TV a-Go-Go by Jake Austen

According to author Jake Austen, televised rock music is in some ways an impossible combination … and one that he absolutely adores. Rock music is essentially “wild, raw, and dangerous” but when Bo Didley first performed it on the Ed Sullivan show in 1955, television and rock music began a long partnership which proved, according to Austen, that “one of the best ways to present [rock’s] energy is to impose structure, make it adhere to the laws of entertainment.” His delightful book, TV a-Go-Go explores the myriad manifestations of this partnership.

Austen, who produces his own children’s television dance show called Chic-a-Go-Go, has a feel for what worked and what didn’t and his intelligent opines are a delight to read. His opinion of the Monkees was not only wonderfully affirming for me — a die-hard Monkees fan, married for 18 years to a ’60s garage band rock purist who has always despised the “pre-fab four” — but it also clearly illustrates his general opinion of televised rock: “as far as I’m concerned, any documented band … is far more real than a gritty brilliant band that rehearses in a garage but never records or plays a show … in my opinion every band that has ever appeared on a record or a TV show or a movie is real.”

Besides covering famed televised artists, such as the Monkees, the Beatles, Elvis Presley, and Michael Jackson, Austen’s book spills a large amount of ink on lesser known shows such as kiddie rock cartoons. Having spent my 1960s childhood in a home where a jukebox — kept well stocked by older rock ‘n’ rolling siblings — vied for maximum electrical wattage with a constantly running television, I often watched, not only the prime-timed Monkees, but also an animated, Saturday morning show called The Beatles. I seem to recall that the theme song was “A Hard Day’s Night” and because Ringo kept insisting that “droppin’ a G never hurt anybody,” of course a giant G kept falling on his head.

Until reading TV A-Go-Go, however, I didn’t realize that the animated mop-tops show was a sign of a seismic cultural shift. The Beatles, which was the first of many successive cartoons to market rock to kiddies, was, according to Austen, a sign that “the old guard,” — the adults who thought “that the Rat Pack in tuxedos was running the show” — were no longer a serious cultural influence.” Rock ‘n’ roll was here to stay.

Austen’s self-described “absurdly broad book” has almost negated his introductory claim that “a comprehensive overview of all rock on TV is impossible.” TV A-Go-Go has come profoundly and entertainingly close to attaining that impossibility and is a delightfully informative read for anyone with the slightest interest in televised rock.