Fear on SNL, 1981: “It’s great to be here in New Jersey”
Always heard about this, it’s mentioned in Banned in DC, but the John Belushi/Ian MacKaye phone call?? I had no idea.
When Fear played on “Saturday Night Live,” Ian, did you go down to “Saturday Night Live” and check it out in New York with Rollins and the gang?
Rollins was not there. I’ll tell you the story if you’d like to hear the story about that. At eight in the morning, some point in October, I got a call. I was driving a newspaper truck for The Washington Post at the time, so eight in the morning was brutal. It was Lorne Michaels’ office, Lorne Michaels being the producer of “Saturday Night Live,” and I get this woman, “Lorne Michaels’ office, please hold.” I was completely delirious. Lorne Michaels gets on the phone - “Hi, Ian, it’s Lorne Michaels of ‘Saturday Night Live,’ I’m calling you because I got your number from John Belushi. He says that you might be able to get some dancers up here ‘cause we want to have Fear on the show.” I was completely baffled by this. “Pardon me?” “Hold on a second.” John Belushi gets on the phone and he says, “This is John Belushi. I’m a big fan of Fear’s. I made a deal with ‘Saturday Night Live’ that I would make a cameo appearance on the show if they’d let Fear play. I got your number from Penelope Spheeris, who did ‘Decline of Western Civilization’ and she said that you guys, Washington DC punk rock kids, know how to dance. I want to get you guys to come up to the show.” It was worked out that we could all arrive at the Rockefeller Center where “Saturday Night Live” was being filmed. The password to get in was “Ian MacKaye.” We went up the day before. The Misfits played with The Necros at the Ukrainian hall, I think, so all of the Detroit people were there, like Tesco Vee and Cory Rusk from the Necros and all the Touch and Go people and a bunch of DC people - 15 to 20 of us came up from DC. Henry was gone. He was living in LA at this point. So we went to the show. During the dress rehearsal, a camera got knocked over. We were dancing and they were very angry with us and said that they were going to not let us do it then Belushi really put his foot down and insisted on it. So, during the actual set itself, they let us come out again. If you watch the show - have you seen it?
Yes I have.
If you watch it - during the show - before they go to commercial, they always go to this jack-o-lantern. This carved pumpkin. If you watched it during the song, you’ll see one of our guys, this guy named Bill MacKenzie, coming out holding the pumpkin above his head because he’s just getting ready to smash it. And that’s when they cut it off. They kicked us out and locked us out for two hours. We were locked in a room because they were so angry with us about the behavior. I didn’t think it was that big of deal.
They locked you in a room?
Yeah, we were locked in a room. They said they were going to sue us and have us arrested for damages. There was so much hype about that. The New York Post reported half a million dollars worth of damages. It was nothing. It was a plastic clip that got broken. It was a very interesting experience and I realized how completely unnatural it is for a band to be on a television show - particularly a punk band - that kind of has a momentum to suddenly be expected to immediately jump into a song in that type of setting. It was very weird. Largely unpleasant. Made me realize that’s not something I’m interested in doing.
UPDATE: As someone pointed out here, the producer that year was Dick Ebersol, not Lorne Michaels. I’m sure Ian was confused and didn’t realize the difference.