I had the sweetest job ever when I was in high school. I got paid to work at the local cable TV office. My job title was Assistant Promotions Manager. My job was created at a time when specialty television channels were first being introduced. At that time in Canada, The Movie Network and Star Channel were the two being offered. When I wasn’t on the phone helping customers acquire these new services, my other job was monitoring the satellite feed to ensure that our content was streaming properly to homes. In other words, I was getting paid to watch movies. In those days, the introduction of specialty channels was labeled as Pay-TV. It was the very forefront of today’s 24/7 streaming world. It was a bold leap forward in the world of broadcasting because up until that time in the early 1980s, all television programming was created through networks such as the CBC and CTV in Canada, and ABC, CBS and NBC in the United States. As consumers, we watched only those programmes that were created by the networks. We watched these shows when the networks told us to by way of a broadcast schedule that we planned our lives around. I am sure that my family wasn’t the only family who subscribed to the TV Guide magazine and read it cover to cover whenever it arrived so that we could plan our TV viewing week. The introduction of Pay-TV changed everything. It allowed viewers to access a wider variety of content. But even at that, it was still content created elsewhere and delivered to us on a predetermined schedule. What really changed things…and what has brought us closer to the world we live in now…was a broadcast licensing requirement that, at the time, didn’t seem like that consequential a thing. It was the requirement that each cable company provide a channel in the regular programming bundle being offered to customers that was completely dedicated to locally produced content. For many people in Canada, that community channel became Channel 10.
One of the issues that quickly arose with regard to community broadcast channels was that there was a sudden need for content and lots of it! By the very nature of the terms of their broadcasting agreements, local cable companies couldn’t import or purchase pre-existing shows and rerun them to fill in the time on Channel 10. They had to create fresh content. So, the call went out that anyone who had an idea for a television programme could apply to have it broadcast on air. Many people responded to the challenge. One of the most popular local programmes in my area was live Bingo run by one of the service clubs in town. There were cooking shows, talk shows, home fix-it shows, astrology call-in shows and many more. Most of these shows were somewhat cheesy, but all of them were born from the desire to create personal content and place it in the homes of their friends and neighbours. These early community channel hosts were the original content creators. Today, we have broadcast services such as YouTube that generate multi-billion dollar revenue streams and make celebrities out of some of its content creators. It is amazing to think that the whole notion of social media developed out of these local cable shows that featured interviews with school crossing guards or local politicians or, in the case of Public Access Channel 10 in Aurora, Illinois, a television show about music and the goings-on in the lives of two guys named Wayne and Garth called Wayne’s World.
Wayne’s World was originally a sketch on the television show Saturday Night Live. The idea for that sketch came from the creative mind of comedian Mike Myers. The SNL bit starred Myers and fellow cast member Dana Carvey and helped introduce many phrases into the national conversation, such as saying “Schwing!” whenever the name of a beautiful woman was mentioned, as well as adding the word “Not!” to the end of any sentence such as “This is a really good post today, Tom……Not!!!!!” While Saturday Night Live was its own broadcast entity, there was a long history of helping cast members transition from life on the sketch comedy show over to the world of film. Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy, David Spade, Chris Farley, Adam Sandler and Billy Crystal are just a few of the many SNL cast members who went on to have productive careers in Hollywood. Producer Lorne Michaels was always on the lookout for sketches that seemed to resonate with audiences and then spin them out into movie franchises. Wayne’s World became one of those sketches that seemed to have legs as the old saying goes. So, in 1992, a deal was reached to make a movie out of the Wayne’s World sketch. For the sake of continuity, this movie was simply called Wayne’s World. It starred Myers and Carvey, along with a host of other well known character actors at the time, such as Rob Lowe, Donna Dixon, Ed O’Neill, as well as with musicians such as Meatloaf and Alice Cooper. The idea behind the plot of Wayne’s World was that the boys’ public access show had grown in popularity and, as a result, they were being offered a syndication deal that was close to happening. In the course of negotiations, we got to follow Wayne and his friends as they moved about the fictional world they created in the real town of Aurora, Illinois. How the actual storyline of the movie unfolded is not what most people remember from the movie. Wayne’s World is most noted for its musical soundtrack. In fact, the movie played a big role in helping the rock classics “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, “Dreamweaver” by Gary Wright and “Foxy Lady” by Jimi Hendrix to all have a second life in terms of record sales and chart listings. *(You can read posts about these songs here, here and here).
For today’s post, I am going to focus on another classic rock tune that had new life breathed into it because of its inclusion in the Wayne’s World movie, and that is “Ballroom Blitz” by Sweet. First things first: the band Sweet does not appear in the movie, nor does their version of their own hit song appear, either. In the movie, Wayne has a crush on the lead singer of a band called Crucial Taunt. Tia Carrere starred as the object of Wayne’s desire. In the movie, Carrere does all of her own singing. One of the songs that she sings in concert, while Wayne watches from the audience, is “Ballroom Blitz”. She actually does a pretty good job of covering this tune. So much so, that it is her cover version that is on the official soundtrack. But one of the things that attracted Wayne to Carrere’s character, Cassandra Wong, was that he approved of her musical influences. In “Ballroom Blitz”, one of her musical influences is obviously the 1970s glam rock band Sweet.
Sweet was a fairly popular band when I was growing up. Their songs “Ballroom Blitz”, “Love is Like Oxygen” and “Fox on the Run” were all songs that made up the soundtrack to my teenage years. Like many Glam bands, Sweet blurred the lines between rock ‘n’ roll and theatrical pageantry. Depending on the night and the audience and the venue, Sweet had a history of putting on killer shows, as well as putting on shows that elicited a hostile response from audiences that came for a rock show and got costumes and makeup in reply. At one such show in a small community in Scotland, Sweet were subjected to something that has become known in rock circles as bottling. In rock, there is a history of some performers and audiences having antagonistic relationships during shows. The most infamous story of this nature that I have read involved my boy, Iggy Pop, during his time with The Stooges. Apparently they were playing a gig in which the bulk of the audience members were from motorcycle gangs. It is said that the bikers yelled and cursed at Iggy Pop who, in turn, told them to be quiet or else he would leave the stage, come into the crowd and shut them up himself. Needless to say, the bikers took him up on that invitation, and soon a melee broke out. Pop was beaten up, the band’s instruments were smashed and the venue was damaged during the riot that ensued. In the case of Sweet, they had all manner of projectiles launched toward them during their Scottish concert. While they were veteran performers by this stage of their career, being in the middle of such a hostile, rapidly-devolving situation was nerve wracking. This experience became the basis for their greatest hit, “Ballroom Blitz”. As much as I admire Tia Carrere for having the chops to cover this song in a decent way, it is Sweet’s version that I really like, and which I will feature in the links to come.
The fact that Wayne’s World is noted for the rock ‘n’ roll pedigree of the musicians and bands that appear on the soundtrack should not come as a surprise. After all, the person who directed the film was none other than Penelope Spheeris. For those who may not know who she is, Penelope Spheeris gained fame in the 1980s for a trilogy of music documentaries that she produced that were called The Decline of Western Civilization. The original documentary focussed on the underground punk rock scene in Los Angeles. As much as any one band or singer, Penelope Spheeris is credited with introducing the whole genre of Punk Rock to U.S. audiences via her documentaries. The second documentary in her series featured Hair Metal bands. The final documentary looked at street kids and skateboard culture. It was her participation in the movie, as much as anyone else, who convinced rockers such as Alice Cooper to lend their own musical credibility to Wayne’s World. As time has gone on, Spheeris has disassociated herself from the movie because of creative disputes with actor Mike Myers. However, having said that, she admits that the money she made as director has helped fund many other music-related projects that she is passionate about, and as a result, she remains grateful for having had the opportunity to be involved in Wayne’s World.
This brings us back to the whole notion of what motivates people to put themselves out there and create content for others to consume. In Wayne’s World, the ability for characters such as Wayne and Garth to broadcast from Wayne’s basement into every house in Aurora, Illinois, meant that they could build a sense of identity that they never could have in their regular, everyday lives. Their endless promotion of their musical heroes gave them an air of expertise on the subject matter that they probably didn’t deserve, but which they undoubtedly attained anyway. For many content creators, becoming somewhat of a local celebrity is as good as it gets. However, as we are seeing time and time again in our own world, celebrity culture is a very real thing. The very fact that there has become a whole sub-set of people known as social media influencers, whose whole reason for being is to create trends and drive them forward, tells you all you need to know about the power of creating your own content. There is money and fame and power in being a content creator these days. The world of content creation has changed a lot since I was a teenage boy working to introduce Pay-TV to the customers of Seaside Cable TV Ltd. Back then, things seemed a lot simpler. The biggest commotion anyone caused back then was when the Kinsmens Club doubled the Bingo jackpot one week! Man, you should have seen the phone lines light up with people demanding to know where they could purchase their own bingo cards so they could play along from home! Channel 10 never had bigger ratings than on Bingo day. Party time, my friends! Excellent! What a great job that was!
The link to the video for the trailer for the movie Wayne’s World can be found here.
The link for the video trailer for the documentary Decline of Western Civilization by Penelope Spheeris can be found here.
The link to the official website for Sweet can be found here.
Just for kicks, the link to the official website for Seaside Cable TV Ltd on Cape Breton island can be found here.
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