erica, and Brian through a quick, instructive tour through her work with male directors (e.g. in a pre-Murphy-Brown Dianne English sit-com), playing the lead in three Lifetime Network movies, on Broadway as Jackie, and opposite Harrison Ford, Al Pacino, Melanie Griffith, Michael Shannon, Wallace Shawn, and others.

Given the limitations of short-form storytelling in film, maybe some use of stereotypes is just necessary to get the gist of a character out quickly, but actors can load their performances with unseen backstory. We hear about the actor's role in establishing a character vs. the vision of the filmmakers or show-runners. Also, the relative conservatism of film vs. stage vs. TV in granting women creative control, the "feminine voice," why women always apparently have to trip in movies when chased, and more.

A few resources to get you thinking about this topic:

Someone's posted a tape of Carousel featuring Erica and Margaret.

This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

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