It was the first printing! Never before published! The sequel to The Glass Teat. Apocalyptic teevee criticism mean as Drano martinis; packed with nutritious honesty and tough as hell!
Two bomb attempts failed to stop Harlan Ellison's outspoken and irreverent television column, "The Glass Teat" (though one blew the rear end off the Los Angeles Free Press building!
In 1970, during 3 Dog Night's domination of the pop charts nation wide, noted writer Harlan Ellison toured with the band for eight days. In his next book he devoted a few pages to that experience. With his unique observational skills and perspective he was able to share with us a side view of rock and roll superstardom that had previously been overlooked. Below is the text from pages 68 through 72 of The Other Glass Teat: Further essays of Opinion on Television. Look back now to 1970 and remember
(From Another Glass Teat by Harlan Ellison)
May 8, 1970
In an attempt to keep my house from getting ripped off while I'm out of town, I didn't bother mentioning two weeks ago that, as soon as I returned from my lecture gig, I was going out on the road for eight days, touring with Three Dog Night. But I did, and I'm back, and aside from being an unshakable believer in the grandeur and nobility of that particular rock outfit (and don't one of you effete underground snobs give me no shit; just go and hear them play this week in San Berdoo and you'll be where I am, proselytizing-wise), I have come back with material for a lead article in Show Magazine that will put you all away. Humbly, I urge you to keep watch, maybe three issues from now, for "Doggin It in the Great American Heartland."
All of which brings me to my ramble for the week; the singular place of television in the lives of rock musicians on tour.
I picked up the group in New Orleans. They'd already done Monroe, Shreveport, and Baton Rouge. I stayed with them through New Orleans, Houston, Austin, Lubbock, Fort Worth, and Dallas. Then I came home and collapsed. Those guys earn every dime they get paid.
In New Orleans, we were billeted at a two-hundred-year-old hostelry called the Bourbon Orleans. Refurbished, classy, big suites with the bedrooms up a winding staircase above the sitting rooms. And the first room I wandered into was Chuck Negron's. The TV was going. Chuck wasn't there. He was out sunning himself beside the pool and his room had been commandeered by a clutch of groupies who work at the Warehouse (New Orleans' answer to the old Fillmore), who needed a place to hang out till the concert. Negron, one of Three Dog Night's lead singers, was not there. I mention it again, and I underline it, because you see--the television set was on.
I heard that. So what? The little girls were probably watching it? Forget it. The chicks were so spaced, all they were watching was the granulated interior of their own skulls. No, Negron had turned the set on, had left it on when he went out, and it was my first encounter with the syndrome known as Acceptance on a Lower Level.
I got rid of my bags, washed up, and went looking for skinny Danny Hutton. He was in his room, rapping with the roadie (road manager to you), Gary McPike, and the assistant promoter for Concerts West (who'd set up the tour) Joe Gregg. They were talking earnestly about the forthcoming heat problem in the Warehouse, they were listening to the new Van Morrison album ... and the TV set was on behind them.
No one was watching it.
Mindlessly, The Edge of Night was talking to itself.
We exchanged hellos, dropped a few zingers into each other's libidos, and I went off to meet the other member of the group I hadn't met in Los Angeles.
Floyd Sneed was selecting a crushed-velvet, tie-dye jacket for the gig. And the TV set was going. He wasn't watching it.
Joe Schermie was spraying his room with strawberry sachet to get rid of the scent of incense to get rid of the scent of .... anyway, the TV was going and he wasn't watching it.
Cory Wells was answering fan mail. His back was turned to the TV set, and it was going, and he wasn't watching it. Are you beginning to get the idea?
During the eight days of the tour, living in and out of hotels and those ghastly Holiday Inn coffins, the TV sets in all the rooms (even mine, after a while) were going all the time. Even after the late late news, the last Brian Donlevy flick, the farm parity reports, and the sermonette, even after the test pattern ..... the sets still buzzed on mindlessly. Through the night, and all through the day. Usually it was nothing but snow.
For members of my parents' generation, that will seem like a blasphemous act. Those of you too young to recall the Depression, when Mom and Dad went around the house turning off lights behind themselves, moving constantly in shadow, saving on the electric bill, will not understand how uptighting it can be for older folks to walk into a room to find a TV set going. Think of the electricity! But for rock musicians on a hideous hegira from here to there, living in Saran-Wrapped rooms, eating hamburger and whipped potato meals that look like dirty Brillo pads with a side order of soggy tennis ball, it is a necessity.
I'll try and explain. And thereby make a new comment on the uses to which TV can be put.
Road touring is a singularly dehumanizing activity. The days seem to be only six hours long. You get up, in a room that looks precisely like the room in which you woke up yesterday, and the day before. You panic for a moment; where am I? What town is this? Then you call the desk and ask. You have only time to shower, shave, and pack to make the limousine for the airport. Then the flight. Into a new city, into another horrendous Holiday Inn. Same room, different city. Time to kill. Two hours, three hours, four hours. But dead hours. So you go shopping. (The average rock musicians wardrobe expands greatly on tour.) Then a fast meal. Then the concert. Then back to the motel for whatever. We can't talk about that here. Libel, busts, aggravation. You know. Then, finally, you crash. To awaken the next morning and do it all over again.
What kind of man can stand this sort of alienating, brutalizing routine? No man ever born of man and woman. He must become little better than an automaton, a zombie, a myth creature whose existence need only be supported for the hour and twenty minutes during which he is onstage. After that, his bodily functions are slowed, his breathing becomes shallower, his eyes glaze, and he manages to slouch through the time till the next appearance on stage.
It is like being a ghost.
There is no individual reality. A rock musician on tour is like the sudden genie-from-a-jug materialization of acetate sounds pressed on a twelve-inch disc. He appears, full blown, like Athena from the forehead of Zeus, for six thousand hyped-up aficionados. He does his turn, and leaves the stage to his afterimage, still burning in the minds and pudenda's of his audience. But he is still just a human being. And on tour, that isn't nearly enough.
So everyone he meets relates to him as a shadow. To his fellow group members, he is just another unit of a whole in which they, themselves, are units. Relating to them is like relating to one's large colon or big toe. To the roadie or the promoters or the managers, he is a commodity that must be both humored and pampered, yet must be kept in line like an irresponsible child. To the fans he is either something to ogle or something to fuck. They want a piece of him.
Genuinely touching anyone, reaching anyone on a human level, is impossible for a superstar rock musician. They are all treated as totems, and no one really wants to know that God has graveyard mouth in the morning.
So there is loneliness.
So there is boredom.
So there is a heaviness of spirit that leads a man into sublimating his natural tendencies toward gentleness and cleaving to those around him. He uses, and is, in turn, used. For Three Dog Night it takes different forms in each of the members of the group.
Jimmy Greenspoon, the brilliant organist, vanishes behind a veil of existentialist poetry and Delphic utterances. Trivia and compulsive wisecracks save him from having to examine the ugly territory around him.
Michael Allsup, the little guitarist, has gone deep into God. He buys health foods and fresh fruits in markets and contemplates the pure life. It is a strikingly removed existence from that through which he moves.
Joe Schermie spends time with his Fender bass and his music and his brad-studded wristband, grooving on the life of a matinee idol, remembering his youth in the streets, trying to reconcile himself as a whole entity, and caught between laughter and mock violence.
Cory Wells, the second of the three lead singers, literally becomes faceless to the observing mass between performances. He holes up in his suite, he writes to the people who write him, he reaches out from within walls of his own making for a touch of gentleness.
Floyd Sneed, the drummer, vibrates silently to the emanations from the town around him, picking up the feel of prejudice or picking up the feel of wholesomeness, and waits for the nighttime, in which he can flex his muscles and dominate through this music an audience that was single souls to begin with, that is now a unified entity. He trips on power, the power to meld an auditorium into one mass mind.
Chuck Negron exists from moment to moment, living out the time till he can go home to his new bride. He can eat filet or jack-in-the-box, because neither is real. It is all dream fantasy, extending back into a childhood past when he sang on the stage of the Apollo in New York, extending on into the future to the time he will no longer be singing. And trapped between the two, like the chambered nautilus--a snail that carries its many-roomed shell on its back--he moves through the days of a tour like a doomed prisoner serving his time.
Danny Hutton, the third of the three lead singers, celebrates his existence by savoring everything around him. The most dreary little Texas town is seen in multifaceted images, never as the reality. Condemned to the ninth circle of Dante's Inferno, Hutton would work behind the varying colors of crimson. His is perhaps the perception most removed from truth, yet closest to maintaining sanity.
And all of them use the TV set.
They turn it on when they enter the motel room, and they frequently leave it going as they pack their bags out the door on departure. It is sound, it is movement, it is life-of-a-sort. It is companionship, demanding nothing, saying nothing, really. Unlike the vampire hordes of groupies and fans, the TV gives and expects nothing in return, not even attention.
It is acceptance on the lowest possible level.
It is having life going on, during the death hours of inactivity and banal conversations with stoned strangers. It is a piece of moving art, sitting there. It is no more significant than a lava lamp or a landscape painting in a strange house. But it serves a purpose no one who ever helped develop television could have guessed. It soothes and accompanies and staves off loneliness.
Television, the great enervator of the American people, has come full circle. It is now--in the most precise sense of the McLuhanesque Idiom-merely a medium. A moving, talking, non reacting adjunct to the life going on in the room wherein it stands. No one watches, no one hears, yet it plays on. Phosphor-dot paladin guarding against the shadows of loneliness.
The only question that must be asked is this:
If the music is so ennobling, if the enrichment of the "love-peace-music" trinity is so messianic, why do the very creators of that holiness need the debased and mindless movement on a TV screen to help them support their lives?
Perhaps the answer, cryptically, lies in the fact that the favorite TV show of Three Dog Night is . . . . . . . . Sesame Street.
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