Erudite, genial, his witticisms honed to a fine point (his most famous joke was, "I went to a Chinese-German restaurant. The food is great, but an hour later you're hungry for power"), Dick Cavett had enough relative youth to warm the nascent baby boom generation to him. His late-night talk show, which aired on ABC from 1969 to 1975, seems even more anomalous now than it did at the time. For one thing, the program's 90 minutes were devoted to actual conversation— unhurried, low-key, not intensely concerned with plugging the guest's latest offering. For another, Cavett was the only late-night host who didn't treat the rock generation like redheaded stepchildren. Too young to pal around with the Rat Pack, he invited some of the biggest rock stars onto his show and took them seriously, as a trio of new Shout! Factory DVD sets showcases.
The Dick Cavett Show: Rock Icons ($39.98) contains three discs and nine complete episodes, including the famous program taped immediately after Woodstock, on which David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Jefferson Airplane, and Joni Mitchell appear. Janis Joplin appeared three times, all here. There are appearances by George Harrison and the Rolling Stones; a nervous David Bowie plays a rousing "Young Americans," and Sly & the Family Stone run through "Thank You Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin"—historic stuff, though Cavett's interviews with both the fidgety Bowie and especially a completely out of it Sly Stone are minor disasters. Better is Paul Simon, who dominates the first half of a show, first being questioned by Cavett, a guitar at his side (he plays the first two verses of a new song he's working on: "Still Crazy After All These Years"), then performing with the Jessy Dixon Singers. The second half of that episode is the real eye-opener, though, as Cavett, who's just published his first book, sits in what amounts to a roundtable with other authors, including Jerzy Kosinski and Anthony Burgess, for nearly an hour. As SW contributor Kate Silver puts it, "I can't believe this was on network television."
If anything, the The Dick Cavett Show was closer in nature to NPR, something made obvious by The Dick Cavett Show: John & Yoko Collection ($24.98), where three episodes appear on two DVDs. The first is entirely devoted to Lennon and Ono in late 1971, who show clips from their experimental films Fly (an insect flits around a woman's naked body) and Erection (a building is built in stop-motion) and talk (Lennon especially) extensively about culture, politics, the Beatles, and music. The show went so well that Cavett and his guests kept taping, and the spillover went onto another episode, which follows. Disc two contains a 1972 appearance with John and Yoko singing a song apiece backed by New York rockers Elephant's Memory. Finally, The Dick Cavett Show: Ray Charles Collection ($24.98) collects all three appearances by the R&B titan from the early '70s.
If Cavett featureda post-Woodstock show, he still missed that festival's biggest act: Jimi Hendrix. Thanks to Michael Wadleigh's Woodstock, Hendrix's performance has passed into legend, a status that the recently issued Jimi Hendrix: Live at Woodstock (Experience Hendrix/ Chronicles/UME, $19.98) won't do much to stint. Both DVDs contain the complete concert in its original order, with the first featuring the famous Wadleigh footage and the second alternate footage, much of it in black-and-white. Anyone who's compared MCA's 1994 Woodstock CD with 1999's Experience Hendrix two-disc Live at Woodstock can tell you how great a little editing can be, and that's true even with your eyes as busy as your ears. Nevertheless, this is prime stuff at a reasonable price.
Still, if the music lover on your list really wants their eyes and ears opened, then Lost & Found Video Night Vol. 4: The All-Music Edition! (www.5minutestolive.com, $20 plus shipping) is the way to go. A mail-order Web site based in Cummings, Ga., that specializes in DVD-R burns of rare, out-of-print, and public-domain weirdo films (exploitation, gonzo, religious propaganda, and oddball foreign stuff are well represented), 5 Minutes to Live has put together eight volumes of the Lost & Found Video Night series. All are worth watching, though some of it isn't for the squeamish, and the video/audio quality varies wildly on all of them. (Not to mention that most of the discs consist of a single long program you can't scroll through.)
That's true of All-Music Edition, too, but none of it is gratuitously offensive, and most of it is so jaw-dropping that you won't care. A partial highlights list wouldn't scratch the surface of this thing: There are television commercials for Jordache jeans and Japanese rock magazines; TV appearances by Pink Floyd, Ornette Coleman and Prime Time, Scott Walker, Dusty Springfield, and the Monks (a mid-'60s band of U.S. Army men based in Germany who shaved their heads into tonsures and wrote frantic, proto-punk songs like "Shut Up" and "I Hate You"); a where'd-they-find-that film clip featuring fully costumed '70s soul group the Dramatics singing "What You See Is What You Get" behind bars in an underground lair; and perhaps most amazing of all, a hideously drunk David Lee Roth holding his mike to the audience, swigging from a bottle of Jack Daniel's handed to him by a suited midget, and dissing rival bands. It's a stocking stuffer that keeps on giving.