It happened twenty-eight years ago this month. Punk rock fan John Belushi -- at the top of his game (and arguably at the height of his abuses) -- convinced Lorne Michaels to book the notorious Los Angeleno punk band, Fear, as musical guests on "Saturday Night Live." The extent of Belushi's clout with the show must have handily overshadowed the threat of impending controversy that inviting a band like Fear onto the program would invariably accompany. Either that, or the musical-guest-vetting process was woefully lax. In any event, the infamously foul-mouthed, obnoxious and violently provocative four-piece was booked for the suitably scary air-date of October 31, 1981. Donald Pleasance, fresh from reprising his role of Dr. Sam Loomis in the then-just released "Halloween II" was the host.
What happened next is the stuff of punk rock legend. To accompany Fear's performance, Belushi organized a group of hardcore kids to come onto the broadcast to replicate the energy of a live Fear show. Among this garrulous smattering of youths were several notable members of the emerging New York, Boston and Washington D.C. scenes. NBC decided to hold off on unleashing them for Fear's first number (during which time the kids in question proceeded to wreak havoc in the corridors of 30 Rock). For the second number, the kids were ushered out to slam. Somewhat unsurprisingly, in retrospect, absolute chaos ensued. Audience members cowered in terror as Doc Martins flailed and fists flew. Things turned really ugly when tensions flared between the D.C. crew and the New York kids, culminating in some broken bones and blood letting. It's reportedly none other than Ian MacKaye himself who shouts out between songs, "New York SUCKS!" .... an exhortation that touched off further inter-scene acrimony. Hear Cro-Mag vocalist and NYHC mainstay John Joseph tell his side of the story here.
Aghast at the riot unfolding in their studio, NBC panicked and pulled the plug a few moments into Fear's last song, "Let's Have a War." The rest, as they say, is history. Fear went onto to became even more of a cartoon then they already were (this curious clip of lead singer, grizzled tough guy and future actor Lee Ving somberly crooning "The Impossible Dream" from "Don Quixote" suggests that Fear's slack-jawed bluster was largely just shtick anyway). SNL wouldn't see this brand of excitement again until Sinead O'Connor tore up a picture of the Pope.
As a curious personal footnote, I was actually on the same block of these events that very same evening, watching Devo play next door at Radio City Music Hall (on the New Traditionalists tour). It was my first ever concert (and a good deal more sedate than what was to unfold at 30 Rock).
Herewith both Fear's first number and their calamitous encore performance from later in the show is just beneath. Enjoy.