Night Music: Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show, “Cover of the Rolling Stone”

Tom posted about Dr. Hook earlier today in his weekly story.

I was skeptical about Will Sheff’s claims about this long forgotten Dr. Hook DVD, from a show on German TV in 1975, but I started reading, which got me to listening, and he doesn’t exaggerate as much as he could have.

I don’t see quite the danger he does in Penicillin Penny, but then he’s watched the show enough times to know how the story plays out, and his reading of the song definitely makes the story better. And the story does play out, dramatically and expressively, when the band plays their greatest hit.

The way George Cummings hijacks THe Cover of the Rolling Stone is explosive, in the same way Andy Kaufman could wrangle the spotlight away from whomever and twist it onto some other space where Andy Kaufman shined brightest. Cummings is making a feedback screech, for some unstated reason, and it makes for surprisingly vigorous theater.

But the real brilliance is that this doesn’t seem at all staged. It’s just a guy in a band stealing the spotlight on this particular night in Germany. The stakes were small, the rebellion (in context) large. Caught on tape.

Great find, Tom! Will doesn’t overstep when he points to part of this show as being punkish. These guys were the guys Patti Smith hated in high school.

UPDATE: I posted the above, thinking I’d read Will Sheff’s story to the end. But I hadn’t. It turns out Sheff opens the story up into a discussion of all sorts of problems with authenticity and stagecraft, the very lack of which—in this program—I thought he was holding up to some esteem. But he has suspicions that the high drama might have been staged.

I find his late reveal on the potential that all this crappy stagecraft could have been orchestrated to be problematic. I feel tricked. At the same time, hate the storyteller, but if he’s right the tale gets better. And if not, the tale is as good as it ever was.

You are forgiven Will.

2 thoughts on “Night Music: Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show, “Cover of the Rolling Stone”

  1. On the question of staged versus spontaneous, here’s my take… This was a band full of cut ups. You can here that on their records, all of which I’ve listened to more carefully since watching the video (several times). But on this particular night, things got a little out of control. Substance abuse (alcohol?, pot?, acid?, all?) must have played a role. This exaggeration of their “normal” schtick is what creates the doubt about its authenticity. But knowing that George left the band shortly after this performance adds credence to the theory that his antics (putting his bandana over the mic and hijacking “… Roiling Stone” were for real. That’s how I see it, but only the band knows for sure.

    Rik Elswit, the guitarist with the long blonde hair and glasses, works at a music store here in the Bay area. Someone needs to track him down for an interview to get the straight poop.

    • Your scenario makes sense, but what I can imagine being most compelling about this document being the fact that it is kind of ahistorical. It was a forgotten night on a forgotten show that is now remembered by those who weren’t there only because of this document that somehow miraculously survived.

      The viewer, as Sheff say, the viewer gets to connect the dots and create his/her own story about what’s going on based on the textual evidence.

      I’d like to see Errol Morris
      take this on, but until then you bay area guys ought to drop in on Rik Elswit.

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