[one mp3 below]
Tommy N. was a friend of mine in junior high school. I say "friend," though in my weakness and ignorance I picked on Tom, at least verbally, as the pecking order in our school dictated that I was a dork, though somewhat less of one than Tom was. His hair was greasy, he had acne, and he shambled up the hallways like a cross between the living dead and the tin man from The Wizard of Oz. Tom had a glimmer about him, though, an apparent knowledge of self that seemed to cause the physical and verbal taunts to glance off of him, such that I don't believe the abuse ever affected him as much as it did me. (To this day, I have fantasies about running into Joey R., Tony P. or Jimmy T. on a lonely country road, where I would proceed to run over them with my car, backing over them and then running over them again to make sure that they were thoroughly pulverized. I would kill without remorse or conscience. Someday schools and communities will learn to truly reward academic and artistic achievement as much or more than athletic achievement, and perhaps there will be fewer socially "damaged" people like myself.)
Getting back to Tommy, he was the son of older parents, and this speaks to his awkwardness at the time as much as anything else. Entering their home was like walking into the 1950s; their mannerisms, dress and décor were a time capsule that denied 1977 was happening right outside. Tom also viciously mocked his parents, perhaps because of how he was treated at school, perhaps because he was showing off for his guest. Either way they allowed it, through obliviousness or quiet license.
So Tom was my friend, and a person I'll never forget for a variety of reasons. Not the least of which was his band, who, in my eyes at least, swept the 9th grade talent show with arresting original songs that combined pop, punk and hard rock—I remember their set vividly; Tom, one of the school's biggest outcasts, was their SINGER, so perhaps I was the bigger dork after all, as at that time I would never have had his courage. Another reason I'll never forget Tom is because we discovered UFO Update together.
UFO Update ran on local New Jersey UHF channel WTVG-68 (which also broadcast Uncle Floyd, and later became video-music channel WWHT/U68), usually on the weekends at or after 2 a.m. A dark-haired, leisure-suited man hosted the show (I forget his name), and he seemed to often be intoxicated or at least rattled by extreme stress. The man sat in a chair, facing the camera head on, and with a unique combination of earnestness and banality would read off a list of the latest extra-terrestrial news: the sightings, abductions and livestock mutilations. I remember that there were a lot of livestock mutilations. The latter half of the show was the whizz-bang payoff of the broadcast, where the host would open up the phones (with no delay on the signal) seeking thoughtful and informed discourse on his topic. He would occasionally get it too, though more often than not this already beleaguered gentleman was beset by calls from obscenity-spewing teenage viewers, some of whom were cruel enough to start off their call by feigning a sincere interest in UFOs, before blasting him with fucks and shits. I can't recall whether Tom and I ever called in ourselves, though I'd like to think that we were at least sensitive enough at the time to just watch the spectacle in awe.
Despite occasional searches on Google, YouTube and elsewhere online, I've never found any information on the show, much less archived clips. UFO Update ran for only a few years in the mid-to-late 70s, and as far as I know, only on WTVG-68. I have a quart of plasma ready for anyone who could provide VHS or DVD dubs of the episodes, or even some more historical information. As for Tommy, I know he's still out there, though we're almost 30 years out of touch, and I know that he too still remembers those nights we spent watching UFO Update.
Thematically concurrent mp3 selection:
The Cramps - Mystery Plane (from Ohio Demos, 1979; prod. by Alex Chilton)
Painting by Lisa Santaniello