“Do You Remember ‘Night Flight'”?: Dangerous Minds & “Recombo DNA”‘s Author Do!

By on April 11, 2015

“Do you remember Night Flight?” We certainly do!, and, our comrades-in-arms over at Dangerous Minds sure do too!

They recently invited Kevin C. Smith, author of Recombo DNA: The story of DEVO, or how the 60s became the 80s, to reminisce about Night Flight’s heyday.

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Here’s an excerpt:

It’s a seemingly innocuous yet ultimately loaded question for the culturally adventurous of a certain age. For Night Flight was the sort of cultural touchstone that—if one was lucky enough to have experienced it firsthand—one is not likely to forget and can even serve as a sort of secret handshake decades later.

Kathleen Hanna
of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre has gone so far as to claim, “I learned about punk from this cable show called Night Flight,” and Richard Metzger, co-founder of this very blog, described his intentions for Dangerous Minds to the New Yorker as, “a late-night television network for heads, like Adult Swim, but different. Do you remember Night Flight in the early eighties? Something like that.”

A lot has been made of MTV’s launch on August 1, 1981, but Night Flight—appearing on the fledgling USA Network—beat them to the punch by nearly two months premiering on June 5 of the same year. Though Night Flight played its fair share of videos and music films, its scope was much broader encompassing all manner of cult films and shorts extending back over several decades. However wide-ranging its programming, though, it was always informed by a subversive, outsider sensibility. The show had no host, just a disembodied female voice accompanied by (at the time) cutting edge computer animation of the Night Flight logo (unsettlingly similar to the 80s cheese rock band Night Ranger’s own logo) flying over darkened landscapes.

The show ran every Friday and Saturday from 11PM to 7AM but actually only contained four hours of programming simply repeating the previous four hours again at 3AM. This inevitably led to hordes of teenagers making the ill-advised decision to stay awake for at least four additional hours to catch anything they missed the first time around (especially if they had the VCR cued up with a blank tape). Imagine that kind of dedication in today’s on-demand generation. Just what you would see when you tuned in was anyone’s guess.

It could be a contemporary rock documentary such as the Clash’s semi autobiographical Rude Boy; Urgh! A Music War featuring performances from the Cramps, DEVO, X, Pere Ubu, and Gary Numan amongst a host of other; or Another State of Mind documenting Social Distortion and Youth Brigade’s ill-fated cross-country tour (an education in punk rock indeed). Or it could be 1938’s The Terror of Tiny Town, the world’s only musical Western with an all midget cast; cheesy Japanese tokusatsu TV show Dynaman (dubbed with completely different parody dialogue); Reefer Madness; Proctor and Bergman’s J-Men Forever! or classic 1919 German Expressionist film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. There were plenty of brand new music videos (like The Residents’ “Three-Minute Movies”) as well including a segment dedicated to Britain’s Some Bizarre Records (Coil, Foetus, Einstürzende Neubauten, etc.) or the popular “Take Off” segments (how about “Take Off to Sex” featuring Duran Duran’s uncensored “Girls on Film” video?), or live in studio performances courtesy of Peter Ivers’ (originally cable access) New Wave Theatre from the likes of Fear, Circle Jerks, or Suburban Lawns.

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Kevin C. Smith and Mark Mothersbaugh

We’ll have an excerpt from Kevin C. Smith’s Recombo DNA for you soon, with some additional comments from Kevin about how he discovered Night Flight and what the show meant to him, plus a look at DEVO’s interviews on Night Flight and lots of assorted good stuff.

In the meantime, head on over to Dangerous Minds to read the rest of this article, which is chock-full of Night Flight videos too!

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About Bryan

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide and a dozen other websites and zines, most of them long gone. He’s also worked for over twenty years at reissue record labels, and penned scads of liner notes -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He is now somewhat reclusive and bides his time quietly in his dusty Miracle Mile hermitage in Los Angeles, CA.