In 1970, Lou Reed wrote Rock and Roll, a song describing a life saved by rock and roll music. Reed later said the song was autobiographical.
“If I hadn’t heard rock and roll on the radio, I would have had no idea there was life on this planet. Which would have been devastating – to think that everything, everywhere was like it was where I come from.” Monty Python was my rock and roll.
There were six television stations in Washington DC in 1974. Three big networks, two independent stations, and WETA, the PBS affiliate. There was little content on any of them to which I felt a connection. Especially comedic television, filled with artificial laugh-tracks.
In November, 1974, Monty Python’s Flying Circus came to six PBS stations in the U.S. In Washington, the show aired at 10PM, Sundays. Sitting alone in the den, watching on the color TV my father had bought two years earlier for the 1972 Olympics, my universe changed.
I was no longer alone. I realized others viewed existence with the same sense of absurdity, irreverence, and chaos as I. A year later Monty Python released Holy Grail.
At my insistence, my sister, parents and I went to see the movie at the Outer Circle, in Washington DC. We ambled in, popcorn in hand, no idea what lay in store. From the opening credits, the four of us, like everyone in the theatre, were rolling in the aisles.
I wish I could adequately communicate how gratifying, how validating that moment was.
I didn’t grow up in a humorless home. I had most of Allan Sherman’s songs memorized by the time I was ten. I wore out my parent’s Tom Lehrer albums by twelve. I can still quote Laugh-In jokes from 1968. But Python was different.
I’m quite sure I have never felt closer to my family than that night, sitting in the dark.
For my last two years of high school, I attended a boarding school on the Delaware River, outside Philadelphia. I have vivid memories of driving alone, at night, speeding along twisting rural roads, made even darker by canopies of trees towering overhead.
Spinning the dial of the AM radio in whichever junker I had borrowed, I tuned into far-away stations, sometimes, even Chicago. For a few minutes I’d hear chatter so unfamiliar it could have been Mars. Those moments, provided me an inexplicable sense of hope, a sense of a world beyond that in which I existed.
Just like those Sunday nights a few years earlier, when my whole being was immersed in something completely different.
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PS: Lorne Michaels and Chevy Chase first met while standing online to see the Holy Grail. A year later Saturday Night Live debuted.